Thursday, October 15, 2015

One Piece of Nonsense . . . Sometimes

When we want to speak about a single item or creature, we say “one” in English (“I only found one”). If we want to stress its singularity, we may say “just one.”

If you go to the market and find only one melon, you may report back in Armenian that Miayn meg had sekh kuda (Միայն մէկ հատ սեխ գտայ), literally “I only found one [piece of] melon.” This is indeed accurate, as it identifies the piece (had) of the item in question.

However, people sometimes tend to turn human beings into . . . melons. How come? For instance, when they say An yergoo had zavag ooni (Ան երկու հատ զաւակ ունի), namely, “He (or she) has one [piece of] child.” If you translate the phrase from Armenian into English, you will never use “piece” of course, but you can hear literally the phrase in conversations, instead of the correct form An yergoo zavag ooni (Ան երկու զաւակ ունի).

As one American president said, “you ain’t seen nothing yet.” There is the worst case scenario, when meg had is used without thinking twice, and then, it becomes ridiculous. 

Here are some nice examples:
  1. A student asks the teacher Oriort, meg had asiga patsadretsek (Օրիորդ, մէկ հատ ասիկա բացատրեցէք), which should be “Miss, please explain this” in plain English. Instead of meg had, the simple hajik (հաճիք - “please”) would do miracles here: Oriort, hajik asiga patsadretsek.
  2. Someone suggests about a reader Meg had yevs togh garta krootioone (Մէկ հատ եւս թող կարդայ գրութիւնը), namely, “Let him read the write-up once again.” Of course, it should be ankam me (անգամ մը): Ankam me yevs togh garta krootioone.
  3. A visitor is very unhappy with your hospitality and threatens: Meg had al tser doone bidi chkam (Մէկ հատ ալ ձեր տունը պիտի չգամ – “I won’t come to your home again”). If he does not like ankam men al (անգամ մըն ալ), he could say aylevs (այլեւս) instead of meg had al: Ankam men al/aylevs tser doone bidi chkam.
Make a reality check and ask yourself how many times you say any of these in a week. Then, see what you can do about it.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Of Masks and Mascara

Women know well the meaning of the English word mascara, which ultimately shares the same origin with mask. Admittedly, the immediate origin of mascara is Italian mascara, while mask comes from French masque. However, the French word has an Italian origin at its turn (maschera, mascara), which was borrowed from Latin masca (“witch, specter”). Somewhere in the middle, we must also count the influence of the Arabic word masxara “buffoon.”

This Arabic word has also been the source for maskhara (մասխարա), a word that some people use in colloquial Armenian, which means exactly “buffoon.” It has even originated an Arabic-Armenian hybrid: maskharayootioon /մասխարայութիւն (“buffoonery”).

Of course, these two words are not “proper” Armenian. The actual Armenian word for “buffoon” is dzaghradzoo (ծաղրածու). This is a compound word formed by dzaghr (ծաղր), the root of the verb “to mock” (dzaghrel / ծաղրել), and adzoo (ած), “the one who brings something.” Therefore, a dzaghradzoo is “the one who brings mockery.”

Here we close the circle: the word dzaghr ultimately comes from a Semitic language, probably Aramaic, where dzaghra meant “to mock.” This is the same with Arabic saxira “to mock,” which combined with the prefix ma, becomes the noun masxara.
In the end, as we see, Armenian and English share a similar, faraway origin for these words.
However, for those who are getting ready to use masks on Halloween, it is interesting to mention that the Armenian word timag (դիմակ “mask”) falls out of that circle. It was pronounced dimak (դիմակ), in Classical Armenian (derived from Iranian demak “effigy, form”) and originally meant “effigy, image, false face.” However, we only use it in Modern Armenian with the meaning of “mask.” Of course, if you go to a “masquerade ball,” that would mean that you are going to a timagahantes (դիմակահանդէս).