Wordy Wednesday 4

There is a tremendous pleasure in using onomatopoeic words in speech. I think that even reading them in a book adds a little extra to the narrative.


Field of buttercups totally unrelated to this post.

For example, a horse clip-clop, clip-clops along a road.

Hissing just has to be a snake, or perhaps a water spray, but if it is the similar sound of frying food it a sizzle.

Splish-splash is the sound of small children stamping in puddles. In France, of course, those children would be going plouf-plouf. In Portuguese, pluft-pluft. German has the verbs platschen and planschen, although I have no idea how they decline. It would be plusk-plusk in Polish vsplesk-vsplesk in Russian. I’m sure you get the idea.

I like that quite a few birds seem to be named after the sounds they make. Thus we have the cuckoo, and the bulbul. In Ladakh, the pigeon is the po-ro, in Russia it is the golb, and pretty much the same in Poland. It is due in danish.

Which may or may not lead us quite conveniently back to last Wednesday’s post, about similar or identical words in different languages. All these similarities might again be the product of languages keeping some words the same after they have evolved and changed into new languages. Or they might arise naturally, since by their very nature they are likely to sound very similar anyway.

Of course, it’s probably a mixture of both these things, and far more complex in any case.

Wordy Wednesday 2

Coolie – now there is a word that is remarkably offensive; offensive not so much because of what it is, but the implications behind it.

coolie 1

The Oxford Dictionary defines the word thus: unskilled native labourer in eastern countries and gives the word’s origin as perhaps from Kuli, an aboriginal tribe of Gujarat, India.

Hobson-Jobson, the 1886 Anglo-Indian Dictionary, has rather more to say upon the matter.

It gives the spelling as ‘cooly’ and the definition as follows: a hired labourer, or burden-carrier; and, in modern days especially, a labourer induced to emigrate from India, or from China, to labour in the plantations of Mauritius, Reunion, or the West Indies, sometimes under circumstances, especially in French colonies, which have brought the cooly’s condition very near to slavery.

It goes on to give further definitions and details of the word, and then makes several suggestions for its origin. One possibility, agreeing with the Oxford Dictionary, is that it derives from Koli, the name of a caste or race in Western India who frequently carried out these tasks and who, the dictionary reports, had long held a reputation for ‘savagery, filth and general degredation.’ This would make its origin analogous to that of slave, which is presumed to come from the racial term Slav.

But it suggests the waters are rather muddied by a couple of similar words in the Sub-continent: In Southern India a Tamil word Kuli signifying ‘hire’, and Khol is a Tibetan word for slave.

And then there is also a Turkish word kol meaning a slave while, more specifically, kuleh  means ‘a male slave, a bondsman’.

But back to the implication. It is impossible to get away from the colonial undercurrents with this word, as brought out in the Hobson-Jobson definition above. So to use the word to describe a person or persons today, is to call them a servant or slave of a foreign overlord.