The Nature and Etymology of Surprisingly Short Words

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n-Dimensional Argyle
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The Nature and Etymology of Surprisingly Short Words

Post by n-Dimensional Argyle »

Short words are common but short words with oddly complicated semantics are interesting. I am particularly a fan of examples in Natlangs where such accidental shortness occur, more specifically in instances where a short word doesn't simply encode information for very common ideas like words for water, body parts, kinship terms, conjunctions, interjections, determiners, pronouns, and articles et cetera. Some examples like Tokelauan ō "rabbitfish", Ajië u "to swim", Vietnamese u "a nodule, protuberance, swelling" and "to swell, to get bumpy", Yoruba fi to swing or to swirl, Yoruba to call, to pronounce, to summon, to invoke an orisha, Ancient Greek λίψ - líps southwest, southwest wind.

The list could go on and on. What I am getting at ultimately is the idea of finding fun idiosyncrasies in language, and I'm curious about your conlangs. Aside from common things like the aforementioned (kinship terms, external body parts or commonly eaten/ingested internal body parts (i.e. liver, lungs, caul fat), conjunctions, interjections, determiners, pronouns, articles, and the word for water) what words crop up that are surprisingly compact phonetically and phonemically but are fairly expansive semantically?
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Ahzoh
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Re: The Nature and Etymology of Surprisingly Short Words

Post by Ahzoh »

I have āg- "send" and āb- "lure, lead" and kāˀ- "beget, appoint"
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Sequor
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Re: The Nature and Etymology of Surprisingly Short Words

Post by Sequor »

You may be interested in this thread from the old ZBB archive, "One-syllable words with specific technical or rare meanings", containing English words that fit the title.

Examples include "to trach" (to insert a breathing tube into someone's trachea), "zax" (a roofing tool), "to nerf" (in videogames, to reduce the effectivity/strength of something), "orf" (a disease that mostly occurs in sheep and goats), "vore" (cannibalistic paraphilia).
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n-Dimensional Argyle
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Re: The Nature and Etymology of Surprisingly Short Words

Post by n-Dimensional Argyle »

Sequor wrote: 21 Sep 2022 22:56 You may be interested in this thread from the old ZBB archive, "One-syllable words with specific technical or rare meanings", containing English words that fit the title.

Examples include "to trach" (to insert a breathing tube into someone's trachea), "zax" (a roofing tool), "to nerf" (in videogames, to reduce the effectivity/strength of something), "orf" (a disease that mostly occurs in sheep and goats), "vore" (cannibalistic paraphilia).
Thank you, I knew I had seen a similar post somewhere before and I'm fairly certain I saw this back in the day.

Do you have any examples from a conlang or conlangs you've made?
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Re: The Nature and Etymology of Surprisingly Short Words

Post by n-Dimensional Argyle »

Ahzoh wrote: 21 Sep 2022 18:53 I have āg- "send" and āb- "lure, lead" and kāˀ- "beget, appoint"
I see that they are prefixal, or maybe it's more correct to say that they take on suffixes. Can they stand alone? What kind of marking do they usually take? (Person, number, pluractionality, etc.) Also, if they can't stand alone what's the minimal marking allowed?
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Re: The Nature and Etymology of Surprisingly Short Words

Post by KaiTheHomoSapien »

There are a number of examples from Japanese:

e - picture, painting

u - cormorant

a - muteness, dumbness

i - stomach
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Re: The Nature and Etymology of Surprisingly Short Words

Post by qwed117 »

FWIW I'll note that Tokelauan ō is two syllables, not really a short word.

Anyways, the shortest word in Hlaitype is m 'and', a clitic with the pronunciation /m/ [ə̆m~m], but u3 /u˧˩/ (a grammatical particle equivalent to 'ing' for most verbs) is close behind (of note, most words in Hlaitype are monosyllables, so this is more like the one-phoneme-one mora words)
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Ahzoh
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Re: The Nature and Etymology of Surprisingly Short Words

Post by Ahzoh »

qwed117 wrote: 24 Sep 2022 06:06 FWIW I'll note that Tokelauan ō is two syllables, not really a short word.

Anyways, the shortest word in Hlaitype is m 'and', a clitic with the pronunciation /m/ [ə̆m~m], but u3 /u˧˩/ (a grammatical particle equivalent to 'ing' for most verbs) is close behind (of note, most words in Hlaitype are monosyllables, so this is more like the one-phoneme-one mora words)
The OP was more looking for short words with uncommon meanings, like if you had a word i and it meant "antidisestablishmentarianism".

Ooh imagine a floating tone morpheme or some other suprasegmental that meant "to do X while talking about it"
kál "I am walking" > kàl "I am walking while talking about my walking"~"I am narrating my walking"
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Re: The Nature and Etymology of Surprisingly Short Words

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Ahzoh wrote: 24 Sep 2022 07:54
qwed117 wrote: 24 Sep 2022 06:06 FWIW I'll note that Tokelauan ō is two syllables, not really a short word.

Anyways, the shortest word in Hlaitype is m 'and', a clitic with the pronunciation /m/ [ə̆m~m], but u3 /u˧˩/ (a grammatical particle equivalent to 'ing' for most verbs) is close behind (of note, most words in Hlaitype are monosyllables, so this is more like the one-phoneme-one mora words)
The OP was more looking for short words with uncommon meanings, like if you had a word i and it meant "antidisestablishmentarianism".

Ooh imagine a floating tone morpheme or some other suprasegmental that meant "to do X while talking about it"
kál "I am walking" > kàl "I am walking while talking about my walking"~"I am narrating my walking"
I must admit I think I hit my word reading comprehension quota earlier than usual today [xP]

I guess the most 'weird' short word, is probably sa4-thár1, which means "open to the public", but admittedly that's not particularly extreme and is two syllables like the near English synonym "public". (The word itself, I list in my dictionary, comes from Thai สาธารณะ). The verbal root bey2 means 'to be correct'. There's also the word nük1-tré3, which means 'glutinous black rice cake made with clarified butter'. Admittedly, before I actually decide that's the concrete meaning, I should probably get a kitchen to get con-cooking. [:P]
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Re: The Nature and Etymology of Surprisingly Short Words

Post by Khemehekis »

Some in English:

dhow: a type of Middle Eastern/South Asian sailboat
flysch: a series of layers of sedimentary rock
shirr: to cook in a gratin pot with a flat bottom
zill: one of the cymbals used by belly dancers
chirr: to make a sound like a stridulating cricket
nuzz: the sound made by a camel

Some proper nouns:

Basque
Hmong
Mien

Aaaaand some apocryphal words:

yiff: the sound made by foxes during mating
hmuh: the topknot on a quail
vlut: a Central Asian poison that causes temporary blindness
♂♥♂♀

Squirrels chase koi . . . chase squirrels

My Kankonian-English dictionary: 80,000 words and counting

31,416: The number of the conlanging beast!
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Re: The Nature and Etymology of Surprisingly Short Words

Post by WeepingElf »

qwed117 wrote: 24 Sep 2022 06:06 FWIW I'll note that Tokelauan ō is two syllables, not really a short word.

Anyways, the shortest word in Hlaitype is m 'and', a clitic with the pronunciation /m/ [ə̆m~m], but u3 /u˧˩/ (a grammatical particle equivalent to 'ing' for most verbs) is close behind (of note, most words in Hlaitype are monosyllables, so this is more like the one-phoneme-one mora words)
Grammatical elements are often very short, so the brevity of these words is not surprising at all. Spanish has y 'and', Italian has e 'and', and Slavic languages have prepositions consisting of a single consonant, such as k and v.
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Re: The Nature and Etymology of Surprisingly Short Words

Post by Sequor »

n-Dimensional Argyle wrote: 22 Sep 2022 02:52Do you have any examples from a conlang or conlangs you've made?
I guess... but isn't this a strange question to ask? In a conlang I'm free to do whatever I want, say, making "sa" the word for "hypothesis". In natlangs at least such words are interesting because they manage to exist across many speakers.

I recall a joke Salmoneus once made, where he said something along the lines of:
Things real languages have short words for: beech, birch, oak, palm, elm, yew.
Things I want real languages to have short words for: hypothesis, conjecture, inference, corollary, premise, consensus.
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