How the etymology of "Arctic" complicates the cryptic etymology of "bear"

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2021/01/20/how-the-etymology-of-arctic-complicates-the-cryptic-etymology-of-bear.html

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This was very confusing. “Arctic” doesn’t come from “The place where the things that shall not be named live”, it comes from “The place where bears live.” The fact that our word “bear” means “the thing that shall not be named” doesn’t mean that the referent of the word “bear” is also excluded from “Arctic”. You shouldn’t just substitute in parts of your language in for parts of the metalanguage you are using to define it. If you did that you could come up with lots of really stupid stuff like, “The place where the thing that comes from the place where thing thing that comes from the place lives.” etc.

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Applying De Morgan’s law, does

the opposite of the place of the thing that shall not be named

mean

the place of the thing that shall be named

or “can be named” or “have to be named” ?!

I need to get some paper … :thinking:

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?? I thought arktos (or something with rkt in it anyway) was the original word for bear? The word that people tried to avoid by saying bear.

So arctic just means ‘bear country’. Methinks you have thought about this a bit too long :wink:

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So … what you,re saying is the scottish large brown animal lives (or doesn’t live) in the scottish place?

Shakespeare would be so proud.

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Obligatory xkcd

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You looks a bit confused. If Arctic (arktikos) means “the place of the arktos constellation”, Antarctic just means “the opposite of the place of the arktos constellation”.

Note that none of these names have “bear” on it, so it doesn’t mean “the opposite of the place of the thing that shall not be named”. The thing was named in both Arctic and Antarctic.

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Smudging it around to regular modal operators NOT MUST NOT BeNamed is equivalent to MAY BeNamed, not MUST BeNamed. ~~A === <>A

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Yes!

Arktos means bear. The Arctic is named for bears. None of that is confusing or circular. Some people think bears are named for the Arctic, but they’re simply wrong.

Most Germanic languages (people who had to deal with bears) had a superstition about saying “arktos”, so they referred to bears as “the brown one” (bear, bruin, bern etc.) until whatever their variant of arktos was actually vanished from our languages.

Referenced above, but with onebox:

Fun fact, the Welsh word for bear is, drumroll, “arth”.

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Finnish has a bunch of old euphemisms for our word for “bear”, karhu – otso, otava, nalle, kontio, mesikämmen (“mead-palm”) etc.

“Karhu” itself is an old euphemism, ultimately meaning something like “the coarse or hairy one”. :bear:

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Interestingly, when Ohthere seems to describe Lappland and Sami he used the words “Beormaland” and “Beormas” which are strongly suggestive of “bear”. I have this vague idea that I can’t find any references for that Germanic people believed that bears actually speak Sami. There was an even stronger mental relationship between the Sami and bears than between the Sami and reindeer.

The most famous Old English kenning for “bear” of course is “beowulf”.

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I was convinced of your reasoning at “Smudging” :smiley:

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Similar for “wolf” if I recall correctly, but that didn’t become a place designation. Learned it from my old American Heritage Dictionary which I won in a Central Florida Regional Spelling Bee back in the mid 70s.

Anway, original PIE root is thought to be *wĺ̥kʷos, which underwent taboo transformation until we get to “wolf” without that scary in there cuz we don’t want to, like, actually summon any when we talk about 'em.

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I do enjoy that the ensuing classifications then are black browns, brown browns, polar browns, grizzly browns…

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Huh?

Anyway, another common source of confusion related to this is that Ursos arctos is not the polar bear. It is the “Bear (Latin) bear (Greek)”, or circumpolar brown bear of which the American grizzly (Ursos arctos horriblis) is a generally smaller subspecies. The polar bear is Ursos maritimus.

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So, a grizzly bear is a horrible bear bear? :bear:

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Grisly even.

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At work we were instructed (by government inspectors) to interpret “shall” in government specifications as “must”. Then again, government inspectors (at least from what I’ve been exposed to) are considered to be “non-value added”.

That’s what I try explaining ad nauseum to complete strangers, but they are not receptive.

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This gets more complicated by the minute … I need more paper …

Complete stranger here! And very receptive! I just now added this to the list of things I will explain to complete strangers!

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Be oh so gentle with them.

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