More "International" Terms IV
Bill Long 8/21/08
Beginning with Seraskier
The English language is like a vacuum cleaner set loose in a house with many rooms covered with all kinds of lint, dirt and even good things--it just sucks it all up. If the various rooms represent other languages and the lint/good things stands for their words, then our language is a pastiche of some of the best, and most obscure, words from other languages. Each "foreign" word implicates an entire culture and not simply a food or soil or just that one word. Eventually, by studying words closely, we enter into the experience of others--and become enriched and understanding people. That is what the world needs a little more of...
A seraskier (ser as KEER) is a Turkish general or commander of land forces. The term is, naturally, Turkish, even though parts of it are indebted to Arabia or Persian words behind it. According to the Century, this title was given to every general, though especially to the commander-in-chief and minister of war. Lord Byron, in his poem Don Juan, had this to say:
"The Seraskier is knock'd upon the head,
But the stone bastion still remains, wherein
The old Pacha sits among some hundreds dead."
Best poetry the world has ever seen? Hardly, but it gives us the word. Walt Whitman also used the term in his travel narrative commemorating his journey to the Ottoman Empire. The seraskierat is the central office of the Turkish ministry of war.
Kharif and Braxy
No, these are not the names of the Russian synchronized diving team members. The first is an Urdu word, derived from the Arabic word karif, which means "gathered, autumn, harvest," and means, in India, "the autumn crop, sown at the beginning of the summer rains." The word first appeared in English in 1845: "[Hindustan's] harvests...are equally profitable both in Spring (rabi) and Autumn (kharif). In fact, kharif appeared far before this in English, though spelled differently. As early as 1783 we have: "The money is to be paid by the following instalments:..five lacks at the commencement of the next Kuriof harvest; two lacks at the following rubby" [What is a lack? Couldn't find it...] So, at least we know two Urdu words to describe seasons of the year. It is amazing how far a little knowledge of another culture will get you. Learn these words, which can either refer to the season or the crop harvested in that season, and I bet you will have occasion to use them, to your advantage, in the future.
With braxy we return to the British Empire and, specifically, to Scotland. When the OED discusses an "uncertain" etymology that is five times as long as the definition, I often tend respectfully to skip it. The definition is: "The popular name in Scotland of splenic apoplexy in sheep; an inflammatory disease of the internal parts, rapid and fatal in its effect." But do you eat such a sheep? This quotation, from 1863, tends to suggest that you do: "The occasional dinner luxury of Braxy,--a species of mutton which need not be too minutely inquired into.." I bet you didn't know the following:
"There are certain facts in regard to braxy and braxy-like diseases which strongly suggest that the root of the trouble lies in a temporary lessening of the efficiency of the thyroid gland, and a consequent lowering of the resistance of the body to bacterial invasion from the alimentary tract."
Alimentary, my dear Watson..
Finishing with Gilgai
No, I don't want you to go ga-ga over this word, but it is "foreign words which is now in our language. Gilgai, an Aboriginal word, is a "saucer-like depression forming a natural reservoir for rainwater." It may be a little more complex than that. This Australian website, Victorian Resources Online, tells us that gilgai's are common where they are Grey Vertosol soils. Well, we have to go there, don't we? The OED spells it vertisol, which is a 10-fold more popular online spelling. In any case, a vertisol is a clay soil with "shrink/swell properties that display strong cracks when dry and have slickensides and/or lenticular structural aggregates at depth." A slickenside is either a polished surface on the wall of a mineral lode or a smooth glistening surface produced by pressure and friction." Something lenticular is "double convex." Here is a picture, for example, of a lenticular cloud over Wyoming. Double convex, almost elliptical. Very cool. So, what would that mean for soil at the bottom of something? Not clear to me at this point.
We are not done with our definition. It goes on to say (note, too, there are two pictures for those interested) that "the land surface is irregular with alternating mounds (puffs) and depressions (hollows) and is commonly referred to as 'crab hole' country. Thus, according to the picture, the gilgai are mounds rather than depressions. Going on:
"Gilgai microrelief is formed due to clay horizons shrinking and swelling with alternate drying and wetting cycles. This forces 'blocks' of subsoil material gradually upwards to form mounds. The resultant soil on the mounds have properties which are more like grey vertisol subsoils.."
Well, it seems to me, after further study, that the gilgai micro-topographies or micro-reliefs develop either as knolls or depressions as a result of the repeated soil expansion and contraction due to the clayey vertisol underneath.
So many facts, so many ideas, and so little time. There are worse dilemmas to face in life, though, aren't there? Oops, as I closed this essay, I found this web site, from the University of Idaho, which talked about the 12 soil orders. I can't conclude without mentioning them: Gelisols, Histosols, Spodosols, Andisols, Oxisols, Vertisols, Aridisols, Ultisols, Millisols, Alfisols, Inceptisols, Entisols. You have to have a lot of "sol" to study these, I see.