Wednesday, 10 February 2010

synod

The word synod is back in the news with the meeting of the Anglican General Synod in London.
In LPD I prioritize the traditional pronunciation with a weakened second vowel, ˈsɪnəd. This was the only pronunciation recognized in EPD during Daniel Jones’s editorship. But nowadays one often hears this word said with a strong vowel in the unstressed syllable, ˈsɪnɒd.

Classicists will recognize that synod is parallel in its morphology with method and period, words whose final syllable is unquestionably always weakened to -əd. All three consist etymologically of a Greek prepositional prefix plus the stem of ὁδός hodos ‘way, travel’ (cognate with Russian ходить ‘go’).

We have two other words in English that have this structure: anode (etymologically ‘way up’) and cathode (‘way down’). We know that they were coined by William Whewell in 1834 at the request of his friend Michael Faraday. Another friend, one Dr Nicholl, coined electrode (‘amber/electric way’). Strange, then, that Whewell and Nicholl chose to write them with a final unetymological (or French-style) e and to say them with the corresponding strong pronunciation -əʊd. This was then also applied to the later coinings diode, triode, pentode etc.

52 comments:

  1. How comes some people use a reduced vowel in "ion" (until they realize that it sounds like "iron") but no-one does the same for "electron", "proton", "photon", "neutron", yadda yadda yadda?

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  2. I don't suppose we can appeal to the phonaesthetics of –ode vs –od, though it's hard for us to believe –od would ever have sounded so electricky, especially if pronounced -əd!

    But –ode for ὅδος wasn’t entirely without precedents, French or no: Faraday's request to Whewell is shown by their correspondence in 1834 to have been for suggested substitutes for 'eisode' and 'exode', and 'exode' is attested as an anglicized form of 'Exodus' in 1225, of 'exodus' from before 1751, and of 'exodium' from before 1684. It looks as though this 'exode' had already got some (otherwise apparently unattested) currency in the figurative electrical sense, and 'eisode' had been coined by analogy. So it's not surprising that if Faraday wanted substitutes for them for some reason, Whewell's coinages 'anode' and 'cathode' were also analogical.

    And it's a good job they were. Among other things, 'diod' would probably have been homonymous with 'dyad' at the time: according to an old Concise Oxford Dictionary I have consulted, it was ˈdaɪəd (dȳʹad, but Dȳʹăk). It looks as if it has travelled the same path as Synod is travelling.

    Army, surely you're not suggesting that when they do realize that lion sounds like "iron" they start saying ˈlaɪɒnǃʔ

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  3. More display problems! That's a macron over the ys and a prime to show stress on the preceding syllable.

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  4. The Greek word is actually ''hodós'', oxytone. (Sorry, I don't know how to write Greek characters.)

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  5. No, but confusing "iron" and "ion" is a more serious possibility than confusing "lion" and "l-iron" (whatever that might mean...)

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  6. Maybe the difference is the phonetic environment, that is that in ion, there's a diphthong in front. Not very convincing, I know.

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  7. Thanks, anon: now corrected to ὁδός.

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  8. It's not fair! You haven't corrected my cut and paste of your ὅδος in my post! And it wasn't my fault! I thought the splodge on the first o was just a rough breathing, and we've got enough display problems as it is! I thought we were both being virtuous in eschewing these newfangled non-Classical accents (τήν ἀνάγκην φιλοτιμίαν ποιούμενος)! Didn't there use to be an accent on τήν? Nobody seems to put that there any more even if they do use some sort of tonos. And if the modern all-purpose one, they wouldn't ever have to change it to τὴν.

    I'm going to have to go and lie down in a darkened room with a bottle of gin and some tranquillizers.

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  9. To make what little sense there is to be made of that you would need to know that by 'newfangled' I meant newfangled c 2000 years ago, not the modern ones.

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  10. lipman, I don't sip Martinis like you. Too much faffing about except for guests. I glug.

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  11. The "tin" was obviously about the terribly vulgar contemporary τήν.

    (Really off-topic, but while I do enjoy a martini from time to time, I actually more often go for straight gin, whiskey or rum, where "straight" includes pink.)

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  12. To make what little sense there is to be made of that you would need to know that by 'tin of gin' I thought you might mean of American American dry Martini with no Martini in it. They do most of these things in tins, or cans, now, don't they?

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  13. lipman, Enough with the repartee already. You have sent me all over the internet to test your vulgarity hypothesis. I thought the results might be mildly interesting and not too off-topic by John's latest criteria. I have been searching various combinations of +τήν -τὴν -την. -την +τήν -τὴν gets 694,000 but -την -τήν +τὴν gets 1,804,000. This is very fishy. Am I doing something wrong? But it's making my head spin more than gin deprivation.

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  14. @ mallamb

    "newfangled non-Classical accents"

    I know you're joking, and you will no doubt subscribe to W. S. Allen's words:

    "It is misleading to speak [...] of 'the complex Byzantine rules of Greek accentuation' — the current marking-system is indeed based on an early Byzantine development of Alexandrinian principles; but, far from being complex, it is a laudably economical representation of the phonetic facts: and the facts themselves, like the rules which govern them, are as ancient [and, if I may add, as important] as the other elements of the language"
    ("Vox Graeca", III ed. [1987], p. 130).

    P. S. I'm on a diet now. God bless us all!

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  15. Lipman: I had thought it might be the vowel, but then "gluon", "fermion" and "baryon" have LOT, too. I can't think any other example with a diphthong, though.

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  16. Thank you Masone. You're right of course. I do love the polytonic orthography really. And admired it with all due admiration, once I read competent explanations of it based on the moraics of it, which Classics masters apparently disdained to know.

    So yes, I subscribe wholeheartedly to W. S. Allen's words.

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  17. Nope. "Pion" has LOT, too. "Ion" is the oldest of these words, though, isn't it? Maybe that's it.

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  18. As for the strong-vowelled termination "-ode", we have the "Epodes" of Horace, don't we?, from  "oo(i)dée" (sorry: I'm still unable to write Greek characters; I've tried to copy-and-paste, but I'm afraid it won't be readable! Oh, I've always been so very clumsy with computers, and I'm certainly much clumsier now, being on a diet...)

    So, to make a long story short, if ever an English-speaking scientist or technician wanted to name some sort of thing and wished it to be, etymologically, a "way upon" ("epí" + "hodós" — whatever that may mean), I s'pose he had better call it an "epod" [''ep.@d] (though I admit that confusion with the "epode" [''ep.@ud] of metrics would be unlikely).

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  19. The polytonic system is indeed excellent if your purpose is to read ancient quantitative verse out loud. For Modern Greek it's an excrescence and always has been, and abolishing it was an unmitigated Good Thing. (I note that it was abolished in the cognate Cyrillic script so long ago as Peter the Great's time; unfortunately, Peter went too far and abolished the acute as well, producing acute suffering for foreigners trying to learn Russian.)

    The visual distinction between the acute (oxeia) and the (mono)tonos is an artifact of the long-superseded Unicode 2.0 charts. Unicode misinterpreted what ELOT (the Greek standardization agency) told them, and not only encoded tonos-bearing and oxeia-bearing vowels separately, but also displayed the tonos with a vertical accent. The two sets of vowels are now equivalent in Unicode, and the standard glyphs have been corrected to look the same. Unfortunately, certain fonts have not yet caught up.

    This is now, by some strange chance, the third blog on which I have been discussing hodos in the past two weeks. An interesting etymological doublet is odometer 'device for measuring how far a car travels' and hodometrical 'related to the determinination how far a ship has traveled; in the nature of dead-reckoning'. There are a few other English words in hodo-, but the vast majority are in odo- or -od(e), with no h.

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  20. You've caught me in a spelling pronunciation! Until this very moment I thought it was /ˈsaɪnɒd/.

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  21. John C,
    I was aware of all this going on, and was aghast at it. I think I read a rant of yours about it somewhere ages ago, but when I got embroiled in this discussion (or embroiled myself in it) it looked to me as if the fonts on here at any rate had indeed caught up, with something that to my uncertain vision looks more like the monotonos doubling for the oxeia.

    @army1987

    Sorry about the lion. I had still got 'diod' on the brain, and can't see straight at the best of times, hence the contretemps with ὁδός. I thought you were talking in general terms about the resurrection of the reduced o, and the inclusion of yadda yadda yadda in your list distracted me from its thematic homogeneity! I don't really think anyone does say 'laɪɒn. There'd be some I'd be a bit worried about, though, like 'scion'!

    But I don't agree that confusing "iron" and "ion" is a serious matter at all. The OED doesn't either: it only has ˈaɪən for both ion and iron, treating them both as disyllables with initial stress, incidentally (which on the "Iron or" thread I accused of being due to inappropriate etymologizing) , and ˈænaɪən for anion.

    It's all in the distant past now, but your post ionized my brains, and I forgot that having just said it looks as if 'dyad' has travelled the same path as Synod is travelling, meaning the path of spelling-pronunciation, I had meant to actualize the capital S by saying that that path is the road to Hell according to the Evangelicals, and John's pinup of the day too, if he wants to have an Anglican Communion to be primus inter pares of. I feel rather the same way about spelling-pronunciation.

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  22. @ John Cowan

    "The polytonic system is indeed excellent if your purpose is to read ancient quantitative verse out loud. For Modern Greek it's an excrescence [...]"

    As far as modern Greek is concerned, I substantially agree with you.

    But, if we're speaking of old Greek, accent is of course a fundamental element – at the structural level – of the language as a whole, not only of artistic versification: it's simply part of the spoken word.

    And the Alexandrinian-Byzantine marking-system is (for old Greek, though certainly not for modern Greek) a good representation of that linguistic reality.

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  23. Right, I should be more careful with my "yadda"s. In this case I should have said "and other subatomic particles", and then I would have had to think that not all ions are subatomic.

    Anyway. When Whewell coined "ion", Stoney coined "electron", and Rutherford coined "proton", probably they were just using the Greek neuter ending and didn't think they were creating a new suffix. But then, this "-on" was extended to non-neuter Greek nouns (as in "photon"), Latin roots ("neutron", "graviton", ...), surnames ("boson", "fermion"), and even "gluon" from "glue". So, may I hypothesize that "electron" and "proton" were at first pronounced with a schwa as "phenomenon"? But then, how comes they were pluralized as "electrons" and not "electra"? And that in Italian it's "elettrone" not "elettro" (like "fenomeno")? Go figure out... (In these latter two aspects, "ion" is like the other particles and unlike other Greek borrowing, as its plural is "ions" and in Italian it's "ione". But that last thing is not surprising, as "io" is the pronoun "I" in Italian, so you can imagine it's hard to get a content word to have that form.)

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  24. Greek prefix + ὁδός yield a third type of ending in exodus.

    And is it too fanciful to suppose that the Biblical word ephod (though etymologically unrelated) may have affected the speech of churchmen?

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  25. Re ion and (nonrhotic) iron: homophones arise all the time, without confusion thanks to linguistic redundancy.

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  26. Mallamb

    Sorry I didn't see that you'd already mentioned exodus

    Masone

    epi + hodos would yield ephod — a spelling that's already used by a different word. (ἔφοδος was an actual word.)

    John Cowan

    Peter the Great may have abolished accents and some letters. But at least he left the letter ѵ to spell Сѵнод.

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  27. @ David Crosbie

    Yes, "ephod", you're quite right of course. Sorry for the silly mistake!

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  28. @army1987
    Right, I should be more careful with my "yadda"s. In this case I should have said "and other subatomic particles", and then I would have had to think that not all ions are subatomic.

    Gosh. This is a bit more subatomic education than I can handle! I see I should never have challenged the subatomicity of your yaddas. This clinical precision is so wearing, isn't it?

    But on the –ons you’ve just about said it. But to pursue this tyrannical precision:

    When Whewell coined "ion", Stoney coined "electron", and Rutherford coined "proton", probably they were just using the Greek neuter ending and didn't think they were creating a new suffix.

    Well they didn't really coin "ion" and "proton", they just adopted them, neuter ending and all. So I'm sure they didn't think they were creating a new suffix. But "electron" already shows the principle being established, as it's obviously not the tamper-free Greek word for electrum. And that probably happened in tandem with proton being reinterpreted, leading on to the use of the productive suffix which you describe.

    You’ve raised a really interesting point, because "ion" is not only a well-formed Greek word with a neuter ending, but it already includes a "suffix", the present participle ending –on, which is also the present participle of the verb to be in its entirety, and can therefore of course mean an entity. So an ion is rather charmingly a "goer", which is also an entity that goes, and an electron is an electric entity and a proton is no longer any old prime thing but a prime entity. And so these entities go on proliferating.

    So there is no need for you to 'hypothesize that "electron" and "proton" were at first pronounced with a schwa as "phenomenon"'. Or to wonder why 'they were pluralized as "electrons" and not "electra"', or why 'in Italian it's "elettrone" not "elettro" (like "fenomeno")' (I think Italian has the ad-hoc augmentative suffix in "elettrone" because "elettro" means electrum, so we would be back where we started), or why '"ion" is like the other particles and unlike other Greek borrowing, as its plural is "ions"'.

    This time I think you will forgive me for asking if you're seriously suggesting that they might have got away with having the Greek plurals electronta and ionta.

    And are you sure the schwa in "phenomenon" is safe? It seems to be that not a few Americans pronounce it fᵻˈnɑmᵻˌnɑnǃ

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  29. Correction: It seems to _me_ that not a few Americans pronounce it fᵻˈnɑmᵻˌnɑnǃ Any objections to the secondary stress?

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  30. It seems that 'Synod' was an oddity in Russian also — not in its pronunciation but in its spelling.

    Until 1917 it was Сѵнод with izhitsa representing Greek upsilon in σύνοδος. But elsewhere upsilon became і — as in міѳ (now миф) from μύθος myth.

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  31. Or міѳъ? The fonts are messing me about again. Why not you? There's such a jumble of fonts in these stylesheets that one can't allow one's hopes to be raised by their handling the odd bit of Greek

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  32. Never mind the yer, I meant the sign for the /i/.

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  33. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  34. Sorry! Yes it must have been Сѵнодъ. I was looking at a couple of inflected forms in Lena's grandmother's prayer book.

    Likewise міѳъ. I'd been listening to Lena recalling a book that her father had had from childhood Міѳы древняго міра.

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  35. Since we're back to fonts, allow me to take this off topic, as I usually do... Incredibly, I've just found out by accident/mistake (after seven years on XP) that I can get Polish ą ę ć ł ń ś ź ż in Word by doing Shift-` plus the letter (x for ź). If anyone could check (Word 2007 on Windows XP), I'd be grateful. Now back to topic, sorry for privatising the thread.

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  36. Between the two of you you've driven me back to bloody Google again. 239 for миѳъ -миѳ, 356 for миѳ -миѳъ. 1 for міѳ.

    I seem to remember i was only used before я etc.

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  37. Hello wjarek.
    Doesn't work for me on UK or UK Extended keyboards, and I don't think I'm worth a Polish keyboard download as I hardly remember any Polish. I do have different keyboard shortcuts for these, but I must have made them myself, and I wouldn't have overwritten existing Word ones.

    There may be a standard keyboard installed for sale in Poland. Or have you forgotten you installed one yourself? I have found funny things on keyboards I'd forgotten I'd installed.

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  38. Talking of ł, to drag us back onto some sort of phonetic topic, why doesn't the IPA have it for 'dark l' instead of ɫ? Is that supposed to be distinguished from l̴(l with "combining tilde overlay")? If so, how on earth? And if not, why is it so exotic? Dark l is a pretty regular sort of phenomenon, but so diverse in its articulatory variants that it's unfortunate that it's represented by something that looks so analyzable and tendentious, when the Polish ł is the obvious choice. Or do you think that would be misappropriation?

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  39. mallamb: Doesn't work for me on UK or UK Extended keyboards

    Awww. Must be a system-wide locale setting, as it works in other places in XP. But the standard method of inputting these on a Polish keyboard is AltGr + letter -- that's why I thought it was meant for other locales. (And, I hope, that's why I wasn't aware of this...)

    Why doesn't IPA use ł? Don't ask me, I didn't make the decision. But these days it represents /w/ in standard Polish, a dark-l-ish realisation is limited to eastern dialects. And, of course, it stands for the voiceless fricative in Navajo (I think). So maybe it was too ambiguous.

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  40. The question isn't why the IPA picked ɫ rather than ł to be the symbol for dark L, but why it picked the overlaid tilde rather than the overlaid stroke to be the symbol for velarization/pharyngealization. I suspect the overlaid tilde is easier to see on some letters than the stroke would be. I'm quite certain that in Unicode, ɫ is not supposed to be distinct from l followed by the combining tilde overlay U+0334; rather it's a precomposed character, just like á (U+00E1) is a precomposed equivalent of a (U+0061) followed by the combining acute accent (U+0301). In fact, it's precisely because dark l is so common that it got its own precomposed Unicode character already in the original IPA Extensions block; the other precomposed characters with the tilde overlay had to wait until Unicode 4.1 defined them in the Phonetic Extensions block at U+1D6C to U+1D76.

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  41. Sorry wjarek

    But these days it represents /w/ in standard Polish... So maybe it was too ambiguous.

    I understood this /w/ to be already long established by the time I had anything to do with Polish 50-odd years ago. And I was arguing that ambiguity was what was needed.

    Tonio,
    I am reassured by the polymathy of your explanation and delighted to discover U+1D6C to U+1D76 in some of my fonts. And I am bound to say it's obvious from my earlier juxtaposition of the precomposed ɫ and the l with tilde overlay that it jolly well needed to be precomposed.

    But the Polish ł was there for the taking from the start. And as I say, a "dark l" is so commonplace and nondescript. It wouldn't have followed that the IPA would have had to pick the overlaid stroke rather than the overlaid tilde to be the symbol for velarization/pharyngealization. And the same tilde has long been doing service for sulcalization too. Why should these disparate articulations be lumped together in such a cavalier fashion in any case?

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  42. Lipman

    We've dug out Lena's Dahl dictionary — a Soviet reprint of the 1881 edition.

    Yes indeed Dahl uses only the spelling миөъ. And yet Lena remains convinced that her childhood memory was of Міөы древняго міра.

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  43. Ah, I see. I assumed 'electron' was the tamper-free Greek word for electrum -- I just didn't count transliterating Classical Greek κ to c as "tampering" -- but this explanation makes perfect sense. I just wonder why they don't mention that suffix in "proton", which was introduced in English some 20 years later, so it's not unlikely that it was so chosen by analogy with "ion", "cation", "anion" and "electron". (Also, why does that source give two pronunciations for "ion" and "cation" but only the one with schwa for "anion"? Is there anyone out there who really has ˈaɪɒn, ˈkætˌaɪɒn, ˈænˌaɪən, or were they just undecided on whether to give the -ɒn pronunciations?)

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  44. Army1987
    Ah, I see. I assumed 'electron' was the tamper-free Greek word for electrum -- I just didn't count transliterating Classical Greek κ to c as "tampering"

    Not quite sure what you're saying here, but I certainly didn't mean you to count or not to count transliterating Classical Greek κ to c as "tampering". You are at perfect liberty to do either. I didn't mean that sort of tampering: by 'the tamper-free Greek word for electrum' I meant the pristine ἤλεκτρον, which stayed the way it was and stayed meaning electrum in English, that being the English word borrowed from the Latin tampering "electrum". And the English word "electron" is not that untampered-with pristine ἤλεκτρον, not because it is transliterated, but because it is a compound 'electr+on', with an obvious development of the sense of the original electrum fused with the wonderful new ontological suffix extrapolated from "ion", "cation", "anion" etc, with all the tampering that involves. So I said above this compound already shows the principle [of creating a new suffix] being established, as it's obviously _not_ the tamper-free Greek word for electrum, but a new English word for electron. And that probably happened in tandem with proton being reinterpreted, leading on to the use of the productive suffix which you describe.

    So of course the the explanation you link to makes the perfect sense that I was trying to make, except for the otiose 'perh. accidental allusion to Gk ḗlektron amber' with a link to 'electric' where a perfectly straightforward derivation is given from the Latin (just as in OED).

    I just wonder why they don't mention that suffix in "proton", which was introduced in English some 20 years later, so it's not unlikely that it was so chosen by analogy with "ion", "cation", "anion" and "electron".

    But they do: it's the -on in "electr(ic) + -on (from the names of charged particles, as ION, CATION, ANION )"

    Because as I said 'proton', which was also at first a straightforward neuter adjective not chosen by analogy with anything but itself, must by then have been relexicalized analytically by analogy with the rest of the evolving nomenclature, making it as I said before into a new lexical and semiotic entity no longer denoting any old prime thing or πρῶτον but a prime entity or πρῶτ-ον of the appropriate ontological status.

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  45. David,
    And yet Lena remains convinced that her childhood memory was of Міөы древняго міра.

    The міра must have influenced her mental picture of the міѳы. It seems міръ was in use (to distinguish it from миръ meaning 'peace') but міѳъ wasn't.

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  46. mallamb

    Yes, I'd thought of that explanation. I hesitated to accept it because Lena also thought that Tolstoy wrote Война и мір.

    But it seem likely that this too was a false memory of old book covers. Dahl (1881) lists миръ under мирить 'to make peace' and a long entry for міръ 'world', 'society' etc. and derivations.

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  47. Cyrillic izhitsa/upsilon (ѵ) experienced the curious fate of never being officially abolished: it was just gradually replaced by Cyrillic eta (и) or iota (і), word by word. By the time the orthographic reform committee was meeting, they didn't even bother to consider it.

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