kangaroo?

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kangaroo?

Post by Archived Topic » Wed Mar 17, 2004 8:27 pm

I was told that Kangaroo is an Aborigine word meaning "I don't know". When one of the english pioneers in Australia asked an Aborigine the name of the animal hopping by, the Aborigine replied Kangaroo, which means "I don't know" in Aborigine. Is there any truth to this. tomgelin@aol.com
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kangaroo?

Post by Archived Reply » Wed Mar 17, 2004 8:41 pm

A discussion of this is listed in "Ask the Wordwizard", however a more complete explanation is:
WORD HISTORY: A widely-held belief has it that the word kangaroo comes from an Australian Aboriginal word meaning “I don't know.” This is in fact untrue. The word was first recorded in 1770 by Captain James Cook, when he landed to make repairs along the northeast coast of Australia. In 1820, one Captain Phillip K. King recorded a different word for the animal, written “mee-nuah.” As a result, it was assumed that Captain Cook had been mistaken, and the myth grew up that what he had heard was a word meaning “I don't know” (presumably as the answer to a question in English that had not been understood). Recent linguistic fieldwork, however, has confirmed the existence of a word gangurru in the northeast Aboriginal language of Guugu Yimidhirr, referring to a species of kangaroo. What Captain King heard may have been their word minha, meaning “edible animal.”


The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by the Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.


Reply from Charles Becker (Murray KY - U.S.A.)
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kangaroo?

Post by Archived Reply » Wed Mar 17, 2004 8:56 pm

To continue this discussion, I'd be interested to learn more about established cases of "origin by misunderstanding" (though it proves to be a legend here). The most famous example of this is, I suppose, the Russian word "bistro" ("quick!") that became a cafe in French.
Don't you think this linguistic phenomenon should be named something?
PS: I remember thay my Russian teacher told me of some non-Russian speaking friends of his who once travelled to Moscow and firmly believed they were staying at the hotel "Pectopah" because this is what the sign on the building read (it simply means "restaurant"). Luckily enough, it didn't give birth to any word this time.

Reply from Natalio Elta (Paris - France)
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kangaroo?

Post by Archived Reply » Wed Mar 17, 2004 9:10 pm

The phenomenon of Russian-related linguistic mangling through misunderstanding goes the other way, too. The usual Russian word for a railway station is 'vokzal' after some Russians who saw the Vauxhall railway station in London had conceived the mistaken impression that 'Vauxhall' was the generic English-language name for all railway stations.

I remember a linguist telling me a few years ago about how, during World War I, a party of German soldiers who were taken prisoner in France or Belgium had pointed to a glazed fanlight above a doorway and inquired "Was ist das?" ("What's that?"). This was taken by their captors to be the German term for the item, and the name stuck so well that it became the usual French word for it too.

I always thought that was an amusing anecdote but didn't take it too seriously until this evening, when I looked in my _Robert_ French-English Dictionary and found an entry for 'le vasistas' which corroroborated at least the meaning of the word, if not the circumstances of its coining (being devoid of etymologies).

I agree that this phenomenon deserves a distinctive name if it doesn't already have one. 'Loan word' or 'borrowing' scarcely captures the anarchic circumstances of the way words or expressions such as these are reborn into another language.

Incidentally, Natalio, your 'restaurant' example works better in upper case ('PECTOPAH', 'restoran') because this makes the visual equivalence of the letters identical.


Reply from Erik Kowal (Reading - England)
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kangaroo?

Post by Archived Reply » Wed Mar 17, 2004 9:25 pm

Hmm... 'Vasistas' already appears in Flaubert's 'Madame Bovary' (pub. 1857). So much for so-called language experts!
Reply from Erik Kowal (Reading - England)
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kangaroo?

Post by Archived Reply » Wed Mar 17, 2004 9:39 pm

The word may date back to 1774 or 1776 ( depends on the dictionary...) Victor Hugo also used the word. The word comes indeed from the German question "was ist das?" which was asked from a window ( counter )
Reply from Hélène GOMEZ (BREST - France)
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Re: kangaroo?

Post by Wizard of Oz » Sun May 17, 2009 4:51 am

.. I would like to expand upon the following response ..
WORD HISTORY: A widely-held belief has it that the word kangaroo comes from an Australian Aboriginal word meaning “I don't know.” This is in fact untrue. The word was first recorded in 1770 by Captain James Cook, when he landed to make repairs along the northeast coast of Australia. In 1820, one Captain Phillip K. King recorded a different word for the animal, written “mee-nuah.” As a result, it was assumed that Captain Cook had been mistaken, and the myth grew up that what he had heard was a word meaning “I don't know” (presumably as the answer to a question in English that had not been understood). Recent linguistic fieldwork, however, has confirmed the existence of a word gangurru in the northeast Aboriginal language of Guugu Yimidhirr, referring to a species of kangaroo. What Captain King heard may have been their word minha, meaning “edible animal.”
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by the Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
.. Capt James Cook’s ”kangooroo or kanguru” was recorded in 1770 in what is now northern Queensland amongst the Guugu Yimidhirr people .. in 1787 when the First Fleet sailed for Botany Bay, Capt Arthur Phillip had a small book, written by Joseph Banks who had been with Cook, entitled New Holland Language .. it included the word kanguru that had been recorded some 3 000 km to the north ..

.. it took about 4 years, 1791, before one alert amateur linguist noticed that all was not well .. Watkin Tench, a marine, observed that the early colonists had for three years ”mistakenly thought the local indigenous word beal meant ‘good’ when it in fact meant ‘bad’ .. he further observes that the word used by natives in the Sydney area for kangaroo is pat-a-ga-ram .. but was this used in relation to “wallabies”? .. can this be the same animal he wonders? .. he correctly observes that different “dialects” are spoken by the local natives and that some words are completely different .. what Tench didn’t realise of course was that at that time there were some 250 distinct Aboriginal languages with many dialects giving some 600 ways of speaking .. Capt King made his list 29 years later in the same area as Cook .. and here we encounter another problem .. there is not just one species of kangaroo .. and unlike the linguistically uninventive Europeans who follow the system of keeping the main noun, kangaroo and simply adding an adjective, eg grey kangaroo, western grey kangaroo, red kangaroo, the indigenous languages often named each species of kangaroo and wallaby which meant that depending upon which kangaroo you pointed to you it was possible to get a different word .. in 1972 a linguist, John Haviland, working with the Guugu Yimidhirr people, found King’s word and Cook’s word and in so doing unravelled the problem ..

.. but the confusion with kangaroo wasn’t one-sided .. First Fleeters used the word when talking to local Aborigines to refer to variety of marsupials .. and so when cattle were unloaded the Iora people called them kangaroos thinking they were another kind of edible animal .. and later when Europeans settled on the Darling River the English word kangaroo was taken into the local Baaganndji language as gaangurru to refer to the introduced animal “horse” ..

.. isn’t language a wonderful living thing ??

WoZ who likes his kangaroo rare

Sources for the above expansion are "Speaking Our Language" (B Moore) and "Australian Aboriginal Words in English" (R Dixon et al)
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