The Moby-Dick of Linguistics Research—Jonathan Downie SpecGram Vol CLXXXVII, No 3 Contents How Will COVID-19 Affect the World Toponymically and Onomastically?—Joshua Nash


Frank Quipley returned from a long stay at a lavish villa in Tuscany. We thought that the villain1 was over there for one of his many extended vacations, but it turns out he was also digging into the past of one of the region’s most famous former languages. We were planning to skip the talk until we saw Josh wheel in a case of Castello di Quipley wine. The consensus is that it is overpriced (price: free and all-you-can-drink if you attend a Quipley talk), but we were determined to get as much value as possible.

The origins of the Etruscan language are shrouded in mystery. Some hypothesize that it may be related to undeciphered languages in the Aegean, such as Eteocretan.2 “Others believe that it obviously comes from a different language,” said Quipley. “Russian...” he paused.

One of our more adventurous students offered up an alternative hypothesis: “Hurrian?”

Quipley looked at him bemusedly. “That’s what I was trying to say before you interrupted me. Rushin’ to conclusions about its origins is a fool’s game. Nevertheless, it has left clear traces in nearby languages.”

Jet-setting Quipley clearly has a different definition of “nearby” than we do,3 as he posits a relationship between Etruscan and Scots Gaelic, with subsequent borrowings into English. Now, we’ve heard serious discussion that the p-Celtic languages may have been influenced by Etruscan pronunciation, but a q-Celtic connection is entirely new to us. Quipley suggests that the Gaelic-derived word clan comes from the Etruscan word for son. A similar borrowing, probably via the Scots, into English is Who’s your daddy?, an eggcorn from the Etruscan husiur, meaning children.

Most of these Etruscan traces have been lost to the sands of time, with only indirect connections to the present. For instance, Etruscan is known not to have made a written distinction between /o/ and /u/, which may initially have been a single vowel. Later Etruscans, themselves unsure of how previous generations pronounced this/these vowel(s), described them as “not ‘not /o/’ ”. The original Etruscan for this, ei ei o, somehow became part of the refrain of a folk song describing a farmer of clearly Scottish origin. “And on that farm he had a ewe,” Quipley added sheepishly.

We tuned (blacked?) out when Quipley turned to hypotheses that are truly absurd. We can’t actually disprove that the character “Mini-Me” from the Austin Powers series of films was inspired by an entry in an Etruscan–English dictionary, but even we have better things to do than sit around reading glossaries of long-dead languages, and writing those glossaries is what some of us do for a living. On the other hand, wasn’t there a Scottish character in those movies? We say Don’t Believe It!... Or Do?



1 One of our nicknames for him.

2 Homophonous with another of our nicknames for Dr. Quipley.

3 There’s a really good sandwich shop on the other side of campus, but most days we eat the slop in the dining hall downstairs.

The Moby-Dick of Linguistics ResearchJonathan Downie
How Will COVID-19 Affect the World Toponymically and Onomastically?Joshua Nash
SpecGram Vol CLXXXVII, No 3 Contents