24 August 2008

Ḥabîbî to mohabbat: Egyptian pop song to Bollywood filmī song.

 On Thursday, 13 March, I was in Apna Bazar Cash and Carry, a market here in Jackson Heights, and I was surprised to hear a Hindi/Urdu version of the 1996 Egyptian song “Nûru‐l‐ʻayin” (نور العين), composed by Nasser el-Mizdawi (ناصر المزداوي). The video of the recording by Amr Diab (عمرو دياب), with the original Arabic lyric by Ahmed Sheta (أحمد شتا), can be seen on YouTube here, here, here, here and elsewhere.

 The staff in the store were of no help identifying this later version for me even though they were playing it. A little research on the Internet revealed it was “Mohabbat hō nā jāyē,” a song from the 2001 Indian film Style. The Urdu/Hindi lyric, according to the Indian Movie Directory and Bollywoodlyrics.com, is by Abbas Tyrewala.

 The switch from Arabic to Urdu/Hindi was not only a change of language but of language family, from Afro-Asiatic to Indo-European, yet the first repeated word of the chorus manages to be from the same root in both. In the Arabic original, the chorus repeats “Ḥabîbî ḥabîbî ḥabîbî…” (حبيبي حبيبي حبيبي…‏), and in the Urdu/Hindi version, the chorus repeats “Mohabbat mohabbat mohabbat…” (محبت محبت محبت…‏), both of which come from the two-letter Semitic ḥ-b (حب، חב) root which refers to love. The Hebrew word for love, אהבה (ahaḇâ), may come from the same root as well even though a hēʼ (ה، ه) is where the ḥêṯ (ח، ح) should be. According to Edward Horowitz, “Sounds made in the same part of the mouth or made in the same way, tend to change with one another” (How the Hebrew Language Grew, [New York: Jewish Education Committee Press, second printing 1961], 237, also available with Google Book Search). The ḥêṯ and hēʼ are both gutturals and prone to interchange. The example he gives is the Hebrew pair מחה (māḥâ, “wipe, rub”) and נמהה (nimhāh, “was worn out”) which are from the same root despite the /h exchange (246).

Versions of this article are reproduced at webcitation.org/5eUbMEWbi and 5eUcD08Sg.

08 July 2008

U.S. Independence Day 2008

 I wrote on the GLYNY Again Reunion Board how I spent my Independence Day:

The fireworks were pretty blah this year. I viewed them from a rooftop party on the Lower East Side, but the windless, overcast weather meant the smoke from each burst stayed in its place and blocked the view of successive bursts. And it only lasted about twenty minutes with no spectacular finale. If the right-wing fanatics can blame gays for AIDS and the California earthquake because we supposedly incited God’s wrath, then I blame the U.S. government’s evil ways for inciting Mother Nature to remove the spectacle from the Independence Day festivities.
—Untitled post in thread “Happy 4th of July Weekend,” The Official GLYNY Again Reunion Board, 5 July 2008

 Nonetheless, I had a great time. Thanks to Dr. Charles and APANY for the great party. I saw many old friends and met many new friends, but I would be remiss if I did not mention the Web log authors I met there: I Need You, Babe a.k.a. Greg, Richard and comedian Sean Graham: Leader of the Chucklenauts.

Update (9 July): My friend Andrew was also at a rooftop party on the Lower East Side, albeit a different one, and described the fireworks similarly:

it was amazing. we were seriously right under all the fireworks. all the car alarms on the street were going off from the loud noise. it was kool but the smoke from the fireworks wasnt clearing fast enough so it was alittle blocked. it still was amzing.
—Andrew Jonas, “And the Rockets Red Glare…,” Andrew MySpace Blog, 5 July 2008.

A version of this article is reproduced at webcitation.org/5kYviTskE.

08 June 2008

Jewish roots of the song “Rich Girl.”

 I first noticed the 1993 recording “Rich Girl,” by British duo Louchie Lou & Michie One, when I heard it played at the Basement Bhangra parties I attended at the dance club S.O.B.’s in the late 1990s. I was immediately struck by the surprisingly Jewish elements of a West Indian dance hall record.

 The chorus, sung in an Oriental melisma, is to the tune of “If I Were a Rich Man” from the 1964 Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof, composed by Jewish-American Jerry Bock. The lyric is changed but nonetheless patterned on the original lyric by (I assume) Jewish-American Sheldon Harnick which, according to Wikipedia, in turn was inspired by the 1902 Yiddish monologue “Ven ix bin Rotşild” (If I were Rothschild, װען איך בין ראָטשילד), written by Şolem Aleyxem (שלום עליכם). (The title of the Yiddish version of “If I Were a Rich Man” is “Ven ix bin a Rotşild” [If I were a Rothschild, װען איך בין ראָטשילד], the extra word presumably added to fit the song’s meter.) What few other people seem to have noticed is that the additional “na na na” part is to the tune of Hat-tiqwâ” (התקוה), the Israeli national anthem. (Gwen Stefani’s more popular cover version uses a different melody for the “na na na” part. Was that intentional based on the melody’s Zionist connection?)

 The only online acknowledgment I could find of the use of “Hat-tiqwâ” was James Lœffler, “Ethnic Sampling,” Nextbook: A New Read on Jewish Culture, 26 August 2005. Lœffler noted the borrowing of Jewish melodies “as part of an unlikely ode to social justice and community harmony.” Eric Schulmiller posted a comment on that article on 31 August refuting Lœffler’s interpretation: “…[T]he juxtaposition of the two most popularly recognizable Jewish melodies (outside of ‘Hava Nagilah’)…echoes the age-old antisemitic trope of the money-grubbing Jew as typified by the spoiled, materialistic Jewish American Princess (aka the ‘Rich Girl’).” Schulmiller’s accusations of anti-Semitism are unwarranted and unfounded. Louchie Lou & Michie One are a London group that was, again according to Wikipedia, exponents of a “rise of radio friendly reggae in Britain.” According to Michie One’s MySpace profile, the duo co-wrote “Rich Girl.” Listen to the recording: The performance contribution of Michie One, the black West Indian member, was toasting in a light West Indian créole. All the Jewish elements (the melisma and two Jewish melodies) were contributed by the other member, Louchie Lou, better known to her friends and family as Louise Gold. I have no direct documentation of her ethnic background, but the evidence suggests she is a British Jew rather than an anti-Semite.

 Perhaps my epiphany is common knowledge in Britain. For all I know, hundreds of magazine articles may have been published in the U.K. about how Louchie Lou & Michie One have a blend of Jewish and West Indian influences, but I never read any of them and I found none on the Web. I admittedly have not sought any print sources for information on the Jewish element of the group or the recording, instead relying solely on Internet sources. I would love citations of print sources that confirm or deny my suspicions about the group.

 On an unrelated, typically linguistic aspect of the record, Michie One’s toast curiously mixes verb tenses. The rich are perceived as singular, but the poor as plural: “Rich is getting richer, but the poor are getting sting.”

Update (11 June): “Rich Girl” (1993), by Louchie Lou & Michie One

Update (3 February 2009):
“Rich Girl” (1993), by Louchie Lou & Michie One
“Rich Girl” (1993), by Louchie Lou & Michie One

Versions of this article are reproduced at webcitation.org/5eJlAStJc and 5eJlkViv2, as well as on Facebook.

20 May 2008

My friend Andrew was stabbed at Union Square.

 My thoughts keep returning to my friend Andrew who was mugged Thursday on the uptown 4-5-6 platform of Union Square station. He found himself in Brooklyn Hospital with a stab wound in his hip, a gash on his head and a broken pelvis. It’s particularly scary as I and many of my friends use that station frequently, and a particularly close friend uses that platform particularly often.

 Andrew is a fixture at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center’s Dance 208 series and can also be seen at numerous bear events and venues in New York City. (Although I first met him at Lucky Cheng’s through a mutual friend, I mostly know him from the Eagle and “Woof!” at View Bar.)

 (Andrew, I wish you the speediest possible recovery. החלמה מהירה ורפואה שלמה.‏)‎

 If you have not already done so, read the shocking story of the assault in Andrew’s own words.
• Andrew Jónás, “I’m a Statistic!,” Andrew MySpace Blog, 19 May 2008.
• Andrew Jónás, “Pain Is Not Even Close…,” Andrew MySpace Blog, 20 May 2008.

Update (21 May): I understand now that the title of this article is likely inaccurate. Andrew was assaulted at Union Square, and he was stabbed, but the police believe the actual stabbing occurred elsewhere. Also, he has published another article, this one about nightmares resulting from the attack: Andrew Jónás, “And Here We Go….Dreams and Stitches…,” Andrew MySpace Blog, 21 May 2008.

A version of this article is reproduced at webcitation.org/5eVG6nrtq, as well as on Facebook.

13 May 2008

“The Mesopotamians,” by They Might Be Giants.

This song from last year has been in my head and emitted by my computer speakers aplenty the past few days. I am very pleased that Sumerian and Akkadian names can be found in a popular song along with a reference to cuneiform. And yes, for the most part, Mesopotamia corresponds to modern Iraq (العراق).

Update (14 May): How unlike me to not cite my source! I had no idea this song existed until I read Justin Mansfield, “Another One for My ‘Ancient Themes’ Playlist,” The Mad Latinist’s Journal, 18 October 2007.

12 May 2008

Jott’s error: “One drink with her to go necked(?).”

Jott is funny. I recorded a message they interpreted to be “One drink with her to go necked(?).” I had actually said “Wondering whither to go next.”

Ḥāmēẓ vs. ḥummuṣ.

 Yes! Despite their appearing to be spelled identically and both referring to food, Hebrew חמץ (ḥāmēẓ, in Yiddish xomeʦ) unleavened bread, and Arabic حمص (ḥummuṣ) chickpeas are from two different roots. While it is true that the Hebrew letter צ (ṣāddî) corresponds to the Arabic letter ص (ṣâd), it also sometimes corresponds to the Arabic letter ض (ḍâd) which is the case here. חמץ comes from the ḥ-m-ḍ (חמץ׳، حمض) root meaning sour, and is thus cognate with the Arabic حامض (ḥâmiḍ) sour, حمض (ḥamḍ) “a bitter plant, sorrel” and حميض (ḥamîḍ) “tract of land abounding in bitter herbs.” (The quotes are from F. Steingass, A Learner’s Arabic-English Dictionary [Beirut: Librairie du Liban, 1989]. Thanks also to John Wortabet and Harvey Porter, Hippocrene Standard Dictionary: Arabic-English English-Arabic [New York: Hippocrene Books, 2000].)

 Dave Curwin (DLC) suspected as much in his Web log article “chametz,” Balashon - Hebrew Language Detective, 12 April 2006. A comment on that article nearly a year later by Justin a.k.a. The Mad Latinist, 7 April 2007, confirms it. However, in his article “Chickpeas,” The Jewish Daily Forward, 21 October 2005, Philologos appears to be forcing a connection between ḥāmēẓ and ḥummuṣ where it doesn’t actually exist: “The reason for this, as you will know if you ever have left chickpeas or hummus paste in the refrigerator too long, is that both have a tendency to sour quickly.”

10 May 2008

The 29th Annual Asian Pacific American Heritage Festival.

Festival banner while Yosakoi Dance Project was performing. Photograph by William Eng (eggrollboy).

 I had a great time today at the Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans29th Annual Asian Pacific American Heritage Festival at Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza in Turtle Bay. Music, dance, cultural and political organizations, food and sexy men were in great abundance. I bumped into a number of friends including my neighbor and fellow GLYNY alumnus Glenn D. Magpantay who introduced me to a number of volunteers from Gay Asian and Pacific Islander Men of New York (GAPIMNY). Not only present but performing were Makalina and Virgil, my former co-workers at Waikiki Wally’s, together with the Lei Pasifika group. My other favorite performers of the day were DVL Dance Vietnam (who truly know what to do with hats), Yosakoi Dance Project, Caron Eule Dance (performing “The Crane Wife” featuring dancer Hasi as Kinzo) and Bollywood Axion. Kudos to Rainbow Yuen, Bibs Teh and the rest of CAPA for a smashing event, although the black ink on the covers of their programs was unstable, and both my copies have ugly smudges on them (as had also been on my fingers).

Media already online
Photographs by William Eng (eggrollboy)
Photographs by Ina Bixade
Video by Ami (amilee2)

27 April 2008

Swap vs. swapna.

Swapna Trading, Lexington Avenue, Murray Hill

 On Friday, 28 March, I met a friend for dinner at Rice in Murray Hill, and nearby was the store Swapna Trading. As swapping and trading are similar concepts, he speculated the English word swap may derive from swapna. It does not. Although I was certain it was only coincidence, I did not yet know enough about the etymologies of the two words to speak educatedly. The English word swap derives from a root meaning to strike, according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, “fr. the practice of striking hands in closing a business deal.” The Sanskrit word स्वप्न (svapna) refers instead to sleeping or dreaming. According to a number of sources, including the Indo-European Documentation Center of the University of Texas and Wiktionary, it derives from the Proto-Indo-European root *swep- making it a cognate of Latin somnus and Greek ύπνος (hypnos), thus meaning it is also a cognate of English somnolence, soporific and hypnotic.

22 April 2008

Lobster Canto.

 Like many others, one Chinese restaurant I frequent in Jackson Heights (specifically New Jade Bamboo House 玉竹園, 70-24 35th Avenue) has pictures of various dishes on an overhead menu. The captions to these pictures are in a font size much too large for the space allotted to them, so numerous rather extreme abbreviations are employed. My favorite is Lobster Cantonese Style abbreviated as Lobster Canto, a song I would love to hear.

05 March 2008

Blessed Lightning, or Barack and Baruch vs. Barak and Burak.

Barack, Baruch, Barak and Burak.

 They’re at it again. Pronunciation shift and inconsistent transliteration are confusing people. With Senator Barack Obama high in the public eye at the moment, people are speculating what his first name Barack might mean. With the knowledge that it is of Semitic origin (in this case, Arabic via Swahili), many have compared it to the name of Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak and incorrectly concluded that it means lightning. However, the two names, despite their similarity, are from entirely different Semitic roots.

 Ehud Barak’s last name might be better transliterated Bārāq or Bārāḳ to reflect its coming from the Semitic b-r-q (ברק، برق) root, but is transliterated as it is to reflect its pronunciation in modern Europeanized Hebrew which has shifted from [q] to [k]. The precise same shift occurred in the Turkish language as it is spoken in Turkey (as opposed to Turkic Central Asian languages). Thus the Turkish first name Burak, as in that of musician Burak Kut, is also from the b-r-q root, more specifically from the Arabic burâq (براق).

Barack actually comes from the Semitic b-r-k (برك، ברך) root and means blessed. The cognate Hebrew word would be bārûḵ (ברוך) as in the name of Bernard Baruch. In Hebrew and Aramaic, the pronunciation of certain letters changes to a different allophone when in certain positions (in this case, word final), so that the sound of the letter kāf (כ، ك) becomes spirantized and shifts from [k] to [χ] or [x]. In imitation of German or Polish, this is frequently transliterated ch. This sound change does not occur in Arabic.

Update, 3 October: The following articles have more information. At least two of them were published before mine was, yet I failed to consult them.

• Benjamin Zimmer, “The Barrage Against ‘Barack’,” Language Log, 12 February 2007.
• Benjamin Zimmer, “‘Barack’ Mailbag,” Language Log, 14 February 2007.
• Bill Casselman, “Barack: Origin & Meaning of Obama’s Given Name,” or “Barack Obama: The True Meaning of His First Name,” Bill Casselman’s Canadian Word of the Day & Words of the World, ©2008.

Update, 9 October: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language believes the b-r-k root to be “Probably a metathesized variant of krb” which would mean Barack is cognate with Hebrew כרוב kərûḇ, Arabic كروب karûb and English cherub and cherubic.

Versions of this article are preserved at webcitation.org/5bJ8vqYBb, 5bJAFkj2i and 5bRhxh8gS.

25 February 2008

Canada geese.

Photo: Melanie (cat_crocodile).

 I was walking home today from having submitted my move-out papers to Riverbay Corporation when I spotted a Canada goose with a yellow neckband marked as RT46, a participant in the North American Bird Banding Program, nibbling grass on a small remaining green area of the huge parking lot that was formerly the Co-op City Greenway. Once home, I reported the sighting online to the U.S.G.S. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Bird Banding Laboratory. The geese are some of the few things I shall miss after leaving the Bronx, although I will not miss their droppings always left behind in the most inconvenient places on the internal paths of Co-op City.

24 February 2008

“…[A]ll away from the [B]ronx”

As I organize my move in the next few weeks from the Bronx to Queens, I was nostalgic one night for the Bronx gay community of which I was actively a part in the 1990s and which I will soon leave behind. I was scouring MySpace for evidence of individuals I knew from the various different gay organizations with which I had had contact at the time, but found very little.

I did, however, find a strange quote from someone I don’t believe I ever met: Jenny Toledo, a Puerto Rican Lesbian living in the Bronx. Last month, she posted a comment on the MySpace profile of California-based Lesbian podcasters 2 Homos of whom she is presumably a fan: “Showing love all away from the bronx”. I would think this would count as an eggcorn, but perhaps not, since it could be interpreted as having the opposite meaning than what was intended. Either way, it seems to say a lot about the current Bronx pronunciation that would lead to such an error.

09 February 2008

Misheard: The huge Korea fair.

 Almost every multilingual person I encounter exhibits the same trait that is the reverse of my own personal experience: They learn to speak a language more or less fluently but have great difficulty imitating the sounds of the new language and instead choose from the repertoire of sounds of their native tongue. This is of course why people speak with accents, and I am fascinated by it. This week, my painter Pablo, who is Ecuadorean, was describing another client of his, and even with repeated utterances, I could not ascertain whether this client was huge or Jewish. (It turned out to be the latter.)

 I overheard Dan, a Romanian-born member of the faculty of the school where I work, talking about the Korea fair taking place downstairs, and images came to my mind of exotic music and costumes (not to mention cute guys), and I momentarily wondered how I would excuse myself from my desk to attend. I was disappointed to figure out it was actually a career fair.

03 February 2008

Well and smoothly.

A voice-mail message from Šəmûʼēl (שמואל) referring to my impending moving: “I hope it’s going well and smoothly. I hope you are well…and smoothly.”