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Kangaroos

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Flash
324256.  Fri Apr 25, 2008 3:22 am Reply with quote

What does "kangaroo" mean to an Aborigine?

This is one we can pitch at Terry Wogan, who I just heard on the wireless repeating the old chestnut about "kangaroo" meaning "I don't understand you" in an Aboriginal language.
Quote:
The story is that when the English explorer James Cook and his friend Joseph Banks first espied a kangaroo during an expedition to Australia in 1770, they asked a nearby native what it was. They received the reply "kang-ooroo," which they assumed was the name of the critter in question. A later explorer, however, found that the natives seemed never to have heard of "kangaroos," and the legend grew up that what the native had actually said was the aboriginal equivalent of "I don't understand you"--in other words, that Cook and Banks had made an unbelievably dumb (not to mention comical) mistake. Subsequent research has established, however, that this was not the case. The real problem, apparently, was simply that the later explorers mispronounced "kang-ooroo" (it's ng as in sing, and I believe there's a roughly equal emphasis on the second and third syllables). The natives were mystified by the European pronunciation "kangaroo," and besides, whoever was asking was probably pointing at a variety of roo other than the large black kind, which, strictly speaking, is the only official "kang-ooroo." Anyway, lexicographers have since made several attempts to convince the world that "kangaroo" isn't merely the result of British incompetence. As usual, however, legend dies hard.

http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a2_236.html


Last edited by Flash on Fri Apr 25, 2008 3:29 am; edited 1 time in total

 
Flash
324259.  Fri Apr 25, 2008 3:27 am Reply with quote

Quote:
1770, used by Capt. Cook and botanist Joseph Banks, supposedly an aborigine word from northeast Queensland, Australia, usually said to be unknown now in any native language. However, according to Australian linguist R.M.W. Dixon ("The Languages of Australia," Cambridge, 1980), the word probably is from Guugu Yimidhirr (Endeavour River-area Aborigine language) /gaNurru/ "large black kangaroo."

"In 1898 the pioneer ethnologist W.E. Roth wrote a letter to the Australasian pointing out that gang-oo-roo did mean 'kangaroo' in Guugu Yimidhirr, but this newspaper correspondence went unnoticed by lexicographers. Finally the observations of Cook and Roth were confirmed when in 1972 the anthropologist John Haviland began intensive study of Guugu Yimidhirr and again recorded /gaNurru/." [Dixon]

etymonline

 
MatC
324287.  Fri Apr 25, 2008 4:43 am Reply with quote

There are lots of variations on this story arent there? Told about various animals, I mean, to various explorers in different countries. Not that I can remember any of them this morning, as such.

In any case, this is essentially just another version of the Lone Ranger story, to which I thus link it:post 312384

 
Flash
324293.  Fri Apr 25, 2008 4:54 am Reply with quote

The Straight Dope article refers to Yucatan:
Quote:
The Yucatan = "I don't know" story apparently started with one Gomara, who published The History of the Indies in 1554. The explorer involved was Francisco Hernandez, who reached the Yucatan in 1517. Asking some locals about the name of a nearby town, he received the reply, "Tectatan," supposedly meaning "I don't know," which eventually the Spaniards corrupted into "Yucatan." However, other historians say Yucatan was first mentioned in a report by Bartholomew Columbus, brother of Christopher, who had heard about it from some Indians in 1502. Believe who you will.

and Cape Nome in Alaska:
Quote:
According to the 1943 Guide to Alaska prepared by the Federal Writers' Project, the word is the result of a draftsman's error. "When the manuscript chart of the region was being prepared on board the British vessel Herald, attention was drawn to the fact that [a certain] point had no name, and a mark (? name) was penciled against it. The chart was hurriedly inked in, the draftsman reading ? name as C. Nome, and Cape Nome and Nome they have been ever since. This story is disputed by other authorities, who say it is a local native name."

I am doubly inclined to disbelieve this story because of a suspicious yarn told by Mary Lee Davis in Uncle Sam's Attic (1930). Quoth Davis: "The very name of Nome is an answer to the query, "Whence came the first American?" `Ka-no-me,' said the Eskimos, when white men asked what place this was: `I do not know.' And so the place was called: Ka-no-me, Nome, `I do not know.'" Having now had the "I don't know" yarn turn up in three different parts of the globe, I can draw one of two conclusions: either explorers are incredible saps, or somebody's been pulling our leg.

 
MatC
324295.  Fri Apr 25, 2008 4:57 am Reply with quote

This also links rather nicely to the discussion about Nothing - we could have a whole stream of Nothing/Don't Know stuff, with a massive klaxon for the first person who puts on a Manuel accent and says "I know notheeeeng".

 
96aelw
324298.  Fri Apr 25, 2008 5:04 am Reply with quote

I fear you've already done this one (well, in relation to kangaroos you have, anyway; not to Yucatan). Series 1, episode 7.

 
eggshaped
324300.  Fri Apr 25, 2008 5:06 am Reply with quote

I fear:

Series 1: Episode 7

Quote:
Stephen
Erm, so, what does the word kangaroo mean in the Baagandji Aboriginal language of New South Wales?

Jimmy
[presses buzzer, which warbles]

Stephen
Yes?

Jimmy
"Skippy."

Stephen
How sweet.

Jimmy
I think I know.

Stephen
Yes?

Jimmy
Unless it's apocryphal. It might be one of the obvious answers. I'm slightly nervous about saying it.

Stephen
Yes?

Alan
Say it! Say it!

Jimmy
Does it mean "I don't know"?

Stephen
Oh! Oh, dear. Oh! Oh!

[Forfeit: Klaxons sound. Viewscreens flash the words "I DON'T KNOW".]

Jimmy
I've walked into it like a fool.

 
Flash
324302.  Fri Apr 25, 2008 5:07 am Reply with quote

I think "Nothing" will be the Future show so as to pitch it at Ben Miller who knows all about quantum foam & suchlike, whereas the kangaroos look right for the Children in Need special so as to be pitched at Terry Wogan. You're right in theory, though.

Sorry, while I was typing you just posted that very tiresome piece of news. As you were, everybody.

 
Menocchio
324952.  Fri Apr 25, 2008 5:05 pm Reply with quote

It gets worse, Flash. The Book of General Ignorance p 241:

Quote:
What does ‘kangaroo’ mean in Aborginal?

It doesn’t mean ‘I don’t know’, despite the endless websites and trivia books that tell you otherwise, citing it as a hilarious early example of cultural misunderstanding.

The real story is much more interesting. In 18th century Australia there were at least 700 Aboriginal tribes speaking as many as 250 different languages.

Kangaroo or gangaru comes from the Guugu Ymithirr language of Botany Bay, where it means the large grey or black kangaroo, Macropus robustus.

As the English settlers moved into the interior they used this word to refer to any old kangaroo or wallaby.

The Baagandji people lived 1,400 miles from Botany Bay and didn’t speak Guugu Ymithirr. They heard the English settlers using this unfamiliar word and took it to mean ‘an animal that no one has ever heard of before’.

Since they had never seen them before they, quite reasonably, used the word to describe the settlers’ horses.


And p 121:

Quote:
How did Nome in Alaska get its name?

(a) By mistake
(b) To attract good luck: ‘Nomes’ are a type of Alaskan pixie.
(c) After Sir Horace Nome (1814- 72), Scottish explorer
(d) After an Inuit greeting: Nome nome (‘Here you belong’)

It was a spelling mistake.

In the 1850s, a British ship noted the existence of a prominent but unnamed point of land in Alaska. A ship’s officer scribbled ‘Name?’ next to the point on a manuscript map. When the map was being copied at the Admiralty, a cartographer misread the scribble, and wrote in the new point’s name as ‘Cape Nome.’

In 1899 the burghers of Nome tried to change the name of their town to Anvil City, but the US Postal service objected on the grounds that it risked confusion with the nearby settlement of Anvik, so the name stuck.

As the city’s community web site www.nomealaska.org reminds us: ‘there’s no place like Nome’.


Tiresome, but reassuring that we still find the same things interesting, their intrinsic appeal undimmed by the passage of time...

 
MatC
325283.  Sat Apr 26, 2008 6:59 am Reply with quote

I suppose that sound better than "We're all suffering from work-related memory loss."

 

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