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Thread: Words that mean "I don't understand what you say"

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    Words that mean "I don't understand what you say"

    The Yamana phrase tekenika means "I don't understand what you say". It must have been uttered quite a few times during the first encounters between Europeans and natives of Tierra del Fuego, so much so that for a short while this culture was referred to as "Tekenikas". Although the error was soon corrected, the "word" became widely used: one of the oldest streets in Ushuaia bears this name, and so do shops, hostels, travel agencies...

    I´m interested in collecting other words (typically, toponyms) that were originally believed to be the answer to whichever question newcomers were asking but were actually... something else!

    Thanks in advance!

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    Re: Words that mean "I don't understand what you say"

    "I don't understand what you say!"

    Croatian:
    Ne razumijem, šta si rekao (male)
    Ne razumijem, šta si rekla (female)

    Slovenian:
    Ne razumem, kaj praviš
    “Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.” - Dr. Seuss

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    Re: Words that mean "I don't understand what you say"

    English: huh?

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    Re: Words that mean "I don't understand what you say"

    Quote Originally Posted by Ushuaia View Post
    I´m interested in collecting other words (typically, toponyms) that were originally believed to be the answer to whichever question newcomers were asking but were actually... something else!
    This is the thread's topic, strictly speaking. What's the name of this place ? -- Dégage ! And for centuries the place is called "Daygage" ... (This example is totally imaginary, of course).

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    Re: Words that mean "I don't understand what you say"

    Not a toponym, but a famous example is "kangaroo".

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    Re: Words that mean "I don't understand what you say"

    Quote Originally Posted by amikama View Post
    Not a toponym, but a famous example is "kangaroo".
    It seems to be a false example, according to wikipedia ...

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    Re: Words that mean "I don't understand what you say"

    Quote Originally Posted by Ushuaia View Post
    ...I´m interested in collecting other words (typically, toponyms) that were originally believed to be the answer to whichever question newcomers were asking but were actually... something else!...
    Hello Ushuaia,
    In the Irish language, (Munster dialect) we would say :
    Ní thuigim, i gceart, cad atá a rá agat? = I don't rightly understand what you are saying.
    or perhaps a more usual form would be ; Ní thuigim cad atá tú ag caint faoi. I don't know what you are speaking about.

    The River Avon near Bristol in south west England may qualify for the toponym part of your question: the Welsh word afon meaning "river" (f is pronounced as v in Welsh). One can imagine the question in English, "What's this called?" (meaning "What is the local name for this River?" ; answer in Welsh "Afon". (meaning "Plain to see it's a river, silly.") So now it's known as River River.
    Last edited by L'irlandais; 18th November 2009 at 4:10 PM. Reason: ²Irish accents added
    John Henry Newman : "We demand strict proof for opinions we dislike, but are satisfied with mere hints for what we’re inclined to accept."

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    Re: Words that mean "I don't understand what you say"

    Ushuaia, are you asking for an actual word, or an interjection? "Huh?" in English is an interjection.
    Deuparth gwaith yw ei ddechrau.

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    Re: Words that mean "I don't understand what you say"

    Quote Originally Posted by Mauricet View Post
    It seems to be a false example, according to wikipedia ...
    Why a false example? Isn't Ushuaia looking for words wrongly believed to mean "I don't understand" (or similar expressions), but their actual meaning was totally different?

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    Re: Words that mean "I don't understand what you say"

    There has been another thread named "Anyone know this story?" a couple of years ago. I wrote:

    Very long time ago some Finns sailed to Sweden where they saw a strange looking bird with long tail. One of the Finns went to a Swede to ask about the name of the bird. He made his question in Finnish as he didn't know a word of Swedish. The Swede who didn't understand Finnish said then:
    "Va sa' ni?" (What did you say?)
    The Finn went back to his fellows and told them that the name of the bird is fasaani, and since then the pheasant is called so in Finnish.

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    Re: Words that mean "I don't understand what you say"

    Thanks, everyone! I had almost given up on this thread!

    I´m looking for actual words which were mistakenly taken to be answers to specific questions but were not, or were misunderstood. Most of these words or phrases have "lived on" as toponyms.

    -What do you and your people call yourselves?
    -Tekenika. ("I beg your pardon?")
    -Hey, he says they call themselves Tekenikas!

    -What do you call that river?
    -Afon. ("we call that stream of water a 'river', if that´s what you want to know")
    -River Avon it is!

    "Kangaroo" does seem to be a false example (unless proven to be a right one... any forum members from Down Under?)

    amikama, it's exactly... well, not "exactly", but it's the other way round.

    ¡Saludos!

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    Re: Words that mean "I don't understand what you say"

    Quote Originally Posted by Hakro View Post
    There has been another thread named "Anyone know this story?" a couple of years ago. I wrote:

    Very long time ago some Finns sailed to Sweden where they saw a strange looking bird with long tail. One of the Finns went to a Swede to ask about the name of the bird. He made his question in Finnish as he didn't know a word of Swedish. The Swede who didn't understand Finnish said then:
    "Va sa' ni?" (What did you say?)
    The Finn went back to his fellows and told them that the name of the bird is fasaani, and since then the pheasant is called so in Finnish.
    I'm sorry for the OT, but I'm afraid your story is a myth. A believable story, yet a myth. Phaesant derives from the Latin Phasianus, which in turn comes from the Greek Φασιανός (pʰasia'nos, m.; in modern Greek fasia'nos, m.), from the name «Φασιανικοί Ὄρνεις» (Phasian* birds) as it appears in the work "Deipnosophistae" (The Banquet of the Learned) of Athenaeus of Naucratis-->
    Καὶ γὰρ ὀρνίθων πλῆθος ἦν αἰεὶ καὶ χηνῶν, ἔτι δὲ τῶν νεοσσῶν ὀρνίθων, οὓς ἵππους τινὲς καλοῦσι, καὶ χοίρων καὶ τῶν περισπουδάστων
    φασιανικῶν ὀρνίθων.
    (9:369)

    *Named after the river Phasis which had its headwaters in the Caucasus Mountains, in what it is today W. Georgia (ancient Colchis)

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    Re: Words that mean "I don't understand what you say"

    Looks like all such stories are nothing more than mith, or better say folk etymology, including tekenika.
    They are very logical from the point of view of the folk etymologist and therefore very common in any language.
    Is there reliable etymology for tekenika?


    As for the rivers, this is quite another story. In fact many rivers literally mean "river", especially large rivers. No need to give the name to the river if it is the only one or the biggest nearby, this is just River. Onthe other hand, hydronims are the most stable lanscape names, often remaining when new people comes. For example, Volga, Danube, Don, Kama, Oka, Elba (Laba) most possible meant just "river" or "water" in the different languages.

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    Re: Words that mean "I don't understand what you say"

    Quote Originally Posted by Maroseika View Post
    Looks like all such stories are nothing more than mith, or better say folk etymology, including tekenika.
    They are very logical from the point of view of the folk etymologist and therefore very common in any language.
    Is there reliable etymology for tekenika?
    I agree with you, Maroseika, that some of these stories are myths: kangaroo, pheasant...

    It's not the case with tekenika, though. It does come from the Yamana teke uneka, which means "I don´t understand" (there are plenty of reliable references, Thomas Bridges' Dictionary being the most commonly quoted).

    I find it hard to believe that tekenika is the only "true" one!

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    Re: Words that mean "I don't understand what you say"

    Quote Originally Posted by Ushuaia View Post
    It's not the case with tekenika, though. It does come from the Yamana teke uneka, which means "I don´t understand" (there are plenty of reliable references, Thomas Bridges' Dictionary being the most commonly quoted).
    It would be very interesting to become familiar with these references. At least the dictionary you mentioned cannot be considered as a reliable witness thereof. In fact I failed to find it in the web, however Thomas Bridge was not a professional linguist and moreover, scientific etymology just did not exist yet in his epoch.
    Or maybe you mean this dictionary just contains the words teke and uneka? But can we conclude from this any relationship between tekenika and teke uneka? What do we know about phonetics, morphology and processes of this language with just 70 natives? Of course superficial similarity is absolutely insufficient (e.g. for my Russian ear ship and sheep are quite the same; and Berliners are sincerely sure their town name is connected with the bears...).




    I find it hard to believe that tekenika is the only "true" one!
    Me too.
    Because I cannot imagine such strange case could happen even once. Let's consider the situation.
    We have arrived to the new country and try to ask something the natives in the language they don't understand. Even better, imagine you are the one who is asked. What would you answer? I imagine many variants:

    - What do you say?
    - What?
    - I don't understand.
    - Say again.
    - Who are you?
    - Where are you from?
    - I don't give alms on Fridays.
    - Go to the hell, I'm busy.
    - I'll call to the police.
    - Etc., etc., etc...

    How probable is that each and every comer will give exactly the same answer? And why then from this endless multitude we have chosen only one answer? Because we need this one in this case. But this approach has nothing to do with etymology.

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    Re: Words that mean "I don't understand what you say"

    I'm sorry, but I don't understand what you're talking about!

    "Teke uneka" (Bridges) and "Tekenika" (Darwin) are different records of the same sounds, both noted by speakers of English. Try saying them "in English": they do sound the same. Bridges' dictionary, Yamana-English. A Dictionary of speech of Tierra del Fuego (first printed in 1933)is not online but can easily be found in libraries.

    There's really no debate as to the meaning of Tekenika/teke uneka, not because I say so but because... there isn't. Darwin calls this tribe Tekenikas; modern editions of his Travels have footnotes explaining why he was confused (those can be found online, footnotes and all.)

    I said in my first post that the error was soon corrected, but that the word continued to be widely used -for shop names, etcetera- as "a colorful Yamana term", if you will. It doesn't have a different meaning from its original one: it's just void of meaning. It is, however, a word everyone in Tierra del Fuego is familiar with.

    Still hard to believe there aren't any more out there.

    ¡Saludos!

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    Re: Words that mean "I don't understand what you say"

    I'm also sorry for insisting but I really don't see any relationship between [teke uneka] and [tekenika] except some superficial similarity. Especially stressed ika/eka is very suspicious; and of course dissapeared syllable [u]. Well, maybe all this is very reasonable and can be easily explained from the point of view of jagana language. Unfortunately this is an isolated and dead language, very complicated therefore for etymological analysis. That's why it would be reasonable to find out what professional etymologists think about the matter - before taking it for the axiom and building a theory on this "fact".
    Regretfully all the links in the web I could find just repeat this version with slight variations, nothing more.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ushuaia View Post
    I'm sorry, but I don't understand what you're talking about!
    "Teke uneka" (Bridges) and "Tekenika" (Darwin) are different records of the same sounds, both noted by speakers of English. Try saying them "in English": they do sound the same.
    Hm... I'm afraid they sound quite different. Anyway to compare them we should take into account how Darwin and Bridges used to represent the sounds of the alien languages in their notes. Do you know?
    For example, what's uneka like: uneka, aneka, anika, unika? What's -neke like: niki, neke, ni:k?
    How can be tekeneke split to words: teke neke, te ken eke, teken eke?...
    Suppose English is an isolated and dead languages and only few words remained from it, recordered by aliens not speaking English.
    What do you think could mean then something like "tutitututu"? Two tea to #22? Or maybe something else?

    Still hard to believe there aren't any more out there.
    One of the possible explanations why there is no more is that this is just impossible. We really have to check your etymology consistence before taking it for granted.

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    Re: Words that mean "I don't understand what you say"

    Quote Originally Posted by Maroseika View Post
    One of the possible explanations why there is no more is that this is just impossible.
    Well, that's just what you think (on no scientific grounds). I believe there are very likely a few more toponyms with this meaning out there.

    Quote Originally Posted by Maroseika View Post
    We really have to check your etymology consistence before taking it for granted.
    Knock yourself out.

    Thanks again, everyone!

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    Re: Words that mean "I don't understand what you say"

    Quote Originally Posted by Ushuaia View Post
    Thank you for the very intersting links. Two of them just repeat the same folk versions with the reference to Th. Bridges. And the third link says:

    Admiral Fitz-Roy called one section of them by mistake Tekeenicas (a, 137), from tekianaca, *not seen before, strange' (Th. Bridges, A., 207; Lovisato, c, 721; Dabbene, 6, 169), or Tac-q/'yenniccb-owena, “stranger men”
    (Despard, 6, 746, 717). Cf. also discussion of origin of this name in Lovisato, c, 721; Martial, 209; Hyades, q, 282; Th.
    Bridges and Despard, 11. c.

    So, in fact tekenuka as applied to a people just means “a stranger” – the name widely spread in the world as applied to the peoples. Many peoples are known under such name, given them by the neighbors. Maybe this name is number 2 in popularity after “men” or “real men” among the names of the peoples.
    Besides, we may note how many other books are referred to as devoted to this etymology, that means the question is very complicated and still far not clear.



    Last edited by Maroseika; 20th November 2009 at 8:36 AM.

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    Re: Words that mean "I don't understand what you say"

    Well, in view of all your... writing I can see now that anthropologists are wrong to call this culture "Yamana" (the name they gave themselves) or Yaghan/Yahgan (the name of a sub-group of this rather complex culture) and should be calling them "Tekenikas" instead, an expression they thought to be so simple it wasn´t worth duscussing once it's "true" meaning had been found.

    Have some fun. Sounds like you should!

    Any other words?

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