Thursday, April 30, 2009

This Week in Reference

Here are some happenings from this past week. They are presented to inform and amuse. The names of the people are changed to protect their privacy.

LD = Library Director FM = Faculty member ST = Student

1. The library was co-operating with the history department's Civil War re-enactment. The library had a film festival of films dealing with the Civil War era, books displayed connected to the era, and some realia on display. There was a quiz for patrons. If they answered all the questions correctly they could win prizes. FM-1 came in and asked for a quiz sheet FM-1 has a very rough temperament. FM-1 wanted to know if the answers could be looked up. We said go ahead and look them up. Two hours later she returned in a huff. "Where's LD?" she demanded. When I said in a very calm voice that he had left for the day and asked if I could help her. FM-1 answered gruffly, "I just wanted to turn this quiz in. I want to make sure it gets into the right place." I said that I would be happy to take care of that. Now-- any of the student library helpers could have placed the quiz in the right envelope. It was not a job for LD.

When I told LD about the incident without mentioning FM-1's name, he guessed immediatly the name. He said that other people have pointed out anomolies in FM-1's behavior.

2. A faculty member FM-2 asked for help determining if a student paper contained sentences that were not original i.e. was part of the paper plagerized? First I checked the bibliography. The book listed did not exist as listed. There was a similar title by the same author. In my opinion this is a serious error, but FM-2 didn't agree with my strong opinion. I found with GoogleBooks the listed item. I checked for copying of sentences and I didn't find any. While I don't know the student, the sentences on the paper just did not seem to come from a contemporary college student. However, we did not find any evidence of plagerism.

3. ST-1 came in with a question about murder statistics for Illinois. The FBI keeps such statistics. We found a web site with historical statistics for Illinois cities with the latest date of 2006. We also found that Illinois reports every single homicide on a web site. With this information ST-1 could synthecize the information that she wanted for her paper.

4. ST-2 wanted help looking up CFRs for something her father wanted to know. First I had to learn that CFR is the Code of Federal Regulations. We found all of the CFR online at: After further questions I determined that ST-2 wanted Title 21. I gave her the links and told her that I hoped this is what her father wanted. ST-2 couldn't believe how easy it was to find the answer on line. She said that her father (aged three years older than me) was not very skilled at using the computer because he was "older." I said that age is not the reason. I was using personal computers for 12 years before my first child was born. (For those of you who are counting-- that is 2 years before IBM started selling the PC.)

Names and reactions

I have gotten many nice comments about the Librarian's Lobby article for May. In fact as of today more than 813 people have downloaded the file. This is about 4 times the average number of downloads. Some people pointed out areas that they disagreed with me. One person told me that I missed one letter in a footnote. The word was not really misspelled, but it was alternative spelling. Now I know people really pay attention. Some people gave alternative explanations for names. In particular, the name Jessica. "Jessica" was a name Shakespeare used in the
Merchant of Venice. It is possible that he coined the name. Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz in his commentary on Genesis 11:29 says that Iscah יסכה is the basis for Shakespeare's "Jessica." Others say the source is the feminine for of Yeshai ישי (Jesse in English). Both make sense linguistically. So far I have not found any way to verify what Shakespeare had in mind. I did not find any listing of the name before Shakespeare. I did find hundreds of names from what is now Great Britain that have not been used in more than 500 years. Most names that pre-date the Norman Conquest are not used.

Parents are free to choose any names they want. They may even invent their own meanings. When that is done they create folk etymologies. These etymologies are not usually connected to a linguistic etymology. One commenter suggested that name "Simha Bunim" is from a play on words, based on Psalm 113 which ends "He transforms the barren wife into a glad mother of children [em habanim smeicha], halleluyah". The commenter says, "With a little imagination, you change the reading of em habanim smeicha to 'the mother of Simcha Bunim.'"

Names transform for one language to another because of the way each language deals with phonemes. Written letters both consonants and vowels have different sounds. There is even a regional difference within one country or language tradition. When words are borrowed among languages the word may take on a meaning that is exactly the same, more general, or more specific meaning. For example: in German Tier means animal. The cognate in English is: deer is an example of the general becoming specific. Wolf is the same in both languages.

Names also follow fads. Jews have followed these fads somewhat. There are certain names that are more associated with Jews just as there are some names more associated with other ethic groups. There were hundreds of years that Biblical names were rare. Today in Christian and Jewish families Biblical names are used. Even names very English sounding names like Elizabeth and Jessica are from Hebrew roots. There are many names in from the Bible that are not used. Some like Esau and Ismael are used by non-Jews. Some like, Terah, Cain, and Lot are just not used.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

May Librarian's Lobby

On April 15 someone on AUTOCAT asked about the transliteration of Gotlib, Zeev and found a NAF reference to : Gottlieb, Wolf, 1910-. At the time I answered that I was preparing an article that addressed the question.

The article that I was preparing on Hebrew-Yiddish name pairs is done. Ze'ev--Wolf is one of those pairs. This article will help the reader understand more about names. Over half of the popular given names are from Hebrew sources, but the English spelling and pronunciation is filtered through the Greek Bible translation. For example the Hebrew Shmuel becomes Samuel in English because Greek does not have an /sh/ sound. Greek used the letter sigma to represent the Hebrew letter shin. In English "sh" is a digraph (two letters for one sound).

The article has implications for catalogers and others interested in names. I gave examples of authors who had books in a library catalog. Not every name had an author.

You may download the article from my web site.

Please feel free to comment as I able to revise it before it is published in a scholarly journal.

April 24

I received many favorable comments on the article. One person named his son Simha Bunim and had no idea that was a name pair.

Comment from :Jill Rosenshield, University of Wisconsin--Madison Library. Included here with her permission.
I very much enjoyed your article on double names. We named our first son Simcha Velvel after his late grandpa; but he had a plaque made for his room Simcha Zev because we thought we had mixed Hebrew and Yiddish. Maybe we should have gone the other way and named him Zelig Velvel.

Incidentally, I have always been puzzled by two forenames: I was raised as a fundamentalist Christian and had relatives who criticized the practice because they said it was Roman Catholic. I think Catholics get a second middle name on some day such as Holy Communion. [Stuhlman comment -- I checked about this Catholic practice. Many Catholics get an additional name at confirmation. This is in addition to the names given by parents. Some confirmands use the additional name and some don't.]

Of course, now that there are so many people and so many shared surnames, there is probably a very good reason to give several forenames. I should talk: Rosenshield is a very rare name in its spelling.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Librarian's Lobby

I uploaded the Librarian's Lobby column for April. It's on the topic of electronic books.

April 12 -- I fixed a typo in the date of Pesikta Zutrasa. It was written in the 11th century, not the 19th.

April 13 -- I received a question about how I found the Hebrew quote Pesikta Zutrasa on the web site.

The web site does not offer a good search engine for searching text and the texts do not show up when using google.books. Since I knew the section of the quote was Shemos 13, I loaded pages until I found the right one, then I read the page until I found the words. Pages have to be loaded individually. The whole book may be download, but I did not try to download it and test the find command for a PDF file. This was tedious, but there were no alternatives. If I had the book in hand, the search process would have been the same, but I could turn and scan the pages faster.

If this makes no sense, then refer to the full article.