Friday, March 03, 2006

The long and the short of it

When my three-year-old asked me recently why she couldn't reach something, I said it was because she was too short, and she responded, "Mommy, you're long!" I corrected her, saying that I was tall. (At 5' 1" I'm not, really, but it's all relative.) However, it's valid to use "long" to describe her little sister, who's less than a year old and can't yet stand reliably. When she can, will we go from describing her as "26 inches long" to "26 inches tall"?

It's interesting to see what terms they use in other languages. Spanish uses bajo and alto, literally "low" and "high", while German uses klein and groß, or "small" and "large". The words for "short", corto and kurz respectively, apply only to things like pencils...and babies? I'll have to consult some experts to answer that question.

4 comments:

irina said...

In French they use grand for persons and haut for things like mountains or buildings. But you still have to be careful where you put it:
if you say un homme grand then it's ok, it means a tall man, but if you say un grand homme then you're saying a great man...
Language is really something...

Language Lover said...

Thanks for your comment, Irina. I don't speak French, so I like to hear about it from those who do. The adjective order makes a difference in Spanish, too: un gran hombre vs. un hombre grande. It might be a Romance language thing, though as far as I know there's nothing like that in the original Latin.

irina said...

Well, see, I don't think it is a Romance language thing, because my mother tongue (Romanian that is) is one of the most Romance (if I may say so). And still we use the same word to describe mountains and people as tall/high înalt(masculine)/înaltă(feminine). Which makes me think it comes from the Latin altus,-a,-um... I am not sure though.
That's what i like about languages, when you think you know the rule and you're happy you can apply it in new situations, or even languages of the same origin, strange exceptions come to surprise us.

Language Lover said...

By "Romance language thing" I was referring to the difference in putting the adjective before/after the noun, not the difference in words for "tall". But you are right, haut is derived from altus (http://www.allwords.com/word-haughty.html) Interesting, so THAT'S where we get the word "haughty".