23 words that have remained unchanged for 15,000 years

"A research team led by Mark Pagel at the University of Reading in England has identified 23 'ultraconserved words' that have remained largely unchanged for 15,000 years." - Washington Post (Thanks, D.S. Deboer)


          1. No, my answer is “absolute omnipotence is not bound by your quaint concepts of paradox or cause-and-effect.” There’s plenty of other interesting answers, of course–see Wikipedia on “omnipotence paradox”.

          2. Since nobody’s proved to my satisfaction that “absolute omnipotence” is even theoretically possible… I’m going to have to put you down either for a no or “refused to answer the question”.

            “No, he can’t, because the question becomes incoherent” is an acceptable answer, but it’s still no.  “Yes, he can because… *jazzhands* your argument is now puppies” is not. :)

        1.  Or could God make a sandwich so big even he couldn’t finish it?


      1. I haven’t read the book, but I’m a bit unclear as to the distinction between bullshit and lying.

        This is the crux of the distinction between him and the liar. Both he and the liar represent themselves falsely as endeavoring to communicate the truth. The success of each depends upon deceiving us about that. But the fact about himself that the liar hides is that he is attempting to lead us away from a correct apprehension of reality; we are not to know that he wants us to believe something he supposes to be false. The fact about himself that the bullshitter hides, on the other hand, is that the truth-values of his statements are of no central interest to him; what we are not to understand is that his intention is neither to report the truth nor to conceal it. This does not mean that his speech is anarchically impulsive, but that the motive guiding and controlling it is unconcerned with how the things about which he speaks truly are.

        I’m not convinced that the term “liar” is much use if we are to give that much ground to “bullshit”. Liars aren’t usually very scrupulous about making their statements false (apart from when they are guarding doors in logic puzzles). Generally the point is that they want you to believe a certain version of events (that may or may not bear a close relationship to the truth), and they are willing to give an inaccurate report of the truth as they understand it in order to achieve that. Truthful people assign a value to truth, liars (and bullshitters) assign a higher value to their other objectives. They have no special allegiance to falsehood.

        It sounds like an interesting book that I’d like to read, it’s just that after reading a number of quotes and the Wikipedia article I haven’t found a situation where you could say ” that’s not bullshit, it’s just a lie”.

        1. The distinction is that, in Frankfurt’s definition, the liar is trying to conceal something specific, e.g. that he has cheated on his wife. The bullshitter is not concerned with concealing, but simply with convincing people that he is right, e.g. that he is the best lover amongst his peers. Frankfurt argues that the liar is deeply concerned with the truth, as the object that he is trying to conceal, while the bullshitter could care less what the truth is. Furthermore, he argues that the latter position is more dangerous to the truth, since an absolute lack of concern for what the truth is might result its being totally lost in the debate.

          1. It seems to be more about the importance of the truth you’re hiding, rather than the strategy. If it turned out that the lover was actually a eunuch, would he then be lying, as he was trying to hide the truth? What if the cheat was asked to explain himself, and made up an elaborate story? I’m just not convinced that we’re describing different kinds of people or their view of the truth as much as the different situations they find themselves in and whether a single lie or a story is the best strategy to achieve their objective. Both want you to believe their story, and in neither case is the truth actually important to the liar/bullshitter, apart from the risks involved in it being known.

          2. bullshitting is a form of entertainment.  lying is a form of deliberate misdirection.  the venn diagram would overlap.  in both cases the truth is important, but for different reasons.  if either the lier or the bullshittar doesn`t keep an eye on the truth, they become less effective.

            paul bunyan stories are bullshitting.  crying wolf is lying.  paul bunyan crying wolf is lying bullshit.  a wolf crying paul bunyan on werewolf bridge is a bullshitting lie.

        2.  “No… I wasn’t lying, I just took the liberty of  bullshitting you.”  Elwood Blues, to his brother Jake.

    1. That’s incredible. Speaking with William the Conqueror in (any sort of) English? Dr Who having to use a phrasebook to help him speak in other languages? They’re even using “special software” as a sort of Deus ex Machina (or maybe they’ve discovered the Babel Fish?

  1. thou
    not, that, we, to give, who
    this, what, man/male, ye, old, mother, to hear, hand, fire ,to pull, black, to flow, bark, ashes, to spit, worm

    1. Thou, I not, that we,
      to give who, this what man/male,
      ye old mother to hear,
      hand fire to pull, black to flow,
      bark, ashes to spit,

      (cheers, whistles and applause)

    1. My old uni; also where a lot of my family lives. The way I pronounce that word in my head by default is different from most people, I suspect.

      1. One of the few words that changes pronunciation when capitalized. The only other that comes to mind is “polish”.

        1. The university’s magazine for alumni was (and may still be) named ‘Reading reading’. I guess someone must have thought that was clever and/or funny.

  2. Were one to utter a sentence constructed  from those words, it’s not obvious that one from 15000 years ago would understand what you were wittering on about.

    1. A cynical person might say that Pagel’s “research” on this topic is a load of simple-minded drivel with as much scholarly value as Kevin Warwick’s “Project Cyborg”.

      Perhaps Gillian McKeith can research how our shit has remained unchanged for thousands of years. Go on, Gilly; dig in.

  3. If you click through, you learn that “largely unchanged” here means “almost completely changed.”

  4. 15,000 years of ‘to spit’, but not ‘to shit’? What’s special about spit?

    1.  Listening, I suspect it’s that people’s mouths don’t always make a particular kind of sound when they shit.

  5. Hey they completely forgot a bunch of words like ~  huh, ow, um, burp, ha, boing, and whazzup! 

  6. I don’t see the word penis.  I’m just sayin.  Either the word’s in that list or the world does not revolve around phallic symbols like women keep saying.

    1. You don’t see it because it’s actually all of the words. Or at least the ones that are longer than they’re wide.

  7.  I would have argued for fuck but the OED can only trace it back to 1503. And shit to 1585, since that’s already come up. Worm, on the other hand, is at least as old as Beowulf, as is spit.

  8. For the word ‘you’ the Inuit-Yupik word doesn’t sound anything like the rest – how can they claim it’s a cognate? For all the others, I hear something like ‘tee’ or ‘two-ey’, but the Inuit-Yupik word sounds like Ehlshuverrh and not anything else. What?

    1. Do ehlshuverrh really not see that it’s basically the same word? I’ll bet ehlshuverrh anything I could use it to address ehlshuverrh and ehlshuverrh’d understand me just fine.

        1. Ehlshuverrh know, I may not have been totally serious. Or I may have been, who knows…

  9. I’m no linguist expert, but “black?!” Off the top of my head:
    “Noir” sounds nothing like “black”
    “schwartz” sounds nothing like “black”

    1. Yes, confused about that one.

      Going further West, I still see no cognates for black between different languages:

      Greek: máv̱ros. Ukrainian: chornyy̆. Hindi: Kālā. Mandarin: Hēisè.

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