Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Couple Days Off Work

Give me a couple of days off work, and I get really fucking productive. I humbly offer you my cartoon series, "If Turkish Words Were Used As Sound Effects In Primitive Comics."

#1: Zonguldak

It's a copy machine, okay? That's why I wrote "Xerox" on there. Zonguldak, a city name, is one of my favorite words in Turkish. It's also the word you use for "Z" when you're spelling something. Spelling things in Turkish, like my name, is a particular challenge for me here, because people rarely spell with letters. Instead, they spell by syllables. Turkish is phonetic enough for this. So, for example, if you have to spell "Zonguldak," you wouldn't say "ze o ne ge..." etc. You'd just say "zon gul dak," and give the person enough time to write it down. This syllable spelling method works for most Turkish words.

It sucks, however, for foreign words. Something like "Stranger" might be considered as 3 or 4 or 5 syllables depending on the person's ear and the rules of Turkish syllabification that I never did quite get. In any case, Turkish doesn't like consonant combinations. After a lot of confusion and negotiation, the person might come up with something like "sıtranger" or "stıranger" or "sıtıranger" or "sıtıranıger." If you're lucky, you'll have the opportunity to just write the foreign word yourself and safe the person the trouble of having to spell it.

Turkish's dislike of consonant combinations is also why I like making low-level students say "skiing." It comes out as "sik-ing," which sounds like "fuck" in Turkish with an English "-ing." It was especially fun making the covered girls say it at my old university. "I enjoy sik-ing." Hee!

One has to rely on low pleasures sometimes.

So if you have to spell your foreign name, you often have to rely on the letter-to-city system of spelling, especially over the phone where the aforementioned methods all fail. This involves using a city name to represent each letter. Mostly it's Turkish cities, except that P is Paris. I also know A is Adana and Z is Zonguldak, because those are in my name. But the rest I still haven't memorized, so when I have to spell my name, it's a super-double challenge of speaking Turkish and thinking of cities in Turkey. I suppose I could have memorized all the cities in my name, but trying to think of them is more fun.

Sivas Tarsus Rize Adana Niğde Gaziantep Edirne Rize. And that's just how I'd spell it over the phone today. The cities can change. Sometimes the person on the other end tries to help out by offering random Turkish cities when you get stuck. Sometimes it helps.

#2: Gül

Gül means rose. I've come to think of it as a mostly nice word, and a nice-sounding word. It's a particularly ubiquitous word, especially in women's names. You can just tack "gül" onto almost any name and make it prettier. Fatmagül, Elifgül, Strangergül... One of my favorite is "Songül," meaning "last rose," which, rather cruelly expresses a parent's wish not to have any more girls, or rather reasonably expresses a wish not to have any more children. Some more entertaining names in this vein are the boy's names "Yeter" (enough) and "Dursun" (let it stop.) 

But Gül is one of those names that's on the list of "Turkish Names That Don't Sound So Good In English," along with Peker, Ufuk, Fatih, and of course, Kunt, which is the most titter-worthy of all Turkish names.

#3: Hay hay

"Hay hay" is an expression I rarely hear but still hear sometimes. Hearing "hay hay" makes my day because it's so nice and I don't hear it often.

"May I have some ezogelin soup?"
"Hay hay!"

It's wonderful, having an expression you like hearing but rarely come across. I think the best translation for "hay hay" is one I saw on Sex and the City, when Kyle MacLachlan says, "Okey-dokey" a lot. It's kind of a cheerfully quaint expression that's a bit like saying, "Gee, that's swell!" and "Yes, of course" at the same time. I mostly hear it from workers, so I don't know if that means "hay hay" is regional or rural, or if it means something else entirely.

#4: Zarf 
"Zarf" means both "envelope" and "adverb." I'm forever confusing it with "harf."

#5: Harf

"Harf" means "letter" (as in ABC, not the kind you mail). That's why I always confuse them when I want to buy an envelope. I think "letter" because of the envelope, but it's the wrong kind of letter, then I lose confidence in my "zarf" vs. "harf" decision. It's kind of like how I still confuse "güney" and "küzey" (North and nouth. Or south and north. Whatever-- I'm not committing either way), no matter what trick I try to use to learn them once and for all.

#6: Üzümüm

"Üzümüm" means "my grape." It's not a word one is called upon to say much, but it's theoretically amusing so credit to my friend B for saying it all the time. French gets all the credit for sounding sexy. And yes, it often sounds sexy. Turkish can also sound sexy, or, like any language, it can sound like dogs barking depending on who's speaking it, and to whom, and in what situation. Regardless of how it sounds, however, Turkish often requires an extremely sexy pursing of the lips. Seriously. I can be looking at the most hangdog, grizzliest, missingest brown tooth face on earth, but when that person smiles and says something like "üzümüm" at the same time, I go weak at the knees. It doesn't help that a lot of Turkish people have the most beautifully-shaped lips I've ever seen. And also Turks have thrillingly-colored eyes. I can't account for the eye thing, but maybe the lip thing comes from the workout from saying things like "üzümüm" since birth.

So that's my foray into cartoonin'.

Dear Hyperbole And A Half,

This post is a travesty. Please come back.



Aunt Sis said...

I enjoyed your foray into word explanation. What a different and interesting language concept. Does the name Ender have a meaning?

Stranger said...

It means unique or rare, so it suits him perfectly!

I guess it also used to be more of a unisex name, though I've only seen it once on a woman and she was in her 80s.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

"Istıranger" is more likely, just like in "stop"/"istop" rather than "sitop." More people here can say these things now because, I think, they have heard them at an earlier age and thus can hear them. You are right, though, in observing that native speakers of Turkish have trouble with consonant combinations.

"Dursun" can also mean sth. like "should stay" and is probably part of the old name magic custom against infant mortality. Think "bu bardak burada dursun." (It is also my grandpa's name.) "Yaşar" (lives) is like that too. "Yeter" also has a double meaning, from "yetmek." Actually arguably it has a triple meaning since "yettim" can be used like "yetiştim" in non-Istanbul dialects. (So (1) being enough, as in (2) being sufficient, (2') being able to do stuff or being adequate.) The name magic stuff gets more interesting in "Satılmış" and "Satı." I'll just link to a sozluk entry.

Stranger said...


I like the Satılmış one. I think it was in an Amy Tan book where she talks about Chinese parents using a similar strategy-- giving their kids a nice name, but calling them something like "Stinky Pig" to trick the ghosts. I've also wondered if that's the strategy behind affectionately calling babies "çirkin" when they cry...

So maybe you can tell me why "İmdat" is a name?

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

I have no idea about Imdat. (I could make stuff up, but so could you). It doesn't take much for things to become names, though. Partly due to this new piety thing, and partly out of heaven-knows-what, 'Aleyna' appears to have become a name on account of it being a word in the Koran. I think it just sounds good to the Turkish ear. It appears it just means 'onto' or sth. like that. I have a pal who who's both pious, knowledgeable and conservative who sometimes jokes that Iblis (like Lucifer) may become a popular name because, it, too, is in the Koran and might sound good to people just like Aleyna does.

We had a flurry of 'Devrim's (revolution) and 'Baris's a (peace) a while back and curiously, also 'Savas's (war!). Now it seems XXXnur is popular. The way things are headed I'm expecting 'Para' (money) to make an appearance in the registration records soon either on its own or in combination.

Stranger said...


Paranür, Paragül, and of course, Gökpara, Alipara, and Paracan.

I totally wanted to name LE "Devrim." Coolest name ever, but BE was against it because he said it was a Communist name. Like I would give a shit about that. Barış is a good name only because I've never met a Barış who wasn't nice, including students. I like the sound of Savaş but not so much the meaning. But if I had twins there would be an overwhelming temptation to name the Barış and Savaş.

LE's year was full of Ege's and Efe's. Efe is okay, but Ege is one of those names that doesn't work so well in English. He'd be Eggy when he was small and, "Hey, Gay" when he was older. MIL was furious with me for not using the name she wanted, but I'm so glad we didn't there are at least 2 Ege's in every class LE has been in.

İblis would be a good pet name.

Rebecca said...

I had a female neighbour called Yeter, she was the youngest of 5 girls;) Although she was only my age (ok not that young, but not old either) she was also illiterate because her father would not allow his five daughters to attend school. I always think her name just sums up her parents' attitude to her:(

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Come to think of it, 'Döndü' is like that too. I wonder if anyone managed to get the kind of data it would take to see how many girls it takes before 'Yeter' or 'Döndü' etc. are given as names.

The state now releases some statistics on names. Here's a link.

Stranger said...

That's really cool!