LINGUIST List 5.789

Mon 11 Jul 1994

Sum: /dag/

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  1. Randy Allen Harris, Sum: /dag/

Message 1: Sum: /dag/

Date: Sun, 10 Jul 94 12:39:22 -0Sum: /dag/
From: Randy Allen Harris <>
Subject: Sum: /dag/

I recently (LINGUIST 5-772) requested some pointers to /dag/ signifieds in
languages other than English; here is the summary of the responses.

My wrist, of course, was slapped repeatedly (for using an "American" rather
than an "English" transcription; actually, it was Canadian; many Americans
still have the open o distinction), my leg was pulled, and other
anatomically proverbial activities were evoked. But the response was very
rapid--I had a dozen responses before I even got a copy of the LINGUIST
issue with my query!--and very helpful.

Thanks very much to Stephen Spackman, Marc Picard, Lary Trask, Doug Glick,
Lynne Hewitt, David Powers, John Kindler, Falk Yehuda, Ron Kaminsky, Tim
Pulju, Norbert Strade, Larry Rosenwald, Wen-Chao Li, Dawn Behne, Cathryn
Williams, and Nigel Love for answering my trivia(l) request. They supplied
the following information, some spot-on, some off the mark, but all


Besides my posted 'hairy barking domestic quadruped', there are some other
English meanings to roughly similar sound sequences:

In New Zealand English, /dag/, pronounced [daeg], means 'one of the locks
of wool clotted with dirt about the hind portions of a sheep'. The verb,
to dag,
meaning to remove the dags from sheep, by means of special rings, clamps,
etc. There is a certain time of year when NZ sheep farmers do the
"dagging", and those who specialise in this art form are called "daggers".
This same (?) noun has a second, I don't know if related!, meaning: person
with a sense of humour, or someone who does unpredictable or humorous
things. In
Australian English, a "dag" is a very informal kind of person, one who
dresses in a sloppy or unkempt way. The derivation seems to be from Middle
English "daywerk", via a British English dialect word, "darg", meaning
work, feat, skill.

There is also a report that /dag/ is used extensively throughout the English
speaking Southern Hemisphere as a colloquial reference to someone who
is 'not cool' or who does not fit in with the 'in-crowd'...
Phrases like: 'you're such a dag' come up frequently in Aussie and
NZ casual conversation...

In British English [dag] is apparently most likely to be interpreted/evoked
as a description of the absence of light (i.e., a variant of /dak/).

And "dag" means a 'directed acyclic graph' in some English jargon.


In Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Dutch, and Low German, /dag/ means 'day',
for which *dag- is the reconstructed common Germanic root. In Swedish, at
least, there is some dispute about whether length is phonemic (that is,
whether, the representation should be /da:g/).

Standard German has Dogge, for "Great Dane".

In the near-miss category, Icelandic has /do"gg/ for `dew'.


Like German, Russian has /dog/ for `Great Dane'.


French has DOGUE ('mastiff') which it borrowed from English in the
14th century but the vowel is mid-low back.


There's a noun 'tag' in Welsh, whose soft-mutation form is /dag/, meaning
'choking' or 'strangulation'.


In Latin, there's a verb "indagare" meaning "to track down".


In Mbarbaram (a recently extinct Australian language), /dCg/ (/C/ for
primary cardinal 6), phonetically identical to English `dog' (with a
rounded vowel), is the word for `dog'. It is NOT a LOAN; it is the regular
Mbabaram reflex of Proto-Pama-Nyungan *gudaga `dog'.


/dag/ means 'fish', and (3sg) "fished" or "caught fish".


/dag/ means "stain" or "dirty mark" (not like English "mark", which
could be a good thing, as in "make your mark")


In Hokkien,Fukkienese, Southern Min, and other Amoy languages/dialects, the
pronunciation of "tag" is likely /dag/, and there are probably signifieds
"by the dozen" for that signifier.


Several respondents wanted to know the source of my query. It was pretty
mundane, a writing problem. I had written myself into a bit of a corner
over the arbitrariness of the signifier/signified connection that only this
sort of assistance could get me out of (and it did). My apologies to all
who think LINGUIST bandwidth is too important for this sort of request.
Alt.sci.lang might have been the best way to go (since I have very limited
access to grammars at my school), but I don't currently have any newsgroup
resources. Thanks again.

 Randy Allen Harris
 Department of English, University of Waterloo, Waterloo ON CANADA N2L 3G1
 519 885-1211, x5362; FAX: 519 884-8995
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