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Post Kufr and Kafir, and an Israeli Fighter Plane
Created by John Eipper on 03/24/17 3:44 AM

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Kufr and Kafir, and an Israeli Fighter Plane (Michael Sullivan, USA, 03/24/17 3:44 am)

It's interesting to note that many years ago the Israelis had a fighter aircraft named the Kafir. The US Marines bought it after the Israelis retired it from active service to act as an adversary aircraft to train our fighter pilots in dissimilar air-to-air tactics. It's no longer in service with the Marines, and was replaced years ago by the F-5 Freedom Fighter. However, the Israelis informed us the term, Kafir, meant "unbeliever" or "disbeliever" in Arabic.

JE comments:  Wikipedia (link below) describes the plane as the Kfir, which is Hebrew for lion cub.  It was based on the French Mirage.  I hope our philologist of all things Middle East, Ed Jajko, will straighten this out.  The article describes the US leasing of 25 of the aircraft in the late 1980s, for use in air-to-air combat maneuvers.

Michael:  did you ever get the assignment of flying a "bogey" aircraft in combat training?  It must be unnerving to see your own guys trying to shoot you down.


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  • Kfir, Ben-Gurion, and Lion Cubs (Edward Jajko, USA 03/25/17 4:15 AM)
    The Israelis who told Michael Sullivan (March 24th) that the name of their fighter aircraft was "kafir," (i.e. kaafir) meaning "unbeliever" or "disbeliever" in Arabic, were of course wrong. The name of the fighter plane is well-known, and is "Kfir," meaning "lion cub."

    Hebrew has a couple of words for "lion":  "aryeh" and "sheva'" come to mind. Similarly, there are various words for lion cub: "k'fir," "gur," "gur aryeh," "guryon."

    David Ben-Gurion was "son of lion cub" only because, like other early Zionists, he Hebraicized his original Yiddish family name Grün to something that sounded more, dare I say, kosher. Many a student of Hebrew stumbles over the name of the lover of the Biblical David, Bathsheba, translating it as "daughter of seven." But it is "daughter of lion."

    Whether the Israelis who misled our Marines were joking or ignorant is unknowable. Years ago when I worked at Yale, I had an assistant, a native Israeli with a Yale degree, fluent in Hebrew, of course, who had served in IDF Intelligence and was equally fluent in Arabic. But over the years I also met Israelis who spoke only Hebrew and professed ignorance of Arabic. So, Allahu a'lam.

    JE comments:  I never knew that Ben-Gurion was born with the far more Yiddish surname Grün.  His hometown, Plonsk, is 45 miles NW of Warsaw.  It's an Adrian-size city of 25,000.  I've never visited.

    "Dave Green" doesn't have the same gravitas.  Ben-Gurion was a giant in achievement, but not in stature:  he stood just five feet (1.52 m) tall.

    Thank you, Ed!  I knew you'd know this one.

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    • Kafir, Kfir, Kfur in Arabic (Edward Jajko, USA 03/27/17 4:25 AM)
      Further to my message about Kafir, Kfir, etc.: "Infidel" in Arabic is "kaafir," fem. "kaafirah," pl. "kuffaar." "Nonbelief" is "kufr." The word "kafr," however, means "village."

      Hebrew "kfir" ("k'fir") is "lion cub." But Hebrew "kfar" is "village" (as in Capernaum, K'far Nahum, Nahum's Village). The Hebrew /kfr/ root is also the source of the operative word in "Yom Kippur," Day of Atonement.

      Fun and games with Semitics.

      JE comments:  Shem would be proud of you, Ed!  Now that I have your ear, here's a huge question that probably warrants an entire volume:  why did Hebrew and Arabic evolve without written vowels?  I know there are diacritics to suggest vowel sounds, but it's not the same thing.

      Thnk y vr mch, Dwrd!

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      • Hw Bt Rmvng Vwls? (John Heelan, -UK 03/31/17 3:26 AM)
        When JE wrote "Thnk y vr mch, Dwrd" to our colleague Edward Jajko (March 27th), it reminded me of the time when in the 1970s we were looking for ways to make searches of massive databases containing census information more efficient. We came across a system called "Soundex" (From Canada initially; I think but there have been many variants subsequently developed) that eliminated all the vowels from surnames, thus truncating the file storage needed and speeding up searches, especially for names like "Mazonowicz" that became "Mznwcz."

        On the other hand, John might have been attempting the Welsh language as in Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch.

        Jhn PPr comments:  When was the last time you visited the website

        http://llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.co.uk ?

        The Soundex system sounds like a formula for disaster (and litigation).  Imagine a hospital using it, and performing Mr Brody's bypass on Mr Brady, who had checked in for ingrown toenails.  (Come to think of it, I have a friend in Pennsylvania named John Pepper.  According to Soundex, we're almost the same guy.)


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        • Welsh, Nahuatl, and the Bird of 400 Voices; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 04/01/17 6:10 AM)

          Gary Moore writes:

          Re John Heelan's post of March 31 and Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch:

          Might any of the linguists out there know whether the "ll" in Welsh
          is pronounced like the mysterious Nahuatl "ll" from ancient Mexico,
          or like the Nahuatl "tl" click?

          The Aztecs used "four hundred" to mean "a whole lot,"
          as when they called Mexico's mockingbird, quite similar
          to Scout's and Harper Lee's in "Maycomb"/Monroeville, Alabama,
          the cenzontl, or "bird of four hundred" voices. In Spanish
          an "e" was added--cenzontle--as in the coyotl/coyote switch.

          So would an Aztec mockingbird pronounce that like the Welsh?
          Does Prince Madoc live?


          JE comments:  The YouTube clip of the cenzontle drove WAISworld's newly appointed Head Cat, Gosia, nearly to madness.  She's asleep again now, thanks to a special feline dose of WAISonex®.

          Madoc is the Welsh prince who allegedly discovered America in the 12th century.  Gary Moore offers a provocative thesis for April Fools' Day:  Madoc taught the Mexicans (there was no Aztec empire yet) to talk, and the cenzontle to sing. 

          Four hundred greetings to all!

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          • Pronouncing Welsh (John Heelan, -UK 04/02/17 5:47 AM)
            For Gary Moore (1 April): "Ll is peculiarly Welsh and difficult to describe. Form your lips and tongue to pronounce the letter L, but then blow air gently around the sides of the tongue instead of saying anything. The nearest you can get to this sound in English is an l with a th in front of it:

            Welsh words: llan (thlan); llyn (thlin); llwyd (thlooid)."

            (http://www.go4awalk.com/fell-facts/welsh-language-pronunciation.php# )

            As Wales is only about 100 miles away from where I am sitting (a hop, step and a jump in US terms), I have often been tempted to learn Welsh so that I can appreciate not only Welsh verse but also the rousing songs choirs of Welsh rugby supporters sing at internationals against the English.

            We have spent many happy family vacations in North Wales, where as a teenager I went to a sea school to learn sailing and mountaineering in the midst of a winter. They speak a different version of Welsh in that area. Thus we learned to call our favourite towns--Dolgellau (Doll-geth-lye), Machynlleth {Mack-hun-thleth), and our rented holiday cottage in a hamlet--Dinas Mawddy--"Deenas M-ow (as in cow)- th-uy-ee."

            I am still tempted to learn Welsh, but it will have to wait until after I have learned Portuguese and Gallego, with Andaluz and Catalan still on the back burners.

            JE comments:  Gary Moore's post also inspired a response from Martin Storey in Perth.  Martin reveals that despite his French birth, he is one-quarter Welsh.

            Remember our April Fools' 2011 post on Polombia, the full political union of Colombia and Poland?  Well, Nahuatl and Welsh speakers may have to follow suit.  Males?  Wexico?  Martin (next) will explain.


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          • Welsh and Nahuatl Pronunciation (Martin Storey, Australia 04/02/17 7:51 AM)

            Gary Moore (1 April) posted a question I can answer in part, since I know how the Welsh "ll" sounds. I may be a Frenchman with an English name and an Australian passport, but I am ethnically a quarter Welsh, since my father is half Welsh on his mother's side. His first name is Llewelyn, and my grandmother's family name was Hugh Jones, which is as Welsh as it gets. My family hails from Clwyd, in northeast Wales.

            According to http://www.native-languages.org/nahuatl_guide.htm:

            tl  ł  ł This sound is a lateral fricative that
            doesn't really exist in English.
            It sounds like the "ll" in the Welsh name "Llewellyn."
            Some English speakers can pronounce
            it well if they try to pronounce the "breathy l" in the
            word clue without the c
            in front of it.


            So that's the answer on the Nahuatl "tl" sound, if that website is to be believed.

            JE comments:  Llovely--or should we say tlovely?  I am reminded of Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, which like the News York and Jersey, far outgrew the place that inspired its name.

            So--who can give us a tutorial on pronouncing Clwyd?

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            • Purepecha-Greek Similarities? From Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 04/03/17 3:32 AM)

              Gary Moore writes:

              Thanks to John Heelan and Martin Storey (April 2) for the lessons on pronouncing Welsh--and Nahuatl in Mexico. The tips are very helpful (blow air gently around the tongue, lateral fricative,
              pronounce "clue" without the "c"). And it does more and more seem that Welsh and Nahuatl,
              despite the ocean between them, do share the "breathy L."

              But Prince Madoc (Owain Gwynedd of 1170 AD, eventually said by persuasive scholarship to have been
              an Elizabethan propaganda invention, thus to precede Spanish New World claims) isn't my only target here.

              There are other eerie Native American linguistic threads that beckon to the bold delusionist. What about that "other" Meso-American civilization, just west of the Aztecs, and so fiercely resistant
              to them that when Aztec emissaries came and cried that horrific pale-faces were bringing apocalypse,
              this second people refused to make common cause--so both civilizations were conquered by Cortés et al.
              I'm talking here about the Purépecha, known in English as the Tarascans. Their language
              has a peculiar kink that seems rare in pre-Colombiana.

              Unlike both Spanish and Nahuatl,
              the Purépecha/Tarascans accented not the next-to last syllable, but the next-to-next-to-last,
              leaving their part of Mexico dotted with such towns as Querétaro, Pátzcuaro, Acámbaro,
              Zitácuaro--and the group-name itself is pronounced Purépecha (PurEpecha).

              Thus the euphoric question: Doesn't this pattern sound a little...Greek?
              After all, Odysseus was getting busy long before Madoc (intent propagandists being sure
              he must have founded Albion, too). Or could there be a similarity in Carthaginian?

              Can anyone out there enlighten me on the Greek--or separate Carthaginian--pattern of accenting syllables,
              and any linguistic footprints left in intermediate places, say, like Syracuse--or NeApolis?

              (Sadly, this scarcely leaves room for the Gaelic whiff in Muskogee of the American Southeast.)

              JE comments:  There's a Neapolis in Ohio, too, about 45 minutes from here.

              Regarding the syllabic stress of multi-syllable words, there are only so many options:  first syllable (Hungarian), last syllable (French), all syllables the same (Japanese), or (worst of all) any old syllable (English and Russian).  Polish, Spanish, and Latin prefer the penultimate syllable, as does Quechua, which the 17th-century historian Inca Garcilaso de la Vega was keen to point out in his attempt to characterize the Peruvians as the Romans of the New World.

              Gary Moore might be on to something.  The antepenultimate stress may be the least common pattern of all.  As a matter of fact, I think I first learned the word "antepenultimate" when I spent a semester in Purépecha land (Morelia, Michoacán).  My favorite antepenult of all:  San Juan Parangaricutirimícuaro.

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              • Syllabic Stress in Greek (Harry Papasotiriou, Greece 04/04/17 5:19 AM)
                In Greek only the last three syllables can be stressed. And since Greek favoured the construction of compound nouns, we have many words with more that three syllables.

                The name Eisenhower pronounced in Greek is stressed on the "a" sound of "ow."

                JE comments: That would be penultimate stress. I never realized that Eisenhower in English is stressed on the fourth-the-the-last syllable, or what is called "sobresdrújula" in Spanish.  Does anyone know if English has a word for that?

                Harry:  I always pronounce your surname as an antepenult:  PapasoTIriou.  Am I correct?

                Next up:  Scylla and Charybdis.

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              • Purepecha/Tarascan; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 04/04/17 5:53 AM)

                Gary Moore writes:

                John E gave a great run-down on syllabic stress--and I had no idea I was
                dealing with a Purepechist. And John's antepenultimate-town (San Juan Parangaricutirimícuaro) example beats mine--
                and almost beats the Welsh.

                It occurred to me that one argument against
                Greek ante-penultimance in Purépecha is the suffix "place of."
                I don't know if all those "ámbaros" mean "place of," but they wouldn't
                seem to fit very well with Greeks using "polis" or "city" (NeApolis-Napoli-Naples).
                And mind you, I'm not plumping for any of this. I mean, I don't see the angels,
                I just puzzle at 'em.

                JE comments:  You flatter me, Gary, but I'm a pretty lame Purepechist.  I always heard (or assumed) that the -cuaro suffix means "place of," as in Pátzcuaro, Zinapécuaro, Zitácuaro, and my ten-syllable, volcanic favorite, cited above.  We have an adjunct professor at the College, Carlos Villegas, who is of Purépecha ancestry.  I'll ask him.  (It's surprising how little information on the language you can find on the 'Net.  Wikipedia does teach us that Purépecha is a language isolate--i.e., it is not related to any other known language.)

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            • Clwyd Prnunctn (John Heelan, -UK 04/03/17 4:34 AM)
              John E asked, "who can give us a tutorial on pronouncing Clwyd?"

              Try https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXsm3QTxm0k

              JE comments:  It's refreshingly easy:  Cloo-id (or Clue-id).  In the video I hear a devoicing of the final d, Slavic-style:  "Cloo-it."

              One more curiosity about all things Welsh:  why did the Welsh version of "Johnson," Jones, surpass its Anglicized cousin as the more common surname?  Perhaps WAISdom's favorite Jones, Nigel, can answer.  I ask this as a John, son of another John.  Call me Ivan Ivanovich.

              (April 1st is over.  I promise I'll stop publishing posts with no vowels in the title.)

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  • Flying Enemy Aircraft on Combat Maneuvers (Michael Sullivan, USA 03/25/17 4:36 AM)
    To answer John E's question of March 24th, I spent a 35-year career training as the "friendly fighter" starting in F9F Panthers and Cougars, continuing on up through the years in F-3D Skynights, F-6A Skyrays, F-8 Crusaders, F-4 Phantoms, F-18 Hornets and Harriers. All my adversary (bogey) time, which was about 200 hours, was flying as the "bad guy" in the A-4 Skyhawk.

    But we fought similar and dissimilar air combat maneuvering against other frontline aircraft much more often than we fought "adversary" aircraft, as there just weren't enough of these aircraft to go around. We enjoyed the competition so much while "dog fighting," and pilots would beg to get scheduled for theses sorties. Pilot reputations are built around these sorties, but as the old adage goes, the first pilot to the blackboard or the bar after the sortie always says he won the fight! But with the advent of the Air Combat Maneuvering Ranges around the country, it's all recorded electronically so it's all there in 3D and it's documented in living color frame by frame who won the fight!

    One of the best training programs we had was during the Vietnam War was that the US clandestinely procured three or four different types of Russian fighters midway through the conflict and we'd fly up to a special area where they were kept and get familiarization sorties against them where you could compare the differences in acceleration, turn capability, Gs available at certain air speeds and altitudes and slow speed, high angle of attack maneuvers. It was a realistic, highly classified program and it was the actual type of enemy aircraft that you'd be facing in Vietnam. I remember the first time I joined up close on a MiG-21 over the Nevada desert and saw the Red Stars painted on it my heart rate jumped several beats! Today you can buy the latest, frontline Russian, American, Chinese and other countries fighters on the open market!

    JE comments: I wonder how the US procured those Soviet aircraft during the height of the Cold War.  Even then, one assumes, you could get your hands on pretty much anything if your pockets were deep enough.  Or were they recovered and repaired wrecks?  Cuban defectors?

    It must have been especially terrifying to fly a red-starred MiG over Nevada. Suppose another US pilot (or radar operator) wasn't in on the game, and assumed an imminent invasion?

    Another great aviation story from General Sullivan!

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    • Soviet MiGs with the US Marines (Michael Sullivan, USA 03/25/17 2:51 PM)
      To address John E's questions on my earlier post (25 March), the word I got was that the Russian jets we trained against came from Eastern European Soviet bloc countries via defectors and with a hefty price for the defecting pilot. What impressed the US the most was the mechanical reliability of those jets, as you could fly them sortie after sortie with no maintenance gripes--maybe a tire change or a new set of brakes after 50 sorties. They were basic Generation 2 and 3 aircraft, but it's still very impressive.

      Today the US has two Generation 5 aircraft. The Air Force's F-22 which is fully operational (only 187 built), and the F-35 which is coming into service now with two Marine F-35B squadrons and one Air Force F-35A squadron declared operational.

      The total F-35A, B, C buy for the US is supposed to be 2,443 as it will become the mainstay of our fighter/attack capability for the next 30 years, while the rest of our front-line fighters today are Generation 4 and will be replaced as the F-35 comes on line. Many of our Generation 4 fighters are 25-30 years old and very hard to maintain. My son is flying the same F-18C Hornets I flew 25 years ago!

      Today's Russian Generation 4 aircraft (they're now developing a Generation 5 fighter, PAK FA or T-50), are plagued with mechanical problems as compared to their older MiG-17, MiG-19 and the MiG-21 used in Vietnam.

      JE comments: They never seem to make 'em like they used to. The MiG-21 might be called the Kalashnikov of the Air--reliable, long-lived, deadly, and ubiquitous. Wikipedia tells us that ISIS/ISIL has some 19 of them under its control, at least one of which is operational. Can anyone confirm?

      (I thought I was being original, but the Boston Globe made the AK-47 comparison some years ago:  http://archive.boston.com/news/world/europe/articles/2008/12/14/soviet_mig_21_jet_fighter_approaches_its_twilight_years/ )

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