Hello fellow Open Anthropologists,

This a trial launch of a project to reclaim terminology from the depths of jargon.

Why? I often use this site:  http://dictionary.reference.com/ and I really enjoy one of their features, "word of the day". The day's word is on the homepage, or you can have it sent to you (don't, because it's a daily e-mail). I wonder if we could have something similar here on the OAC? A lot of anthropological terms may be seen as jargon, but arguably sometimes they can help writing to be more precise and accurate. Using  academic terminology can be the most eloquent way to write.

I suggest using this thread to post terms with a definition, example of usage and ideally a reference or two where possible. I would be able to update this perhaps once a week, but I hope anyone will feel free to add, comment or post a term. It doesn't to be one you like and one term may trigger another in someone's mind. We can also take requests for enlightenment!

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Thanks for that link, Elaine.  If I could be assured of looking like one of those guys, I might indeed click the "Buy" button.  However....  I think I have natural talent for maintaining an unkempt look, but that's a bit different.  And, I instinctively distrust people who look too too.

I'm continually amazed by your encyclopedic compass, John.  Nothing slips through the cracks in your mind: no cracks are evident!   I'd like to add a note here, though.

Jim al-Khalili, physicist and science-for-TV narrator, in his book "House of Wisdom", explains Arabic names thus:

"If a man does not have children, then his first name is often associated with a prominent character in Arabic or Islamic history who would have had a son.  Among many Shi'ite Muslims, the name Ali is always associated with that of Imam Ali and his son, Hussein.  Thus, when a man is referred to as Abu Hussein, he may either have an eldest son named Hussein or simply be an Ali with no sons."  Al-Khalili goes on to explain that the full name of the medieval mathematician known as al-Kwarizmi is Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Musa al-Kwarizmi, which means that his first name is Muhammad, but his son is Abdullah and his father is Musa.  Sometimes he is referred to as Muhammad ibn Musa, but is better known as al-Kwarizmi, named for his birthplace, Kwarizm (modern Khiva in Central Asia).

So, Arabic names are more complicated than straightforwardly calling a parent by a child's name.

"Teknonymy", then perhaps functions as an obfuscatory overgeneralization, masking significant differences in naming customs among different peoples.  Such abstractions (and they are countless!) are easily misunderstood and misapplied.

Darwin's language in "Origin of Species", though it sounds a bit archaic to us moderns, is to my mind THE outstanding paradigm for explaining an exceedingly complex phenomenon in a straightforward, lucid idiom.  Abstract terms are anathema in poetry, and, in my opinion, they are very often barriers to communication and understanding in anthropology (among other fields). Anyone can bandy arcane words to "snow" his readers and listeners (witness politicians), but scholarly work should aspire to something more substantial, and more straightforwardly comprehensible.  We certainly can't junk abstractions altogether, nor can we avoid special terms for special kinds of phenomena, but some rather considerable part of the agglomerated lexicon is best avoided.  (Opinions about what to avoid will, of course vary.)

John McCreery said:

Speaking of teknonymy, Wikipedia has this to say:

Teknonymy is the practice of referring to parents by the names of their children. This practice can be found in many different cultures around the world.

An example of teknonymy can be found among the 'Malays' of Cocos (Keeling) Islands, where parents are known by the name of their first-born child. For instance, a man named Hashim and his wife, Anisa, have a daughter named Sheila. Hashim is now known as "Pak Sheila" (literally, "Sheila’s Father") and Anisa is now known as Mak Sheila (literally, "Sheila's Mother").

Teknonymy can also be found in:

  • the Korean language;
  • the language of the Madurese people of Indonesia;
  • Balinese culture.[1]
  • the Arab world. For example, if a Saudi man named Hasan has a child named Malik, Hasan will now be informally known as "Abu Malik" (literally, "Malik's father"). "Mother of Malik" is Umm Malik.
  • The Betsileo of Madagascar;[2]
  • West Africa; and,
  • Amazonia.[3]
  • The Kumaoni Language. For example, wife of Ramesh will be informally called as Rameshe Saini(Saini means wife).
  • the Zuni language

I note some differences from the Kachin case Elain has cited: (1) the form "father" or "mother" of "name," where the reference to the child is a personal name instead of an anonymous pronoun, and (2) the "wife of Ramesh" example, which extends the notion to other relationships. The latter makes me wonder about "Mrs. X," where X is the surname of the husband. It is easy to imagine a Martian anthropologist translating this as "Wife of X."

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