A Christmas story for lovers (of insect names)

Once upon a time, in coastal SE China, a flea ran into a louse. Hello, said he, I see you lay eggs, you must be a female. I am looking for a mate, will you marry me? All right, said the louse. And since then, speakers of Guangzhou, Chaozhou, Jieyang (and other dialects, I am sure), have been calling fleas as /sɐt 7/, /sak 7/, /sak 7/ (etymologically ‘louse’) respectively; and lice, /sɐt 7 na 3/, /sak 7 bo 3/, /sak 7 bo 3/; that is, etymologically ‘louse’+female suffix.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "A Christmas story for lovers (of insect names)," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 28/12/2017, https://stan.hypotheses.org/158.

3 Replies to “A Christmas story for lovers (of insect names)”

    1. I don’t think there was such a thing as a proto-SE-coastal Chinese, ancestral to Yue and Chao-zhou-Jieyang; and I think that’s your point. In fact I’m not sure how far the phenomenon of flea and louse being treated linguistically as husband and wife extends. Presumably substrata and/or contact will be needed to explain the facts…

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