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#1
Old 07-28-2008, 08:02 PM
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What does 'Alcatraz' really mean?

Hi all, this is my first visit here, so I will be on my best behavior and your answers must all be clever, concise, and perfectly accurate.

If you research enough on the internets, you will find both the traditional meaning of 'Alcatraz', and an alternate. I can't figure out the truth, and I have had some help that hit a brick wall.

Alcatraz is usually translated as 'pelican'. As your kind fingers massage the web, you'll also find it can mean 'lillies'. LILLIES?! Apparently something was lost in the translation...

I went to a Spanish-English dictionary message board. They couldn't give a definitive answer.

I work with a pretty smart guy whose native tongue is Spanish. He doesn't know.

I searched Straightdope archives. Nada.

I live near Alcatraz Island (not on it), and have heard 'pelican' often enough on game shows that I accepted it.

But go to your fave search engine, enter 'Alcatraz' and 'lillies' and you'll see enough sites that state 'Alcatraz' is a flower you'll see my confusion.

So far, 'pelican' sites are winning, but how is it possible two distinct things can mean Alcatraz?? Lillies and pelicans for gosh sake!

How did this get 'lost in the translation'?

Middling-great minds want to know...

And I thank you.
#2
Old 07-28-2008, 08:11 PM
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When in doubt, go to the source:
Quote:
The name Alcatraz is derived from the Spanish "Alcatraces." In 1775, the Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala was the first to sail into what is now known as San Francisco Bay - his expedition mapped the bay and named one of the three islands Alcatraces. Over time, the name was Anglicized to Alcatraz. While the exact meaning is still debated, Alcatraz is usually defined as meaning "pelican" or "strange bird."
#3
Old 07-28-2008, 09:05 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Q.E.D.
When in doubt, go to the source:
Perhaps if one traced it back even further to its Moorish origins, a clue might emerge?
#4
Old 07-28-2008, 09:11 PM
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For those of us who don't speak Moorish, could you add more detail?
#5
Old 07-28-2008, 09:35 PM
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Both the pelican and the calla lily are named for their shapes; al-catras, in Arabic-influenced Portuguese (and Spanish, it appears), means the bucket of a water wheel. It's more likely to refer to pelicans in the case of our island, as I doubt that lilies have been so successful there.

http://books.google.com/books?id=jOn...esult#PPA15,M1
#6
Old 07-28-2008, 09:47 PM
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Some more info from the "Etymology Online Dictionary."
#7
Old 07-28-2008, 10:56 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Q.E.D.
When in doubt, go to the source:
This is an unhelpful answer. The question did not deserve a reply that is analagous to "google is your friend."


deg007: Welcome to the SDMB. Interesting question. Thanks.

Last edited by Green Bean; 07-28-2008 at 10:57 PM.
#8
Old 07-28-2008, 11:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Green Bean
The question did not deserve a reply that is analagous to "google is your friend."
Nor did it get one. But, thanks for the pointless snark.
#9
Old 07-28-2008, 11:10 PM
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Quote:
The word alcatraz comes from the Spanish and Portugese word for "pelican", which derives from the Arabic al-qadus, referring to the bucket of a water-raising irrigation wheel. The bird was so named because it was thought to scoop water into its beak pouch to transport to its young in the desert. This word was later mistakenly applied to the Frigate-bird in the form albatross, not to be confused with albacore, another offspring of Arabic. The Portugese albacor comes from al-bukr, meaning, oddly enough, a young camel. Might want to check the ingredients in your tuna sandwich!
http://takeourword.com/current/page1.html
#10
Old 07-29-2008, 09:54 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Punoqllads
For those of us who don't speak Moorish, could you add more detail?
I don't speak Arabic, nor did I imply that I do. Spanish (and Portuguese) words that start with "al" are almost exclusively of Arabic origin because of the Moorish (Arab and Berber) invasion and 800 year occupation of the Iberian Peninsula.
#11
Old 07-29-2008, 09:21 PM
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I apologize, I read your post as implying so.
#12
Old 07-29-2008, 09:36 PM
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Although alcatraz seems to have originally referred to pelican, in modern Spanish these are now called pelicanos. The word has been applied to various other large seabirds, but presently most commonly refers to gannets.
#13
Old 07-29-2008, 09:41 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Green Bean
This is an unhelpful answer. The question did not deserve a reply that is analagous to "google is your friend."
[Moderating]

I don't see anything to take exception to in Q.E.D.s post. If you have a problem with a post, the best thing to do is report it.

Colibri
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#14
Old 07-29-2008, 10:21 PM
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Found this here in Spanish (searching for etimologia alcatraces)

http://correodelmaestro.com/ante...sentidos17.htm

Quote:
Alcatraz del árabe al-ghattas: "águila marina de cola blanca", compuesto del artículo masculino al-: "el" y ghattas. "águila marina de cola blanca", es decir, "pelícano". La flor recibió este nombre por su color blanco y quizá por su semejanza con el pico abierto de un pelícano.
loose translation:
Alcatraz from al-ghattas in arabic: Marine eagle with white tail. Composed of the masculine article "al" (the) and ghattas. "Marine eagle with white tail" meaning pelican. The flower received this name for its white color and perhaps for its resemblance to the open beak of a pelican.

So yeah, in case you hadn't figured this was about the flower but it seems to have gotten its name from the arabic name of a pelican.
#15
Old 07-29-2008, 11:05 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Merkwurdigliebe
Alcatraz from al-ghattas in arabic: Marine eagle with white tail. Composed of the masculine article "al" (the) and ghattas. "Marine eagle with white tail" meaning pelican.
Interesting. The "marine eagle with white tail" must refer to the White-tailed Eagle, aka the "Sea Eagle," the Erne of crossword-puzzle fame.

Last edited by Colibri; 07-29-2008 at 11:06 PM.
#16
Old 07-30-2008, 04:40 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Colibri
Although alcatraz seems to have originally referred to pelican, in modern Spanish these are now called pelicanos. The word has been applied to various other large seabirds, but presently most commonly refers to gannets.
Nasty birds They're not in my spotters guide.
#17
Old 07-30-2008, 06:31 AM
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From the RAE, translating more-or-less and following all their links:

----
alcatraz 1:
1. m. alcartaz. (from Spanish Arabic alqartás o alqirtás, este del ár. clás. qirtās, y este del gr. χáρτης, papyrus sheet) - the ts in Arabic have a dot underneath and the á in the greek is an alpha, for some reason they aren't copypasting well. Means "cucurucho" which in turn is a hollow cone (think an ice cream cone or a dunce's cap).

2. m. A kind of conical flower.

3. m. Mexico. Again, a specific kind of conical flower.



alcatraz2.

(Perhaps from Spanish Arabic. *qatrás, he who walks proudly).


1. m. A kind of pelican.
---

So, as far as the RAE knows, the origins for those two meanings are different (although, logically, both come from Arabic). They're two different words which happen to "look" the same.


An alcatraz is not any pelican. There's pelícanos and there's alcatraces, they look different. Most people (at least in Spain) when they say "pelícano" mean the pink or white ones. Alcatraces are white with some black, and smaller.

Last edited by Nava; 07-30-2008 at 06:36 AM.
#18
Old 07-31-2008, 06:50 PM
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Whoa !!

I am duly impressed, shocked, amazed, and humbled by the detailed responses!

It certainly appears that some co-mingling of languages, definitions, and looseness of transcriptions is at play here.

The best I can glean, which I will now be satisfied with, is that a pelican and calla lily are often white, have a 'bucket-type' of opening, and that 'alcatraz' mixes arabic, spanish and portugese word origins.

I liken it to, say, 'upset', in English. 'Upset' was a horse that upset the competition decades ago, upsetting his rivals, and causing bettors to upset their cocktail tables, and changing the usage of a word permanently-- okay, maybe not the best analogy...

Anyway...

Thank you all. Your detailed answers certainly make me a believer, and I'm now looking for that four cents a day in my couch so I may be a subscriber.

=)
#19
Old 04-25-2016, 12:55 AM
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Alcatraz

Alcatraz is a Portuguese word for a large amount of sea birds. What we might call a flock of seagulls, pelicans, etc. the Portuguese sailors in the late 1500-1600 that frequently traveled to North America found the island ( Alcatraz ) overwhelmingly loaded with such birds. Alcatraz today is referred to a larger type of seagull not so much as a flock of seagulls. Alcatraz is also used as; any flock of birds that feeds from live or dead fish. All in all, Alcatraz is best used when there's various flocks of fish eating birds.
It was also around the time the Portuguese named the ocean ( Pacific Ocean ) for the simple reason it was very calm ( Pacifico in Portuguese )
#20
Old 04-25-2016, 02:18 AM
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It wasn't the Portuguese, it was the Spaniards. But hey, at least you got the right Peninsula
#21
Old 04-25-2016, 10:39 PM
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Too bad this thread is so old. OP might like to know that we have words in English too that have two wildly divergent meanings. Look up "periwinkle" for example. It's a mollusk (a type of little sea snail), and it's also a common garden flower.
#22
Old 04-26-2016, 12:02 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Senegoid View Post
Too bad this thread is so old. OP might like to know that we have words in English too that have two wildly divergent meanings. Look up "periwinkle" for example. It's a mollusk (a type of little sea snail), and it's also a common garden flower.
yes the OP did acknowledge that the words vary in meaning ...
especially when imported from one language to another.

To this day, a word sounding like "catraz" ( قادوس [qādūs] ), is an arabic word meaning bucket hopper, like on a water wheel .

Tonycoliveira701 is reporting that there is a portugese word altacraz meaning the flock of seabirds, but it may be a colloquialism..

Its impossible to know which came first, the sea birds being called (al)catraz, or the bucket... because the might have named the bucket after the pelican....

Whats clear is that various large seabird species, eg al-batross and pelican, have names like alcatraz in arabic, spanish and portugese

Last edited by Isilder; 04-26-2016 at 12:03 AM.
#23
Old 04-26-2016, 06:36 AM
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I'm laughing here...

I went to RAE to see if they had an origin for albatros. Yep, they do: from English albatross and this from Spanish alcatraz
#24
Old 04-26-2016, 12:29 PM
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I'm curious about how "albatross" came to mean "impediment" as in, having "an albatross around one's neck".
#25
Old 04-26-2016, 12:47 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Senegoid View Post
I'm curious about how "albatross" came to mean "impediment" as in, having "an albatross around one's neck".
From Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner epic poem - or see Albatross (metaphor) for more details.....and many, many examples.

ETA: Curiously, the poem was published in 1798, but it took much longer to enter the common metaphor lexicon:

This sense is catalogued in the Oxford English Dictionary from 1936 and 1955, but it seems only to have entered general usage in the 1960s, or possibly as early as 1959.

Last edited by SuperAbe; 04-26-2016 at 12:49 PM. Reason: More details.
#26
Old 04-26-2016, 01:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Senegoid View Post
I'm curious about how "albatross" came to mean "impediment" as in, having "an albatross around one's neck".
The albatross in the poem was a harbinger of good fortune; the main character killed it and so was required to carry its body hanging from his neck.

For Shackleton, albatrosses were a crucial convenience. When they lost the Endurance and managed to reach Elephant Island, the crew that remained there survived largely on eating albatrosses that roosted there.
#27
Old 04-26-2016, 04:10 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SuperAbe View Post
From Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner epic poem - or see Albatross (metaphor) for more details.....and many, many examples.

ETA: Curiously, the poem was published in 1798, but it took much longer to enter the common metaphor lexicon:

This sense is catalogued in the Oxford English Dictionary from 1936 and 1955, but it seems only to have entered general usage in the 1960s, or possibly as early as 1959.
And if you've read Martin Gardner's The Annotated Ancient Mariner, or seen a live or stuffed Albatross, you know how absurd the imagery is. Coleridge obviously thought the albatross a much smaller bird (and it is so represented in Gustave Dore's illustrations)

But the albatross has among the largest wingspans of any birds -- up to twelve feet across. Even if you halve that, it's still six feet. Coleridge's Ancient Mariner would've been dragging its damned wings around the deck if they hung that from his neck.


https://images.search.yahoo.com/sear...g&action=click

https://images.search.yahoo.com/sear...g&action=click

https://images.search.yahoo.com/sear...g&action=click
#28
Old 04-26-2016, 05:15 PM
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I've been a volunteer on Alcatraz Island since 2003. According to the historians on the island, nobody is 100% sure what "alcatraz" really meant. It is documented that the word was "Alcatraces" and later morphed to "Alcatraz," but then there is some confusion. No one really seems to know if it means "pelican" or "strange bird." At least that's according to my colleagues.

Here's a lesser known tidbit: the English read the map incorrectly when they explored San Francisco Bay. When Juan Manuel de Ayala mapped the Bay, he was so unimpressed with the little island that he ignored it. What is today's Yerba Buena Island was given the name "Isla de los Alcatraces." The name was later wrongly attributed to today's Alcatraz Island.

And Alcatraz really is just a rock in the middle of the Bay and was nicknamed "The Rock" back in the 19th century by the U.S. Army. Most of the soil there was transported from nearby Angel Island.

I love San Francisco.

Last edited by Lorne Armstrong; 04-26-2016 at 05:17 PM.
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