Week fifty-seven: MAMELON (probability 23056), by David Sutton

A MAMELON is a small rounded hill; the word is French for nipple. The language of landscape is extraordinarily cosmopolitan: I have always liked geology, not least because its words, unlike those in many other branches of science, are so exotic and flavourful. Other words from French include AIGUILLE, a needle-like point of rock, RIMAYE, a crevasse formed where a glacier or snowfield moves away from a mountain wall, and SERAC, a large mass of ice broken off a glacier and remaining behind in a crevasse. From the German we have, among others, HORST (or HORSTE), a mass of the earth's crust that lies between two faults and is higher than the surrounding land, its complement GRABEN, a rift valley, GRABEN being the German word for a ditch, and TALWEG (or THALWEG), a line following the lowest point of a valley.

Afrikaans gives us many, including KLOOF, a ravine, BERG, a mountain, KOPJE or KOPPIE, a low hill, and FYNBOS, an area of low shrub. Amerindian languages give us MASKEG (or MUSKEG) a swamp or marsh, POCOSEN (or POCOSIN or POCOSON), an upland swamp, BAYOU, the marshy offshoot of a river, and MONADNOCK, an isolated mountain or rocky mass, while words of Native Australian origin include PINDAN, a desert region of Western Australia, and GILGAI (or GHILGAI), a saucer-shaped depression.

Contributions from Arabic include KHOR, a dry watercourse, HAMADA (or HAMMADA), a desert plateau of bedrock, CHOTT (or SHOTT), a shallow saline lake, and SABKHA (or SABKHAH or SABKHAT), a broad, salt-encrusted coastal plain. Italian offers SOFFIONI, volcanic steam-holes, SOLFATARA, a volcanic vent emitting gases, MAREMMA, a seaside marsh, and TOMBOLO, a bar of sand or gravel connecting one island with another. Spanish landscape words include BOLSON, a basin-shaped depression surrounded by mountains, HORNITO, a low volcanic mound, PICACHO, an isolated peak, and MESETA, a plateau.

Contributions to the subject from a score of other languages will have to be left to another time, but just to finish with a quick test: what do these words mean and what language do each of them come from: URMAN, YARDANG, DONGA, POLJE, LAHAR, PHRYGANA, NUNATAK, KARROO, MACHAIR, SLIEVE. Score 1 point for each correct meaning and 1 point for each etymology. I managed 19 but had to look up the origin of YARDANG; if anyone scores 20 I shall be mightily impressed.


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