A Friend of Maltz: nItlhDu' yaDDu' je

HolQeD article of vol. 10 issue 2, June 2001, page 7-11

Written by Marc Okrand; Originally published in HolQeD, the quarterly journal of the Klingon Language Institute, Flourtown, PA, ISSN 1061-2327.


How do the Klingons relate to their fingers? And then how do they consider their toes? Are they all just "flexible"? Maltz tell us a bit more about a previously neglected part of the Klingon vocabulary.


Several years ago, the efforts of a handful of preeminent scholars of tlhIngan Hol was acknowledged at the qep'a' by the creation of a group named "The Friends of Maltz." Inducion into this order bestowed a singular benefit: the opportunity to request of Maltz the Klingon rendering of a specific word. Often, when the desired term was presented to him, Maltz has been quite generous in his reply the linguistic community has benefited accordingly. Maltz continues his rather solitary lifestyle, but has agreed to respond to the occasional query from his friends. Here then is the first of what we hope will be many commentaries inspired by one of Maltz's friends. — LMS

A friend of Maltz recently asked how to talk about fingers. The friend noted, "We have the word nItlh. We don't have a word for 'thumb.' Is the thumb considered to be any different than any other finger to a Klingon? Do Klingons have separate words for each finger?... In general, how do Klingons talk about fingers if they want to give more detail than just the generic word?... Then, of course, we have toes to consider..."

Maltz replied that of course there is a word for "thumb." In fact there are a couple. And there are pairs of words (nouns and verbs) that are finger specific. The, of course, we have the toes to consider.

Fortunately, Maltz didn't stop there. He elaborated.

First of all, the word nItlh "finger" means any finger, including the thumb. A hand has vagh nItlhDu' ("five fingers"), not loS nItlhDu' ("four fingers") and a thumb. There is a specific word referring to each of the five fingers, and these words are nouns derived from verbs by means of the suffix -wI' ("thing which does"); there are two pairs for "thumb."

The Federation Standard translation of the verbs is a little strained, but they mean something like "use (the specific finger)." The associated "finger nouns" would be literally, though quite awkwardly, "thing which is used in a thumb-like manner" or perhaps "thing which thumbs" or even "thumber"; "thing which is used in an index finger-like manner"; and so on.

The verbs and the associated nouns are:

Sen SenwI' use the thumb thumb

rIl rIlwI' use the thumb thumb

SIq SIqwI' use the index finger, index finger first finger

qay qaywI' use the second second finger finger

qew qewwI' use the ring finger, ring finger third finger

qan qanwI' use the pinkie, pinkie little finger

The two sets of word relating to "thumb" are pretty much interchangeable, though small children usually use rIl and rIlwI' rather than Sen and SenwI'. Similarly, adult speaking to or about children tend to use rIl and rIlwI'. Both words are used together in an idiomatic expression meaning "everybody, everyone": SenwI'Du' rIlwI'Du' je, literally "thumbs and thumbs" (-Du' "plural [of body parts], je "and"). This expression is often heard without the plural suffixes: SenwI' rIlwI' je.

The use of the nouns is pretty straightforward. For example:

qewwI'wIj DarIQmoHpu' you injured my ring finger (-wIj my, Da- you [do something to] it, rIQmoH injure, -pu' perfective)

rIQ qewwI'wIj my ring finger is injured (rIQ be injured)

The "finger verbs" are used when talking about specific ways of using a particular device (weapon, computer control panel, even musical instrument) or when describing specific ways to use fingers (as in movements in some martial arts). For example:

nISwI' HIch Sen fire the disruptor pistol (nISwI' HIch disruptor pistol)

(literally, "use the thumb in the way it's most appropriately used on a disruptor pistol," "use the thumb to activate the disruptor pistol," perhaps even "thumb the disruptor pistol").

SeHlaw SIq touch the control panel with the index finger (SeHlaw control panel)

(which presumably would activate or alter the operation of some device or other, already known in the conversation).

qung wejDIch qew cover the third hole (in a musical instrument) with the (tip of the) ring finger (qung hole in musical instrument, wejDIch third)

(and thereby alter the sound emanating from the instrument).

The verb Heng "finger holes in a musical instrument" is a general term. When a specific finger is being referred to, one of the finger verbs is usually used, though one could say something like:

qung wejDIch HengmeH qewwI' lo' (in order) to finger the third hole, he/she uses the ring finger (-meH in order to, lo' use)

When used with nouns with the locative suffix -Daq, the finger verbs mean "point (with a specific finger) at or towards." For example:

maghwI'Daq jISIq I point at the traitor with my index finger


I point out the traitor with my index finger (maghwI' traitor, jI- I)

DungDaq qan point the little finger upwards (Dung area above)

There are some special uses of the reflexive forms of the finger verbs. For example, while ghIchwIj vISIq means "I touch my nose with my index finger" (ghIch "nose," -wIj "my," vI- "I [do something to] it") and ghIchwIjDaq jISIq means "I point at my nose with my index finger" (-Daq "to, at," jI- "I"), the phrase ghIchwIjDaq jISIq'egh (with -'egh "oneself"), literally "I use at myself my index finger at my nose," is used for "I pick my nose with my index finger." Similarly, nujDajDaq rIl'egh ghu (nuj "mouth," -Daq "his/her", -Daq "at, to," -'egh "oneself," ghu "baby"), literally "at his/her mouth, the baby uses at him/herself his/her thumb," is used for "the baby sucks its thumb."

If an implement is being used for an activity customarily (or even just frequently) performed by a finger alone, a finger verb may be used. Thus:

maghwI'Daq SIq naQjej the spear points at the traitor (maghwI' traitor, -Daq at, to, naQjej spear)

maghwI'Daq SIq naQjejwIj my spear points at the traitor (-wIj my)

The first of these sentences could be translated loosely as "He/she point at the traitor with his/her spear" and the second could be "I point at the traitor with my spear" even though, in both cases, the spear, not the spear carrier or spear owner, is the pointer. If the owner of the spear is not the user of the spear at the time of the utterance, the sentence must be more complex:

maghwI'Daq SIqmeH naQjejwIj lo' SuvwI' the warrior uses my spear to point at the traitor (-meH in order to, lo' use, SuvwI' warrior)

This could be translated as "the warrior points at the traitor with my spear."

A couple of the finger verbs may be related to other verbs is the language (though it's possible that the resemblance is coincidental rather than etymological).

In addition to qan "use the little finger, use the pinkie," there is another verb qan meaning "be old (not young)." No doubt because of this resemblance, when one points at someone using the little finger, or when one remarks on this pointing, the pointer is making a comment on the age of the person being pointed to. Thus

qI'empeqDaq jIqan

is literally "I point at K'mpec with my little finger," but idiomatically it means "(I think that) K'mpec is old" (qI'empeq "K'mpec," -Daq "to, at," jI- "I"). Compare:

qan qI'empeq K'mpec is old

Klingons are always direct, but there is more than one way to be direct.

The second finger verb for "thumb," rIl, is phonetically identical to a verb associated with music: rIl "play (a wind instrument)." The semantically similar verb SuS, which means "blow (into a wind instrument)," is a general term which is applied to all wind instruments. rIl, on the other hand, is restricted to the gheb (for better of worse, usually translated "horn"), no doubt because the playing technique is different from that employed with other wind instruments. While one blows into the large, complex instrument known as a meSchuS, for example, one does something more involved to get noise out of a gheb, though Maltz was unable to describe the action very well. Perhaps for expediency, Maltz translated SuS as "he/she blows" and rIl as "he/she horns," knowing full well that "to horn" does not have this meaning in standard Federation Standard. It is not clear how rIl "use the thumb" may be related to the verb rIl "horn," but if it is, it may be connected somehow to the fact that rIl "use the thumb" is the word used when referring to babies sucking their thumbs (see above). Perhaps there is a similarity in technique.

Then, of course, we have toes to consider.

As with the fingers, there are pairs of toe words, working in a parallel manner. A foot has vagh yaDDu' "five toes," an each toe has two words, a noun and a verb, associated with it. Klingon toes hove more dexterity than human toes, though not as much a Klingon or human fingers. To a degree surprising to humans, Klingons can control each toe independently.

The verbs an associated nouns are:

mar marwI' use the big toe big toe

Hom HomwI' use the second second toe toe

roS roSwI' use the third third toetoe

nan nanwI' use the fourth fourth toe toe

Qay' Qay'wI' use the little little toe toe

The verbs are used in the same way the finger verbs are used, though, except for when talking about martial arts movements and certain positions in Klingon classical ballet (never performed with shoes or boots), the verbs are not heard very often and are, in fact, considered archaic.

Nevertheless, some examples are (see more complete explanations above in the discussion of finger verbs):

rav Qay' touch the floor with the little toe (rav floor)

DungDaq Hom point upwards with the second toe (Dung area above, -Daq at, to)

nujDajDaq mar'egh ghu the baby sucks its big toe (nuj mouth, -Daj his/her, -Daq at, to, -'egh oneself, ghu baby)

(literally, "at his/her mouth, the baby uses at him/herself his/her big toe").

There are a number of words similar to the toe verbs. As with the finger verbs, these words may or may not be etymologically connected. roS "use the third toe" is phonetically identical to roS "lick" as well as the roS found in roSHa'moH "paralyze." The verb for "paralyze" consists of three elements: the verb roS (of unclear meaning), -Ha' "undo," -moH "cause." Thus it may be literally translated as "cause to no longer roS*" or "cause to un-*roS*" or the like. A verb *roS having anything to do with general mobility does not occur except in roSHa'moH. If the toe verb roS is the same verb, "paralyze" means "cause to not use the third toe." Perhaps mobility of the third toe was associated somehow with mobility in general. Indeed, there is an idiomatic expression pe'vIl roS "he/she uses his/her third toe forcefully" (pe'vIl "forcefully") which conveys the idea that he or she is particularly agile or nimble or spry. On the other hand, maybe the motions of the Klingon third toe look like a tongue licking.

There is a joke, Maltz recalled, about someone trying to lick some food off of a stirring stick while wearing shoes. Maltz laughed, but didn't tell the joke.

The verbs nan "use the fourth toe" and nan "gouge" are probably etymologically related, since nan is used to refer to a particularly effective martial arts kick. Similarly, the phonetic identity of Qay' "use the little toe" and Qay' "blow one's top, lose one's temper" is probably not accidental, as evidenced by the idiomatic expression 'oy'qu' Qay'wI'wIj, literally "my little toe aches a lot" ('oy' "ache, hurt," -qu' "emphatic," -wIj "my"), which means "I'm extremely angry."

The connection between Hom "use the second toe" and Hom "bone" is probably through the slang meaning of the noun Hom, namely "weakling," This has been associated with the diminutive suffix Hom, and there is no doubt that the existence of the suffix reinforces the slang interpretation. Nevertheless, there is also a link to toes. Pointing one's second toe at someone (typically an opponent or an enemy) with the other toes pointing downward is considered an insulting gesture. One is calling the opponent unworthy -- a "weakling." The phrase jaghwI'Daq jIHom, literally "I use (my) second toe at my enemy" (jagh "enemy," -wI' "my," -Daq "at, to," jI- "I") would most likely be interpreted as "I claim my enemy is unworthy or weak," even if not accompanied by the actual movement of the toe. The gesture itself is most likely to come up during ritualized martial arts combat (which, incidentally, is often a part of Klingon ballet).

Maltz said there was more that could be said about finger and toes, but that anything else would have to be put off for another time. As he left, however, he said, vaDjaj yaDDu'lIj "may your toes be flexible" (vaD "be flexible," -jaj "may," yaD "toe," -Du' "plural," -lIj "your"), apparently a wish for good fortune, or something of the sort. At least one hopes that what it is.

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Category: Canon    Latest edit: 05 Oct 2021, by KlingonTeacher    Created: 28 Sep 2021 by KlingonTeacher
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