Turkish Puns – handle with care!

Understanding puns, I guess, is one of the signs that you are making progress in another language. I remember the first one I ‘got’ in Turkish, and how good it made me feel. It was a pastry/pie shop (börekçi in Turkish) in the Beyoğlu area of Istanbul, and it was called Hamurabi. Well, I’m sure you’ve heard of the ancient Babylonian king, whose name is normally spelled with two ‘m’s, renowned for codifying one of history’s first legal systems. You may not know that hamur is the Turkish word for ‘dough’ or ‘pastry’, and ağabey (pronounced abi), means ‘big brother’, but is also used as a term of respect for a male older than oneself. 
Never mind the pun, Hamur abi itself is not readily translatable into English, but perhaps ‘Mr Pastry’ comes close. Why I’m telling you this is because a Turkish colleague took issue with my spelling of the Ottoman sultan’s name in my previous post. Before going to press, I did actually check it, and found that the name of the Padishah in question could be written Bayezid, Beyazit, Bayazıt or Bayazıd. One source of the difficulty is the fact that, in those days, the Ottomans were using the Arabic script, which had to be rendered into European tongues using a Latin alphabet, at a time when spelling rules were pretty much non-existent.
Another problem is that the name is not Turkish in origin, but Arabic or Persian – the sources I checked didn’t seem to agree. One of the peculiarities of the Turkish language is vowel harmony among the syllables of a word, and Beyazit/Bayezid breaks the rules. Turks also tend to de-vocalise the final ‘-d’ in borrowed Arabic names like Ahmed. Anyway, English sources seem to prefer the former spelling, which is why I chose to run with that one. However, my colleague Ömer pointed out that beyazit in Turkish can also mean ‘white street dog’ . . . which is why I am now going back to that post and respectfully adjusting the spelling.

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