Gaelic hills

A photo of Scottish mountains I took in March 2016

I’m currently reading an interesting book – Uncommon Ground – A word-lover’s guide to the British landscape by Dominick Tyler.

One thing I’ve learnt from it, is that there are quite a few words in Scottish Gaelic related to hills and mountains:

Beinn [beiɲ / beɲə] = mountain, mount; high hill, pinnacle; head, top, high place. It comes from the Old Irish benn (peak, point, pinnacle), from the Proto-Celtic *benno- (peak, top).

Sgurr [sguːrˠ / sgurˠə] = high pointed hill, peak; cliff, craig.

Stob [sdɔb] = point, pinnacle; stake; pointed iron stick; prickle, thorn; stump; sharp-pointed stick; to prick, prod.

Meall [mjaul̪ˠ / mjal̪ˠəɣ] = mound, round hill; pile, heap; lump, clot, mass; (rain) shower; bout. It comes from the Old Irish mell (a ball, sphere, round mass; a round protuberance, swelling).

Stùc [stuːxg] = little hill jutting out from a greater, steep on one side and rounded on the other; cliff; pinnacle of a roof; horn; scowl; rock; lump; conical steep rock; precipice.

Stòr [sdɔːr] = steep, high cliff; broken or decayed tooth.

Coire [kɤrʲə] = circular hollow surrounded by hills; mountain dell; whirlpool.

Cnoc /krɔ̃xg/ = hill: small hill, hillock, knoll; chilblain. It comes from the the Old Irish cnocc (hill, lump, stump), from Proto-Celtic *knokkos (hill).

Cruachan [kruəxan] = conical hill; hip.

Mam [maum] = rounded hill/mountain; mountain gap/pass; boil; bulge.

Cnap [krãhb] = small lumpy hill; knob, lump, protrusion; block; boss, node; swelling; button; potato; gust of wind; thump, thud. It is a borrowing from the Old Norse knappr (knob, stud, button), or the Old English cnæp (top of a hill, button, brooch).

Tiumpan [tʲũːmban] = one-sided hill; timbrel, tabret; tambourine; backside, bum.

Binnean [biɲan] = high conical hill; apex, high point; pinnacle.

Cruachag [kruəxag] small round hill; small pile/stack; small clamp (stack).

Dùnan [duːnan] = small hill; small fortress; dunghill; midden.

Torr [tɔːrˠ] = hill, mountain of an abrupt or conical form, lofty hill; Eminence; mound, large heap.

Monadh [mɔnəɣ] = mountain (covered with moors); high-lying moorland; expanse of heather.

Sliabh [ʃʎiəv] = hillside, slope; mountain. It comes from the Old Irish slíab (mountain, mountain range, moor), from the Proto-Celtic *slēbos (mountain).

Note: not all these words feature in Uncommon Ground.

Some of these words appear mainly in place names, and may be used in songs and poems, but are not used in everyday Gaelic.

Sources: Wiktionary, Am Faclair Beag, Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary

English, Etymology, Irish, Language, Scottish Gaelic, Words and phrases 2 Comments

Language quiz

Language quiz image

Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

Can you identify the language, and do you know where it’s spoken?

Language, Quiz questions 1 Comment

In a jiffy

In a jiffy

A jiffy is very short, unspecified length of time. For example, “I’ll be back in a jiffy”.

It can refer to more precise units of time, and was first defined by Gilbert Newton Lewis (1875–1946) as the time it takes light to travel one centimeter in a vacuum (about 33.3564 picoseconds). Other definitions are available.

Jiffy [ˈd͡ʒɪ.fi] was first recorded in English in 1785 and its origin is uncertain. One possibity is that it was Thieves’ Cant for lightning. It used to be written giffy, and may be related to gliff (a transient glance; an unexpected view of something that startles one; a sudden fear) [source].

Jiffy is also a brand of padded envelope and other packaging, so you could, if you were so inclined, send someone something in a jiffy (bag/envelope) in a jiffy.

Other expressions that indicate that something will happen very soon include:

– at once
– now
– right now
– straight away
– immediately
– in an instant
– instantly
– in a minute
– in a moment
– in a second
– in a trice
– in a mo
– in a sec
– in a tic
– in a heartbeat
– as quick as a flash
– in a second / in a sec
– in two shakes of a lamb’s tail
– in the blink of an eye
– before you know it

Welsh equivalents include:

– ar unwaith (at once)
– yn syth (immediately)
– ar y gair (on the word)
– yn y fan (in the place)
– yn ddi-oed (without delay)
– mewn chwinciad (in a wink)

The length of time indicated by these expressions can vary considerably. When some people say they will do something staight away, they really mean it. Others might mean that they will do it at some time in the future, maybe, if they can be bothered, but don’t hold your breath.

When I’m asked to do something I don’t really want to do, I might say that I’ll do it when I have a spare moment (or two), or if I can find the time.

Do you know/use other expressions, in English or other languages, for short lengths of time?

When asked to do something you would rather not do, how would you politely decline?

This post was inspired by a reference to Jiffy Pop, a brand of popcorn, in a novel I’m reading at the moment, The Art of Disappearing, by Ivy Pochoda. I had to look it up.

English, Language, Welsh, Words and phrases 3 Comments

Standing still on the longest day

Today is the longest day of the year and the summer solstice. After several hot, sunny days in Bangor, today it’s cloudy, warm and muggy.

The word solstice comes from the Old French solstice, from Latin sōlstitium (solstice; summer), from sol (sun) and sto (stand), from sistō (I stand still).

Sol comes from the Proto-Italic *swōl, from the pre-Italic *sh₂wōl, from the Proto-Indo-European *sóh₂wl̥ (sun), which is the root of words for sun in many Indo-European languages. In the Gaelic languages though, it is the root of words for eye: Irish: súil, Manx: sooill, and Scottish Gaelic: sùil.

The word muggy, meaning humid, or hot and humid, comes from an English dialect word, mugen (to drizzle), from the Old Norse mugga (drizzle, mist), which possibly comes from the Proto-Indo-European *meug- (slimy, slippery), which is also the root of the English word mucus.

English, Etymology, Irish, Language, Latin, Manx, Proto-Indo-European, Scottish Gaelic, Words and phrases Leave a comment

Language quiz

Language quiz image

Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

Can you identify the language, and do you know where it’s spoken?

Language, Quiz questions 5 Comments

Wandering prattlers

It has been brought to my attention that in Swedish the most common way to say ‘speak’, at least in Stockholm, is pratar, and that few people use talar anymore.

Är detta sant? Is this true?

The Duolingo course I’m studying Swedish with uses talar, – pratar has not come up yet.

According to Witionary, Pratar is the present tense form of the verb prata (to talk, speak), and comes from the Low German praten (to talk), from the Proto-Germanic *prattuz (idle or boastful talk, deceit), from the Proto-Indo-European *brodno- (to wander, rove). The English word prattle (to speak incessantly and in a childish manner; to babble) comes from the same root.

Talar is the present tense form of the verb tala (to speak; to utter words; to tell; to talk; to make a speech) from the Old Norse tala, from the Proto-Germanic *talō (calculation, number), from the Proto-Indo-European *del- (to reckon, count).

Other Swedish words related to speech and language include:

– tal = speech
– språk = language
– språka = to speak
– snacka = to talk, speak (coll.); to boast emptily (slang); to reveal secrets
– säga = to say, to tell; to utter words
– pladdra = to prattle
– skrika = to scream, to yell, to shout
– viska = to whisper

English, Etymology, Language, Old Norse, Proto-Indo-European, Swedish, Words and phrases 3 Comments

Magic Café

Circe's Diner

Tonight I will mainly be listening to the band Circe’s Diner at Blue Sky Café. I haven’t heard them before, but their reviews are good. Also playing tonight is the Ewan Macintyre band.

When I saw the name, I naturally wondered how to pronounce circe, and where the word came from.

According to Wikipedia, circe is pronounced (/ˈsɜːrsiː/ (sursee), and comes from the Greek Κίρκη (Kírkē) [kírkɛ͜ɛ]).

In Greek mythology Circe is a goddess of magic, or a nymph, witch, enchantress or sorceress, daughter of the sun god Helios, and Perse, an Oceanid nymph.

The Ewan Macintyre Band

Language, Music Leave a comment

Closing out

On some podcasts I listen to, I’ve noticed that the presenters use the phrase close out when talking about the end of the show. For example, they say things like “Finally we will close out with an item about …”, or “It’s now time to close out the show.”

To my British ears this expression sounds a bit strange – the podcasts I hear it in are made by Americans, or by British people living in America. In British podcasts and radio programmes people would be more likely to say something like, “Finally an item about …”, or “We have now come to the end of this episode of …”, “Here comes the end”, “That is it for this episode”.

In the UK you might say that you close up a shop or other business at the end of each day.

Is this phrase used in other contexts?

Does it sound normal/strange to you?

So I have now come to the end of this post. It’s time to close out, or not, depending on your version of English.

English, Language, Words and phrases 3 Comments

Language quiz

Language quiz image

Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

Can you identify the language, and do you know where it’s spoken?

Language, Quiz questions 5 Comments

Mysterious abbreviations (MABs)

Recently I’ve noticed the abbreviation MSM appearing in some of the articles I read online. When I first saw it I guessed it had something to do with Microsoft – maybe Microsoft Media, or something like that. Eventually I worked out that it stood for mainstream media.

According to Wiktionary, MSM can also stand for mirror, signal, maneuver – something you are often told when learning to drive, at least in the UK. In the USA you can be awarded an MSM (Meritorious Service Medal), and it also stands for Modern Standard Mandarin.

The Acronym Finder gives a number of other things that MSM stands for, such as Miami Sound Machine, Mechanically Separated Meat, and Magnetic Shape Memory.

When I go to my dentist she uses the abbreviation NAD when checking my teeth. I guessed it stood for No Apparent Damage or something similar.

The Acronym Finder gives the following possibilities: No Apparent Distress, No Abnormality Detected or No Active Disease.

According to The Free Dictionary, NAD could mean No Appreciable Disease, No Abnormality Discovered, Nothing Abnormal Detected, or No Abnormalities Detected.

Does anybody know what NAD actually means in a dental context?

Are there any abbreviations or acronyms that you leave you stumped?

English, Language 1 Comment
%d bloggers like this: