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 2 Comments

A postcard view

Last night I went to an interesting talk about postcards at the local history society. Various people, including my mum, have collections of postcards of Silverdale and/or sent from Silverdale, and there was a project at Lancaster University to scan, transcribe and study the cards. There is also a book entitled Old Silverdale: The Loveliest Spot on Morecambe Bay which features postcards from Silverdale.

A postcard of Silverdale Shore (1911)

The talk focused on postcards that were sent from Silverdale between about 1900 and the 1930s. Looking at the kind of things people wrote on them, their handwriting, style of writing, punctuation and so on. Apparently some of the cards in the collection were written backwards, upside down or in a spiral to make it more difficult for postmen to read them. Some even used rebuses*.

When the postcards were sent there were a lot more postal deliveries – several every day – so it was possible to send a card in the morning, and to receive a reply the same day. They were used somewhat like text messages and other social media are today, and just like text messages, there was no standard way of writing them, so people wrote however they wanted. Short, incomplete sentences. Minimal punctuation. Abbreviations and accronyms, and some rather exsentrik spellin.

Certain people at the time were apparently concerned that postcards could bring the end of formal written language, and that people would start writing any old how. Similar concerns have been expressed about text messages, online chat and so on. This TED talk explains why such fears are not justified.

The speaker also mentioned that when people write postcards they tend to use more elaborate, flowery and even poetic words than they might normally do. They talk about ‘wooded glades’ and ‘fragrant breezes’, ‘delightful weather’, ‘glorious sunshine’, and such like.

Do you still send postcards? If not, do you remember when you last did?

Do you have a particular way of writing them?

It’s a long time since I sent a postcard – at least 10 years, I think, maybe longer.

* A rebus is a puzzle in which words are represented by combinations of pictures and individual letters.

English, General, Language, Writing 1 Comment


From a new article that I added to Omniglot today – How to Avoid Phraseme Goofs in Other Languages, I learnt a new word, phraseme. I hadn’t encountered before, so I thought I’d find out more about it.

According to Wiktionary, a phraseme is:

An utterance, consisting of multiple words or morphemes, at least one of whose components is selectionally constrained or restricted by linguistic convention such that it is not freely chosen.

One type of phraseme is idioms, such as to hit the sack (to go to sleep), under the weather (sick, unwell). Idioms are also known as non-compositional phrasemes, as their meanings cannot be determined from the meanings of their component words.

Another example is the compositional phraseme, which consists of words that normally appear together, such as heavy rain, strong wind and bright sun (you wouldn’t usually say heavy wind).

More information about phrasemes

English, Idioms, Language, Words and phrases 1 Comment

Language quiz

Language quiz image

Here’s a recording of in a mystery language.

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

Language 8 Comments

Toe cozy

My new ToeCozy

How do you find something if you don’t know what it’s called or even if it exists?

This is the problem that faced me yesterday when I started looking for something to cover the toes of my left foot that stick out of my plaster cast. I was using a sock, but it didn’t fit very well, and kept on slipping off, so I thought I’d try to find a better alternative.

I went on Amazon (other online retailers are available), and searched for cover for plaster cast, or something similar, I soon found what I was looking for – the toe cozy or ToeCozy. Like a tea cozy, but it fits on your toes rather than on your teapot.

I think it’s a brand name rather than a generic name. Is there a generic name for such things? Maybe toe cover.

When you’re learning a foreign language you often faced a similar situation, especially when you start, as you have only limited vocabulary. You just have to use the words you do know to describe things you don’t have words for. Or maybe you have other ways to get round this.

English, Language, Language learning, Words and phrases 1 Comment

London’s Euston

Last week when I was waiting on Bangor station for the train to London, I heard announcements that referred to the London station that trains from Bangor go to as “London’s Euston“, rather than the usual London Euston or just Euston. I hadn’t heard it referred to in that way before so noticed it and thought it strange.

Euston station was built on land owned by the Dukes of Grafton, and named after Euston Hall his ancestral home in Suffolk, near the village of Euston, a name first recorded in Domesday Book, and possibly of Anglo-Saxon origin, maybe from “Efe’s Tun” (Efe’s farmstead).

There are a number of mainline railway stations in London that serve different parts of the country. As well as Euston, which serves northwest England and north Wales, there’s Victoria (for south and southeast of England, and an English queen); Paddington (for the southwest of England and south Wales, and for small Peruvian bears); Waterloo (for south and southwest England, and an ABBA song), and so on.

Details of how the major railway stations in London got their names.

English, Language, Words and phrases 2 Comments


After waiting all day yesterday, they finally came to take me to the operating theatre at 9pm last night. I’m not sure how long the operation took, but I woke up back in the ward at about midnight, feeling rather groggy, but otherwise okay.

So my ankle now has some bits of metal in it to keep the fractured bones together, and doesn’t hurt nearly as much as it did. I can move it a bit more, and may be able to put weight on it in a week or two.

It should take around 6 weeks for the bones to heal. Then a few more months for my ankle to heal fully.

Language 2 Comments

Still waiting

My operation didn’t take place yesterday, but it might just happen today. I’ve been through the pre-op checklist and talked to the surgeon and anesthetist. They said they will try to fit me in today, but cannot guarantee it. I’m feeling very tired, hungry and thirsty as I didn’t sleep well last night, and haven’t had anything to eat or drink since yesterday.

Everybody is very friendly and helpful here, but I wouldn’t recommend a stay in hospital, if you can avoid it.

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Up North

The view from the window nearest me in Lancaster Royal Infirmary

After being discharged from St Mary’s Hospital yesterday, I took a taxi to Euston, with a Somali driver. I managed to get myself to the ticket hall and bought a ticket. Then asked for assistance to get to the train – I can’t put any weight on my broken ankle at the moment so have to hop everywhere with the crutches, which is tiring and tricky, especially up and down steps. Fortunately there was a train in the station and I only had to wait about 5 minutes before it left.

It was a direct train and took about three hours to get to Lancaster. I just sat, looked out of the window, dozed off a bit, and eavesdropped on the conversations around me. There was a family in front of me who were speaking in a mixture of English and maybe a language from India – I don’t know which one. Behind me were a Russian-sounding mother and son who spoke mainly in English, but the mother occasionally slipped into Russian.

My mum met me at Lancaster station and took me to the local hospital – Lancaster Royal Infirmary, which is just down the road from where I went to school. We waited for quite a while, saw various doctors and nurses, I had some more x-rays, then they decided to admit me rather than letting me go home and come back in a few days. We waited some more while they found me a bed.

This morning they told me that they won’t be able to operate on my ankle until tomorrow, so I’ve been taking it easy, doing a bit of work, listening to podcasts and snoozing. My mum came to visit this afternoon and brought me some grapes, awfully clich├ęd I know, but nice and tasty.

This hospital is a lot less multilingual than St Mary’s in London. So far the only language I’ve heard here is English, mainly with a Lancashire accent. I’ve found myself speaking with a bit of Lancashire accent as well. Even though I grew up in this area, I never had much of a local accent. However it sounds familiar and pleasant to my ears, and comes easily to my tongue.

English, General, Language, Russian, Travel 2 Comments

Multilingual hospital

The staff and patients in the hospital are from many different places and speak a variety of languages.

Yesterday I overheard a consultation involving a man from Afghanistan who spoke no English, so his relatives were interpreting. I couldn’t tell if he was speaking Dari or Pashto or another language, as I’m not familiar with languages from that region.

When I was chatting with the ambulance crew, who were all from Australia, and mentioned that I speak a variety of languages, one of them joked that she barely speaks English. This seems to be quite a common reaction when monolinguals encouter polyglots.

One of the doctors I saw yesterday told me that they often need interpreters in the hospital and frequently use phone-based ones. The languages most in demand at the moment are Arabic and Farsi.

I’m going home in a little while, which will be an adventure and challenge, and will get my ankle fixed properly tomorrow in Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor, hopefully.

Change of plan – I will have the operation in Lancaster, then stay with my Mum, who lives nearby, while recovering.

Arabic, English, Language, Persian (Farsi) 1 Comment
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