National Mottos

Navis volitans mihi anguillis plena est
Created with The Keep Calm-O-Matic

Do you know your country’s national motto?

Not all countries have them. Many are in Latin and other ancient languages, and most are a bit bland and include things like freedom, liberty, unity, strength, work, progress, God, etc.

Here are some more interesting ones:

Isle of Man (Latin): Quocunque Ieceris Stabit (Whithersoever you throw it, it will stand) – refers to the triskelion on the flag.

– Luxembourg (Luxembourgish): Mir wëlle bleiwe wat mir sinn (We wish to remain what we are)

– Moldova (Romanian): Limba noastră-i o comoară (Our Language is a Treasure)

– Somalia: Go forward, and never backward

– South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (Latin): Leo terram propriam protegat (Let the lion protect his own land)

– Switzerland (Latin): Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno (One for all, all for on)

– Turks and Caicos Islands: Beautiful By Nature, Clean By Choice

You can see a list of them on Wikipedia, and here’s an infographic with a selection of them:


If you were asked to think of a new motto for your country, perhaps one that reflects how you feel about the country, what would you suggest?

Here’s a few I came up with:

Nid yn bwrw glaw trwy’r amser (Not Always Raining – the English version comes from Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels)
Mae dreigiau yma (Here Be Dragons)
Gwlad Gydgordiol (Harmonious Country)

Perfer et Obdura (Keep Calm and Carry On) [source]
Let’s Not Make a Fuss
Ignosce mihi! (Sorry!)
Terra antiqua (The Antique Terror, or possibly the Old Land)
Navis volitans mihi anguillis plena est (My hovercraft is full of eels)

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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?

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Ave a butchers at er barnet

The title of this post is an example of Cockney, a form of speech you might hear in London, specifically in the Cheapside district of the City of London. It includes to bits of rhyming slang – butchers and barnet. Do you know, or can you guess what they mean?

To (h)ave a butchers (the initial h is not used in Cockney) means to have a look or just to look. It is used in informal English in much of the UK, and I didn’t realise it was rhyming slang until I discovered that it actually stands for butcher’s hook = look.

Barnet means hair, and until I read Vulgar Tongues: An Alternative History of English Slang by Max Décharné, which I just finished, I didn’t know that barnet is also rhyming slang: Barnet Fair = hair.

Barnet Fair is a fair that has been taking place since 1588 in Barnet, a part of north London also known as High Barnet or Chipping Barnet. The main focus of the fair was originally horses and other livestock, but these days it is a funfair, and takes place from 4-7 September each year.

So the title means ‘Have a look at her hair’.

Incidentally, in Swedish barnet means ‘the child’ from barn [bɑːrn] (child, infant, baby, offspring, family) [source].

Barn comes from the Old Norse barn (child), from the Proto-Germanic *barną (child), from the Proto-Indo-European *bʰer- (to bear, to carry), which is also the root of the Scots bairn (child), the Icelandic / Faroese / Norwegian / Danish barn (child), and related words in other Indo-European languages [source].

According to Wikipedia, rhyming slang was first recording in the East End of London in about 1840, and the earliest glossaries of this slang appeared in 1859 in the Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant, and Vulgar Words by John Camden Hotten. He included examples such as frog and toad (road), apples and pears (stairs), Battle of the Nile (a tile, a vulgar term for a hat), and Duke of York (take a walk).

It is unknown why this type of slang originally emerged. It was possibly a game, or a way to confuse outsiders, a way for criminals to confuse the police, and/or a way to maintain a sense of belonging.

More up-to-date examples of rhyming slang, from include:

– Andy McNab = kebab / cab
– Angela Merkel = circle
– Barak Obama = pyjamas
– Calvin Klein = wine / fine (body)
– Captain Kirk = work / Turk
– Dudley Moore = score (£20)
– Mariah Carey = scary

Is there rhyming slang in other languages?

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


Yesterday I discovered an interesting resource for learning Russian – Russian Podcast, which includes a series of conversations in Russian with transcripts.

There are also videos featuring conversations with various people, with subtitles in Russian and English. These are called vodcasts, which is a new word to me. Most of the material is free, but you can get more if you subscribe.

In a video I watched yesterday the host chats about language learning with another Russian woman who lives in Paris and speaks quite a few languages. One expression I picked up from their conversation was по-чуть-чуть (pa-chut’-chut’), which means little by little, and that is one of the suggestions about how to learn languages that is discussed.

Here are some examples of usage:

– Я собирал каждый день по чуть-чуть. = I’ve been putting a bit aside every day.
– Я изучаю по чуть-чуть русский язык каждый день. = I study a little Russian every day.
– Я по чуть-чуть изучаю, и дальше у меня уже прогресс. = I study little by little, and that’s how I progress.

On it’s own, чуть means hardly, a little or as soon as. Here some examples of expressions and sentences featuring this word:

– чуть (было) не = almost, nearly
– чуть ли не = almost certainly
– чуть что = at the slightest thing
– Мне нужно подержам невесту чуть подольше = I need to hold on to the bride a little longer.
– Думаю, стоит покопать чуть глубже = I just have to dig a little deeper, I guess.

When reduplicated чуть-чуть means a little bit. Here are some examples of usage:

– Ну, хорошо, только чуть-чуть. = Erm, all right, then just a little bit.
– Мне просто нужно чуть-чуть больше времени. = I just need a little bit more time.

Source: Reverso Dictionary and Reverso Context

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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?

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Mug shots

An ugly mug on a mug

When listening to the Answer Me This podcast today I heard some discussion of mug shots, which got me thinking about the origins of that name.

According to Wiktionary, a mug shot (or mugshot) is:

1. A photograph taken of the head and shoulders, often from the front and in profile, usually taken in conjunction with somebody’s arrest.

2. An unflattering photograph of a person’s face (Britain slang)

The police mug shot is also known as a police photograph or booking photograph. According to Wikipedia, “Photographing of criminals began in the 1840s only a few years after the invention of photography, but it was not until 1888 that French police officer Alphonse Bertillon standardized the process.”

Mug is a slang word for face and shot comes from snapshot, another word for photograph, especially one taken quickly.

The origins of the word mug are uncertain, but its use as a slang word for face possibly comes from the grotesque faces on some drinking vessels.

Are there other interesting words for face in English or other languages?

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Special offer from Rocket Languages

Rocket languages

This week Rocket Languges are celebrating their 13th Anniversary with a 4-day sale starting today and continuing until Friday 17th March, or until they’ve sold 1,000 courses.

During this time you can get 60% off any of their online language courses, which include: French, Spanish, Italian, Chinese (Mandarin), German, Japanese, Russian, Arabic, Hindi, ASL, Korean, Portuguese and English (for Spanish or Japanese speakers).

The coupon code to receive the discount is ANNIVERSARY

They also offer online piano courses, in case you fancy a break from your language studies.

I have tried and reviewed their Hindi and Japanese courses, and think they are definitely worth a look. Since then they have added some new languages – Russian and Portuguese – and I’m tempted to try their Russian course, even though I already have plenty of other Russian courses and learning materials. Can you ever have too many language learning materials?

Note: I am a Rocket Languages affiliate, and will receive commission if you buy any of the courses via the links above.

Chinese, English, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Language, Language learning, Portuguese, Russian, Sign language, Spanish 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

How to become a language expert in no time

Today we have a guest post from Sebastien Marion

Léa Knows

As most expats would agree, the best way to learn a language is to go abroad. When abroad, you are immersed in the culture and are forced to speak the language. But whether you are abroad already or trying to improve your language skills from home, vocabulary will be key to quick progress. Learning grammar and tenses is very important indeed, but without vocabulary, you will soon find yourself very limited.

When I arrived in Spain two years ago, I had some leftover fragments of my years in school studying the language. This was invaluable to me as it allowed to have some kind of conversation. When I did not know a word, I quickly typed it in a translation app and it gave me its translation on the fly.

As useful as these translation apps are however, to me they had a major flaw. As the conversation went on, I systematically forgot the words that I had searched for and their translations, making progress somewhat slow. And what’s worse, when I got home my history was gone. And while some apps do keep a record, to be able to practice the words using flashcards I would then have to copy them to a flashcard application, which slowed me down considerably.

To solve this problem, I have been working on a small application acting as a translator (using Google Translate and soon also WordReference) but with the twist that each translation gets automatically recorded and turned into flashcards for you to practice at a later time. Using flashcards you can learn vocabulary faster and improve you level quickly. You can even create lists and we will in the future add a bit to help you train better.

The app is nearly ready and will hopefully go live by the end of March. The website is available at and as a special offer to readers of Omniglot, you can claim a free lifetime membership by sending me a message before the 1st of April and quoting “OMNIGLOT_FREE_ACCOUNT” in the message field.

English, Language, Language learning, Spanish Leave a comment

Protagonists and sidekicks

When listening to The Allusionist podcast today I learnt an interesting word – tritagonist, who was the actor who played the third role in ancient Greek drama.

Tritagonist comes from the Ancient Greek word τρίτἀγωνιστής (triagōnistḗs), from τρίτ ‎(third) and ἀγωνιστής ‎(combatant, participant).

The actors who played the first and second roles in ancient Greek drama were known as the protagonist and deuteragonist, or sidekick. Proto- comes from πρῶτος ‎(first), a superlative of πρό ‎(before), and deuter- from δευτερ (second).

Proto goes back to the Proto-Indo-European *pro/*per- (to go over), which is also the root of:

– Proto-Celtic *ɸro = before, in front of, in addition
– Welsh rhy = too
– Irish ro = too
– Proto-Germanic *fram = from, by, due to
– English from
– Scots frae = from
– Swedish från = from; and fram = forward
– Icelandic frá = from, away from, about
– Latin per = through, by means of, during, and related words in Romance languages.

The antonym of protagonist is antagonist, from ἀντί ‎(against) and ἀγωνιστής (combatant, participant).

Source: Wiktionary

English, Etymology, Greek, Irish, Language, Latin, Proto-Indo-European, Scots, Swedish, Welsh, Words and phrases Leave a comment
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