Could you care less?

Which sounds right to you?

– I couldn’t care less about sport.
– I could care less about sport.

To me the first makes sense and sounds right. It also applies to me – I have no real interest in sport. So I couldn’t care any less about it, because I don’t care about it at all.

The second one sounds a bit strange to me. I would interpret it as meaning that I’m not really into sport, but do care at least a little about it.

Do you use one or both of these expressions? If not, what would you say instead?

How do you express these ideas in other languages?

English, Language, 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 5 Comments

A few tips about tips

TIPS box - not genuine

I heard some discussion on Radio Cymru this about the origin of the word tip(s). They said that in 18th century England there were boxes in pubs with the letters T.I.P.S. on them, which stood for “To Insure Prompt Service”. Gratuities were put into the boxes and became known as tips.

According the, a fact checking website, this is folk etymology, i.e. wrong. No such boxes existed, and the first appearance in writing of the word tip, meaning gratuity, dates back to the early 18th century, and the word tip, meaning to give a small sum of money intelligence on horse races or the latest silly joke dates back to 1610, and was used in thieves cant (slang).

The Online Etymology Dictionary suggests that the word tip, meaning to knock down or overturn, is of uncertain origin, and possibly comes from Scandinavian languages – in Swedish tippa means to tip or dump.

The word tip, as in the end or point of something, comes from Middle Low German or Middle Dutch tip (utmost point, extremity, tip).

The story about tip being an acronym for “To Insure Prompt Service”, “To Insure Promptitude” or “To Insure Promptness” comes from Inns, Ales and Drinking Customs of Old England by Frederick W. Hackwood, which was published in 1909.

There is more fact checking of popular sayings on

English, Etymology, Language, Welsh, Words and phrases 1 Comment

Reasons to learn minority languages

I came across an interesting article today which discusses some of the benefits of learning a minority language like Manx. The writer, a fluent Manx speaker, is currently studying French and Linguistics at Oxford University, and has found that her knowledge of Manx has enabled her to make all sorts of connections, and has opened many doors. She was also in Gleann Cholm Cille studying Irish, though in July during the week I’m usually there, and I heard that Adrian Cain had been there teaching Manx that week – it’s a shame I missed it.

When you learn a language with a small number of speakers like Manx, it is possible to get to know quite a few of them and feel part of the community, and there is quite a lot of interest in such languages among linguists and language enthusiasts. I’ve certainly found this with all the Celtic languages, and whenever I meet someone who speaks one or more of them, I feel an instant connection. In Gleann Cholm Cille, for example, I met an English lad who is doing Celtic Studies in Aberystwyth University, and we found we have some mutual friends, and chatted away happily in Welsh, though I was in Irish mode that week, so sometimes mixed in a bit of Irish with my Welsh.

Does the same kind of thing happen for other minority and endangered languages?

One of my classmates in Gleann Cholm Cille, a gentleman from Oklahoma, mentioned that he had studied some Cherokee, but that the Cherokee people are suspicious of outsiders learning their language, so it can be hard to find material to learn the language and people to practice with.

Endangered languages, English, Irish, Language, Language learning, Manx, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh Leave a comment

Irish Tongue-Twisters

Last week I learnt some new tongue-twisters (rabhlóga) in Irish. To those not familiar with Irish, almost an sentence in Irish might appear to be a bit of a tongue-twister, but these ones are particularly tricky.

Seacht sicín ina seasamh sa sneachta lá seaca.
Seven chickens standing in the snow on a frosty day.

Fear feargach ag faire na farraige fuaire.
An angry man watching the cold sea.

Cheannaigh cailín cliste ceanúil císte.
A clever, affectionate girl bought a cake.

Cearc ag piocadh piobair de phláta Pheadair.
A chicken is picking peppers from Peter’s plate.

Bhí bean bheag bhocht breoite bruite leis an bhfuacht.
The poor little sick women was scaled with the cold.

Rinne Máire gáire gan náire ag an fhaire i nDoire anuraidh.
Mary laughed shamelessly at the look-out in Derry last year.

I have made recordings of my attempts to say them. If you can do better, please contact me.

You can see more of these on:

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A Hooley of Ukeists

Ukulele Hooley

I’m having a great time at the Ukulele Hooley this weekend, so I thought I’d look into some ukulele-related words.

There are various possible words for people who play the ukulele:

– Ukulele player
– Uker
– Ukist
– Ukeist
– Ukulist
– Ukulelist
– Ukuleleist
– Ukulelian
– Uke-phreak
– Ukester
– Ukestrator
– Ukeleler

There are also words for things ukulele-related: ucal (based on duke/ducal), or ukel (based on yokel).

Sources: and MetaFilter

Then there are some words, which I just made up, for what ukulele players do, i.e. play the ukulele: uke, ukelize, ukify. Can you come up with any others?

Me playing one of my songs in the open mic at the 2016 Ukulele Hooley

I sang one my songs, Spollagyn son tey / Chips for tea, in the open mic session last might (see photo above). I usually sing it unaccompanied, and messed it up a bit at the start, but it went okay after that. I was also singing it from memory, which is fine when I’m just singing, but when I’m play the ukulele at the same time, it’s a lot more challenging, and definitely needs more practice.

So what would you call a group of ukulele players?

A strum, a hooley, or something else?

Suggestions welcome.

Other collective words for musician can be found at:

If you’re in the Dublin area today, why not come along to a free concert in the People’s Park in Dún Laoghaire this afternoon from 12pm.

English, Language, Music, Words and phrases Leave a comment

Eating sideways

An interesting Japanese word I came across today in an article on ‘untranslatable’ words is 横飯 (yokomeshi) which is used to describe the stress of speaking a foreign language.

It comes from 横 (yoko – horizontal) and 飯 (meshi – boiled rice, a meal, food), and could be translated as ‘a meal eaten sideways’. This refers to the fact that Japanese is often written vertically, while most other languages are written horizontally.

Are there words of expressions in other languages that have a similar meaning?

English, Japanese, Language, Words and phrases 1 Comment

Gleann Cholm Cille

A view of Glencolumbcille

I’m currently in Glencolumbcille (Gleann Cholm Cille) in Donegal in the north west of Ireland brushing up my Irish. Next weekend I’ll be in Dún Laoghaire for the Ukulele Hooley, Ireland’s national ukulele festival.

So far I’ve spoken plenty of Irish, and also some Welsh, Japanese and French, and a bit of English.

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Y Llyfyrgell

Last night I saw the film Y Llyfrgell / The Library Suicides, a Welsh-language thriller based on the book Y Llyfrgell (The Library) by Fflur Dafydd, who also wrote the script and produced the film.

This was the first film I’ve seen in Welsh, and I enjoyed it. It’s set in Aberystwyth, and most of the action takes place in the National Library of Wales / Llyfyrgell Genedlaethol Cymru. The main characters are identical twins who work in the library, and the film starts with the apparent suicide of their mother, a famous author. There are many other twists and turns, and stories within stories which make the film well worth a look.

The twins are played by one actor, Catrin Stewart, who in real life is a twin, though has a twin brother rather than a twin sister. It’s very cleverly done and you never realise that one person is playing both of them.

I didn’t understand all the dialogue at first as it’s in a dialect of Welsh I’m not used to hearing – I’ve got so used to hearing northern dialects of Welsh, other dialects sound a bit strange to me now, but I soon tuned into to it. There were subtitles in English as well, but I tried not to read them.

After the film there was a question and answer with Fflur Dafydd, which was entirely in Welsh, with simultaneous interpretation in English, for those who needed it. It was an interesting discussion and provided many insights into the film making process.

English, Film, Language, Welsh Leave a comment


I learnt an interesting new French word today – célibataire. When I first saw it I guessed that it meant celibate, but when I checked in a dictionary I found that while it does mean celibate, it is more commonly used to mean single. So un célibataire is a single man or bachelor, and une célibataire is a single woman or spinster. A confirmed bachelor un célibataire endurci and une mère célibataire is a single / unmarried mother – the male equivalent is un père célibataire.

Célibataire comes from célibat (celibacy), from the Latin caelebs (unmarried, single), from the Proto-Indo-European *kaiwelo- ‎(alone) and *libʰs– ‎(living) [source].

Single comes from the Middle English sengle, from the Old French sengle, from Latin singulus, a diminutive of simplex (simple or literally “onefold”*, from sim- ‎(the same) and plicare ‎(to fold) [source].

*Duplex = twofold, double

English, Etymology, French, Language, Latin, Proto-Indo-European, Words and phrases 1 Comment
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