The phrase ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ indicates many things or almost everything, as in ‘I took everything but the kitchen sink with me on holiday. The OED gives the earliest use of the phrase in writing as 1965. The kitchen sink part of the phrase apparently comes from army slang and appears in Partridge’s 1948 Dictionary of Forces’ Slang as “Kitchen sink, used only in the phrase indicating intense bombardment ‘They chucked everything they’d got at us except, or including, the kitchen sink.’”
I learnt an interesting word in Old Norse recently: kol-bitr (“coal-biter”), which refers to an idle person who always sits by the fire. kol = coals, charcoal, and bitr = biting, snapping; cutting, sharp [source].
In Elder Futhark runes this is ᚲᛟᛚ᛫ᛒᛁᛏᚱ and in Younger Futhork runes it’s ᚴᚫᛚ᛫ᛓᛁᛐᚱ.
A visitor to Omnglot asked me about this expression and how to write it in Runes. I thought I’d post it here to show the kinds of questions that stream in to Omniglot HQ. I never know what I’ll be asked, and do my best to answer whatever questions come my way, and I’ve become pretty good at finding information, no matter how obscure.
Yesterday I discovered that the Welsh idiom, ar y gweill, which can be translated as ‘in the pipeline’, ‘on the way’, ‘in hand’ or ‘underway’ literally means “on the knitting needles”. It’s the plural of gweillen (knitting needle). To knit is gwau or gweu, and a knitter is gwëwr, gweuwr or gwëydd.
- Mae hynny ar y gweill = That has been set in place
- Mae cynlluniau ar y gweill = Plans are in the pipeline
- Mae’r paratoadau ar y gweill = Preparations for this are underway
- Mae’r trafodaethau hyn ar y gweill = These discussions are in hand
I don’t think I’ve come across any knitting-related idioms like this before, so it caught my attention. Do you know any knitting related idioms?
The importance of grammar in language learning is often played down in language courses and by people who blog about language learning. They claim that you can learn a language either without actively studying the grammar (whatever they mean by the word), or that you only need to glance at grammar books and explanations now and then. This is partly a reaction against the grammar-translation approach to language teaching in which you concentrate on learning verb conjugations, noun declensions, etc, and on translating from and to the target language.
I think that grammar, i.e. how a language works, and grammatical terminology (if you don’t already know it), can be short cuts to achieving competence in a language. If you spend all you time learning nouns, for example, and don’t know how to put them together with other words to make sentences, then your ability to communicate will be very limited. Grammar provides the framework of a language and vocabulary provides the content. You need to learn both.
The question for me is not whether you need to learn/acquire grammar, but how you do so. Some people are able to read a grammar book, absorb the information and apply it – one friend, for example, spent nine months learning Finnish grammar, then moved to Finland (from Germany) and became fluent in Finnish within a few months. For most people though this is probably wouldn’t work. You can absorb a lot of grammar from extensive listening and reading, with some checking of grammar books, but some overt study can be useful as well.
A lot of discussions on how to learn languages mention grammar – whether it should be learnt overtly at all; whether it should be introduced gradually from the start, or only after one has a some knowledge of the new language, and so on.
There are often asides about how English-speaking people, especially the younger generations of English speakers, don’t even know the grammar of their own language.
What people mean by grammar is rarely discussed or defined, as it is assumed that everyone knows what grammar is, don’t they?
“That department of the study of a language which deals with its inflexional forms or other means of indicating the relations of words in the sentence, and with the rules for employing these in accordance with established usage; usually including also the department which deals with the phonetic system of the language and the principles of its representation in writing.
In early English use grammar meant only Latin grammar, as Latin was the only language that was taught grammatically. In the 16th century there are some traces of a perception that the word might have an extended application to other languages; but it was not before the 17th century that it became so completely a generic term that there was any need to speak explicitly of ‘Latin grammar’. Ben Jonson’s book, written c1600, was applied the first to treat of ‘English grammar’ under that name.
As above defined, grammar is a body of statements of fact—a ‘science’; but a large portion of it may be viewed as consisting of rules for practice, and so as forming an ‘art’. The old-fashioned definition of grammar as ‘the art of speaking and writing a language correctly’ is from the modern point of view in one respect too narrow, because it applies only to a portion of this branch of study; in another respect, it is too wide, and was so even from the older point of view, because many questions of ‘correctness’ in language were recognized as outside the province of grammar: e.g. the use of a word in a wrong sense, or a bad pronunciation or spelling, would not have been called a grammatical mistake. At the same time, it was and is customary, on grounds of convenience, for books professedly treating of grammar to include more or less information on points not strictly belonging to the subject.”
It seems that when people say that (other) English speakers don’t know their grammar, what they mean is that they might not be familiar with grammatical terms, such as subject, object, adverb, declension, etc, and/or that they do not always use standard language, or at least that they do not speak or write in the way that the critics believe they should.
In terms of language learning, grammar can refer to verb conjugations, noun declensions and other ways that words change to indicate such things as person, number, tense, mood, etc. So saying that Chinese ‘has no grammar’ indicates that it has no inflections.
I came across the wonderful word bimble (/bɪmbəl/) yesterday for the first time and guessed it meant something like “to do something in a relaxed fashion”. The OED defines it as “To move at a leisurely pace, esp. on foot; to amble, wander.” and cites a book by R. McGowan & J. Hands called Don’t Cry for Me, Sergeant Major from 1983 as its earliest appearance in writing. Elsewhere in the OED suggests that though the word is thought to have been coined by British soliders in the Falklands, it might have come from the northeast of England.
Wiktionary defines it as “A gentle, meandering walk with no particular haste or purpose.” (noun), and “To walk with no particular haste or purpose.” (verb). It might be a variant on bumble.
Have you heard it before?
I like words like this that end in mble, such as bumble, amble, fumble, scramble, bramble and thimble. To me the combination of sounds in them is pleasing to the ear.
Recently I read an interesting book by Barbara Sher called Refuse to Choose!, which suggests ways in which people with many interests, who the author calls scanners, can find time to persue all those interests. I thought some of the suggestions might be relevant to people interested like learning many languages, like me.
One idea is thinking about what you want to achieve, then working backwards thinking about all the steps you need to take to achieve your goal. If you did this for language, you might start picturing the level of competence you want to reach in a language, then work out all the steps needed to reach that level, working backwards.
This is a song from one of the concerts I went to last week at the Shetland Folk Festival. It’s a version of Yolanda Be Cool’s ‘We No Speak Americano‘ by Steven Robertson in Shetland dialect which makes fun of the Whalsay dialect, which people from other parts of Shetland find very funny and/or incomprehensible. I couldn’t understand the bits in Whalsay dialect, but could follow most of the other bits.
He also did versions of songs by Tracy Chapman, Lady Gaga and various others in Shetland dialect, which were hilarious.