Language quiz

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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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A Tragic Goat Song

A tragic goat

How is the word tragedy connected to goats and songs?

The answer is that tragedy comes ultimately from the Ancient Greek word τραγῳδία ‎(tragōidía – epic play, tragedy) which comes from τράγος ‎(trágos – male goat) and ᾠδή ‎(ōidḗ, – song).

Apparently the goat reference comes from satyrc drama, which featured actors dressed in goatskins playing satyrs. Or because at Athenian festivals a goat was given as a prize for the best play or performance, and then sacrificed, and a τραγῳδία was a lament for the goat.

Another idea from Athenaeus of Naucratis (2nd–3rd century BC) is that the original form of the word was trygodia from trygos (grape harvest) and ode (song), as the festivals took place during the grape harvest

Tragedy entered English during the 14th century as tragedie, when it meant ‘a play or other serious literary work with an unhappy ending’. It came from the Old French tragedie, from the Latin tragoedia ([theatrical] tragedy). It came to mean an unhappy event, calamity or disaster at the beginning of the 16th century.

Sources: Wiktionary, Online Etymology Dictionary, Oxford Dictionaries, English Word Information

English, Etymology, French, Greek, Language, Latin, Words and phrases Leave a comment

‘Cuisinez-Vous Le Français ?’ Mixing Learning with the Joys of Cooking

Cuisinez-Vous Le Français ?

Today we have a guest post by the Language Chefs from Cuisinez-vous le français

The new online tool, ‘Cuisinez-Vous Le Français ?’ is a fun way to learn French in a friendly, foodie manner. This new method, comprising of one recipe each week using a dedicated, online platform, allows you to improve your culinary and language skills. ‘Cuisinez-vous le français ?’ provides all the ingredients needed for a successful lesson! The kitchen becomes a medium for cultural and linguistic classes as our chefs use cookery to introduce new language points and motivate you.

How it works
Subscription to the programme allows access to a new video every week. This video is made available at three speeds (slow, normal and fast) along with the subtitles, script and an easy-access dictionary. These tools have been developed with the goal of improving your pronunciation and comprehension. Our combination of theory and practice is essential in the learning of a foreign language! Subscription for a year will provide you with 52 videos, made available on a weekly basis, for 52 euros.

Un délicieux concours
Do you want to win a year of tasty French recipes? All you have to do is post your photos of these chocolate profiteroles which you have made on our Facebook page and we will reward the most original photo with a one year subscription and a ‘Cuisinez-vous le français ?’ apron! 3, 2, 1 cook!

For any information, please contact
Thibault le Marié – – 06 47 40 40 47

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Needle Mouse and the Clockwork Octopus

Hedgehog (針鼠/針ねずみ/蝟/ハリネズミ)

There’s a Japanese word that means ‘needle mouse’ when literally translated. What kind of animal do you think it is?

It is in fact a hedgehog. It is written 針鼠 and pronounced harinezumi: 針 (hari) means needle, pin, hook, stinger; thorn, hand (of clock), pointer or staple. 鼠 (nezumi, nezu, shi, sho) means rat, mouse or dark gray. Harinezumi can also be written 針ねずみ, 蝟 or ハリネズミ.

In Mandarin Chinese the character 蝟 (wèi) means hedgehog, and also vulgar, wanton, low, many, varied or porcupine. The simplified version is 猬. Another Chinese word for hedgehog is 刺猬 [刺蝟] (cì​wei) – 刺 (cì​) = stab, prick, irritate or prod.

The word 針鼠 is not used in Chinese, as far as I know, and appears to be a Japanese coinage.

I was inspired to write this post after reading about the needle mouse / hedgehog in The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley, which I finished yesterday. It’s an interesting book that I enjoyed very much, and that includes references to Japanese language and culture, and elements of history, fantasy, sci-fi and magical realism, and also a clockwork octopus, and other clockwork creatures.

The Japanese for clockwork octopus is ぜんまい仕掛けの蛸 (zenmaijikake no tako) or 時計仕掛けの蛸 (tokeijikake no tako). In Chinese it’s 发条章鱼 [發條章魚] (fātiáo zhāngyú).

Sources: Jisho, MDBG Chinese dictionary

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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?

Language, Quiz questions 5 Comments


ага (aga)

A useful Russian word I learnt recently is ага (aga) [ɐˈɡa/ɐˈɣa], it is an interjection similar to yep, yeah, aha and uh-huh in English. It shows that you’re listening, but don’t necessarily agree with the speaker.

Here are some examples of usage:

– Окей, ага, круто = Okay. All right. That’s cool.
– Ага, я так и думала = Here, I’ll show it to you.
– Ага, я слышу тебя = Uh yeah, I can hear you.
– Вероятно, лучше думать таким образом, ага = It’s probably best to think of it that way, yeah.

Synonyms include:

– да (da) = yes, but, really
– так (tak) = so, thus; like that; so much; just so, then, well, yes
– угу (ugu) = yep, yeah

Sources: Wiktionary, Reverso,

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

A load of old claptrap

Claptrap is a great word that means ’empty verbiage or nonsense’. A claptrap was a also device that produced a clapping sound and was used in theaters to encourge applause from audiences. It can also mean ‘a trick or device to gain applause; humbug’. Synonyms include waffle, hot air and palaver.

The word apparently comes from Theatre slang and refers to theatrical techniques or gags used to incite applause.

It first appeared in print in Nathan Bailey’s dictionary of 1721, which defined it as, “A Clap Trap, a name given to the rant and rhimes that dramatick poets, to please the actors, let them get off with: as much as to say, a trap to catch a clap, by way of applause from the spectators at a play.”

Over time the meaning of claptrap expanded to showy or insincere platitures or mawkish sentimetality, and from there to mean rubbish or nonsense.

Sources: Wiktionary, World Wide Words

Do similar words exist in other languages?

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Horse horse tiger tiger

馬馬虎虎 (mǎmǎhǔhǔ)

In Mandarin Chinese there’s an idiomatic expression that translates literally as “horse horse tiger tiger”. What do you think it means?

There is some interesting discussion about this idiom on the podcast Global Pillage, where they discuss idioms and customs from around the world. Suggestions for the meaning of this idiom included “social classes don’t mix”, “only date within your tax bracket”, “you wait for a bus for ages, and three come along at once”, “six of one, half a dozen of the other”

This expression is written 马马虎虎 [馬馬虎虎] (mǎmǎhǔhǔ) and means “careless,casual, vague, not so bad, so-so, tolerable, fair” and is a reduplicated version of 马虎 [馬虎] (mǎhǔ) “careless, sloppy, negligent, skimp”.

Here are some examples of how it’s used:

– 你的中文讲得好棒啊 (Nǐ de zhōngwén jiǎng de hǎo bàng a) = You speak Chinese well
– 马马虎虎,马马虎虎 (Mǎmǎhǔhǔ, mǎmǎhǔhǔ) = Just so-so

– 那家餐馆的服务马马虎虎 (Nà jiā cānguǎn de fúwù mǎmǎhǔhǔ) = The service at that restaurant is so-so
– 他马马虎虎地做事 (Tā mǎmǎhǔhǔ de zuòshì) = He does his work carelessly
– 他这个人做事比较马虎 (Tā zhège rén zuòshì bǐjiào mǎhǔ) = He’s a sloppy / rather careless person

The origins of this phrase are uncertain. The earliest known use was during the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368). It might be related to 模糊 (móhu – unclear, fuzzy) or 麻糊 (máhú – careless), or it might have been borrowed from the Manchu mahu (wry, face) or lahū (not adept, unskilled [especially at hunting and dealing with livestock]; scoundrel, hoodlum).

I remember reading somewhere, though I can’t find any confirmation, that this phrase is borrowed from the Sanskrit word मोह (moha), which means ‘magic employed to bewilder, error, bewilderment, foolishness, wonder, infatuation, delusion, confusion, amazement, distraction, inability to discriminate, perplexity, ignorance, loss of consciousness, hallucination’. Has anybody else read or heard this theory?

Here’s an alternative story about its origins.

Source: MDBG Dictionary, Wiktionary, Sinoglot, Sanskrit Dictionary for Spoken Sanskrit, Learn a Chinese Charachter a Day, StakeExchange.

Chinese, English, Idioms, Language, 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

Sweet dreams are made of snov

Спокойной ночи и сладких снов (Good night and sweet dreams

The most common way to say good night in Russian is спокойной ночи (spakóynay nóchi). Which is a contraction of the phrase Желаю тебе спокойной ночи (I wish you a quiet night).

Спокойной is a form of спокойный, which means ‘calm, gentle, pacific, secure, sober, collected, cool, level, quiet, settled, tranquil, cosh, comfortable, immovable, peaceful, sedate, steady, reposeful, cool-headed, orderly, restful, smooth, unruffled, sober-blooded, composed, imperturbable, placid, serene, still, douce’.

Related expressions include:

– спокойная жизнь = a restful life
– спокойная вода = calm water
– спокойное море = serene
– спокойные цвета = quiet colours
– спокойный нрав = even temper
– спокойствие духа = peace of mind

Ночи is a form of ночь, which means night.

Related expressions include:

– ночной столик = bed-side table
– ночной сторож = watchman
– ночной цветок = night-flower

Other ways to wish someone a good night in Russian include:

– Доброй ночи = Good night
– Сладких снов = Sweet dreams
– Приятных снов = Pleasant dreams

Сладких is a form of сладкий, which means ‘honeyed, sweet, luscious, mellow’.

Снов is a form of сон, which means ‘sleep, dream, slumber, rest, repose, shut-eye’.

Приятных is a form of приятный, which means ‘acceptable, sweet-tempered, goodly, likable, palatable, soft, kindly, good, grateful, lovesome, pleasing, satisfactory’.

Are there other ways to wish someone a good night in Russian?

Sources:, Quora

English, Language, Russian, Words and phrases 2 Comments
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