Archive for the Category: French

La gueule enfarinée

I discovered an interesting French expression yesterday while ferreting around in the dictionary – la gueule enfarinée, which literally means ‘the floured mouth’, but actually refers to someone who is ‘wet behind the ears’, i.e. new, untrained, inexperienced, immature, innocent, callow or naive (synonyms from The Chambers Thesaurus). The word gueule usually refers to the […]

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Back in Bangor

I’m now back in Bangor after a very enjoyable and interesting week at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig. We learnt 15 songs during the week, so the course wasn’t as intensive as the one I did last year when we learnt twice as many songs, and we learnt about the background of the songs, and even saw […]

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Water lilies, nymphs and blue lotuses

There was talk of ponds and water lilies last night at the French conversation group and I discovered that one French word for water lily is nymphéa [nɛ̃.fe.a], which comes from nymphaea the Latin name for this genus of plants. The Latin word comes from the Ancient Greek word νύμφη (nymphe), which means girl, and […]

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Petit chenapan!

Last night at the French conversation group we were discussing how to say rascal in French, because one of the beers being served last night is called rascal. I found quite a few possible translations, each of which has slightly different meanings: vaurien = good-for-nothing, scoundrel; (to child) petit vaurien ! = you little devil! […]

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Gleann Cholm Cille

This week I’m in Gleann Cholm Cille in Donegal in the north west of Ireland taking part in the summer school in Irish language and culture at Oideas Gael. There are about 100 people here for the summer school and we have Irish language classes in the mornings and can choose from a variety of […]

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Le Grand-Bi

I discovered today the French term for a penny-farthing bicycle (pictured right) is le grand-bi. It is also known as a bicycle, and that was what they were usually called in English when they were popular in the 1880s. The name penny-farthing only came to be used in around 1891. The penny-farthing, which is also […]

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It’s very sticky

I discovered (via Inky Fool) an alternative word for tennis today – sphairistike [sfɛəˈrɪstɪkɪ], which sounds a bit like the phrase ‘it’s very sticky’. This was the name coined by Major Walter Clopton Wingfield (pictured right), who invented (lawn) tennis in 1873, and it comes from the Greek σϕαιριστική (sfairistiké), or ‘(skill) in playing at […]

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Dialing a telephone

An email arrived today from Phil S, who has been wondering about the quirkiness of the phrase “to dial a telephone”, which is ubiquitous and exclusive in its meaning and yet has, of course, become totally divorced from the original physicality of the phrase. He would like to know: – What idioms do other languages […]

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Archerien

An interesting word that came up in my Breton lesson today is archerien, which means police. It caught my attention because it has no obvious connection to the word police, and because it is completely different to the equivalent words in other Celtic languages: – Welsh: heddlu (“peace force”) – Cornish: kreslu (“peace host”) – […]

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Tag questions, innit!

Tag questions or question tags are interrogative fragments (tags) added to statements making them into sort of questions. They tend to be used more in colloquial speech and informal writing than in formal writing, and can indicate politeness, emphasis, irony, confidence or lack of it, and uncertainty. Some are rhetorical and an answer is not […]

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