Archive for the Category: Latin

Blackberries and Walls

The French words mur (wall) mûr (ripe; mature) and mûre (blackberry; mulberry) are written differently but pronounced the same – [myʁ], so are only distinguished by context in speech. The word mur (wall) comes from the Latin mūrus (wall), from the Old Latin *moerus/*moiros, from the Proto-Indo-European *mei (to fix, to build fortifications or fences) […]

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When is a language not a language?

One perennial problem in linguistics is how to decide whether a language is a language or dialect. In the fascinating book, Speak: A Short History of Languages, which I read recently, Tore Janson argues that a language can be considered a language when those who speak it decide that it is one, and they give […]

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Waulking and Walking

My Gaelic Song course is going well and I’m really enjoying it. There are thirteen of us in the class – most are from Scotland or of Scottish origin, and there are also a few from other countries like the USA and Germany. Some speak Gaelic well, others know a bit, and those without any […]

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Cruite, cláirseacha a chrythau

I discovered last week in Ireland that one word for the harp in Irish is cruit [krutʲ], which sounds similar to the Welsh word crwth [kruːθ], a type of bowed lyre that was once popular in Wales and in other parts of Europe, but which was largely displayed by the fiddle during the 18th century. […]

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Gabions and the importance of names

The other day I discovered that the name for those wire cages filled with rocks used in construction and to stabilise river banks, hillsides and shorelines are called gabions. The word comes from the Italian gabbione (big cage), which comes from the Latin cavea (cage). There are plenty of gabions around here, but I didn’t […]

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Novi Sad

As I’m going to the Polyglot Conference in Novi Sad (Нови Сад) [nôʋiː sâːd] in October, I thought I should find out what Novi Sad actually means – it’s the kind of thing I like to know. I guessed that Novi probably means new, but had no idea what Sad might mean. According to this […]

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Curing, cleaning and caring

Yesterday I discovered that there are quite a few different French translations of the verb to cure, depending on what kind of cure you’re talking about. If you’re curing food by salting, the French equivalent is saler (to salt); curing by smoking is fumer (to smoke), and curing by drying is sécher (to dry). Curing […]

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Market places

Last week the origins of the word agora came up in conversation and I thought I’d find out more. An agora was a place of gathering or marketplace in Ancient Greece. It comes from the Ancient Greek ἀγείρω [ageirō] (I gather, collect), from the Proto-Indo-European *ger- (to assemble, gather together), which is the root of […]

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Taking the fly

I discovered an interesting French idiom today – prendre la mouche – which means literally ‘to take the fly’ and is the equivalent of ‘to go off in a huff’. Huff refers to ‘a passing mood of anger or pique’ A French equivalent of ‘to be in a huff’ is être vexé. Are there similar […]

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Knowledge and seeing

I discovered today that there is a connection between the Gaelic word for knowledge, information, news – fios in Irish and Scottish Gaelic, fys in Manx – and the English words video and wit. Their roots can all be traced back to the Proto-Indo-European root woid-/wid- (to see/to know), which, according to the OED, is […]

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