Archive for the Category: Words and phrases

Sun dogs, billygoat’s eyes and halos

The other day I discovered the wonderful word sun dog, which refers to coloured patches of light that appear beside the sun at certain times, particularly when the sun is low in the sky. The scientific name for this phenomenon is a parhelion, from the παρήλιον (parēlion – beside the sun); from παρά (para – […]

Also posted in English, Etymology, French, Greek, Language 5 Comments

Snails and corner shops

I have been learning Dutch for just over a week now and am enjoying it and finding it interesting. I can guess the meanings of many of the words I encounter as they are similar to German and/or English, but some are completely different. For example, I just learnt that shop is (de) winkel /ˈʋɪŋkəl/, […]

Also posted in Dutch, English, Language 1 Comment


The word quixotic (/kwɪkˈsɒtɪk/) has come up a number of times in books I’ve been reading recently, and though I sort know what it means, I wasn’t sure, so I thought I’d find out. According to the QED, quixotic means: – Of an action, attribute, idea, etc.: characteristic of or appropriate to Don Quixote; demonstrating […]

Also posted in English, Language, Spanish 12 Comments

As flat as …

This week in the French conversation group one of the things that came up was the expression “as flat as a pancake” or the slightly ruder version, “as flat as a witch’s tit”. This was being used to describe the flatness of beer. The only equivalent we could find in French was “completement plat” (completely […]

Also posted in English, French, Language 8 Comments

Aw, Snap!

I noticed recently that when a webpage crashes in the Google Chrome browser, you get an error message beginning with “Aw, Snap!”, which always amuses me. It’s not an expression I’ve ever used, and seeing it got me wondering whether it is in common use in other English-speaking countries. If you don’t use this expression, […]

Also posted in English, Language 8 Comments

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 […]

Also posted in English, Etymology, French, Language, Latin 4 Comments

Thumbs and inches

I discovered today that the French word for thumb, pouce, also means inch, which makes sense as the length of the inch is apparently based on the width of a man’s thumb. Related expressions include: – se tourner les pouces, se rouler les pouces = to twiddle one’s thumbs – manger sur le pouce = […]

Also posted in Afrikaans, Czech, Dutch, English, French, Italian, Language, Slovak 14 Comments

Do you cahoot?

When looking through one of my dictionaries today I came across the word cahoot, which I’ve only seen before in the form cahoots, as in the expression ‘in cahoots with’, i.e. to be in partnership or in league with. The dictionary entry has the s in bracketts – cahoot(s) – so it seems this words […]

Also posted in English, Etymology, Language 3 Comments


The other day I discovered that the Hungarian word szia [sijɑ], which is used as a informal hello and goodbye, like ciao in Italian and ahoj in Czech and Slovak, possibly comes from the English expression ‘see you’ / ‘see ya’, at least that’s what a Hungarian friend believes. I hadn’t noticed the similarity between […]

Also posted in Hungarian, Language 5 Comments

I forgot the elephant!

A few days ago after the Bangor Languages Learners’ meet up, I was talking to one of the other members of the group and suddenly exclaimed, “I forgot the elephant!”, and hurried back into the café to retrieve it. As he commented, it’s not a phrase that often comes up in conversation. The elephant in […]

Also posted in English, Language, Language learning 7 Comments