Archive for the Category: Etymology

Playing games

In English you play a game, but you don’t play a play. In Russian the words for to play and game come from the same root: играть (to play) and игра (game). To play a game is играть в игру. I already knew the verb играть, but didn’t know that the word for a game […]

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Harmony-loving chorus

Last night I went to an excellent concert at the Pontio Arts Centre featuring the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and the brilliant harpsichordist, Mahan Esfahani. As well as enjoying the concert, I started thinking about the word philharmonic – what it means, where it comes from, and why it features in the names of many […]

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For the past several years

Does anything strike you as odd about the title of this post? I came across this wording today in a book by an American author, and immediately thought, “don’t you mean ‘for the past few years’?”. For me that would be a more natural way to express this. Several in this context just sounds wrong. […]

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Abounding in fish

I spent the weekend in Devon with my brother and his family. It was my nephew’s first birthday yesterday and I was there mainly to celebrate that. My journey, a long and meadering one, took me through some places with interesting names, such as Exeter, Teignmouth, Dawlish and Paignton. As well as admiring the scenery, […]

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Ave a butchers at er barnet

The title of this post is an example of Cockney, a form of speech you might hear in London, specifically in the Cheapside district of the City of London. It includes to bits of rhyming slang – butchers and barnet. Do you know, or can you guess what they mean? To (h)ave a butchers (the […]

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Protagonists and sidekicks

When listening to The Allusionist podcast today I learnt an interesting word – tritagonist, who was the actor who played the third role in ancient Greek drama. Tritagonist comes from the Ancient Greek word τρίτἀγωνιστής (triagōnistḗs), from τρίτ ‎(third) and ἀγωνιστής ‎(combatant, participant). The actors who played the first and second roles in ancient Greek […]

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Pull up a pew

One thing that came up in the French Conversation Group last night was church pews, and particularly how uncomfortable they are. We discovered that in French a pew is un banc (d’église). Banc also means seat or bench, and can mean other things in combination with other words: – banc de sable = sandbank – […]

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The white light of the world

An interesting and useful Russian word I came across today is свет [svʲet], which means light, and also lights, lighting, day, radiance, power, electricity, world and (high) society. It comes from the Old East Slavic свѣтъ ‎(světŭ – light; world), from Proto-Slavic *světъ ‎(light; world), from the Proto-Balto-Slavic *śwaitas, from the Proto-Indo-European *ḱwoytos / *ḱweytos […]

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Разговорник

I came across a useful Russian word today when searching for Chechen phrasebooks – разговорник (razgavornik) [rəzɡɐˈvornʲɪk] – I guessed it meant phrasebook from the context, and also because разговаривать (razgavarivat’) means to talk (to). It is a combination of разговор (razgavór – conversation, talk) and the suffix ник (nik), which usually denotes a profession, […]

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Going through the motions

In English you can use the verb to go to indicate any kind of travel – it doesn’t matter if you’re going on foot, by bicycle, car, bus, train, boat or plane. There are other verbs you can use: walk, stroll, hike, cycle, drive, travel, sail, fly, etc, but you can also just use go. […]

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