Archive for the Category: Etymology

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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A Tragic Goat Song

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 […]

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Aha!

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 […]

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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 […]

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Plains, pianos and floors

The Welsh word llawr [ɬau̯r] means floor, deck, gallery, stage, platform, cellar, basement, ground, face, and a few other things. I discovered today that it has cognates in all the other Celtic languages: – leur (Cornish) = floor, ground – leur (Breton) = area, ground, floor, soil – lár (Irish) = ground, floor, middle, centre […]

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Wheels with teeth

I discovered last night that in French a cog is a une dent, which also means a tooth, or une dent d’engrenage (“tooth gear”), and a cog wheel is une roue dentée (a toothed wheel), which is kind of a cog looks like. The English word cog, meaning a tooth on a gear, or a […]

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