Archive for the Category: Etymology

Ditties, dictation and digits

A ditty is a short, simple song, like the ones I write. It comes from the Old French dite (composition), from the Latin dictatum (something dictated), from dictare (to dictate), a frequentative of dicere (to say, speak), which is related to dicare (to proclaim, dedicate), from the Proto-Indo-European root *deik- (to point out). Some English […]

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Squibs and squabs

When an event is not very successful, you could say that it went off like a damp squib, or even a damp squid, as a friend mistakenly said last night. A squib is obviously something that does not work properly when it’s wet, and I had an idea that it was some kind of explosive. […]

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Awaken the Appetite

A ragout is a highly seasoned meat and vegetable stew, and comes from the French ragoût, which appears to be a general word for stew. Ragoût comes from the Middle French ragoûter (to awaken the appetite), which comes from the Old French re- (back), à (to) and goût (taste), from the Latin gustum (taste), from […]

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Adumbrations

I came across a new word yesterday – adumbrations – which I had to look up in a dictionary as I couldn’t work out its meaning from the context: Framed in the archway formed by the far end of the vaulted roof were the fantastical forms of five great gasometers, the supporting superstructures of which […]

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Súilíní

I discovered an interesting word in Irish yesterday – súilíní [ˈsˠuːl̪ʲiːn̪ʲiː] – which is a diminutive form of súil [sˠuːl̪ʲ] (eye) and means literally “small eyes”, and actually means eyelets, an aperture-sight, or bubbles. For example, uisce gan súilíní is still water (“water without bubbles”) [source]. More common Irish words for bubbles are bolgán and […]

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Coasts and competitors

Sometimes when I see new words in English or other languages I can immediately break them down into their component parts and work out their roots, but other times I just accept words as whole entities without trying to work out their derivation. One such word in Welsh is arfordir, which I hadn’t tried to […]

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Marmosets, cheese and gargoyles

When French-speaking photographers want people to smile, they might say Le petit oiseau va sortir (The little bird is going to come out) or Souriez! (smile), or might ask them to say pepsi! or ouistiti! (marmoset), just as English-speaking photographer get people to smile by asking them to say “Cheese!” The word ouistiti [ˈwistiti] means […]

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Fosses and Sextons

At the French Conversation Group last night one of the people had an old French language textbook from the 1950s which contains lots of stories in French. One of them contains the word “Le Fossoyeur” in the title, which is translated as “The Sexton”. As this wasn’t a word I’d come across before, I thought […]

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French adventures

My trip to France last week with members of Bangor Community Choir and Coastal Voices choir from Abergele was fantastic, and though it was only five days, it felt much longer as we fitted so much into our time there. We left Bangor at 6am on Wednesday morning and travelled to Birmingham airport by coach, […]

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Mardy

The word mardy came up in conversation last night, and the friends who mentioned it, who are from Yorkshire and Lancashire, said that it could mean annoying or weak. As I hadn’t heard it before, I thought I’d find out more about it. According to Wiktionary means sulky or whinning, e.g. ‘She’s being a mardy […]

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