Monthly Archives: January 2007

Kacab genals

During the mid-19th century, London’s costermongers (sellers of fruit and veg) and butchers invented a form of slang known as back slang or kacab genals in order to talk amongst themselves without their customers understanding. They reversed words and pronounced them as far as possible according to their spelling. Extra vowels were inserted where necessary, […]

English, Language 1 Comment

Mobile novels

Recently the first Mobile Phone Novel Awards were held in Japan. The winner was a woman from Osaka, whose novel concerns a love affair between a schoolgirl and a gigolo. You can see a Japanese version of the report here. The Japanese have apparently been reading novels and manga on their phones for a few […]

Japanese, Language, Writing 6 Comments


When learning a language, many people use bilingual dictionaries. These are very useful, but once you get passed the basics, it’s a good idea to invest in a monolingual dictionary in your target language. When you look up words in bilingual dictionaries, you rely on your native language to understand what they mean. In a […]

Language, Language learning 10 Comments

Name the language

Here’s a recording of part of a news bulletin from the BBC World Service. Can you identify the language?

Language, Quiz questions 16 Comments

Language quiz

Here’s a recording of language which is broadcast for just one hour a week on a radio station in Boston. Can you work out which language it is? This will probably be quite an easy language to guess, so I won’t give you any other clues this time.

Language, Quiz questions 14 Comments

Inca writing?

I found an interesting article about the ongoing attempts to unravel the mysteries of the Inca Khipu on Wired News yesterday, thanks to Luigi of the Silverhorde. The Inca are thought to have used bundles of knotted strings known as Khipu or quipu for record keeping, though nobody knows for sure how to ‘read’ them. […]

Language, Writing 13 Comments

Coals to Newcastle and missed boats

Taking or carrying coals to Newcastle is an idiomatic expression that means doing something that is completely unnnecessary, pointless or superfluous. The German equivalent of this is Eulen nach Athen bringen/tragen – to take/bring owls to Athens. Are there similar expressions in other languages? Newcastle-upon-Tyne used to be a major coal mining area and the […]

English, Idioms, Language 14 Comments

Useful websites

Here are a couple of useful language-related websites I came across today: BePolyglot Provides a systematic way to learn four Romance languages: French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. It contains a detailed comparison of the grammars of these languages, highlights similarities and differences in vocabularly and shows how to convert words between languages. It’s intended for […]

Language, Language learning 19 Comments

Linguistic adventures in Cuba

My linguistic adventures started on the flight out to Cuba, during which I was sitting next to an electrician from Germany. I tried speaking a bit of German with him, but he seemed to prefer using English, which he spoke very well. I also tried out my Spanish on the cabin staff and did my […]

Chinese, German, Irish, Language, Spanish 7 Comments

I’m back

I returned from Cuba late last night after a long, long journey. Fortunately my luggage didn’t get lost on the way back to London, as it did on the way to Havana. The airline (Iberia) somehow managed to forget to load several baggage containers onto the plane, so when we arrived in Havana, our bags […]

Travel 10 Comments
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