Monthly Archives: December 2011

Telling tales

Earlier this week I went to a Christmas show entitled Beasts and Beauties in Kendal. It wasn’t a traditional Christmas pantomime, though did include some pantomimesque elements, but rather a series of eight fairy/folk tales from around Europe, including: – The Emperor’s New Clothes or Kejserens nye Klæder by Hans Christian Andersen (Danish) – Bluebeard […]

Danish, English, Etymology, French, German, Language, Norwegian, Old Norse, Proto-Indo-European, Words and phrases 9 Comments

Christmas quiz

Here’s a recording featuring Christmas greetings in different languages. Can you identify the languages? (There are five all together) Merry Christmas, by the way.

Language, Quiz questions 11 Comments

Merry & Happy

Do you wish someone a ‘Merry Christmas’ or a ‘Happy Christmas’? This is a question I was asked recently, and my reply was that I use both – in Christmas cards I usually use merry, but in speech I use happy. How about you? Would you ever with someone a Merry New Year? This doesn’t […]

English, Language 11 Comments

Scintillas of tinsel

As there’s a lot of it about at this time of year, at least there is in the UK, I thought I’d investigate the origins of the word tinsel today. According to the OED, tinsel probably comes from the Old French estincelle, which is also the root of the modern French étincelle (a sparke or […]

English, Etymology, French, Language Comments Off on Scintillas of tinsel


Last week I went to an event described as a ‘gala concert’ at Bangor University. A friend asked what gala actually means; I wasn’t sure, so decided to find out. According to the OED, gala (/ˈgaːlə/, /ˈgeɪlə/) means “gala dress, festal attire”; “a festive occasion; a festival characterized by the display of finery and show” […]

English, Etymology, French, Italian, Language, Words and phrases 3 Comments

Language quiz

Here’s a recording in a mystery language. Can you identify the language, and do you know where it’s spoken?

Language, Quiz questions 13 Comments

Shaking paillasses

In French une paillasse /pajas/ is a straw mattress, draining board or laboratory bench and un paillasse is a clown. The former is a combination of paille (straw) plus the suffix -asse. Paille comes from the Latin palea, from the Ancient Greek πάλλω (pallo = to shake) because you have to shake the straw to […]

English, Etymology, French, Italian, Language, Latin, Words and phrases 9 Comments

Runic puzzle

This photo was sent in by a visitor to Omniglot who would like to know if anyone can identify the alphabet and decipher the inscription. He thinks is looks like Younger Futhork. [Addendum] Here’s another image showing the inscriptions on both sides of the bar: Click here to see a larger version.

Puzzles, Writing 4 Comments

Txtng n N’ko

There’s an interesting article in the New York Times about how it is now possible to send text messages and emails in N’Ko, an alphabet invented in 1949 to write Mande languages of Guinea, Mali and Ivory Coast. Thanks to various iPhone apps and other software use of this alphabet is increasing. It also helps […]

Language, Technology, Writing Comments Off on Txtng n N’ko

Audio illusions

Last Sunday I took part in a carol concert, both singing in the Bangor Community Choir, and singing with everybody else as part of the audience / congregation. The chapel where this took place is a bilingual one where people are encouraged to sing in Welsh or English – words for both are projected on […]

English, Language, Music, Welsh 1 Comment
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