When you’re in a restaurant or café, how do you get the attention of a waiter/waitress?

This cartoon shows how it can be difficult in France.

Garçon! Trying to get the waiter's attention

The customer in the cartoon first says “Please”, then “Sir/Mr”, then “Waiter”, then ‘Can I order?’, then a hour later the waiter finally speaks to him and says, “Sir, to stay here you must have something to eat or drink.”

What’s it like where you are? Are waiting staff in restaurants quick to respond to you, or do they go to great lengths to ignore you? What do you call waiting staff?

I’ve worked as a waiter and as a barman and know that at busy times it can be difficult to respond to everybody immediately, but I’ve never ignored anyone deliberately.

Image supplied by Frantastique, who can teach you how do you get the attention of a French waiter, and help you to learn French.

English, French, Language 3 Comments

Language quiz

Language quiz image

Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

Can you identify the language, and do you know where it’s spoken?

Language, Quiz questions 4 Comments


One Hawaiian word that is used in English is a’a, which is defined as “a kind of rough-surface volcanic rock” [source].

However in Hawaiian it is written ʻaʻā, pronounced [ʔəˈʔaː] and means:

1. to burn, blaze, glow; fire; staring (eyes)
2. lava; stony, abounding with ʻaʻā lava
3. Sirius (the star)
4. young stage of damselfish

The word aʻa [əˈʔa] means:

1. small root, rootlet, vein, artery, nerve, tendon, muscle
2. to send greetings or love; joyous hospitality; joy at greeting a loved one

There is also ʻaʻa [ʔəˈʔa], which means:

1. to brave, dare, challenge, defy, check, venture; to accept a challenge; to volunteer; to act wickedly or presumptuously; bold, venturesome, valiant, intrepid
2. belt, girdle, waist; to gird, to tie on
3. bag, pocket, caul, envelope for a foetus, scrip; fiber from coconut husk; clothlike sheath at base of coconut frond; cloth; chaff, hull
4. a wind
5. booby bird

And ʻā.ʻā [ʔaː.ʔaː], which means:

1. dumbness, inability to speak intelligibly, a dumb person; dumb, silent, still; to stutter and stammer, as a dumb person
2. dwarf, small person; dwarfish, small
3. demented, panic-stricken
4. booby bird.
5. male ʻōʻō bird

Source: Hawaiian Dictionaries

This shows the importance of the ʻokina (“cutting”) and kahakō (“long mark”) in Hawaiian. The former represents a glottal stop [ʔ] and is a letter in Hawaiian, and the latter indicates a long vowel.

English, Hawaiian, Language, Words and phrases 4 Comments


In the Bangor Community Choir last night we started learning a new song entitled Jenga by Juliet Russell. We were told that the song uses made-up words that don’t mean anything in particular, and it has no connection to the game of Jenga.

One of my friends thought the word jenga might mean something like ‘to build’ in Swahili, so I thought I’d investigate.

Jenga does indeed mean to construct or build in Swahili [source], and the as the inventor of the game, Leslie Scott, grew up in East Africa speaking English and Swahili, it is likely that the name of the game comes from that Swahili word.

Related words include:

– jengo = building
– mjenzi = builder
– ujenzi = architecture; construction, installation

Source: Online Swahili – English Dictionary

English, Language, Music, Songs, Swahili, Words and phrases Leave a comment


Sniglet - any word that doesn't appear in the dictionary, but should

I learned an interesting new word from the radio yesterday – sniglet – which is defined as “any word that doesn’t appear in the dictionary, but should”.

It was apparently popularized by the comedian/actor Rich Hall while he was working on Not Necessarily the News, an HBO comedy series from the 1980s, who has also published a number of collections of sniglets [source].

Here are some collections of sniglets:

A related term is:

– nonce word – a word coined or used for a special occasion [source]

English, Language, Words and phrases Leave a comment

Language quiz

Language quiz image

Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

Can you identify the language, and do you know where it’s spoken?

Language, Quiz questions 7 Comments

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 gustare (to taste, take a little of) from the Proto-Indo-Etymology *gus-tu-, a form of the root *geus- (to taste, choose), which is the root of the English word choose, and the German word kosten (to taste of) [source].

English, Etymology, French, Language, Latin, Proto-Indo-European, Words and phrases 1 Comment

The Importance of Patterns

Patterns - a piece of abstract art created by Simon Ager illustrate this blog post

Last week I went to a concert that featuring a jazz pianist and an artist. While the pianist played, the artist painted on her iPad, which was connected to a projector and projected on a big screen. The artist created pictures based on the music, and I think the pianist also created some tunes based on the art. It was all very abstract, especially the art. During the concert I was looking for patterns, shapes or anything in the art that looked like something familiar. I didn’t find much, but enjoyed the experience anyway.

Afterwards I got thinking about patterns and familiarity and came to the conclusion that we tend to feel most comfortable with the familiar – familiar people, things, places, sounds, etc – i.e our comfort zone. When we encounter the unfamiliar we try to find anything in it we can make sense of. We look for patterns, and anything else we can recognise. If we cannot find such things we may decide that the unfamiliar is not for us.

Abstract art and some forms of music, for example, are sometimes said to be “challenging”, and I think this is because there is little in them that is familiar, and this is why it takes longer to appreciate them – we need longer to find any patterns they may contain and for them to become familiar.

When we first encounter a foreign language everything is unfamiliar, and this can put a lot of people off. However a language that has a lot in common with your mother tongue can be easier to learn than one that has little or nothing in common with it as you will find more that is already familiar, and probably feel more comfortable with it.

To become familiar with the patterns, sounds, words and structures of a foreign language we need to get a lot of exposure to it – i.e. listen, read, and watch films and TV programmes. Doing these things alone is not enough to learn a language – you need to speak it and maybe write it as well – but they will make it more familiar to you.

The more you learn of a language, the more patterns you will spot within it, and the easier it will be to spot those patterns. The patterns might be how words are put together to form sentences, how grammatical changes are applied to words, how words can mean different things in different contexts, how speakers interact with one another, what topics are appropriate to different situations, and so on.

So you may need to get outside your comfort zone at first, but over time your comfort zone will expand to include the new language.

English, General, Language, Language learning, Music 1 Comment

Language quiz

Language quiz image

Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

Can you identify the language, and do you know where it’s spoken?

Language, Quiz questions 5 Comments


Sgimilearachd definition

Sgimilearachd [sgʲimɪlɛrəxg], noun = habit of visiting other people at mealtime; intrusion (from: Am Faclair Beag)

Alternative definition: Obtrusiveness, impudence, intrusion; Mean habit of popping in upon people at meals, living and doing nothing about, gentlemen’s kitchens. (from: Am Faclair Dwelly)

This is one of the interesting Scottish Gaelic words I learnt from this blog post. Others include:

Allabhuadhach = someone who is victorious, but in disgrace.
Claidean = an absurd hammering at anything.
Nigead = those little sobs or sighs you make before or after weeping.
Atamaich = to fondle an unreasonable person.

Do similar words exist in any other languages?

English, Language, Scottish Gaelic, Words and phrases Leave a comment
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