Paddling poodles and dibbling ducks

Pudelhund / Poodle

Yesterday I discovered that poodles were bred to hunt ducks and other water fowl in Germany, and that the word poodle comes from the German Pudel, an abbreviation of Pudelhund (water dog), from the Low German Pudel (puddle), from pudeln (to splash about) [source].

The English word puddle is derived from the Old English word pudd (ditch), and is related to the German pudeln.

A group of ducks on water is known as a paddling, team or raft of ducks – so you might see a paddling of dibbling ducks on a puddle puzzling a poodle.

Other collections words for groups of birds: and

Another duck-related word is dibble, which means “to drink like a duck, lifting up the head after each sip”. It also means “a small, hand-held, pointed implement for making holes in soil, as for planting seedlings and bulbs; to make holes (in soil) with a dibble; to plant with a dibble”, and is a slang word for a police officer – from Officer Dibble in the Top Cat cartoons [source].

English, Etymology, German, Language 3 Comments


Some skeuomorphs

I came across an interesting word and concept today – the skeuomorph [ˈskjuːəmɔrf], from the Greek σκεῦος (skéuos – container or tool), and μορφή (morphḗ – shape), and defined as “a derivative object that retains ornamental design cues from structures that were necessary in the original” [source].

This term was apparently coined by H. Colley March in 1889 after he noticed that some ancient artifacts had a retro look. For example pottery bowls had patterns like woven baskets [source].

Modern skeuomorphs include many digital icons and interface elements on computers and other electronic devices which resemble their non-digital analogues, such as the waste basket / trash can, clocks, shopping trolleys / carts, and so on.

English, Etymology, Greek, Language, Words and phrases 2 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 6 Comments


I came across a wonderful word today – borborygmus [bɔrbəˈrɪɡməs] (plural borborygmi) – which refers to a rumble or gurgle in the stomach. It comes from the 16th-century French word borborygme, via Latin from the Ancient Greek βορβορυγμός (borborygmós), which was probably onomatopoetical [source, via The Week].

Are there interesting words for this phenomenon in other languages?

English, Etymology, Greek, Language, Latin, Words and phrases 1 Comment


I came across a wonderful word in Welsh today – hollallu [hɔɬˈaɬɨ] – which means omnipotence or almightiness. It is a portmanteau of (h)oll (all, the whole, everything, everyone) and gallu (to be able (to), have power (to), can, be able to accomplish (a thing)), and there are a couple of variant forms: ollallu and hollalluogrwydd.

Related words include:
– hollalluedd / ollalluedd = omnipotence
– hollalluog / ollalluog = omnipotent, almighty, all-powerful; the Almighty. 

Source: Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru / A Dictionary of the Welsh Language

So I have come up with a Welsh version of Omniglot based on these words – (h)olliaithadur, which combines (h)oll with iaith (language) and the suffix adur (denoting a tool or thing) as in geiriadur (dictionary or “words tool/thing”).

English, Language, Welsh, Words and phrases 4 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 7 Comments


I came across the interesting word agley today when looking up something else in a Chinese dictionary – the Chinese equivalent is 错 [錯] (cuò). It is a Scots word, pronounced [əˈgli/əˈgləi], that means “off the straight, awry, oblique, wrong”. It comes from the word gley (to squint), according to Wiktionary, which is possible related to the Icelandic word gljá (to glitter) [source].

It appears in the Robert Burns poem “To a Mouse”:

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

This poem was the only place I’d heard it before, so it was quite a surprise to come across it in a Chinese-English dictionary. Have you heard or seen it used elsewhere?

English, Etymology, Language, Scots 2 Comments

Languages in Bhutan


I listened to a very interesting programme on the BBC about languages in Bhutan today. It mentioned that although the 19 or so indigenous languages of Bhutan have equal status, in theory at least. In practise, particularly in education, the main languages used are Dzongkha / Bhutanese and English, and to a lesser extent, Nepali. Kids are discouraged from, or even punished, for speaking other languages in school. Moreover none of the indigenous languages, apart from Dzongkha, are written, and people are starting to worry about their future.

At the same time it was mentioned that it’s common for people in Bhutan to speak 6 or 7 languages, and that someone who speaks only 3 or 4 is considered unusual.

Languages spoken in Bhutan include: Dzongkha, Chocangaca, Lakha, Brokkat, Brokpa, Laya, Khams Tibetan, Bumthang, Kheng, Kurtöp, Dzala, Nyen, ‘Ole, Dakpa, Chali, Tshangla, Gongduk, Lepcha, Lhokpu, Chamling, Limbu, Nupbi, Sikkimese, Groma, Toto, Nepali and English. More details.

Have you studied any of the languages of Bhutan? Or been to Bhutan? Do you know any more about the linguistic situation there?

Endangered languages, English, Language 1 Comment

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 5 Comments

We need more ning!

Last night at choir one of the songs we were singing ended with the line “in the mor-ning”, with the mor and ning of morning clearly separated and on different notes. One of the tenors made a joke that we needed more ning in the morning, which appealed to me, and I wondered what ning might be and why we’d need more of it. I also wondered if ning is a word in any other language, and what it might mean.

So we need more ning in the morning and evening when lightning is adorning the darkening sky, and warnings of yawning are lessening.

For more nings see:

There are a number of nings in Mandarin Chinese:

– 拧 [擰] (níng) = to twist; wring; pinch; tweak
– 凝 (níng) = to congeal
– 宁 [寧] (níng) = peaceful; tranquil
– 狞 [獰] (níng) = ferocious (of facial expression), as in (níngxiào) = sardonic smile
– 拧 [擰] (nǐng) = to screw; differ; disagree
– 宁 [寧] (nìng) = rather; would rather; surname
– 佞 (nìng) = to flatter; toady
– 拧 [擰] (nìng) = pigheaded
– 泞 [濘] (nìng) = muddy

What about in other languages?

Chinese, English, Language, Words and phrases 5 Comments