Gleann Cholm Cille

A view of Glencolumbcille

I’m currently in Glencolumbcille (Gleann Cholm Cille) in Donegal in the north west of Ireland brushing up my Irish. Next weekend I’ll be in Dún Laoghaire for the Ukulele Hooley, Ireland’s national ukulele festival.

So far I’ve spoken plenty of Irish, and also some Welsh, Japanese and French, and a bit of English.

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Y Llyfyrgell

Last night I saw the film Y Llyfrgell / The Library Suicides, a Welsh-language thriller based on the book Y Llyfrgell (The Library) by Fflur Dafydd, who also wrote the script and produced the film.

This was the first film I’ve seen in Welsh, and I enjoyed it. It’s set in Aberystwyth, and most of the action takes place in the National Library of Wales / Llyfyrgell Genedlaethol Cymru. The main characters are identical twins who work in the library, and the film starts with the apparent suicide of their mother, a famous author. There are many other twists and turns, and stories within stories which make the film well worth a look.

The twins are played by one actor, Catrin Stewart, who in real life is a twin, though has a twin brother rather than a twin sister. It’s very cleverly done and you never realise that one person is playing both of them.

I didn’t understand all the dialogue at first as it’s in a dialect of Welsh I’m not used to hearing – I’ve got so used to hearing northern dialects of Welsh, other dialects sound a bit strange to me now, but I soon tuned into to it. There were subtitles in English as well, but I tried not to read them.

After the film there was a question and answer with Fflur Dafydd, which was entirely in Welsh, with simultaneous interpretation in English, for those who needed it. It was an interesting discussion and provided many insights into the film making process.

English, Film, Language, Welsh Leave a comment


I learnt an interesting new French word today – célibataire. When I first saw it I guessed that it meant celibate, but when I checked in a dictionary I found that while it does mean celibate, it is more commonly used to mean single. So un célibataire is a single man or bachelor, and une célibataire is a single woman or spinster. A confirmed bachelor un célibataire endurci and une mère célibataire is a single / unmarried mother – the male equivalent is un père célibataire.

Célibataire comes from célibat (celibacy), from the Latin caelebs (unmarried, single), from the Proto-Indo-European *kaiwelo- ‎(alone) and *libʰs– ‎(living) [source].

Single comes from the Middle English sengle, from the Old French sengle, from Latin singulus, a diminutive of simplex (simple or literally “onefold”*, from sim- ‎(the same) and plicare ‎(to fold) [source].

*Duplex = twofold, double

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

When is a blog not a blog?

When I meet people who are familiar with my website, some of them say how much they like my blog. When I ask them what they like about it, they mention things that are on my website, rather than on this blog, so I soon realise that they’re using the word blog to refer to my website, and possibly this blog, although not all of them are aware of the blog’s existence.

To me the distinction between my website and my blog(s) is clear. They may be on the same server, but they look different and have different functions. I’ve noticed that on some other websites though there isn’t such a clear distinction between blogs and other pages, especially on ones that have grown from blogs. Maybe that’s why people get confused.

Sometimes people tell me about mistakes on other sites which are linked to on Omniglot, thinking that I have something to do with them and can make changes on them. I understand why this happens as they might not realise that they’re on a different site.

None of these things are particularly important, but it’s interesting, to me at least, to notice them.

Is there a distinction between the words for website and blog in other languages?

English, General, Language, Words and phrases 3 Comments

Phrase finder

Screenshot of the phrase finder

There is a now a new way to view the phrases on Omniglot: a Phrase finder.

This page enables you to see phrases in any combination of two languages. This is something I’ve been planning to set up for years, and now it’s finally ready.

So if your native language isn’t English and you want to see phrases in your mother tongue and another language, you can.

If you want to see the similarities and differences between two closely related languages, you can.

If you want to see two completely different languages side by side, you can.

The phrases are stored in server-side includes and displayed on the page using PHP, which was written by David Stephens of LinguaShop.

The phrases are currently available in 233 languages. If you can provide phrases in other languages, or additional phrases for the existing languages, or recordings, please contact me.

General, Language, Words and phrases Leave a comment

Language quiz

Here’s a poem in a mystery language.

Poem in a mystery language

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

Language, Quiz questions 3 Comments

Suspending disbelief

One of the things we talked about in the French conversation group this week was suspending disbelief, which is accepter les invraisemblances in French. That is “accepting the improbabilities”. Another way to say this in French is suspension d’incrédulité.

The word invraisemblance also means unlikeliness or inverisimilitude. Related words include invraisemblable (unlikely, incredible, implausible, improbable) and invraisemblablement (implausible, unlikely).

Its antonym is vraisemblance (plausibility, verisimilitude, likelihood). It comes from vrai (true, real), plus sembler (to seem).

Expressions incorporating vraisemblance include:

– selon toute vraisemblance = in all likelihood, apparently
– essai de vraisemblance = plausibility test
– contrôle de vraisemblance = absurdity check

Sources: Reverso, Linguee and Wikipedia

Apparently the English phrase suspension of disbelief was coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1817 in his Biographia literaria or biographical sketches of my literary life and opinions


Are there interesting ways to express this idea in other languages?

English, French, Language, Words and phrases Leave a comment

Are you a phenom?

I came across an interesting word in an article about hyperpolyglots I read today (it’s an old article, but I only just found it) – phenoms, which appears in the following sentence:

TIME spoke to Erard about phenoms who can speak more languages than they have fingers, whether anyone can do it and where the upper limits of human potential lie.

According to, phenom [fɪˈnɒm] is an abbreviation of phenomenon and refers especially to a young prodigy. The definitions are “a person or thing of outstanding abilities or qualities” (informal), or “A phenomenally skilled or impressive person; a performing wonder, esp in sports”.

Apparently it comes from US baseball slang, and was first recorded in 1890.

Merriam-Webster defines a phenom as “a person who is very good at doing something (such as a sport)” or “a person of phenomenal ability or promise”.

Have you come across this word before?

English, Language, Language learning, Words and phrases 2 Comments

Language quiz

Hôtel Le St-James, Vieux Montréal

Today’s quiz is a bit different. The question is, what do you call the (red and black) canvas canopies over the windows in the photo?

I could easily google the answer, but just want to see if any of you know it without googling. If you don’t know, why not make something up?

I don’t know what these things are called in English or any other language, so I’m interested to see what you come up with.

This photo is of Hôtel Le St-James in Vieux Montréal. You can see a larger version here.

Language, Quiz questions, Travel 8 Comments

Les chuchoteuses

Lindsay et les chuchoteuses

On Rue Staint-Paul in Vieux Montréal there’s a statue of three women having a gossip. It’s known as Les chuchoteuses or ‘The whisperers’. It’s also known as the “fat ladies talking statue”. It’s by Rose-Aimée Bélanger, a sculptor from Ontario, and was installed as part of a 2006 initiative to highlight some of Old Montreal’s forgotten spaces.

The word chuchoteuses [ʃyʃɔtø:z] comes from chuchoter [ʃy.ʃɔ.te] (to whisper; to rustle), which is of imitative origin. Related words include chuchoterie (whispering), chuchotis (faint whispering), chuchotement (a whisper / murmur, rustling).

I like the sound of this word, and of the words for whisper in other languages:

– Italian / Portuguese / Spanish: sussurro, from Latin susurrus ‎(a humming, whispering)
– German: Flüstern
– Dutch: fluistering
– Welsh: sibrwd

What about in other languages?

The photo is one I took while exploring Montréal with Linsday Dow of Linsday Does Languages, who features in it.

Sources: Wiktionary and Reverso

Dutch, English, Etymology, French, German, Italian, Language, Latin, Portuguese, Spanish, Travel, Welsh, Words and phrases 2 Comments
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