Tomorrow I’m off to Montreal for the North American Polyglot Symposium, which takes places on Saturday and Sunday (23/24) at Concordia University.

I’m giving a talk on the origins of language. This is a subject that we can only really speculate about, unless someone invents a time machine, so I’ll discuss the various theories that have been proposed.

This will be my first visit to Canada, and I’m really looking forward to it. I’m also looking forward to catching up with my polyglot friends, and making some new ones.

Language, Travel 5 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 3 Comments

Are you sturggled?

You may think I have misspelled the title of this post, and in a way I have, but I did so deliberately. The other day when typing struggle I accidentally typed sturggle. I thought that it looked like an interesting word, and wondered what it might mean.

Apparently I’m not the first person to come up with this word – according to the Urban Dictionary, sturggle means:

To be afflicted with a debilitating hangover to the point where you cannot speak.

I’ve never been sturggled in this sense.

Do you have any other suggestions as to what sturggle might mean?

Have you accidentally come up with any other new words?

English, Language, Words and phrases 1 Comment


I came across an interesting Scots word yesterday – pauchle [ˈp(j)ɑxl] – which I needed to look up, although from the context you can get an idea of its meaning:

They’re hoping that they can pauchle the party rule book in order to insist that Corbyn must gain the support of at least 51 of the party’s Westminster and EU parliamentary contingent in order to stand again in a leadership contest. [from Wee Ginger Dug]

According to my Scots dictionary it means:

Pauchle (1) noun
1. a bundle, small load (of goods); the personal belongings of someone in service and living away from home, (usually) kept in a trunk
2. a small bundle or parcel of something; a quantity of something; a small quantity of something taken by an employee from his employer, either furtively or as a perquisite*
3. a packet (of letters)
4. a swindle, a piece

Pauchle (1) verb
1. to be guilty of a minor dishonesty, cheat; rig (an election)
2. to steal, embezzle, pocket
3. to shuffle (playing cards)


Pauchle (2) verb
1. to move feebly but persistently, shuffle, hobble, struggle along (pauchle alang, awa, on)
2. to struggle, strive, expend effort and energy
3. to work ineffectually, bungle, potter

If you are in a pauchle, you are in a chaotic or disorganized state, or behind with your work.

It is probably of onomatopoeic origin.

See also:

So it looks like quite a useful word. Are there other words for a little something you take from your employer?

*A perquisite is “a benefit which one enjoys or is entitled to on account of one’s job or position” [source]

English, Language, Scots, Words and phrases 3 Comments

Heavy Plant Crossing

Heavy Plant Crossing Sign

If you saw this sign, what kind of plant(s) would you expect to be crossing?

In this context, plant refers to “a large, heavy machine or vehicle used in industry, for building roads, etc.” It can also mean “machines used in industry” or “a factory in which a particular product is made or power is produced” [source]

Apparently the first recorded use of plant for a factory dates from 1789 – this meaning developed from the idea of the factory being ‘planted’ [source]. Perhaps the meaning was extended to the machines used in factories, and to other large industrial machines.

Is plant used to refer to large machines only in the UK?

English, Language, Words and phrases 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

Budge up!

Notice in local café in Bangor

In the café where I had lunch today I saw a sign saying “Blue Sky tables are for sharing. Budge up and say Hi!” (see photo).

I thought budge up sounding like a very British kind of thing to say. Is it used in other English-speaking countries? If not, how would you ask someone to move up?

Budge comes from the French bouger (to move), from the Vulgar Latin *bullicāre, frequentative of Latin bullīre (to bubble, boil), from bulla (bubble; bubble-shaped object), from Gaulish, from Proto-Indo-European *beu ‎(swelling) [source].

English, Language, Words and phrases 7 Comments

It’s a gas!

In Hiberno-English people might describe something fun and enjoyable as a gas. For example, “That’s gas”, “A gas laugh”, “Come on, it’ll be gas”, “He’s a gas character”, “Your man is gas” [source].

Last week an Irish friend told me that this expression comes from laughing gas (nitrous oxide), which was used at parties to induce hilarity and euphoria in the guests.

According to The Grammarphobia Blog, the earliest citation in the OED for gas meaning fun was in James Joyce’s 1914 collection of stories, Dubliners, in which one character says he’s brought along a slingshot “to have some gas with the birds.”

According to Historically Speaking, Humphrey Davy noticed that nitrous oxide produced a state of induced euphoria which led to laughter followed by a state of stupor and, finally, a dreamy and sedated state. He introduced it to the British upper class in 1799 and it became used as a recreational drug at “laughing parties”. The term “it’s a gas” soon came to refer to what happened at such parties.

English, Language, Words and phrases 2 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 5 Comments

The Right To Read, The Right To Write

Today we have a guest post by Tim Brookes of the Endangered Alphabets Project

An text in Hmong in the Pahawh Hmong script carved into a wooden block

As those of us in the United States head into the long weekend that celebrates the country’s independence from colonial authority (yes, as a Brit I have to accept my birth country’s history!), the Endangered Alphabets’ Mother Tongue initiative is especially significant.

Take a look at the photo, for example. The Hmong were, and to some extent still are, a disadvantaged minority in many of the countries of their native southeast Asia. The fact that they did not have their own written language was seen as a sign of how uncivilized they were. When Shong Lue Yang, an unlettered farmer, created this script for his people it gave them such a strong sense of identity that the majority cultures of the region were disturbed – so much so that soldiers were sent to assassinate him.

I’d like to suggest we think of Independence Day not just in terms of nations but in terms of people and cultures, and the right of all peoples to their own culture, history, identity and language. That’s what our Mother Tongue exhibition will be all about.

Please take a moment to back our Kickstarter this weekend.

And then go back to celebrating independence!


Tim Brookes

PS I learned about most of this on Omniglot, of course!

Endangered languages, English, Language, Writing Leave a comment
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