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


An interesting French word I learnt yesterday is escroquerie [ɛskʁɔkʁi], which means a swindle or fraud. It comes from escroquer (to swindle). A related word is escroc (villain, baddy). It probably comes from the Italian word scroccare (to eat or live at others’ expense) [source].

Other English equivalents of escroquer include scrounge, sponge, cadge and blag. Are there others? What about in other languages?

English, French, Italian, Language, Words and phrases 2 Comments

Cheese flies

Apparently it’s National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day today. It’s also National Licorice Day, and Be Kind to Lawyers Day, at least in the USA. Is it a special day elsewhere?

The equivalent of the grilled cheese sandwich in the UK is known as cheese on toast, and in French it’s known as a Croque Monsieur, which usually includes ham as well. The American version dates back to the 1920s, but apparently the idea of combining cheese and bread like this started in Ancient Rome.

Here’s a little video in French from Frantastique about fromages (cheeses) and mouches (flies:

To learn more about fromages, mouches and French – try out Frantastique for 7 days!

By the way, Gymglish will be offering a 30% off discount to all users how have signed up to their lessons. This is to celebrate their 12th birthday!

Do you have other names for this type of sandwich?

English, French, Language Leave a comment

Multilingual Britain

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by Kerstin Cable about the languages of the British Isles for the The Creative Language Learning Podcast, which she makes with Lindsey Dow of Lindsey Does Languages.

The podcast is now online as The Secret Languages of Great Britain.

In the podcast we talk about the indigenous languages used in the UK, such as English, Scots, Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Manx, Cornish, British Sign Language, Romany and so on. We also mention some of the more recent arrivals, such as Polish, Punjabi and Urdu.

In other news, I’ve decided to go the North American Polyglot Symposium in Montreal in July. I booked my tickets and hotel today, and have started thinking about the talk I’m going to do there. I plan to expand what I discussed in the podcast.

English, Irish, Language, Language learning, Manx, Polish, Scots, Scottish Gaelic, Sign language, Travel, Welsh 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

Finnish Language Day

Apparently today is Finnish Language Day or Suomen kielen päivä. It is the anniversary of the death of Mikael Agricola (c. 1510-1557), a clergyman who is known as the “father of literary Finnish” – he translated religious works into Finnish, including the New Testament, and modern Finnish spelling is based on his work. Before then there was no standard form of written Finnish [source].

It is also my birthday – Ta mee shey bleeaney as daeed d’eash jiu.

English, Finnish, General, Language, Manx 2 Comments


I came across the wonderful word snollygoster [ˈsnɒlɪˌɡɒstə] today. It is defined as follows:

– One, especially a politician, who is guided by personal advantage rather than by consistent, respectable principles.
– A politician who cares more for personal gain than serving the people (Slang, USA)

From: The Free Dictionary.

– A shrewd person not guided by principles, especially a politician

Etymology: from 19th-century American English. Possibly from snallygaster, a mythical beast that preys on poultry and children, possibly from the Pennsylvania German schnelle geeschter, from the German schnell (quick) and geist (spirit).

From: Wiktionary.

– a fellow who wants office, regardless of party, platform or principles, and who, whenever he wins, gets there by the sheer force of monumental talknophical assumnacy.
Columbus Dispatch, Ohio, 28 Oct. 1895

From: World Wide Words

It doesn’t seem to be used much any more, perhaps because it isn’t needed as there isn’t anybody who behaves like this, especially not politicians.

Here’s an interesting TED talk about this and other political vocabulary:

Are there any similar words in other languages?

English, German, Language, Words and phrases 2 Comments

Throats and trees

One Scottish Gaelic expression I learnt last week was “Tha craobh air mo sgòrnan” or literally “There’s a tree on my throat”. This is the Gaelic equivalent of “There’s a frog in my throat”, which is used when you are rendered temporarily speechless due to a small amphibian taking up residence in your oesophagus, or when you have a sore throat. Fortunately I don’t have one now, but I did have one just before I went to Scotland.

In Irish you might say:

tá sceach i mo scornach = there’s a hawthorn / thornbush in my throat
tá piachán i mo sceadamán = there’s a pain in my throat
tá ciach orm = there’s a hoarseness on me
tá slócht orm = there’s a hoarseness, throatiness on me
tá sceadamán / scornach nimhneach orm = I have a sore throat

Sources: focló and Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla Ó Donaill

In Manx you might say: ta cred orrym = there’s a grunt / cough / roughness / tickle on me [source].

The equivalent is Welsh is Dw i’n gryg/gryglyd/crygu [source] – gryg and gryglyd come from cryg, which means “hoarse, harsh, raucous”, and crygu means “to grow/make hoarse; to stammer” [source].

Are there equivalent idioms in other languages?

English, Irish, Language, Manx, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, 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 5 Comments

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

This week I am doing a course in Scottish Gaelic songs at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic college on the Isle of Skye. While all the songs I’m learning are in Gaelic, the class it taught mainly in English, so I don’t get to speak much Gaelic in class. Outside class there are plenty of opportunities to speak Gaelic with college staff and other students, who are doing courses in language, fiddle or step dancing.

This is my fifth visit to the college, and each time my Gaelic gets a bit better. I rarely speak it at home, apart from to myself, but do listen to online Gaelic radio and occasionally read things in Gaelic. I tend to mix Irish and Scottish Gaelic a bit as I know a lot more Irish, and if I don’t know how to say something in Scottish Gaelic I try it in Irish. Sometimes it works.

On the way here and in the college I’ve heard and/or spoken quite a few different languages – plenty of English and Gaelic, and also Spanish, Italian, French, Irish, Welsh, Mandarin, Japanese, Russian and German. So this is a good place to practice a variety of languages.

English, French, German, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Language, Language learning, Music, Russian, Scottish Gaelic, Songs, Spanish, Travel, Welsh 1 Comment
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