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

Tell me all about it

According to an article on Science Daily, a good way to remember something you’re learnt is to tell someone else about it, or to test yourself on it.

A study got students to watch films, then asked them to describe what they’d seen afterwards. Those who told someone about the films just after watching them remembered the core and peripheral details, whereas others only remember some of the core details.

I use this technique quite often, without realising it – I like to talk about books I’ve read, films I’ve seen, and events I’ve been to, and find that if I do this not long afterwards, I tend to remember more details, and retain those memories longer.

When learning languages I sometimes test myself on what I’ve learnt, and try to put the words and structures into new sentences to make little conversations. When I try to explain things to other people I find that there are often gaps in my knowledge, maybe because I leave it too long before doing this.

Do you use these techniques at all?

Do they work for you?

General, Language, Language learning, Memory 1 Comment

A Wayzgoose Chase

Bertie & Gertie - the white geese that live pn Hirael Bay in Bangor

What do you call a printer that doesn’t work?

A wayzgoose [ˈweɪzɡuːs].

A wayzgoose‽ What’s that?

According to the Oxford Living Dictionaries, a wayzgoose is “An annual summer dinner or outing held by a printing house for its employees.”

The Oxford Dictionaries blog says that:

the wayzgoose was originally an entertainment given by a master-printer to his workmen to mark the beginning of the season of working by candlelight. In later use, it meant an annual festivity held in summer by the employees of a printing establishment, consisting of a dinner and (usually) an excursion into the country.

Traditionally the wayzgoose happened on 24th August, which is St Bartholomew’s Day, and St Bartholomew is the patron saint of bookbinders, and also of butchers, plasterers, cobblers, shoemakers and other leather workers [source].

The origin of the word wayzgoose is uncertain. It was usually written waygoose in earlier sources (the earliest known use is 1683). The z was added in the late 19th century, however in the 1731 Universal Etymological English Dictionary by Nathaniel Bailey, it is written with the z, and Bailey thought that the word wayz meant a bundle of straw or stubble, that a wayz-goose or stubble-goose was a goose fattened on the stubble left in fields after they were harvested, and that the wayz-goose was served at the wayzgoose feast.

This word was discussed on the Museum of Curiosity on BBC Radio 4 last night, which is where I got the idea for this post.

English, Etymology, 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 8 Comments

Going spooning

Welsh love spoons (llwyau caru)

There’s a tradition in Wales of men carving spoons out of wood and presenting them to the ladies they love. If a lady accepts a spoon, then she and the man are considered a couple – engagements and weddings were apparently not common in rural Wales until the 18th century [source]. The websites that discuss the love spoon (llwyau caru) tradition usually mention that it’s the origin of the English expression “to go spooning”, which is one I haven’t come across before.

A quick search on Google finds a number of books that include the phrase “to go spooning”, and from the context it appears to mean to go courting, but it’s not always clear. Are you familiar with this phrase at all?

Spooning has another meaning – “To lie down behind and against (another person) so that both bodies face the same direction with the knees drawn up slightly like nested spoons” [source], but I don’t think that’s what “to go spooning” is about.

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

Giggling wrigglers

I learnt a nice new German word today – kichern [ˈkɪçɐn], which means to giggle or snicker. Related expressions include:

– ein Kicheranfall = a fit of the giggles
– Wir haben uns darüber gekringelt = We had a good giggle about it
– anfangen herumzukichern = to get the giggles

This also got me thinking about which words rhyme with giggle – there aren’t many, and few of them are commonly-used:

friggle = to wriggle; to fiddle, fumble
higgle = to hawk or peddle provisions; to wrangle (over a price)
jiggle = a weak, shaking movement; to shake, rattle, or wiggle
liggle = to laugh and giggle at the same time
niggle = a minor complaint or problem; to dwell too much on minor points or on trifling details; to fidget, fiddle, be restless
piggle = a long-handled fork for mixing or digging; to dig or uproot; to scrape; to worry about minor points
scriggle = to squirm, wriggle or squiggle; to scribble, jot
sniggle = to chortle or chuckle; snicker; to catch an eel by thrusting a baited hook into its den; to steal something of little value
squiggle = a short twisting or wiggling line or mark; to write (something) illegibly
striggle = to complain about one’s trivial social problems
swiggle = to wriggle, wiggle or squirm; to drink to excess
wiggle = to move with irregular, back and forward or side to side motions; to shake or jiggle.
wriggle = to twist one’s body to and fro with short, writhing motions; to squirm.

Do you know any others?

Are there interesting words for giggles and other types of laughter in other languages?

Sources: Reverso, Wiktionary, Urban dictionary

English, German, Language, Words and phrases 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 8 Comments

Weathered pagodas and stretching times

Picture of a pagoda

The word for weather in Russian is погода (pogoda) [pɐˈɡodə], which sounds more or less like pagoda in English.

The English word pagoda, which refers to an Asian religious building, especially a multistory Buddhist tower, comes from Portuguese pagode, which comes via Tamil from the Sanskrit भगवती ‎(Bhagavatī, name of a goddess) or भागवत ‎(Bhāgavata, “follower of Bhagavatī”).

In French the words for weather, temps, also means time and tense, and comes from the Latin tempus (time, period, age, tense, weather), from the Proto-Indo-European *tempos ‎(stretch), from the root *temp- ‎(to stetch, string), which is also the root of the English word tempest, via the Latin tempestas ‎(storm), and the English word tense.

Breton also has one word for time and weather – amzer, which comes from the Proto-Celtic *amsterā ‎(time, moment), which is also the root of the Irish aimsir (weather, time and tense), the Manx emshir (weather, time and tense) and the Scottish Gaelic aimsir (climate, weather, season, era, time, reign), the Welsh amser (time, age, tense), and the Cornish amser (tense).

Sources:, Wiktionary

I’ve started putting together a new section on Omniglot featuring weather-related words and phrases. So far I have pages in Czech, Russian and Welsh.

In the UK we talk about the weather quite a bit. It’s (usually) a neutral and uncontroversial topic, and while some people are genuinely fascinated by it, for most of us it’s just a way to start a conversation. Do people do this is other countries? Or do you use of topics as conversation starters?

Breton, Cornish, Czech, English, Etymology, French, Irish, Language, Latin, Manx, Proto-Indo-European, Russian, Sanskrit, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Words and phrases 3 Comments

Language plans

While I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, I do make language plans. This year I’m continuing to learn Russian and Cornish, and would like to learn a bit of Slovak before the Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava in May/June, and some Icelandic before the Polyglot Conference in Reykjavik in October.

I’m using Duolingo to learn Russian, and SaySomethingInCornish for Cornish. I haven’t tried Duolingo before, and am finding it quite good so far, and like the way it’s structured.

I’ve dabbled briefly with Icelandic and Slovak before, so they’re not completely new languages to me. If I get round to learning a new language this year, it will probably be Romanian.

Do you have language plans for this year?

Cornish, English, Language, Language learning, Romanian, Russian 1 Comment

Partridges and pear trees

A partridge in a pear tree

In the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, the gift given on the first day is a partridge in a pear tree. As partridges nest on the ground and are unlikely to be found in pear trees, this seems a bit strange to me.

A possible reason why partridge is in the pear tree in the song is because of a mistranslation of the French perdrix/perdriole, which sound a bit like pear tree, but mean partridge. The English version was possibly based on a French folk song: there are three that feature partridges, and/or was originally a children’s game.

The lyrics of the English version of this song that are most common today were first published in 1909 by Frederic Austin, who also wrote the current melody. Other versions of the words and tune have been around at least since 1780, when the song appears in a children’s book, Mirth without Mischief, with the title The Twelve Days of Christmas sung at King Pepin’s Ball.

In the 1780 version the gift on the fourth day of Christmas is colly birds – colly was apparently an English dialect word for black. The other lyrics are more or less the same as the current version.


English, French, Language, Words and phrases 3 Comments
%d bloggers like this: