Knock Cnoc

The element Knock is quite common in place names in Ireland, e.g. Ballyknock, Castleknock, Gortknock, Kilknock and Knockaderry [source]. There’s also quite a few places called simply Knock, the best known of which is the Knock in County Mayo in the west of Ireland , which is known as An Cnoc (the hill) or Cnoc Mhuire (Hill of (the Virgin) Mary) in Irish.

The Irish word cnoc (hill), from which Knock comes, is pronounced [kn̪ˠɔk] in Munster, [knˠɔk] in Aran, and [kɾˠɔk] in Galway, Mayo and Ulster. It comes from the Old Irish cnocc (hill, lump, swelling), from the Proto-Celtic *knokko(s) (hill), which is also the root of:

- Scottish Gaelic cnoc [krɔ̃xg] = hill, hillock, knoll
- Manx cronk [krɒnk] = mount, tor, hill
- Welsh cnwc [knʊk] = hillock, bump, lump, butte
- Cornish knegh [knɛx] / knogh [knɔx] = hillock

A similar, though unrelated, English word is knoll [nəʊl], a hillock or mound, which comes from the Old English cnoll (hill-top, cop, summit, hillock), which is cognate with the Dutch knol (clod, ball, turnip); the German Knolle (bulb, tuber); and the Swedish knöl (lump; bump; hump) [source].

English, Etymology, French, Irish, Language, Manx, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Words and phrases Leave a comment

I’m full / J’ai trop mangé

When you’ve finished a meal and are asked if you’d like any more, in English you might decline the offer by saying “Thanks, but I’m full”; “No thanks, I’ve had plenty”; “No, I’d better not, thank you”; “Thanks, but I couldn’t eat another thing”; “No thanks, I’m stuffed”, or even “No thank you, I have had an elegant sufficiency and any more would be a superfluous indulgence.” Other ways to express this are discussed on this page.

In French you might say “J’ai trop mangé” (“I’ve eaten too much.”), “Je suis rassasié” (I’m satisfied), or “Je n’en peux plus” (“I can’t [take] any more.”) . One phrase to avoid, at least in France, is the literal translation of “I’m full” – Je suis plein – which means I’m pregnant or I’m drunk. Apparently in French-speaking parts of Belgium and Quebec Canada it’s fine to use it as it does mean “I’m full” [source].

How would you decline the offer in your language?

Is it polite to do so in your culture?

Language 6 Comments

Logoburroo and other place names

If an Australian visitor to the UK asked you for directions to somewhere they called Logoburroo [lɔgɜʉbəˈrʊː] would you know what place they were referring to?

A friend of mine heard an Australian pronouncing Loughborough, a town in Leicestershire in central England, in this way and thought it was an interesting attempt at the name. The usual pronunciation is [ˈlʌfbərə] (luff-buh-ruh) or [ˈlʌfbrə] (luff-bruh).

Loughborough features in the Doomsday Book of 1086 as ‘Lucteburne’, which possibly comes from the name Lehedeburh, “the town of Lehede” (named after someone called Lehede) [source].

Burh is variant form of the Old English word burg (city, town, fort, stronghold, dwelling place), which comes from the Proto-Germanic *burgz (fortification, stronghold, fortified city), from the Proto-Indo-European *bʰərgʰ- (fortified elevation), from *bʰerǵʰ- (to rise; high, lofty; hill, mountain) [source].

Borough, burgh, brough and bury, which all come from the Old English burg, are common elements in English place names, e.g. Loughborough, Canterbury and Middlesbrough; and are also found in Scottish place names as burch and burgh, e.g. Edinburgh and Jedburgh. Related words are also found in Dutch (burcht, burg, borg – castle, borough), French (bourg – market townn), German (burg – castle, fortifcation), and the Scandinavian languages (borg – castle, city).

The Proto-Indo-European root *bʰerǵʰ- (hill) is also the root of the Proto-Celtic word *brixs (hill), from which we get the Brythonic word *brigā, which is part of the name Brigantī, the Celtic tribe that occupied a large part of northern Britain at the time of the Roman invasion (43 AD). The element briga also appears in Gaulish place names; and from the same root is bre, an obsolete word for hill in Welsh, Cornish, Breton and Scottish Gaelic (also bré/brí in Irish).

Hill is usually bryn in Welsh, cnoc in Irish and Scottish Gaelic, and torgenn in Breton; and the elements brae/bray/bre appear in some English, Irish and Scottish place names.

Incidentally, Leicestershire is pronounced [ˈlɛstəʃə] (lestuh-shuh).

English, Etymology, German, Language, Proto-Indo-European, Words and phrases 12 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 10 Comments

Curing, cleaning and caring

Yesterday I discovered that there are quite a few different French translations of the verb to cure, depending on what kind of cure you’re talking about.

If you’re curing food by salting, the French equivalent is saler (to salt); curing by smoking is fumer (to smoke), and curing by drying is sécher (to dry). Curing leather is traiter (to treat), and curing illnesses, problems or habits is guérir (to cure, heal, recover).

The equivalents of these words in Welsh are:

- halltu = to cure (by salting)
- cochi (“to redden”); sychu mewn mwg; sychu trwy fwg = to cure (by smoking)
- sychu = to cure (by drying)
- cyweirio; barcio; cwrio = to cure (leather)
- gwella; iach’au; mendio = to cure (illness, problem, habit)

Do other languages have separate words for these?

The English word cure comes from the French curer, which means ‘to clean out’ in Modern French, and meant ‘to take care of, to clean’ in Old French, and comes from the Latin cūrāre (to care for, take care of, cure), from cūra (care, concern, trouble), from the Old Latin coira-, from the Proto-Indo-European root *kʷeis- (to heed).

Sources: Reverso, OED, Online Etymology Dictionary, Wiktionary

English, Etymology, French, Language, Latin, Proto-Indo-European, Welsh, Words and phrases 3 Comments


Woordenschat en een woordenkist

I came across an interesting Dutch word today – Woordenschat [ˈʋoːɾdəsxɑt] – which means vocabulary. Woorden = words and schat = treasure, and also love honey, darling, sweetheart. So woordenschat is a “treasure of words” or “word treasure”. It reminds me of the English expression wordhoard, an alternative term for vocabulary, from the Old English wordhord.

Are there similarly interesting terms for vocabulary in other languages?

Woord also appears in such expressions as:

- woordafbreking = hyphenation (“word breaking/splitting/dividing”)
- woordelijk = verbatim, literal, word-for-word (“word like”)
- woordenboek = dictionary (“word book”)
- woordenlijst = glossary, word-list (“word list”)
- woordenrijk = verboose, volubly (“word rich”)
- woordenstroom = verbiage (“word flow”)
- woordenwisseling = altercation (“word exchange”)
- woordenzifter = nitpicker, niggler, hair-splitter (“word sifter”)

Schat also appears in such expressions as:

- schatje = baby, honey, sweetheart
- schatkist = treasure chest
- schatmeester = treasurer
- schatrijk = immensely rich

Dutch, English, Language, Words and phrases 10 Comments

Producing oneself

I came across an interesting expression in a French newspaper article I read today – se produire – which means to produce, occur, take place, perform, appear, and appears in such phrases as:

- devoir se produire = to be bound to happen
- se produire sur scène = to appear on stage
- ce qui risque de se produire = what could well happen; what might happen
- laisser se produire = to allow to happen
- se produire en concert = to play in a concert

One literal translation of this expression is “to produce oneself”, and I like the idea that I produced myself (as if from a hat :) at a gig last week.

Source: Reverso

English, French, Language, Words and phrases 3 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 the wonderful German word Schnurrbart [ˈʃnʊrba:ɐ̯t] recently and just liked the sound of it. The Bart part means beard – you can see the connection – and the Schnurr part comes from schnurren (to purr).

According to Wikipedia: “Ein Schnurrbart ist ein über der Oberlippe wachsender Bart.” or “A moustache is an beard growing over the lip”, and it is also referred to as an Oberlippenbart (overlipbeard). A large moustache is called a Schnauzbart (Schnauze = lip, muzzle, snout).

Other words used for moustache in German include Bürste (brush), Schnauzer (a type of dog), Schnorres, Schnorrati, Sör, Rotzbremse (“snot brake”) and Popelfänger (“bogie catcher”). Do you know/use any others?

Other words for moustache in English include tache/tash, whiskers, face fungus, tea/soup strainer, snot catcher/mop, lip rug, and crumb catcher.

The English word moustache comes from French, from the Neapolitan word mustaccio.

Do moustaches have interesting names or nicknames in other languages?

Sources: bab.La dictionary, PONS dictionary, Wikipedia,, OED

English, Etymology, German, Language 5 Comments

Market places

Last week the origins of the word agora came up in conversation and I thought I’d find out more.

An agora was a place of gathering or marketplace in Ancient Greece. It comes from the Ancient Greek ἀγείρω [ageirō] (I gather, collect), from the Proto-Indo-European *ger- (to assemble, gather together), which is the root of the English words gregarious, aggregate, congregate, egregious, segregate, allegory, category, and panegyric, via the Latin gregārius (of the herd, common), which comes from grex (herd, flock).

In Romance languages, such as Aragonese, Asuturian, Galician, Ladino, Mirandese and Portuguese, the word agora is also found, but it means ‘now’ and comes from the Latin expression hāc hōra (‘this hour’). The Spanish word ahora (now) comes from the same root. hōra comes from the Ancient Greek ὥρα [hōra] (time, season, year), from the Proto-Indo-European *yōr-ā, a suffixed form of *yēr/*yeh₁r- (year, season), which is the root of the English word year, and the words for year in many other Indo-European languages.

Source: Wiktionary

The friend who asked about agora wondered whether the Welsh word agor (open) might come from the same root. I haven’t been able to find any information about this. Does anybody know?

English, Etymology, Greek, Language, Latin, Portuguese, Proto-Indo-European 5 Comments