Cashlines, ATMs and Holes in the Wall

Hole in the Wall

I discovered the other day that in Scotland the bank machines that dispense cash are known as cashlines. This was apparently the name used first for Royal Bank of Scotland cash machines, and came to be used as the general term for ATMs in Scotland [source].

In other parts of the UK such machines are known as cash machines, ATMs (Automated Teller Machines), holes in the wall and cashpoints.

In Welsh a cash machine is a peiriant arian parod (cash machine), twll yn y wal (hole in the wall) or peiriant tynnu arian (money withdrawing machine)

What are they known as in other countries and languages?

English, Language, Welsh, Words and phrases 9 Comments

Language quiz

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Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

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

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もしもし (moshi moshi)

When answering the phone in Japanese the phrase you usually used is もしもし (moshi moshi). I received an email from a Japanese guy today saying that this doesn’t mean hello, so I thought I’d find out what it actually means.

According to Tofugu, this phrase comes from the verb 申す (mōsu), which a humble equivalent of 言う (iu) – to say. Originally the phrase used was 申し上げます (mōshiagemasu) = “I’m going to say (talk)”, which was commonly used during the Edo period to talk to people of higher status. Over time it got shortened.

Another explanation of why moshi moshi is used on the phone is because it’s hard for 狸 / たぬき (tanuki) to say. Tanuki, a type of fox or racoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides), are tricksters in Japanese stories, and you can tell if one is on the other end of the phone if they don’t say moshi moshi back to you.

Another explanation is that when the telephone was introduced to Japan in 1890 only rich people could afford it, and they said おいおい (oi oi) when making calls. This means something like “Hey you!”, and people replied はい、良うございます (Hai, yō gozaimasu), which means roughly “Yes, I’m ready”. People thought this was too abrupt and started using 申し上げます (mōshiagemasu), which was shortened to 申す申す (mōsu mōsu) for male telephone operators, and 申し申し (mōshi mōshi) for females.

In 1889 Shigenori Katougi (加藤木重教), an electrician for the Ministry of Engineering, went to the USA to study their telephone system. He was asked how people answer the phone in Japan, and wasn’t sure how to explain the complexities involved, so just said that they use moshi moshi, which means hello. He brought the idea back to Japan, and it became the standard way by 1902.

Moshi moshi is mainly used on the phone, but occasionally in other contexts. For example, if someone is spaced out and you want to get their attention you say moshi moshi.

Here’s Tofugu’s video about this:

English, Japanese, Language, Words and phrases 3 Comments

Mony a mickle maks a muckle

There’s a Scots saying Mony a mickle maks a muckle, or Many a mickle makes a muckle, which means “A lot of small amounts, put together, become a large amount”.

The word muckle certainly means large, and also big, great; much, a great deal of, a lot of; grown-up, mature, adult; of great social consequence, of high rank, great; captial (letter).

In the context of the saying you’d expect mickle to mean small. However it is actually a variant form of muckle. The original version of the saying was apparently “Mony a pickle maks a muckle” – pickle means “A grain of oats, barley, wheat; a small particle of any kind, a grain, granule, speck, pellet.” It’s possible that pickle became mickle to make the saying more alliterative.

Another source states that this phrase was first recorded in writing in 1614 as “many a little made a mickle” and the Scots version was “A wheen o’ mickles mak’s a muckle”.

I came across a Japanese equivalent of this saying today: ちりも積もれば山となる or 塵も積もれば山となる (Chiri mo tsumoreba yama to naru), which means something like “Piling up dust/garbage makes a mountain”, and is translated as “many a little makes a mickle”. I thought that’s wrong, mickle means a little, but now I know better, possibly.

Related sayings in English include:

– Save a penny, save a pound
– Little strokes fell great oaks
– Little and often fills the purse
– Every little helps
– Little drops of water, little grains of sand, make a mighty ocean and a pleasant land

Do you know any others in English or other languages?

Sources: Dictionary of the Scots Language / Dictionar o the Scots Leid, The Scotsman, jisho, Stake Exchange, Wordwizard

English, Japanese, Language, Scots, Words and phrases 4 Comments

Please alight

I received an email yesterday asking about the Swiss German equivalent of Bitte verlassen Sie den Zug (Please alight from the train). Does anybody know?

Are announcements on Swiss trains in Swiss German or Standard German (Hochdeutsch)? What other languages are they in? Or does it depend on where you are in Switzerland?

This got me thinking about some of the words that are used in announcements on trains and stations. On trains in the UK there are endless announcements which tell you what stations, stops or station stops are coming up next, where the train is going, where it’s come from, what is available in the buffet / shop. You are reminded to keep a close eye on your luggage and personal belongings, to dispose of rubbish in the bins provided, not to smoke – not even in the vestibule areas or toilets, and not not to leave anything on the train and to mind the gap when you alight.

Some of the expressions are rarely heard elsewhere. e.g. alight, vestibule and station stop. Trains are referred to as services, and they call at station stops. Passengers are often referred to as customers.

In parts of Wales announcements are in Welsh and English, though not in the parts where Welsh is most-spoken.

You can hear recordings of some announcements from UK trains and stations here:

Are there particular terms used in announcements on trains and other public transport in other countries?

English, German, Language, Words and phrases 10 Comments

Language quiz

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Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

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

Language, Quiz questions 9 Comments


This week is Welcome Week at Bangor University when new students arrive for the first time, register, join clubs and societies, some of which they’ll actually go to, and so on. It’s also known as Freshers’ Week and the new students are known as freshers, though after this week, they’re generally known as first years.

I understand that in the USA a first year student at high school and college is known as freshman. Does this apply to female students as well? Is the plural freshmen used?

Freshman first appeared in writing in the 1550s meaning “newcomer or novice”, and was used to mean a first year student at university from the 1590s. The word freshwoman appeared in the 1620s. Related words include freshmanic, freshmanship, freshmanhood.

An alternative for freshman, underclassman, meaning “sophomore (second year) or freshman” first appeared in 1869 [source].

The word fresh comes from the Old English fersc (fresh, pure, sweet), from the Proto-Germanic *friskaz (fresh), from the Proto-Indo-European *preysk- ‎(fresh) [source].

What are first year students called in other languages?

English, Etymology, Language, Proto-Indo-European, Words and phrases 4 Comments

Do you come here often?

I’ve started to put together a new page on Omniglot with translations of the phrase ‘Do you come here often?‘. I got the idea after finding a Cornish version of this phrase (A wre’ta dos omma yn fenowgh?) on Learn Cornish Now.

Could you check the translations that are already on the page, and provide ones if other languages?

Have you ever used this phrase as a chat-up line or conversation opener?

What other phrases have you used?

Cornish, English, Language, Words and phrases 3 Comments

Language quiz

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Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

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

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A bit of a breeze

One of the words that came up at the French conversation group this week was brise (breeze), which appears in the following expressions:

– pare-brise = windscreen / windshield
– brise matinale = early breeze
– brise insulaire = island breeze
– brise de mer = sea breeze
– brise de terre = land breeze

The French word brise and the English word breeze come possibly from the Old Spanish briza (cold northeast wind), which was used from the 1560s in West Indies and the Spanish Main to mean a “northeast trade wind”, and then a “fresh wind from the sea”. Breeze came to mean a “gentle or light wind” from the 1620s, and something easy from the 1920s in the USA.

Alternatively the English word breeze might come from is from East Frisian brisen (to blow fresh and strong), or the Saterland Frisian briese ‎(breeze) or the Dutch bries ‎(breeze).

Apparently as well as being a light, gentle wind, a breeze can be:

– Any wind blowing across a cricket match, whatever its strength.
– Any activity that is easy, not testing or difficult.
– Ashes and residue of coal or charcoal, usually from a furnace.
– An excited or ruffled state of feeling; a flurry of excitement; a disturbance; a quarrel.

Sources: Online Etymology Dictionary, Wiktionary and Reverso

English, Etymology, French, Language, Welsh, Words and phrases 1 Comment
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