Boxing tips

Today is Boxing Day in the UK, and there are a number of ideas about the origins of the name. The Oxford English Dictionary, for example, defines Boxing Day as:

“the first week-day after Christmas-day, observed as a holiday on which post-men, errand-boys, and servants of various kinds expect to receive a Christmas-box”

The earliest attested use of the term was the 1830s.

Samuel Pepys mentions in his diary of 19th December 1663 that there was a tradition of giving tradespeople Christmas boxes of money and gifts; that servants were given a day off the day after Christmas to visit their families, and were each given a box of presents and sometimes leftover food.

Boxing day box

The name Boxing Day may come from the Alms Boxes in churches which were used to collect donations to the poor, or to the Roman and early Christian custom of placing metal boxes outside churches to collect offerings to celebrate Saint Stephen’s day, which falls on 26th December.

On the QI Christmas Special they mention that the tradition of giving tips started in Europe, particularly in the UK, and spread to North America, where many people were reluctant to take it up at first.

In some languages words for tips show clearly what the money is for:

Trinkgeld (“drink money”) in German
drikkepenge (“drink money”) in Danish
pourboire (“for drinking”) in French
propina in Spanish – from Latin prōpīnō (I drink to someone’s health), from Ancient Greek προπίνω, from προ- ‎(before) &‎ πίνω ‎(I drink, carouse).

Sources: Wikipedia, Wiktionary

What about in other languages?

Danish, Dutch, English, Etymology, French, German, Greek, Language, Latin, Spanish, Words and phrases 2 Comments


A Multilingual Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it!


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Pavement grikes

A photo of a limestone pavement

Silverdale in Lancashire, where I’m spending Christmas, sits on limestone. Whenever you dig into the ground round here you soon hit limestone, and in places where you can see it above ground, it forms what are known as ‘limestone pavements’ (see photo) in the UK. The blocks of stone within the pavements are known as clints and the fissures between them, which are eroded by water, are known as grikes or grykes.

The word grike/gryke comes from the Middle English crike, from the Old Norse kriki (crack, bend, concavity), which is also the root of the word creek.

The word clint comes from Middle English, perhaps from the Middle Low German klint (cliff, crag).

In other places a landscape based on a limestone plain with thin or no soil and sparse vegetation is known as an alvar, which comes from a Swedish word, ålvar (bare limestone soil).

Sources: Wikipedia, Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Merriam-Webster Dictionary, dictionary

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Slop stones

A photo of a slopstone

Last night I went to a very interesting talk by a member of Mourholme Local History Society, which my mum has been part of for many years. The talk, entitled ‘Flush and Forget in Silverdale’, was about water supplies and drainage in Silverdale in Lancashire, where my mum lives and where I grew up.

A photo of a limestone pavement

Silverdale is a village on Morecambe Bay in the far north of Lancashire. There are no rivers or streams, so until it was connected to mains water in 1938, the local people relied on rain water. This was collected in wells built in places were the water didn’t all drain away through the limestone, which is the main bedrock of the area (see photo on the right), and in tanks in the basements of buildings filled by rain from roofs.

Pumps were used to draw water from the basement tanks, and under the spouts of the pumps there were shallow sinks known as slop stones which were made of wood, slate or stoneware. Isn’t that a wonderful word – slop stone?

The village was originally a collection of tiny hamlets that grew up around the water sources and the population was small. The population increased over time, especially after the arrival of the railway in 1858, and is now about 1,600.

Silverdale apparently could have been connected to mains water earlier, but the local people objected to the cost and claimed they were happy with the existing arrangements. The presenter also mentioned other occasions when the villagers had been reluctant to spend more than absolutely necessary. I wasn’t aware that the people of Silverdale were stingy, at least in the past.

A photo of the water tanks in Eaves Wood in Silverdale
Water tanks built to collect rain water and supply houses in Silverdale.

There are many words for those averse to spend money. Most have negative conotations: stingy, tight, tightfisted, miserly, penny pinching, skinflint, while others are more positive: frugal, thrifty, economical, pennywise. Do you have any others?


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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?

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Weaving applications

There was some discussion at the French conversation group last night about job applications – one member of the group has been offered a job in an international school in southern France and will be moving there soon.

The word application exists in French, but it’s not the one you use when applying for a job. Instead it is used when applying a lotion or treatment or an invention or method. Also when implementing a decision or measure or enforcing the law. It is also used for software app(lication)s.

Expressions featuring the word include:

– mettre en application = to implement, apply, enforce
– application cruciale = mission-critical application
– application informatique = IT application
– école d’application = officers’ training school

An application for a job is une demande or une candidature, and a job application form is un formulaire or un bulletin de demande d’emploi. To apply for a job is poser une candidature pour un emploi / poste or postuler / poser sa candidature pour un emploi.

The French word appliquer can mean ‘to apply (a lotion or cream; or an invention or method), to implement (a decision); to enfore (the law); or to give’. The reflexive version of this verb, s’appliquer, can mean ‘to apply oneself (to doing sth); to apply to (the law)’ and s’appliquer sur means ‘to fit over’.

The English word apply comes from French, and the French word appliquer comes from the Latin applicāre (to apply, to put, to stick, to spread; to impose, to enforce), from applicō (I apply, attach, join to), from ad- (to; towards) +‎ plicō ‎(fold; arrive), from the Proto-Indo-European *pleḱ- ‎(to plait, to weave), which also the root of the English words plait, plat and pleat.

Source: Reverso

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Seeking diegesis

I learnt an interesting new word the other day – diegesis [ˌdaɪəˈdʒiːsɪs], which, according to Wikipedia means:

a style of fiction storytelling that presents an interior view of a world in which details about the world itself and the experiences of its characters are revealed explicitly through narrative, and the story is told or recounted, as opposed to shown or enacted.

In diegesis the narrator tells the story and presents the actions, and sometimes thoughts, of the characters to the readers or audience. The opposite of diegesis is mimesis, from the Greek μίμησις (imitation), in which the action is shown directly rather than narrated.

In films diegesis refers to the story depicted on screen, as opposed to the story in real time that the screen narrative is about. Anything outside the screen narrative is known as extradiegetic. When a story is embedded within another story and related by a narrator, it is known as metadiegetic or hypodiegetic.

The word diegesis comes from the Greek διήγησις (narrative) from διηγεῖσθαι (to narrate), from διά ‎(through, over, across) and ἥγησις (to lead, command), from the Proto-Indo-European *seh₂g- (to seek out), which is also the root of the English word seek, the German word suchen (to seek, search), and related words in other Germanic languages.

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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

Stitching Mail

Cotte de maille et des courriers (mail and mail)

I learned an interesting French word last night: maille [maj], which means stitch or mesh and appears in such expressions as:

– maille à l’endroit = plain stitch
– maille à l’envers / tombée / coulée = purl stitch
– maille Jersey = stocking stitch
– doublure maille = mesh lining
– maille du tricot = knitting stitch
– maille du crochet = crochet stitch
– à maille serrée = close-woven
– avoir maille à partir = to be in trouble
– avoir maille à partir avec qn = to have a brush with sb
– à mailles fines = with a fine mesh
– passer à travers les mailles du filet = to slip through the net
– cotte de maille(s) = coat of mail; chainmail

Maille comes from the Old French maille (loop, stitch, mesh, link), from Vulgar Latin *macla, from Latin macula (spot, speck, stain; mesh; cell) from From Proto-Italic *smatlo-, from Proto-Indo-European *smh₂tlo- (possibly meaning “wiping”).

The English word mail, as in chainmail, comes from the same root via the Middle English maille ‎(mail armour) the Old French maille.

The English word mail, as in letters and parcels, originally meant a bag or wallet, and came to mean a bag containing letters to be delivered by post, and then the letters themselves. It comes from the Middle English male, from the Anglo-Norman male, Old French male ‎(bag, wallet), from the Frankish *malha ‎(bag), from the Proto-Germanic *malhō ‎(bag, pouch), from the Proto-Indo-European *molko- ‎(leather pouch).

*molko- is also the root of the French words malle (large suitcase, trunk) and mallette (briefcase); and the Spanish mala ‎(suitcase, mailbag, mail, post), and maleta (suitcase).

Mail (letters) in French is (le) courrier and the postal service is la poste. Email is officially courriel or courrier électronique, though many people use e-mail. Courrier is borrowed from the Italian corriere (messenger, courier), from correre (to run, hurry, rush), from the Latin currere, from currō (to run, hurry), from Proto-Italic *korzō (to run), from Proto-Indo-European *ḱers- ‎(to run), also the root of the English words courier and current.

Sources: Reverso, Wiktionary

English, Etymology, French, Italian, Language, Latin, Proto-Indo-European, Spanish, Words and phrases 1 Comment


Diacritics used to represent tones in Vietnamese

There’s an interesting article about tonal languages in The Atlantic that I came across today. It explains that most tonal languages are found in East and Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa;, and in Mexico, and speculates that this might have something to do with climate – I think that unlikely.

It also explains how words can come to be distinguished by tones. In some dialects of Khumu, an Austroasiatic language spoken in parts of Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and China, tones are used, while in other dialects they aren’t.

In the Khmu Rook dialect of northern Laos, for example, there are six tones. In other dialects pok means “bite” and bok means “to cut down a tree” – there may be a slight difference in intonation between them, but this is not used to distinguish them. In Khmu Rook b and p have merged and these words are only distinguished by tones: pok with a high tone means “bite,” and with a low tone means “to cut down a tree”.

The process by which a language acquires tones is known as tonogenesis.

More about tones in languages

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