Sun dribbles

Sand ripples / Sun dribbles

While walking along by estuary of the River Dwyryd at Portmeirion yesterday, the Czech friend I was with asked me the name of the patterns in the sand and mud made by water. I wasn’t sure and suggested ripples or sand ripples. She misheard the latter and thought I said sun dribbles, which I really like the sound of.

I checked today and discovered that the marks in sand and mud left by flowing water are known, rather boringly, as ripple marks, or wave-formed ripples, according to Wikipedia.

Do they have more poetic names in other languages?

English, Language, Welsh, 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 3 Comments

Compulsory languages

In an article I came across today in the Irish Times the writer, an Irish speaker, wonders whether the compulsory teaching of Irish language in schools in Ireland is the best way to keep the language alive. He argues that those who are interested in the language will continue to learn it and speak it even if it is no longer compulsory in schools. I’ve seen suggestions like this many times for Irish and other minority languages, and it is difficult to say what is best as there is some truth in the idea that making a subject compulsory isn’t necessarily the best way to get people to study it.

What are your thoughts on this?

Education, English, Irish, Language, Language learning 13 Comments


One of the Czech lessons I studied yesterday included the word nemocnice (hospital), and though I hadn’t seen or heard it before, I was familiar with the word nemocný (ill; sick) and guessed from the context that nemocnice was a hospital. It feels good to be able to work out the meanings of words from their form and context, and this is somewhat easier in Czech as most words seem to be built from native roots, rather than being borrowed from other languages.

Words related to nemocnice include:

– nemoc = illness; disease
– moc = power, potency, force, forcefulness; strength
– mocný = powerful; mighty
– mocnost = power (nation, state)
– bezmoc = helplessness, powerlessness
– bezmocný = powerless, helpless

Source: Wikitionary

Hospital in Czech is also špitál or lazaret, which is probably related to the Italian lazzaretto (a leper hospital; place of quarantine) or the French lazaret (an isolation hospital for patients with contagious diseases). The Italian word comes from Nazaretto, a quarantine station in Venice, which was named after Santa Maria di Nazareth, a church on the island where it was located [source].

Czech, English, Language, Words and phrases 6 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 5 Comments

The historical present

The year is 1066 and William, Duke of Normandy, invades England to claim the throne he believes to be rightly his. Meanwhile King Harold Godwinson rushes to Hastings to do battle with William after defeating the Norwegian army of Harald Hardrada at Stamford Bridge.

This is an example of the historical or historic present, which involves using the present tense to talk about past events. It is also known as the dramatic present or narrative present. I’ve noticed its use in a number of documentaries I watched recently. It also appears in novels, such as Charles Dicken’s David Copperfield, and Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, is written entirely in the historical present. It sounds rather strange to me. Does it sound strange to you?

English, Language 11 Comments


I came across a number of interesting words today on BuzzFeed, including vellichor, the strange wistfulness of used bookshops, and limerence, the state of being infatuated with another person.

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows defines vellichor as:

n. the strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time—filled with thousands of old books you’ll never have time to read, each of which is itself locked in its own era, bound and dated and papered over like an old room the author abandoned years ago, a hidden annex littered with thoughts left just as they were on the day they were captured.

I suspect it might be a made-up word, but it’s a good one.

According to Wikipedia, Limerence is:

… an involuntary state of mind which results from a romantic attraction to another person combined with an overwhelming, obsessive need to have one’s feelings reciprocated. Psychologist Dorothy Tennov coined the term “limerence” for her 1979 book Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love to describe the concept that had grown out of her work in the mid-1960s, when she interviewed over 500 people on the topic of love.

So it’s a genuine word, though not one I’ve come across before.

English, 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 8 Comments


I was invited to go to the Language Creation Society‘s conference recently and was thinking about it for while. Although I’m more interested in constructed scripts than constructed languages, I can find something of interest in all languages, whether natural or constructed, so I’ve decided to go. It takes place in Horsham in West Sussex, not far from London, on the 25th and 26th April. Are any of you going or thinking of going?

The week after that I’m going to Berlin for the Polyglot Gathering, so it’s going to be a busy few weeks. I’ve decided to go to Berlin by train this year – I considered it last year but thought it would be too complicated and expensive. This time I’ve grasped the nettle by the horns and have booked train tickets all the way from Bangor to Berlin and back using Loco2. It was a lot easier to arrange than I thought. I’ll be going via London, Brussels and Cologne, and staying overnight in Brussels at an AirBnB near the station on the way there. It works out slightly more expensive than flying, and takes longer, but I will see a lot more and won’t have to wait around for ages in airports. I’m looking forward to it.

Conlangs, Language, Travel Leave a comment

Online language communities

On an episode of the BBC Radio 4 programme, Word of Mouth, that I listened to recently, they talk about how English might change in the future. One interesting thing that came up was that new linguistics communities are emerging online on forums and other places where people spend a lot of time chatting to one another. One way this happens is that misspellings and typos, which might be accidental or deliberate, are adopted by other members of the virtual community and become a way of identifying insiders from outsiders. While such words might be viewed as errors by outsiders, for insiders they become the norm, and might eventually replace the ‘correct’ words.

So if you hear or see words being used in a way that seems odd, ignorant or incorrect way to you, don’t forget that that usage might be acceptable and normal among a particular group of people. This is one way how language changes and new varieties emerge.

English, Language, Linguistics Leave a comment
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