Elephant flies

An interesting Dutch idiom I came across today is van een vlieg een olifant maken or “to make an elephant out of a fly”, which is the Dutch equivalent of the English idiom to make a mountain out of a molehill.

This comes from a post on the blog Stuff Dutch People Like.

Other idioms from this post include:

Nu komt de aap uit de mouw (Now the monkey comes out of the sleeve) = To let the cat out of the bag, i.e. to reveal the hidden motive or the truth behind something.

Ben je van de trap gevallen? (Did you fall down the stairs?) = Did you have a fight with a lawn mower? – said to people who’ve had a rather drastic haircut.

Wie boter op zijn hoofd heeft, moet uit de zon blijven (Those with butter on their heads should stay out of the sun) = People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, i.e. do not criticize others unless you are without fault.

Are there equivalents of these idioms in other languages?

Dutch, English, Idioms, Language 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 4 Comments

The future of language learning

A new article on Omniglot discusses the future of language learning. The writer (not me) suggests that improvements in technology will soon make it possible to use machine translation in everyday situations and as a result, learning languages will become unnecessary and something people do for mainly as a hobby.

I don’t really agree with the article. Improved machine translation will be very useful for tourists and other short-term visitors to foreign parts, but for people who live abroad or spend a lot of time in foreign lands, learning the local language and about the local culture will always be useful and worthwhile.

Translation, no matter how good, adds an extra step between the speaker and the listener. For those of us who prefer direct interaction with people, and who like to fully understand what other people are talking about, including their idioms, jokes and slang, there’s no substitute for learning their language.

Even if a babel fish or similar device existed, i.e. something that translates whatever language you hear into your own language, and that translate what you say into your conversation partner’s language, it would still be worth learning about other and languages cultures. Or would it?

English, Language, Language learning 7 Comments


In the comments on an article about Welsh literature I read today, I came across the word llongrats!, which appears to be a Welsh-English hybrid combining the Welsh word llongyfarchiadau and it’s English equivalent, congratulations.

While it’s common for bilingual people to switch languages, often in mid-sentence, this is the first example I’ve seen of a mid-word switch in Welsh/English.

Have you come across anything like this?

Actually, when I come to think about it some words in English do have bilingual roots, particularly those borrowed from Latin and Greek, such as television, from the Greek τῆλε ‎(têle – at a distance, far off/away/from) and from the Latin vīsiō ‎(vision, seeing), via Anglo-Norman and Old French.

English, Language, Welsh, Words and phrases 2 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 4 Comments


Today I came across the wonderful word dardledumdue. It means “daydreamer” in East Anglian dialect (east of England), and its origin is uncertain. Perhaps it’s the type of nonsense words a daydreamer might sing or mumble while daydreaming [source].

It also sounds like the kinds of ‘words’ some Irish singers use when lilting – a way of singing tunes with made-up words.

Here’s an example:

Another example:

Does anything like this exist elsewhere?

English, Language, Music, Songs, Words and phrases Comments Off on Dardledumdue

Nix and Natch

The words nix and natch have come up quite a bit in things I’ve read and/or heard recently, so I thought I’d look into their meanings and origins.

Nix as a verb means “to ​stop, ​prevent, or ​refuse to ​accept something” and as a noun it means “nothing or no”. These usages are apparently mainly informal and used in the US [source].

Accroding to the Online Etymology Dictionary, nix comes from the German nix, a dialectal variant of nichts (nothing), from the Middle High German nihtes, from the genitive of niht/nit (nothing) from the Old High German niwiht, from ni/ne (no) and wiht (thing, creature).

I rarely come across this word in British English.

Natch is an abbreviation of naturally, natch – I didn’t realise this until I looked it up. I thought it was some kind of negative, but wasn’t sure what it meant.

English, Etymology, German, Language, Words and phrases 7 Comments


Finger names

What do you call your smallest finger?

I call it my little finger, but I hear more and more people in the UK calling it their pinkie / pinky, which I thought was exclusively used in North America. Is this name used in some dialects of English in the UK, or is this an example of American influence?

[Addendum] The word pinkie apparently comes from Dutch, via Scots. It was first recorded as meaning little finger in John Jamieson’s An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language in 1808. It comes from the Old Dutch phrase pinck ooghen (pink eye = half-shut or peering eye), which is the root of the modern Dutch verb pinkogen (to half close the eyes or squint). The modern Dutch word for little finger is pink, the diminutive of which is pinkje [source]. Other etymologies are available.

Anatomical names for the fingers are:

– 1st finger (thumb)
– 2st finger, digitus secundus or digitus II
– 3rd finger, digitus tertius, digitus III, digitus medius
– 4th finger, digitus quartus, digitus IV, digitus annularis, digitus medicinalis
– 5th finger, digitus quintus, digitus V

Others names for the fingers include:

– Thumb
– Index finger, pointer finger, forefinger, trigger finger
– Middle finger, bird finger, long finger
– Ring finger
– Little finger, baby finger, pinky

Source: http://www.yourdictionary.com/finger

Do you use other names for fingers?

English, Language, Words and phrases 4 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 4 Comments


Here’s an interesting article on the BBC website about anti-languages, such as Thieves Cant, Polari and Gobbledygook.

They have been around at least since Tudor times, and are used as secret slang by prisoners, escaped slaves, criminal gangs and gay people to keep their activities secret from the police and other authorities.

Any group of people who spend a lot of time together tend to develop their own vocabulary and references which can be mystifying to outsiders, but these anti-languages are deliberately created to prevent outsiders from understanding.

Some anti-language words become part of mainstream language. For example, from Polari, a form of gay slang, we get camp, butch, palaver and naff.

English, Language 1 Comment
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