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

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 12 Comments

Grammatical gender matters

Loup / Loupe

In languages with grammatical gender, like French, you can often get away with getting the genders wrong, although it’s best to try to learn them when you learn nouns. However there are some words that have different meanings in different genders.

An example in French is loup(e): le loup [lu:] (masculine) is a wolf, and la loupe [lu:p] (feminine) is a magnifying glass – the context will clarify what you mean if you get the genders mixed up, and the pronunciation helps as well.

The following French words have the same pronunciation but different meanings in different genders:

- le boum = bang, explosion / la boum = party
- le bout = tip, end / la boue = mud
- le cave = idiot, sucker / la cave = basement, cellar
- le chêne = oak tree/wood / la chaîne = chain, channel
- le col = collar, neck / la colle = glue
- le livre = book / la livre = pound (curreny/weight)
- le manche = handle / la manche = sleeve / la Manche = English Channel
- le mur = wall / la mûre = blackberry
- le rose = pink (colour) / la rose = rose (flower)
- le vase = vase / la vase = silt, mud

More words like this:

One way to avoid getting your genders in a muddle is to talk about everything in the plural.

English, French, Language, Words and phrases 2 Comments

Voices and calls

After writing yesterday’s post I was thinking about the Czech word hlas [ɦɫas] (voice, vote) and realised that it is quite similar to the Welsh word for voice, llais [ɬais]. I wondered it they share the same root.

Hlas comes from the Proto-Slavic *golsъ (voice), from the Proto-Balto-Slavic *galsas (voice), from the Proto-Indo-European *golHsos, from *gels- (to call)

The words for voice in other Slavic languages come from the same root: Old East Slavic: голосъ (golosŭ); Belarusian: голас (hólas); Russian: голос (gólos) and глас (glas – archaic/poetic); Ukrainian: голос (hólos); Old Church Slavonic: гласъ (glasŭ); Bulgarian: глас (glas); Macedonian: глас (glas); Serbo-Croatian: гла̑с; Slovene: glas; Kashubian: głos; Polish: głos; Slovak: hlas; Lower Sorbian: głos; Upper Sorban: hłós.

Also from the same root are the Latin gallas (cockrel); Romani glaso (voice); Romanian glas (voice, vote); Old Norse kalla (to call); English call, Dutch kallen (to chat, talk); German kallen (to scream, talk loudly, talk too much); Lithuanian galsas (sound, echo); Welsh galw (to call) and llais (voice); and possibly the Irish and Scottish Gaelic glaodh (to cry, shout).

Sources: Wiktionary

Czech, Dutch, English, Etymology, German, Irish, Language, Old Norse, Polish, Proto-Indo-European, Romanian, Russian, Scottish Gaelic, Slovak, Welsh, Words and phrases 2 Comments


I learnt a useful Czech expression today – souhlasím – which means ‘I agree; all right; ok(ay)’. The element hlas (voice; sound; vote) I recognise, and I guessed that the prefix sou- might mean together, or something similar.

According to Wiktionary, sou- is akin to the English prefix co- (together, mutually, jointly), so souhlasím might be literally translated as ‘I together-voice’ or ‘I with-voice’.

Examples of usage and related expressions:

- souhlasím s tebou – I agree with you
- souhlasím s dlouhou procházkou – I am quite game for a long walk
- souhlas = agreement; consent; acceptance; approval; consensus
- souhlasit (s) – to agree (with); approve; concure; assent; go along (with)
- souhlasící = agreeable; congruous; consentaneous

Sources:, Dictionary

Czech, English, Etymology, 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 10 Comments

Language, Metaphor and Reality

Here’s an interesting discussion about language, metaphor and reality:

English, Language 1 Comment


I spent last weekend at my mum’s house, along with my brother, sister-in-law and their one-year old daughter. The last time I saw my niece was at Christmas, when she was making some sounds, but not really babbling much. Now she is babbling away all the time and sometimes says recognisable words, or at least utters sequences of sounds that might be words. Her mother, who comes from Russia, speaks mainly in Russian with her, while her father speaks only English with her (he doesn’t speak Russian). I haven’t heard any Russian words among her babbles, but there might be some I don’t recognise – my knowledge of Russian is somewhat limited. They also use some signs with her which they have learnt at baby signing classes, most of which look like standard BSL signs to me.

It’s fascinating to observe her linguistic abilities developing, and it won’t be long before she is using more words and starting put them together.

English, Language, Language acquisition, Russian 1 Comment