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

English only in Lidl

It’s been in the news recently that Lidl supermarkets in the UK have a policy that their staff should speak only English to customers, irrespective of their native language in order to ensure that staff and customers “feel comfortable”. Apparently this is “for the benefit of all our customers as well as our staff to ensure a comfortable environment where all feel included.”

The only exception to this is if a customer doesn’t speak any English and a staff member can speak the customer’s language, then they can use that language.

Why anyone would feel uncomfortable or excluded when they hear people speaking other languages I don’t know. It’s not something that happens very often after all.

There has been outrage about this policy in Wales, where according the the Welsh Language Act of 2010, it is illegal to stop staff from speaking in Welsh.

This policy came to light after Polish staff at a Lidl in Kirkcaldy in Scotland were threatened with dismissal for speaking Polish to each other during their breaks and on the shop floor, even though they explained to their manager that many Polish-speaking customers, some of whom who speak little or no English, come to the store because they know that the staff speak Polish [source]. This appears in violation of Lidl’s policy, and could be bad for business.

According to another report I found today, Lidl have clarified their language policy. They said that it was a “great asset” to have such a multi-lingual workforce, and:

“We understand that in certain regions of the UK there are other official languages in use and we welcome the use of these in our stores. We also ask that, if possible, our staff respond to customers in the language in which they are addressed. We absolutely aim to empower and encourage any staff members to use their language skills to assist customers.”

They also said that:

“staff were welcome to speak in their language of choice whilst on breaks, but asked that they consider colleagues who may be sharing the facilities.”

English, Language, Polish, Welsh 5 Comments

Paddling poodles and dibbling ducks

Pudelhund / Poodle

Yesterday I discovered that poodles were bred to hunt ducks and other water fowl in Germany, and that the word poodle comes from the German Pudel, an abbreviation of Pudelhund (water dog), from the Low German Pudel (puddle), from pudeln (to splash about) [source].

The English word puddle is derived from the Old English word pudd (ditch), and is related to the German pudeln.

A group of ducks on water is known as a paddling, team or raft of ducks – so you might see a paddling of dibbling ducks on a puddle puzzling a poodle.

Other collections words for groups of birds: and

Another duck-related word is dibble, which means “to drink like a duck, lifting up the head after each sip”. It also means “a small, hand-held, pointed implement for making holes in soil, as for planting seedlings and bulbs; to make holes (in soil) with a dibble; to plant with a dibble”, and is a slang word for a police officer – from Officer Dibble in the Top Cat cartoons [source].

English, Etymology, German, Language 3 Comments


Some skeuomorphs

I came across an interesting word and concept today – the skeuomorph [ˈskjuːəmɔrf], from the Greek σκεῦος (skéuos – container or tool), and μορφή (morphḗ – shape), and defined as “a derivative object that retains ornamental design cues from structures that were necessary in the original” [source].

This term was apparently coined by H. Colley March in 1889 after he noticed that some ancient artifacts had a retro look. For example pottery bowls had patterns like woven baskets [source].

Modern skeuomorphs include many digital icons and interface elements on computers and other electronic devices which resemble their non-digital analogues, such as the waste basket / trash can, clocks, shopping trolleys / carts, and so on.

English, Etymology, Greek, Language, Words and phrases 2 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 6 Comments


I came across a wonderful word today – borborygmus [bɔrbəˈrɪɡməs] (plural borborygmi) – which refers to a rumble or gurgle in the stomach. It comes from the 16th-century French word borborygme, via Latin from the Ancient Greek βορβορυγμός (borborygmós), which was probably onomatopoetical [source, via The Week].

Are there interesting words for this phenomenon in other languages?

English, Etymology, Greek, Language, Latin, Words and phrases 1 Comment


I came across a wonderful word in Welsh today – hollallu [hɔɬˈaɬɨ] – which means omnipotence or almightiness. It is a portmanteau of (h)oll (all, the whole, everything, everyone) and gallu (to be able (to), have power (to), can, be able to accomplish (a thing)), and there are a couple of variant forms: ollallu and hollalluogrwydd.

Related words include:
– hollalluedd / ollalluedd = omnipotence
– hollalluog / ollalluog = omnipotent, almighty, all-powerful; the Almighty. 

Source: Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru / A Dictionary of the Welsh Language

So I have come up with a Welsh version of Omniglot based on these words – (h)olliaithadur, which combines (h)oll with iaith (language) and the suffix adur (denoting a tool or thing) as in geiriadur (dictionary or “words tool/thing”).

English, Language, Welsh, Words and phrases 4 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 7 Comments


I came across the interesting word agley today when looking up something else in a Chinese dictionary – the Chinese equivalent is 错 [錯] (cuò). It is a Scots word, pronounced [əˈgli/əˈgləi], that means “off the straight, awry, oblique, wrong”. It comes from the word gley (to squint), according to Wiktionary, which is possible related to the Icelandic word gljá (to glitter) [source].

It appears in the Robert Burns poem “To a Mouse”:

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

This poem was the only place I’d heard it before, so it was quite a surprise to come across it in a Chinese-English dictionary. Have you heard or seen it used elsewhere?

English, Etymology, Language, Scots 2 Comments

Languages in Bhutan


I listened to a very interesting programme on the BBC about languages in Bhutan today. It mentioned that although the 19 or so indigenous languages of Bhutan have equal status, in theory at least. In practise, particularly in education, the main languages used are Dzongkha / Bhutanese and English, and to a lesser extent, Nepali. Kids are discouraged from, or even punished, for speaking other languages in school. Moreover none of the indigenous languages, apart from Dzongkha, are written, and people are starting to worry about their future.

At the same time it was mentioned that it’s common for people in Bhutan to speak 6 or 7 languages, and that someone who speaks only 3 or 4 is considered unusual.

Languages spoken in Bhutan include: Dzongkha, Chocangaca, Lakha, Brokkat, Brokpa, Laya, Khams Tibetan, Bumthang, Kheng, Kurtöp, Dzala, Nyen, ‘Ole, Dakpa, Chali, Tshangla, Gongduk, Lepcha, Lhokpu, Chamling, Limbu, Nupbi, Sikkimese, Groma, Toto, Nepali and English. More details.

Have you studied any of the languages of Bhutan? Or been to Bhutan? Do you know any more about the linguistic situation there?

Endangered languages, English, Language 1 Comment