A bit of a breeze

One of the words that came up at the French conversation group this week was brise (breeze), which appears in the following expressions:

– pare-brise = windscreen / windshield
– brise matinale = early breeze
– brise insulaire = island breeze
– brise de mer = sea breeze
– brise de terre = land breeze

The French word brise and the English word breeze come possibly from the Old Spanish briza (cold northeast wind), which was used from the 1560s in West Indies and the Spanish Main to mean a “northeast trade wind”, and then a “fresh wind from the sea”. Breeze came to mean a “gentle or light wind” from the 1620s, and something easy from the 1920s in the USA.

Alternatively the English word breeze might come from is from East Frisian brisen (to blow fresh and strong), or the Saterland Frisian briese ‎(breeze) or the Dutch bries ‎(breeze).

Apparently as well as being a light, gentle wind, a breeze can be:

– Any wind blowing across a cricket match, whatever its strength.
– Any activity that is easy, not testing or difficult.
– Ashes and residue of coal or charcoal, usually from a furnace.
– An excited or ruffled state of feeling; a flurry of excitement; a disturbance; a quarrel.

Sources: Online Etymology Dictionary, Wiktionary and Reverso

English, Etymology, French, Language, Welsh, Words and phrases 1 Comment

Omniglot app

There is now an Omniglot app for Andriod developed by علي الساعدي (Ali al-saaedi Ali shirpaz) from Iraq. It only works online at the moment, and is available here.

Any comments or suggestions on how it might be improved are welcome.

Many thanks to علي الساعدي for doing this.

English, Language, Technology Leave a comment

Joskins, bumpkins and yokels

Last week a friend asked me about the origins of the word joskin [ˈdʒɒskɪn], which I hadn’t come across before. According to the Urban Dictionary it is defined as follows:

North-Walian term used in both English and Welsh to describe anyone from a rural or farming background. It is used both affectionately and in a derogatory way depending on the audience.

Example: He’s a right joskin – he’s got a tractor and everything.

According to the Collins English Dictionary joskin is a slang word meaning “a country bumpkin; hick”.

Wiktionary suggests that is comes from the dialect word joss (bump) and (bump)kin. Alternatively it comes from the name Joseph + (bump)kin [source].

Bumpkin, a clumsy, unsophisticated person or a yokel, apparently comes from the Dutch boomken ‎(shrub, little tree) [source]. Or it might come from the Dutch bommekijn (small cask), from the Middle Dutch bomme (cask) [source], and was also used as a derogatory reference to short and dumpy Dutch people [source].

Yokel possibly comes from German dialect word Jokel, a diminutive of Jakob, or an English dialect word meaning woodpecker [source].

What other words are there for joskins?

Dutch, English, German, 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

World Museum

World Museum in Liverpool

Information panel from the World Museum in Liverpool with Inuktitut syllabics

Last Sunday I went to Liverpool for a polyglot meet-up. Before the meet-up I went to the World Museum, which is fascinating and well worth a visit.

Among the artifacts and exhibits, there are examples of languages and scripts from around the world, including Cuneiform tablets from Sumeria, a Mayan codex and other artifacts with Mayan writing, and a collection of artifacts from the arctic with Inukutitut syllabics on the information panels (see photo).

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What is fluency?

There’s an interesting post on the lingualift blog today entitled “What is fluency in a language?”, which includes ideas and discussion of what it means to be fluent from various polyglots and language enthusiasts, including me.

How do you define fluency?

Which languages do you consider yourself fluent in, and which ones would you like to be fluent in?

How many languages do you think it’s possible to be fluent in (based on your definition of fluency)?

English, Language, Language learning Comments Off on What is fluency?

Unions and alliances

While listening to Russian language radio yesterday I finally worked out the meaning of a word that kept on coming up: союз (soyuz) [sɐjˈʉs] , which is often used in the expressions Европейский союз and Евросоюз (European Union, EU).

It was obvious once I realised they were talking about Europe, and the word Soyuz is familiar as the name of the Russian spacecraft, and of the Russian version of the USSR, though I didn’t recognize it at first with it’s Russian pronunciation.

Союз means union, alliance, league or conjunction, and appears in expressions like:

– союзник = ally
– союзный = allied; conjunctive
– профсоюз = trade / labor union
– студенческий союз = students’ union
– Союз композиторов = Musicians’ Union
– Союз Советских Социалистических Республик (СССР) = Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)

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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 3 Comments

Bow, shake hands or kiss?

When visiting a foreign country, or even of different region of your own country, you may notice that people greet each other in different ways. For example, in the UK we generally shake hands when meeting people for the first time, especially in formal situations, but in informal situations, and with friends and acquaintances, there’s quite a bit of variation. We may just say hello, hi or something similar, we may kiss one another on the cheeks a few times (this is becoming more common), we may hug, or use a combination of these.

Language textbooks teach you what to say when greeting people, but few go into much detail about the gestures and actions you use, which are just as important. Some greeting practices are rather complex and difficult to learn if you haven’t grown up in the country / culture where they’re used, but it will usually be appreciated if you at least try to use them.

I already have phrases in many languages on Omniglot that include greeting and parting expressions, but it would be great to have more details of how they’re used and any rituals, gestures and actions associated with them.

You can help with this by explaining how to greet people in your language / culture / country / region.

– What words do you use to greet people?
– Are there different expressions depending on the time of day, age, sex, social standing, familiarity, or other factors?
– Do you shake hands, bow, kiss, hug, or use another gesture or action?
– If you kiss on the cheek, for example, how many times and on which side do you start? Do people of all ages and sexes do the same?
– How do you initiate a conversation with a stranger?
– What topics are acceptable for such a conversation, for example, the weather, food, etc.
– When leaving what words, gestures and/or actions do you use?

There are some online guides to this, but I don’t know how accurate they are:

English, Language, Language learning 3 Comments

Could you care less?

Which sounds right to you?

– I couldn’t care less about sport.
– I could care less about sport.

To me the first makes sense and sounds right. It also applies to me – I have no real interest in sport. So I couldn’t care any less about it, because I don’t care about it at all.

The second one sounds a bit strange to me. I would interpret it as meaning that I’m not really into sport, but do care at least a little about it.

Do you use one or both of these expressions? If not, what would you say instead?

How do you express these ideas in other languages?

English, Language, Words and phrases 3 Comments
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