Language quiz

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Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

Can you identify the language, and do you know where it’s spoken?

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Will you be pernoctating?

If someone asked you if you were planning to pernoctate, would you know what they meant?

This is a word I came across today in the blog A Linguist Abroad in a post about ‘Interesting’ Cambridge rules. It appears in the sentence:

A Tutor (the pernoctating Tutor) is on duty every night and may stop a gathering forthwith if it is causing disturbance to other members of the College or neighbouring community.

(emphasis added)

To pernoctate [ˈpɜː.nɒk.teɪt] (UK) [pɚˈnɑkˌteɪt] (US), is “to stay all night; to pass the night (especially in prayer)”, according to Wikitionary.

A pernoctation is:

– An overnight stay; action (or instance) of abiding through the night at a location.
– The action (or an instance) of walking about at night, especially as a vigil or watch.
– A religious watch kept during normal sleeping hours, during which prayers or other ceremonies are performed.

According to the usage notes, “the sense of a religious watch may apply either to a holy vigil or to diabolical activities.”

These words come from the Late Latin pernoctātiō ‎(a spending [of] the night), from the Latin pernoctāre (to send the night), from per- (through) and nox/noct- (night).

Students who need to work all night to finish an assignment / essay, or to revise for an exam might “pull an all-nighter”.

Are there other ways to express this idea?

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

Caledonian Antisyzygy

In the Alexander McCall-Smith novel I just finished reading, The Revolving Door of Life, the concept of antisyzygy, and particularly Caledonian antisyzygy, comes up. I had to look it up as I didn’t know what it meant or how to pronounce it.

The term Caledonian Antisyzygy refers to the “idea of dueling polarities within one entity”, which apparently typical for the Scottish psyche and literature. It was first coined by G. Gregory Smith in his 1919 book Scottish Literature: Character and Influence [source].

Syzygy [ˈsɪz.ɪdʒ.i], comes from the Late Latin syzygia ‎(conjunction), from the Ancient Greek σύζυγος ‎(súzugos – yoked together), and was borrowed into in English in 1847 (in its astronomical meaning). It means:

– A kind of unity, namely an alignment of three celestial bodies (for example, the Sun, Earth, and Moon) such that one body is directly between the other two, such as occurs at an eclipse.
– An archetypal pairing of contrasexual opposites, symbolizing the communication of the conscious and unconscious minds.
– A relation between generators of a module.
– The fusion of some or all of the organs.
– The association of two protozoa end-to-end or laterally for the purpose of asexual exchange of genetic material.
– The pairing of chromosomes in meiosis.

Source: Wiktionary

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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 4 Comments

Ti a Chi

There was an interesting discussion this morning on Radio Cymru about the use of pronouns in Welsh. Like in many languages, there are different forms of the second person pronoun in Welsh:

ti [tiː] = you singular and informal
chi [χiː] = you plural, and formal you singular and plural
chdi [χdiː] = northern dialect variant of ti
chwi [χwiː] = literary alternative to chi

There are also emphatic forms of these pronouns: tithau, chithau, chwithau and chdithau, though they are less commonly used.

Chi, chdi and chwi come from the Middle Welsh chwi, from the Proto-Celtic *swīs, from the Proto-Indo-European *wos (you plural) [source]. Ti comes from the Proto-Celtic *tū, from the Proto-Indo-European *túh₂ (you singular) [source].

So ti is the equivalent of tu in French, Du in German, in Spanish, thu in Scottish Gaelic, and so on, and chi is the equivalent of vous, Sie, Usted and sibh in those languages.

The discussion on the radio was about when people use the formal chi and when they use the informal ti – some people said they used chi only with older strangers. Others said that their parents used chi which each other, but that they used ti with their parents. Some people complained about the increasing used of ti, even with older people.

While you don’t have to worry about which you to use in English as there’s only one, you might not be sure whether to use someone’s first name, or title plus surname, or even just their surname when addressing them. I get round this by generally avoiding using people’s names, which is also handy if I can’t quite remember their names.

Is the use of informal and formal modes of address changing where you are?

English, Etymology, Language, Proto-Indo-European, Words and phrases 1 Comment

The World in Words

I recently came across a fascinating podcast – The World in Words – where they talk about all sorts of language-related topics, from the origins of the Etruscan language to language policy in Canada. It is well worth a listen for anybody interested in language.

Do you know of any similar podcasts or radio programmes?

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I started learning Cornish yesterday. Mainly because it’s the only Celtic language I haven’t studied yet, and I’m curious about it.

I’m using the course SaySomethingin Cornish, and am finding it very good. I like the way the course is put together – you learn a small number of words and structures in each lesson and learn how to put them together in various ways. You are promoted to practice a lot during the lessons, and to come up with new combinations of the words that you haven’t heard before.

Quite a few of the words are similar to Welsh, but the grammar is different – more like Breton or older forms of Welsh in fact, so to my ears it sounds like I imagine Middle Welsh sounded. A bit like Middle English might sound to speakers of modern English.

At the moment I’m listening to a podcast in Cornish on Radyo An Gernewegva. If I listen carefully I can get the gist of some bits, and can understand other odd words, but it will be a while before I can understand it all.

Breton, Cornish, English, Language, Language learning, Welsh Comments Off on Kernewek

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 7 Comments


An interesting French word I learnt yesterday is escroquerie [ɛskʁɔkʁi], which means a swindle or fraud. It comes from escroquer (to swindle). A related word is escroc (villain, baddy). It probably comes from the Italian word scroccare (to eat or live at others’ expense) [source].

Other English equivalents of escroquer include scrounge, sponge, cadge and blag. Are there others? What about in other languages?

English, French, Italian, Language, Words and phrases 2 Comments

Cheese flies

Apparently it’s National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day today. It’s also National Licorice Day, and Be Kind to Lawyers Day, at least in the USA. Is it a special day elsewhere?

The equivalent of the grilled cheese sandwich in the UK is known as cheese on toast, and in French it’s known as a Croque Monsieur, which usually includes ham as well. The American version dates back to the 1920s, but apparently the idea of combining cheese and bread like this started in Ancient Rome.

Here’s a little video in French from Frantastique about fromages (cheeses) and mouches (flies:

To learn more about fromages, mouches and French – try out Frantastique for 7 days!

By the way, Gymglish will be offering a 30% off discount to all users how have signed up to their lessons. This is to celebrate their 12th birthday!

Do you have other names for this type of sandwich?

English, French, Language Comments Off on Cheese flies
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