Here’s a recording in a mystery language.
Do you know or can you guess the language?
Last night while talking about the weather in French, as you do, one expression that came up was une trombe d’eau, which means a cloudbust, downpour or waterspout [source]. There have been several of these this week.
The word trombe [tʁɔ̃b] on its own means waterspout or whirlwind [source]. It comes from the Italian tromba (trumpet, horn, bugler, well, shaft), possibly from the Frankish *trumba (trumpet), which is of imitative origin [source].
Other phrases featuring trombe include:
A related word from the same roots is trompe [tʁɔ̃p], which means a trumpet, the trunk of an elephant [source] or a squinch (a small arch, corbelling, etc, across an internal corner of a tower, used to support a superstructure such as a spire) [source].
Another word with the same roots is tromper [tʁɔ̃.pe] (to deceive, cheat on, disapoint, elude), which comes from the Old French tromper (to tramp, trump, delude), from trompe (horn, trump, trumpet) [source].
The English word trumpet also comes from the same roots, via the Old French trompette (trumpet), a diminutive or trompe [source]. As does the word trombone, via the Italian trombone (trombone, annoying or boring person), from tromba (trumpet) and -one (augmentative suffix) [source].
The trump an elephant makes, which is also a slang word for flatulence in the UK, and used to mean a trumpet, comes from the Old French French trompe (horn, trump, trumpet) [source]. However trump as in a trump card or a suit in cards is thought to come from the French triomphe (triumph), or the Old French triumphe, from the Latin triumphus (a hymn in honour of Bacchus, a triumph or celebration), from the Old Latin triumpus, from the Etruscan *𐌈𐌓𐌉𐌀𐌌𐌐𐌄 (*θriampe), from the Ancient Greek θρίαμβος (thríambos – a hymn to Dionysus) [source].
The other day I heard the expression short shrift being used, and started wondering what a shrift might be, and why it’s a short one that’s usually given or received.
The expression to give short shrift means to ignore, disregard or exclude (sb/sth); to give (sb/sth) very little time or attention. For example “Despite its urgency, ministers are giving the issue short shrift in parliament.” [source].
The word shrift means the act of going to or hearing a religious confession; a confession to a priest, or forgiveness given by a priest after confession. It comes from the Middle English shrift (confession, penitence, repentance), from the Old English sċrift (penance, penalty, a judge), from sċrīfan (to prescribe absolution or penance; to pass judgment), from the Proto-Germanic *skrībaną (to write), from the Latin scrībō (I write), from the Proto-Indo-European *(s)kreybʰ- (to scratch, tear) [source].
Short shrift is a rushed sacrament of confession given to a prisoner who is to be executed very soon; a speedy execution, usually without any proper determination of guilt; a short interval of relief or time, or something dealt with or overcome quickly and without difficulty [source].
The word shrive (to hear or receive a confession; to prescribe penance or absolution) comes from the same roots [source]. So does shrove, an old word that means to join the fesitivities of Shrovetide or to make merry. It appears in the name Shrove Tuesday, the day before the beginning of Lent, also known as Pancake Day, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday [source] or Jif Lemon Day [source]. Other names are probably available.
So now we know.
Here’s a recording in a mystery language.
The word myriad [ˈmɪɹi.æd/ˈmɪɹi.əd] means a countless number or multitude, and in the past it meant 10,000. It comes from the French myriade (myriad, 10,000), from the Latin Latin myrias (10,000), from the Ancient Greek μυριάς (muriás – countless, 10,000), from μῡρῐ́ος (mūríos – numberless, countless, infinite) [source].
The use of 10,000 to mean countless or infinite happens in other languages as well. For example in Chinese 万 [萬] (wàn) means 10,000 or a great number [source]. The same character 万 (man) in Japanese means 10,000, a myriad, everything, all or various. When pronounced ban it means completely, absolutely or totally [source].
Do other languages do something similar?
Other English words that refer to a large but unspecified number include um(p)teen or umpty, which come from umpty (a colloquial name for a dash in Morse Code used as World War I army slang) and -teen [source].
Also zillion, gazillion, bazillion, jillion, bajillion and squillion [source].
Do you have any others?
The Dutch word ruimen [ˈrœy̯mə(n)] means to clean up, to clear or to remove. It comes from the Middle Dutch rumen, from the Old Dutch *rūmen, from the Proto-Germanic *rūmijaną (to make room, to clear), from *rūmaz (roomy, spacious, open) and *-janą (a suffix that makes adjectives) [source].
Words from the same roots include ream (to enlarge a hole), and rim in English; arrimer (to stow, secure) in French; räumen (to vacate, move out of, clear, shift) in German; and rymma (to hold, escape, flee, evacuate) in Swedish [source].
When ruimen is combined with suffixes, the meaning changes somewhat:
Related words include ruim [rœy̯m], which means spacious, roomy, large, ample, generous; more than, over, and also the cargo hold (of a ship) or a wide, open space; and ruimte, which means a space, room or area, and also (outer) space. A spaceship is a ruimteschip or ruimtevaartuig (“space faring thing”), and an astronaut is a ruimtevaarder (“space farer”), who might go on a ruimtewandeling (spacewalk) [source].
I’m good a tidying up (opruimen) and putting things away (inruimen), but not so good at getting rid of things (wegruimen). I tend to accumulate a lot of things, thinking they might come in handy one day. Occasionally I clear out the cupboards, drawers, sleeves and other places where such things tend to end up.
How tidy are you?
By the way, tidy is cognate with the Dutch word tijdig (timely, in/on time), and used to mean in good time or timely in English. The Dutch for tidy is netjes [source].
In Wenglish (Welsh English), tidy! as an exclamation means fine or splendid, a tidy spell is quite a long time, a tidy few is quite a number, a tidy feller is a decent chap, probably ‘good with his hands’, a tidy swill is a wash involving at least the face and hands, and talk tidy! means speak properly! [source].
Some details provided by Anna Rutten
Recently I was asked to share a post about The Most Misspelled English Word in Every Country and State, Based on Two Billion Tweets.
However, on a list of the 100 Most Commonly Misspelled Words on YourDictionary.com, foreign and miniscule do appear, but coolly and promise don’t.
Miniscule is in fact a “disputed spelling variant of minuscule”, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. It as been around since the late 19th century and often appears in print, although is “widely regarded as an error”.
This got me thinking – if a word is widely misspelled / misspelt*, is this a sign of language change? Maybe one day the misspelling will be accepted as an alternative way to spell the word, or even as the standard way to spell it.
*misspelt is used in the UK, though has become less widely-used since the 1970s, while misspelled is used in most English-speaking countries, including the UK [source].
English spelling is not entirely fixed, and some words may have more than one standard spelling, particularly in different varieties of English.
According to Wikipedia, “Spelling is a set of conventions that regulate the way of using graphemes (writing system) to represent a language in its written form … Spelling is one of the elements of orthography, and highly standardized spelling is a prescriptive element.”
Standardized / standardised spelling is a relatively recent phenomenon that developed along with dictionaries, universal education, literacy and language academies. It is enforced by teachers, proofreaders, editors and pedants.
In the past, spelling was very much a matter of personal choice. For example, there are six known signatures written by William Shakespeare, each of which is spelled differently: Willm Shakp, William Shaksper, Wm Shakspe, William Shakspere, Willm Shakspere and William Shakspeare [source]. In printed works his name appears as Shake‑speare, Shakeſpeare, Shak‑speare and Shakeſpere. The Shakespeare spelling became popular from the 1860s [source].
Does spelling matter?
It does, at least in formal writing. In informal writing, it may not be so important, as long as your message is clear. In fact, non-standard spellings might be preferred in some contexts. They are certainly a popular way to make brandnames distinct – Kwik Fit, Krispy Kreme, etc.