Upload a language straight to your brain

Have you ever tried to learn a language?

Maybe you’ve struggled with a language for years and never really got the hang of it.

Ever wished you could simply wave a magic wand and be able to speak another language fluently?

The lingoboffins at the secret Omniglot laboratory have been working on this problem for a long time, and believe that they have finally found a solution that will work for everybody.

It was announced today that a revolutionary new app will soon be available that will enable you to upload a whole new language directly into your brain.


No more spending years learning vocabulary, trying to get to grips with grammar, and fumbling with the pronunciation. All you need to do is download the app, tune it to your brain, and upload a language. Then you will be able to understand and speak* that language almost immediately**.

*This app does not give you the ability to read and write in another language. We are working on another app which will do that.

**The actually time it takes to tune the app to your brain, and for the language to settle in, may vary from a few hours to several months, or even years.

Terms and conditions apply. This app is not currently available anywhere, but keep checking back, and one day it might be.

Coronavirus – what the heck does it mean?

Today we have a guest post by Manish Sharma

We have all heard this word a lot lately and some of us are probably getting quite sick of it. Hopefully, not by it though. Have you wondered what does it actually mean though?

Let’s do an etymological analysis of coronavirus and see what we come up with. Do what? I hear you say! Fret not, it’s just a fancy way of saying what the word means and how it came to be.

Well, let’s see what we have here then.

So we know it’s clearly made up of two words: corona + virus. Well done, Sherlock! Is that it? What are you going to tell us next? That it’s caused by drinking too much Corona beer? Sadly, no, because there would have been a rather easy cure for it if that was true!

Beer (excuse the pun) with me though while I break it down for you.

Corona comes from the Latin word corōna, meaning a ‘crown’ or ‘garland’, which in turn is borrowed from the Greek word κορώνη (korṓnē), which means a ‘garland’ or a ‘wreath’ [source]. I guess something to do with the similarities in shape. It’s used to describe this class of viruses because of their peculiar structure, as we have all seen in the photos everywhere, the virus looks like a spherical ball with spike-like projections on its surface giving it an appearance of a crown. Not unlike the way solar flares project from the surface of the sun hence called solar corona.


The Greek word κορώνη (korṓnē) has its origin in a Proto Indo-European or PIE (a hypothesised common ancestor of most of the Indian and European languages) word *ker or *sker which is the origin of the Sanskrit word कृत्त (kṛttá) or the Hindi word कट (kat), both meaning to ‘cut’ something. Incidentally, English words like, curtailed, shears, scissors, short, skirt and share have all descended from this same root [source].

A note on the relation between the words *ker and *sker before we move on. The prefix ‘s’ (s-mobile) sometimes occurs in the variations of the same word in different languages. For instance, the English word snake and Hindi word नाग (nāg) also share a common root – the Proto-Indo-European *sneg- (to crawl, a creeping thing) [source].

The word virus comes from the Latin word vīrus meaning poison, venom or slime. Same indeed as the Greek word ἰός (iós – poison, venom), which itself has descended from the PIE word *wisós (fluidity, slime, poison). Anybody who knows the Hindi or Sanskrit translation of the word poison or venom would have probably figured out where this is going. The Hindi word विष (viṣ – poison, venom) and the Sanskrit विष (viṣá – poison, venom), come from the same root as the word virus [source]. Fascinating, eh?

When you put the two together, you get coronavirus, or poison cut in the shape of a crown!

So, there you have it. We may not know for sure where this wretched virus came from but at least we now have an idea how its name came about.

Hope you enjoyed reading.

Sponge Mushrooms

In Swedish, I learned this week, there are two words for mushroom: svamp [svamp] (fungus, mushroom, toadstool, sponge) and champinjon [ɧampɪnˈjuːn] (mushroom) [source].

Svamp comes from the Old Swedish svamper (fungus, mushroom), from Old Norse svampr / svǫppr (sponge, mushroom, ball), from the Proto-Germanic *swammaz / swambaz (sponge, mushroom, fungus, swamp), which is also the root of the English word swamp [source].

The Old English word swamm (mushroom, fungus, sponge), and the Middle English swam (swamp, muddy pool, bog, marsh; fungus, mushroom), come from the same root as well [source].

Mushroom was borrowed from the Anglo-Norman musherum / moscheron (mushroom), from the Old French moisseron (mushroom), possibly from the Old French mosse / moise (moss), from the Frankish *mosa (moss) [source]

Champinjon was borrowed from the French champignon (mushroom, fungus, accelerator), from the Vulgar Latin *campāniolus (grows in the field), from the Late Latin campāneus (pertaining to fields), from Latin campānia (level country), which is also the root of the words campaign and champagne.

Apparently champinjon is used to refer to mushrooms used as food, and was borrowed into Swedish in 1690 [source], while svamp refers to mushrooms and fungi in general.


Hamstering Squirrels

An interesting Dutch word I learnt the other day is hamsteren [ˈɦɑm.stə.rə(n)]. It means “to hoard (food, supplies), typically for emergencies”, and was borrowed from the German hamstern (to hoard). The same word is also found in Luxembourgish and Norwegian. It’s thought to be a reference to the way hamsters store food in their cheek pouches [source].

a167071 henke-2

The verb to hamster also exists in English and means “to secrete or store privately” [source] – not quite the same as the Dutch meaning.

Then there’s to squirrel, meaning “to store in a secretive manner, to hide something for future use” [source], and to squirrel away (to stash or hide; to hoard, collect, save, or accumulate; to create a reserve, stash, or hoard of some supply) [source], which are closer to the meaning of hamsteren.

Are there similar words in other languages?

Good Calves

Yesterday while looking into Celtic words bear, I found some interesting ones in the Goidelic languages: mathúin [ˈmˠahuːnʲ] in Irish, mathan [ˈmahan] in Scottish Gaelic and maghouin in Manx. These come from the Old Irish mathgamain [ˈmaθɣəṽənʲ], from math (good) and gamuin (calf).

So bears were called “good calves” – this is possibly an example of taboo naming, that is using an alternative name for a dangerous animal rather than naming it directly, in the belief that this might it less likely to attack you.

In the Brythonic languages words for bear are arth (Welsh & Cornish) and arzh (Breton), which come from the Proto-Celtic *artos (bear), from the Proto-Indo-European h₂ŕ̥tḱos (bear). This is also the root of English word Arctic, and words for bear in Romance and other European languages.

There are no bears in the Anglo-Celtic Isles these days, except in zoos, but there were bears in Britain and Ireland until about 3,000 years ago. The Celtic languages were spoken back then.

I’ve written about words for bears in other European languages before here. In Slavic languages, for example, bears are “honey eaters” – медведь in Russian.

European Brown Bears

Slimy Islands

For various reasons, I thought I would investigate a few disease-related words to find out where they come from.

Let’s start with virus, which comes from the Latin vīrus (poison, slime, venom), from the Proto-Italic *weisos, from Proto-Indo-European *wisós (fluidity, slime, poison). Virus used to mean venom as well, apparently [source].

Disease comes from the Anglo-Norman desese / disaise, from the Old French desaise (disease, deformity, melancholy), from des- (apart, reversal, removal) and aise (ease – lack of anxiety) [source].

In Middle English words for disease included adle, which comes from the Old English ādl (disease, sickness); and co(a)the, from the Old English coþu (disease). The latter continued to be used in some English dialects as coath (sickness, disease, pestilence) [source]

Pandemic comes from the Ancient Greek πάνδημος (pándēmos – of/belonging to all the people, public) and -ic (of/pertaining to) [source].

Epidemic comes from the French épidémique (epidemic), from the Latin epidemia (epidemic), from Ancient Greek ἐπιδήμιος (epidḗmios), from ἐπί (epí – upon) and δῆμος (dêmos – people) [source].

Isolation comes from the French isolation, from isolé (isolated, placed on an island) [source].

Hope you’re okay and coping with self-isolation, or whatever restrictions are in force / suggested where you are.

Forest Picnics

An interesting Danish word I learnt this week is skovtur, which means a picnic or outing, according to bab.la, or a “picnic (social gathering), not necessarily in a forest”, according to Wiktionary.

Grundlovs skovtur 2012

Wiktionary mentions a forest because this word is a portmanteau of skov (forest, woods), and tur (turn, trip, journey, walk, move, tour, stroll, outing). So it could be poetically translated at “forest trip/outing”. This gives me the idea that picnics in Denmark often take place in forests, or at least did in the past. Is this true? Er det sandt?

The word skov comes from the Old Norse skógr (wood, forest), from the Proto-Germanic *skōgaz (forest, wood), which is also the root of the word scaw / skaw (promontry) in some English dialects. The name of England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike (formerly Scawfell), includes it, for example.

The word tur comes from the French tour (to go, turn), from the Old French tor (tower), from the Latin turris, turrem (tower), from the Ancient Greek τύρρις (túrrhis – tower), possibly from the Proto-Indo-European *tauro (mountain, hill, tall structure).

The word picnic is also used in Danish. It comes, via English, from the French pique-nique, from piquer (to pick) and nique (small thing) [source].

Do other languages have interesting words for picnics?