Grassduning

An interesting Dutch word I learnt yesterday was grasduinen [ˈɣrɑsˌdœy̯.nə(n)], which means to do something with relish, to enjoy working (on something), to enjoy searching (through, in), to delve (into something), to dabble or to browse (the internet) [source].

Grasduinen comes from grasduin (grassy dune) from and gras (grass) and duin (dune). So it literally means “to grassdune”, and grassy dunes were historically considered a delightful place, apparently. It is in fact a contraction of the phrase in grasduinen gaan (to go in the grassy dunes).

More about this expression (in Dutch).

Words with similar meanings to grasduinen include:

  • snuffelen = to snuffle, to sniff (around), to poke around, to search for something haphazardly [source]
  • rondsnuffelen = to sniff, snoop, poke around [source]
  • neuzen = to browse, peruse, snoop, peek, peep [source]
  • rondneuzen = to poke, snoop nose around, to look for something special [source]

Are there interesting words for browsing, snooping, sniffing around, etc in other languages?

Duinen bij Hargen

Endearing Bids

An interesting French word I learnt yesterday was enchère [ɑ̃.ʃɛʁ], which means a bid in an auction or sale, or in bridge (the card game) [source].

Enchère comes from enchérir, which means to make more expensive, to bid; to outbid, to make a bid (at auction); to go up (in price), to become more expensive.

Enchérir comes from cher (dear, dearly) plus a couple of affixes [source].

Cher means dear both in the sense of expensive, and in the sense of beloved, and dearly, as in payer cher (to pay dearly). It is also used to start letters.

Related words and expressions include:

  • faire une enchère = to (make a) bid
  • mettre aux enchères = to put up for auction
  • vente aux enchères = auction
  • enchère publique = public auction
  • renchérir sur = to add something to, to become more expensive
  • surenchéir = to outbid, to bid higher, to raise one’s bid, to try and outbid each other
  • enchérisseur, enchérisseuse = bidder
  • enchérissement = rise in cost, price surcharge

Encheres Voxan 100505 188

If you translate enchérir literally into English, you get to endear, which means to attach, attract, bind, captivate, charm, engage, win. Back in the 16th century, however, it meant to make (something) more precious or valuable, and then it came to mean to make (something) more expensive; to increase the cost of, or to stress (something) as important; to exaggerate [source].

The English word bid comes from the Middle English bidden (to ask, beseech, demand, comand), from the Old English biddan (to ask, demand), from the Proto-Germanic *bidjaną (to ask), from the Proto-Indo-European *gʷʰedʰ- (to request, pray, ask for) [source], which is also the root of the Welsh words gwaedd (to shout, cry), gweiddi (prayer) and gweiddïo (to pray).

Auction comes from the Latin auctiō (an increase, auction), from augere (to increase) [source]

What do you do?

What do you do?

Language courses usually have lessons that explain how to talk about your job / profession / work. The examples they give might include jobs like doctor, nurse, teacher, secretary, engineer, architect, writer, ninja, etc. These are all mentioned in lessons I’ve done on Duolingo (and other apps).

If you tell someone you’re a teacher or a doctor, they probably have at least some idea of what that entails. However, there are many jobs and other ways to make a living that are more difficult to define and explain, even in your native language. I’ve never come across a language lesson that includes unusual or difficult-to-define jobs like influencer, game tester, snuggler, bounty hunter or youtuber, for example.

Yesterday I was talking to a friend and he asked how my business is doing. I’ve told him what I do before, and have shown him Omniglot and explained what the site is about, but he thinks that it involves translation in some way. He’s not the only one to think this.

I wouldn’t usually call myself a translator or interpreter, although I did do a bit of translating and interpreting many years ago, mainly between Mandarin and English. These days I sometimes translate mysterious inscriptions and other bits of writing sent to me by Omniglot visitors, and occasionally help friends with translations, mainly between English and Welsh.

Sometimes I say that I’m a linguist. This usually leads to questions about which languages I speak and/or teach. I might try to explain what linguistics is all about and what I mean by linguist, but often I don’t bother. It depends on the situation.

I did teach English for a short while in Taiwan, and occasionally I teach people juggling and other circus skills. Does that make me a teacher? I don’t think so – I have no teaching qualifications, and only limited experience.

Sometimes I say that I’m a writer, and when they hear this, people assume that I write books and ask where they can find them. Maybe one day I will write books, but in the meantime I have written about more than 1,800 languages and writing systems, over 3,500 blog posts, and some silly dialogues and a short story that I’ve made into videos.

I could call myself a musician, singer-songwriter, composer and/or arranger as I have written 80+ songs and tunes. I do this because I enjoy it, and don’t earn anything from it. I share my songs and tunes online and with my friends, and occasionally perform in public.

Sometimes I say that I run my own company, or that I run a language-related business. This is true, but the company consists of just me. I am the director, secretary, marketing and sales department, and everything else.

On Twitter I call myself a Wordherder, Tunesmith and Gravityweaver.

When trying to explain this in other languages, I might just say that I’m a linguist, writer, translator, depending on which of these words I know in the relevant language. If I’m asked for more details, I direct people to Omniglot.

In case you’re not sure what I do, and how I make a living from it, you can read about it here, and/or listen to my podcast about it.

Do you have a difficult-to-define or unusual job or way to make a living?

Slurping Snorkels

I learnt today that an elephant’s trunk in Dutch is a slurf [slʏrf], not to be confused with a smurf. As I like the sound of it, I thought I’d write about it.

Slurf also means proboscis, or jetbridge – the long, flexible tube thing through which you board a plane – also known as a vliegtuigslurf (“aeroplane trunk”). It has another slangy meaning, but I won’t go into that here [source].

It comes from slurven, a variant of slurpen (to slurp) from the Middle Dutch slorpen/slurpen (to slurp), from the Old Dutch *slurpen, from the Proto-Germanic *slarpaną (to sip, slurp), from the Proto-Indo-European *srebʰ-/*srobʰ- (to sip, slurp, gulp). The English word slurp comes from the same root, via the Middle Dutch [source], as does the word absorb, via the Latin absorbeō (swallow up) [source].

Elephants are good swimmers and use their trunks as snorkels, a word that comes from the German Schnorchel, which is related to schnarchen (to snore). It refers both to snorkels used by swimmers to breath under water, and exhaust tubes on diesel submarines. The Dutch word for snorkel is snorkel, and was borrowed from English [source].

The English words snort and snark come from the same root as the German schnarchen: the Proto-Germanic *snarkōną (to snore, snort), from the Proto-Indo-European *(s)nerg- (to sound, murmur, growl) [source].

However, snore comes from the Middle English snoren/fnoren (to snore loudly; snort), from snore/*fnore (snore; snort), from the Old English fnora (snort; sneezing), from the Proto-Germanic *fnuzô, from the Proto-Indo-European *pnew- (to breathe; snort; sneeze) [source]. Sneeze comes from the same root, as do pneumatic, pneumonia and related words [source].

Slurf

Whirling Dustsuckers

One of the Dutch words I learnt recently is stofzuiger [stɔfsœyɣər], or literally “dustsucker”. In English you might call it a vacuum, vacuum cleaner, hoover or even a dyson.

Stofzuiger comes from stof (dust) and zuigen (to suck, hoover, be bad at).

When I first learnt this word, I thought that stof might be related to stuff in English, so a Dutch vacuum cleaner would be a “stuffsucker”. However, stof is in fact two words in Dutch that have different meanings and come from different roots.

Stof as in dust comes from the Proto-Germanic *stubą, *stubjuz (dust), from the Proto-Indo-European *dʰeubʰ- (to whisk, smoke, obscure), from *dʰew- (to whirl, waft, stink, shake; steam, haze, smoke) [source].

Related words include:

  • huisstof = household dust
  • stofdoek = duster, dust cloth
  • stoffen = to dust, to remove dust from
  • stoffig = dusty
  • stofvrij = dustfree
  • stofwolk = dust cloud
  • stofzuigen = to vacuum / hoover
  • stofzuigerslang = vacuum cleaner hose (“dust-sucker-snake”)

The other stof means matter, material, substance, fabric or curriculum. It comes from the Middle Dutch stoffe, from the Old French estophe / estoffe, from estoffer (to decorate, garnish), from Old High German stoffōn (to stop, halt, stuff, insert), from the Proto-West Germanic *stuppōn (to cram, plug, stuff). The English word stuff comes from the same root.

Related words include:

  • afvalstof = waste product (“waste-stuff”)
  • brandstof = fuel (“burning-stuff”)
  • delfstof = mineral (“excavated-stuff”)
  • kleurstof = dye, colourant (“colour-stuff”)
  • koolstof = coal (“coal stuff”)
  • stikstof = nitrogen (“suffocating-stuff”)
  • voedingstof = nutrient (“food-stuff”)
  • waterstof = hydrogen (“water-stuff”)
  • zuurstof = oxygen (“sour-stuff”)

Are there interesting names for vacuum cleaners in other languages?

Henri stofzuiger

Grockles and Emmets

In Devon, and other parts of the UK, visitors, holidaymakers and recent migrants are sometimes referred to as grockles, and in Cornwall they’re known as emmets. These words tend to be mildly derogatory, and partly affectionate.

A friend asked me about the origins of these words, and whether there are equivalents in French, so I thought I’d look into it.

Grockle apparently comes from a cartoon strip about a boy called Jimmy and his pet grockle (a dragon-like creature), which first appeared as Jimmy Johnson’s Grockle in The Rover comic in the 1932, then as Jimmy and his Grockle in the The Dandy in 1937 then as My Grockle and Me in Sparky in 1966.

Jimmy and his Grockle

One story is that Arthur Rivers, who ran the boating-lake at Goodrington in the 1950s, started using the term, which he got from The Dandy. His assistant, Freddie Fly, told Peter Draper, the scriptwriter for The System about it while working at a bar in Torquay.

Another story is that a local man started using grockle to refer to an elderly lady who regularly swan at the swimming pool where he was working one summer. Then other summer workers began to refer to visitors as grockles.

It was popularised by its use in the 1964 film The System, which is set in Torquay in Devon. This is an example of how the word is used in the film:

Most holidaymakers are grockles. But the real ones you can spot a mile off. Usually they wear shorts, woollen socks and black leather shoes, with their shirt undone all the way down the front so you can see the full extent of their manly chests.

Related words include:

  • grockle art = pictures for selling to grockles
  • grockle bait = cheap arcades or souvenirs
  • grockle box / grockle shell = caravan
  • grockle coop = hotel
  • grockle can = a tourist bus
  • grockle catcher = an easy to reach beach or beauty spot which acts to stop tourists finding other local spots
  • grockle fodder = fish and chips
  • grockle nest = a holiday home, second home or campsite
  • grockle-ridden = full of grockles

In Cornwall the equivalent is emmet (tourist, ant), from the Middle English emete / ampte (ant), from the Old English word æmette (ant), from the Proto-Germanic ēmaitijǭ (ant), from *maitijǭ (cutter, slicer, biter) [source].

A favourite destination in Cornwall for emmets is apparently Porthemmet (which may or may not exist).

Possible equivalents in French include:

  • excursionniste = (day) tripper
  • estivant = summer visitor
  • Juillettiste = July visiter
  • aoûtien = August visiter
  • villégiateur = vacationer

Are any of these derogatory?

Are there similar words in other languages?

Weymouth Beach

Sources: Wiktionary, Lexico, Wiktionary, UK Comics Wiki, We Are South Devon

Job Tracks

In English you might talk about career paths, meaning “the way that you progress in your work, either in one job or in a series of jobs” [source].

In Dutch there is one word – baan [baːn] – that means both job and path. So you might think that a career path in Dutch would be a baanbaan, but it is in fact a carrière, carrièrepad or loopbaan [source].

A baan is a road, way or path; a track or lane; a job or professional occupation, or a sports field or court.

It comes from the Middle Dutch bane (open field, battlefield; lane, track; road, way, path), from the Old Dutch *bana, from the Proto-Germanic *bano (battlefield, clearing, open space, cleared way, path, track), from the Proto-Indo-European *gʷʰen- (to strike, kill) [source].

The English words defend and offend actually come from the same root, via the Latin *fendō (I hit, thrust) [source].

Related words in Dutch include:

  • banen = to make way, clear
  • baanbrekend = revolutionary, earthshaking (“path-breaking”)
  • bijbaan = side job, sideline, job on the side
  • busbaan = bus lane
  • droombaan = dream job, perfect job
  • hondenbaan = a really bad job, dog’s work
  • landingsbaan = runway, airstrip
  • loopbaan = career, career path
  • rijbaan = lane, carriageway
  • enkelbaans = one-way (road)
  • tweebaans = two-way (road)

Related words in other Germanic languages include the German Bahn (route, trail, rail(way), train, tram, lane, orbit), the Danish bane (track, trajectory), and the Swedish bana (path, race, track, railway, career, life) {source].

Carrière comes from the French carrière (career, riding arena, racecourse), from the Italian carriera (career, the fastest gait), from the Latin Latin carrāria (a wide road for vehicles, a path for carts) from the Latin carrus (wagon, cart, cartload, wagonload), from the Gaulish *karros (wagon), from the Proto-Celtic *karros (wagon) [source].

Stile