Interlinguistic Conflicts

Is it a good idea to study two or more closely related languages at the same time?

dominance

Perhaps. If you can devote more or less the same time to each one, and are able to keep them separate in your head, then there are certainly advantages to doing so. However, if you spend more time with one of them, it might interfere with the other(s), and they could end up fighting for dominance.

Many years ago, I started learning Irish and Scottish Gaelic. At first, I listened to songs in them which I tried to sing, even though I didn’t understand most of the words. Later, I started studying the languages, on my own at first, then I took some classes.

From 2005 to 2019, I spent a week or two every summer studying, speaking and singing in Irish in Donegal in the northwest of Ireland. I’ve also taken part in short courses in Scottish Gaelic songs at a college on the Isle of Skye in Scotland quite a few times between 2008 and 2022.

Until recently, I felt more fluent and confident in Irish, and it was my default Gaelic language. When I spoke Scottish Gaelic, I tended to fill in any gaps in my vocabulary and knowledge with Irish, which often works, as the two languages are closely related.

Over the past year though, I’ve been learning more Scottish Gaelic, and now feel a lot more confident with it. When I started brushing up my Irish this month, I realised that Scottish Gaelic is now the dominant form of Gaelic in my head, and Irish feels like a slightly deviant relative.

This happens with my other languages as well. Especially with closely related languages like German and Dutch (Dutch is currently winning), Swedish and Danish (Swedish is dominating at the moment), and French and Spanish (they’re fairly evenly balanced, although I feel more confident with French).

I studied (Mandarin) Chinese and Japanese at university, and became fluent in Chinese during the 5+ years I spent studying and working in Taiwan. However, I only spent one semester studying Japanese in Japan, and didn’t become as fluent in Japanese.

When I tried to read Japanese texts, I could recognise many of the kanji (Chinese characters) and knew what they meant and how to pronounce them in Mandarin, but not necessarily in Japanese. Recently I’ve been learning more Japanese and am getting better at reading it and speaking it. When I see kanji know, the Japanese pronunciation often comes first rather than the Mandarin pronunciation. I haven’t forgotten my Mandarin, but it is not as dominant as it was.

Are there interlinguistic conflicts in your head?

Laxness

During the days between Christmas and New Year things may seem a bit more lax than usual, so I thought I’d look into the origins of the word.

lazy

Lax means lenient and allowing for deviation, not strict, loose, not tight or taut, lacking care, neglectful or negligent. It comes from the Latin laxus (wide, roomy, loose), from Proto-Indo-European *slǵ-so (weak, faint) [source].

The English word leash comes from the same roots, via the Middle English lesse (a leash for holding a coursing hound or watchdog) [source], the Old French lesse (leash, lead), and the Latin laxā (thong, a loose cord), from laxus [source].

The English word lease also comes from the same roots, at least partly: from Middle English *lesen, the Anglo-Norman lesser/lasier (to let, let go), from Latin laxō (to loose) from laxus, and partly from Old High German lāzan (to let, let go, release) [source].

Related words in other languages include laks (lax, slack) in Dutch, lâche (loose, slack, coward(ly), low, lazy) in French, lax (lax, easy, loose) in Geman, and llaes (loose, slack, free, trailing, flowing, low) in Welsh [source].

Saturn’s Bathing Day

The English word Saturday comes ultimately from the Proto-West Germanic *Sāturnas dag (Saturn’s day), which is a calque (translation) of the Latin diēs Saturnī (day of Saturn).

Saturday

There are similar words in other West Germanic languages, such as West Frisian (saterdei), Low German (Saterdag), and Dutch (zaterdag), all of which mean Saturday [source].

There German word for Saturday, Samstag, comes from Middle High German sam(e)ztac, from Old High German sambaztag (Sabbath day), from Gothic *𐍃𐌰𐌼𐌱𐌰𐍄𐍉 (*sambatō), a version 𐍃𐌰𐌱𐌱𐌰𐍄𐍉 (sabbatō – Saturday, the Sabbath day), from Koine Greek σάββατον (sábbaton – Sabbath), from Hebrew שַׁבָּת‎ (šabbāṯ – Sabbath), possibly from Akkadian 𒊭𒉺𒀜𒌈 (šapattum – the middle day of the lunar month).

Words from the same roots include samedi (Saturday) in French, sâmbătă (Saturday) in Romanian, and szombat (Saturday, Sabbath) in Hungarian [source].

In northern and eastern Germany, another word for Saturday is Sonnabend (“Sunday eve”), as apparently in Germanic recking, the day begins at sunset. It a calque of the Old English sunnanǣfen (Saturday evening) [source].

Words for Saturday in the North Germanic languages have a different root, however. These include lördag in Swedish, lørdag in Danish and Norwegian, leygardagur in Faroese and laugardagur in Icelandic. They all come from the Old Norse laugardagr, from laug (pool) and dagr (day), so literally “bathing day” [source].

These words have also been borrowed into Finnic languages: Saturday is lauantai in Finnish, laupäev in Estonian and lavvantaki in Ingrian.

Are there any other languages in which Saturday means something like “bathing day”, or something else interesting?

See also: Days of the week in many languages on Omniglot.

Pens and Pencils

The words pen and pencil appear to be related, but are they? Let’s find out.

Pens and Pencils

The word pen, as in a writing implement, comes from Middle English penne (pen, quill, wing, feather), from the Anglo-Norman penne, from Latin penna (wing, feather, quill pen), from Proto-Italic petnā (feather, wing), from Proto-Indo-European *péth₂r̥/pth₂én- (feather, wing), from *peth₂- (to spread out, to fly) [source].

Words from the same roots include petal, petulant, petition, plume, plumage, fathom, feather and helicopter in English, adar (birds) and adain (wing) in Welsh, and Faden (yarn, thread, fathom, suture) in German [source].

The word pen, as in an enclosure for animals, comes from Middle English pen(ne) (enclosure for animals), from Old English penn (enclosure, pen, fold), from Proto-Germanic *pennō/*pannijō (pin, bolt, nail, tack), from Proto-Indo-European *bend- (pointed peg, nail, edge).

The English word pin comes from the same PIE root, as does the Dutch word pin (peg, pin), the German word Pinne (pin, pivot, tiller), and the Swedish word pinne (stick, peg, pin) [source].

The word pencil comes from Anglo-Norman, from the Old French pincel (paintbrush), from the Vulgar Latin *penicellum, from the Latin pēnicillum (a painter’s brush, (style of) painting), a diminutive of pēniculus (brush, sponge), a diminutive of pēnis (tail, penis), from the Proto-Italic *pesnis, from the Proto-Indo-European *pes-ni-s, from *pes- (penis) [source].

Words from the same roots include penicillin in English and other languages, pincel (paintbrush) in Spanish and Portuguese, pinceau (paintbrush) in French and Pinsel (paintbrush) in German [source]. Penicillin and penicillium are apparently so named because the spore of the fungi resemble brushes [source].

Incidentally, the French idiom s’emmêler les pinceaux means to get one’s wires crossed to get things all mixed up, to get in a muddle or to misstep. Literally it means “to get tangled in the paintbrushes” [source].

Sailing Away

While putting together a post on my Celtiadur blog about words for ships and boats in Celtic languages, I realised that words for boats, ships and other nautical things in English come from many different languages. So I thought I’d write a blog post about them.

Laxey / Laksaa

The word boat comes from Middle English bot (boat, the path or course of one’s life), from Old English bāt (boat), from Proto-West Germanic *bait, from Proto-Germanic *baitaz (boat, small ship), from Proto-Indo-European *bʰeyd- (to break, split) [source].

The French word bateau (ship, boat), the Dutch word boot (boat), and the German word Boot (boat) were all borrowed from Middle or Old English.

Words for boat in North Germanic languages, such as Swedish (båt), Danish (båd) and Icelandic (bátur), were borrowed from Old Norse bátr, which was borrowed from Old English bāt (boat) [source].

Some words for boat in Irish (bád), Scottish Gaelic (bàta), Manx (baatey) and Welsh (bad) were also borrowed from Old English or Old Norse [source].

ship-13

The word ship comes from Middle English schip (ship, boat), from Old English scip (ship), from Proto-West Germanic *ship (ship), from Proto-Germanic *skipą (ship), from unknown origins [source].

Ship can be used to refer to a water-borne vessel generally larger than a boat, while boat usually refers to vessels smaller than a ship but larger than a dinghy. Boat also refers to submarines of any size, and lakers (ships used in the Great Lakes trade in North America).

Sunday Sailing.

A dinghy is a small open boat, propelled by oars or paddles, carried as a tender, lifeboat, or pleasure craft on a ship; a sailing dinghy, or an inflatable rubber life raft. It comes from Bengali ডিঙি (ḍiṅi – canoe), probably from Sanskrit द्रोण (droṇa – wooden vessel, bucket, trough), Proto-Indo-Iranian *dráwnam (wooden object), from Proto-Indo-European *dréw-no-m, from *dóru (tree, wood) [source].

A yacht is a sailing boat larger than a dinghy but smaller than a sailing ship, often with a cabin. It can also be a motor-powered private boat. It comes from yeaghe (light, fast sailing ship) from Dutch jacht (yacht, hunt), from jaghtschip (light sailing vessel, fast pirate ship: lit. “pursuit ship”).

Apparently the original Dutch jaghtschip were built to chase pirates and smugglers from the coast. In 1660 the Dutch East India Company presented one to King Charles II, who used it as a pleasure boat. It was then copied by British shipbuilders as a pleasure craft for wealthy gentlemen [source].

Tall Ships 015 Gloriaa_C

Another type of boat is a barque, which is a sailing vessel with three or more masts, with all masts but the sternmost square-rigged. It comes from Middle English barke (boat), from Middle French barque, from Latin barca (baris – a type of flat-bottomed freighter used on the Nile in Ancient Egypt), from Ancient Greek βᾶρις (bâris – Egyptian boat), from Coptic ⲃⲁⲁⲣⲉ (baare – small boat), from Demotic br, from Ancient Egyptian bꜣjr (transport ship, type of fish) [source].

Barge

The word barge (A large flat-bottomed towed or self-propelled boat used mainly for river and canal transport of heavy goods or bulk cargo), comes from the same roots, as does the Spanish barco (boat), the Galician barco (ship, boat, barge) and the Portuguese barco (boat) [source].

Green Canoe

The word canoe (a small long and narrow boat, propelled by one or more people) comes from Spanish canoa (canoe), probably from Taino *kanowa (canoe), from Proto-Arawak *kanawa (caone) [source].

Inuit kayak

Canoes are generally open on top, while kayaks are covered over except for the cockpit where the paddler sits. Kayak comes from Inuktitut ᖃᔭᖅ (qayaq – kayak, man’s boat), from Proto-Eskimo *qayaʁ (kayak) [source].

Umiak

If kayaks are men’s boats, are there women’s boats as well? There are – they are the umiak (a large, open boat made of skins stretched over a wooden frame that is propelled by paddles), from Inuvialuktun ᐅᒥᐊᖅ (umiaq – women’s boat) [source].

Incidentally, navy (a country’s entire sea force, including ships and personnel) comes from Middle English nave (navy), navye, from Old French navie (navy), from Latin nāvigia, from nāvigium (vessel, ship boat, from nāvis (ship, boat, vessel), from Proto-Indo-European *néh₂us (boat). In Old English navy was sciphere (“ship army”) [source].

English words from the same roots include navigate, nave, nautical and astronaut (lit. “star sailor”) [source].

Gadding About

In this post we explore the various meanings and origins of the word gad.

Gadfly

As an exclamation, gad! is a euphemistic alteration of the word God, and is the roughly equivalent of by God!, goodness gracious! and similar exclamations. It also appears in such exclamations as egad!, egads!, gadzooks!, gadsbobs!, gadsbudlikins! and gadsnouns!.

As a verb, to gad means:

  • to move from one location to another in an apparently random and frivolous manner
  • (of cattle) to run with the tail in the air, bent over the back, usually in an attempt to escape the warble fly

This comes from Middle English gadden (to go quickly, hurry, rush about), possibly from gadde. Related words include gadabout (a person who restlessly moves from place to place, seeking amusement or the companionship of others) and gaddish (inclined to gad, or move from place to place frivolously).

As a noun, gad means one who roams about idly, or a gadabout. This version comes from Middle English gade (a fool, simpleton), from Old English gāda (comrade, companion), from Proto-West Germanic *gadō, from Proto-Germanic *gadô/*gagadô (companion, associate), from Proto-Indo-European *gʰedʰ- (to join, unite).

The obsolete English word gadling (a companion in arms, fellow, comrade, a roving vagabond) comes from the same roots, as does the Dutch word gade (spouse), and the German word Gatte (spouse).

In Northern England and Scotland, gad is apparently used to mean a greedy and/or stupid person.

Finally, gad can mean:

  • a goad, a sharp-pointed rod for driving cattle, horses, etc, or one with a whip or thong on the end for the same purpose
  • a rod or stick, such as a fishing rod or a measuring rod
  • a pointed metal tool for breaking or chiselling rock
  • a spike on a gauntlet.

This comes from Middle English gad(de), from Old Norse gaddr (goad, spike), from Proto-Germanic *gazdaz (spike, rod, stake).

Words from the same roots include yard (a unit of length equal to 3 feet, a spar on a sail) in English, and gadd (stinger, sting, tooth) in Swedish.

Also from the same root in the English word gadfly, which refers to certain types of flies that irritate animals by buzzing around them and biting them to suck their blood, and by extension, a person of thing that irritates or instigates, or a person who takes without giving back. It is also a synonym of gadabout.

Sources: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/gad#English
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/gadfly#English
https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/middle-english-dictionary/dictionary
https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=gad

Hiding in Caves

In this post we find out what links the word grotesque with caves and hiding.

Grotesque

Grotesque [ɡɹəʊˈtɛsk / ɡɹoʊˈtɛsk] as an adjective means:

  • Distorted and unnatural in shape or size; abnormal, especially in a hideous way
  • Disgusting or otherwise viscerally revolting
  • Sans serif (in typography)

As an noun it means:

  • A style of ornamentation characterized by fanciful combinations of intertwined forms
  • Anything grotesque
  • A sans serif typeface

It comes from Middle French grotesque (farcical, ridiculous; small cave, ornament), from Italian grottesco (grotesque) from grotta (cave, grotto) and -esco (relational suffix) [source]. Grotta comes from Vulgar Latin *grupta/*crupta, from Latin crypta (underground passage, tunnel, crypt, vault), from Ancient Greek κρυπτή (kruptḗ – crypt, vault) from κρύπτω (krúptō -hide), the origins of which are unknown [source].

Words from the same roots include grotto and crypt in English, grot (cave, cavern) in Dutch, and grotte (cave) in French [source].

The words grotty and gro(a)dy and clippings of grotesque: grotty is used in the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and means unpleasant, dirty, slovenly, offensive [source], shoddy, rundown, disgusting, gross, bad [source], while gro(a)dy is used in the USA and means nasty, dirty, disgusting, foul, revolting, yucky or grotesque [source].

Grody is shortened even further into gro (disgusting, unpleasant; gross), although that might come from gross [source].

Singing Cows

What links the word bazooka with Roman trumpets and singing cows? Let’s find out in this blog post.

A bazooka was originally a primitive type of trombone with wide tubes. During World War II it came to refer to a shoulder-held rocket launcher used as an antitank weapon that was developed at the time, and which resembled the musical instrument. Bazooka has other meanings that we won’t go into here.

Bazooka comes from bazoo, an old word for a wind instrument (used in the USA and Canada) and a slang word for mouth (in the USA). That probably comes from the Dutch word bazuin [baːˈzœy̯n] (a medieval trumpet), from the Middle Dutch basune/basine (a kind of trumpet), from the Old French buisine (a type of trumpet used in battle), from the Latin būcina (bugle, curved war trumpet), from bōs/bovi- (cow, bull, steer, ox) and canō (I sing, recite, play, sound, blow [a trumpet]) [source].

Ludovisi Sarcophagus - VI: Bucinator

The būcina was used in the Roman army to announce night watches, to give orders and to summon soldiers. Someone who played it was known as a buccinātor or būcinātor [source].

Words from the same roots include buccina (a curved brass instrument used by the Ancient Roman army), buisine (a medieval wind instrument with a very long, straight and slender body, usually made of metal) and posaune (an old word for a trombone) in English, Posaune (trombone) in German, buse (nozzle, pipe, conduit) in French, buzina (hunting horn, car horn, spokesperson) in Portuguese, and bocina (horn, loudspeaker, conch shell) in Spanish [source].

Incidentally, the word kazoo is possibly based on bazoo, or is of onomatopoeic origin [source]. While similar instruments using a membrane, such as the eunuch/onion flute, have existed since at least the 16th century, the kazoo was patented in 1883 by Warren Herbert Frost, an American inventor [source].

Attics

The attic in my house is currently being converted into a usable space, so I thought I’d look into the origins of the word attic and related ones.

Attic

An attic is:

  • The space, often unfinished and with sloped walls, directly below the roof in the uppermost part of a house or other building, generally used for storage or habitation.
  • A person’s head or brain (slang)

It comes from the French attique (penthouse flat/apartment; Attic, delicate, elegant), from the Latin atticus (Attic – relating to Athenian culture or architecture), from the Ancient Greek Ἀττικός [at.ti.kós] (Attic, Athenian). Apparently the name is related to the practice of decorating the top storey of building facades in the Attic architectural style [source].

Another word for attic is loft, which used to mean air, sky or the heavens. It comes from the Middle English lofte (air, sky, loft), from the Old English loft, a version of lyft (air, atmosphere, sky), from the Proto-West-Germanic *luftu (roof, air). from the Proto-Germanic *luftuz (roof, firmament, heavens, sky, air) [source].

Words from the same roots include lift and aloft in English, lucht (air) in Dutch and Luft (air) in German.

Attics might also be known as garrets, which comes from the Middle English garett (watchtower, turret, attic), from the Old French garite (watchtower), from guarir (to protect, save, cure, heal), from the Frankish *warjan (to ward off) , from the Proto-West Germanic *warjan (to ward off, defend against), from the Proto-Germanic *warjaną (to ward off, defend against, thwart, stop) from the PIE *wer- (to heed) [source].

Words from the same roots include weir in English, weren (to hold back, keep out, defend oneself) in Dutch, wehren (to fight, defend) in German, guérir (to cure, heal) in French [source].

Are there interesting words for attics in other languages?

Holidays

Armadale

Last week I was on holiday. I spent most of the time learning Scottish Gaelic songs at a college on the Isle of Skye, and stopped at my mum’s in Lancashire for a few days on the way back. I had a wonderful time, met some interesting people, and learnt some beautiful songs.

The winning quiz team

It was my 9th visit to the college since 2008 and certainly won’t be my last. When I first went there I used as much Scottish Gaelic as I knew, and filled in any gaps with Irish, which I speak more or less fluently. As the two languages are closely related, this sort of works, though differences in the pronunciation and meaning of words can lead to some misunderstandings.

A view from Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

Recently I’ve been learning a lot more Gaelic with Duolingo, and can now speak it fairly well. This makes understanding the songs easier, although they often use poetic and old-fashioned words that don’t usually appear in my lessons. As well as speaking Gaelic, I also spoke some Dutch, Japanese, Welsh and a bit of English.

Normally I try to add a certain number of pages to Omniglot each week, and to write blog posts, and make podcasts and videos. Last week I didn’t do any of that, apart from one Celtiadur post, and had a break from it all, which was great.

This got me thinking – do I really need to do so much every week? Did you miss the Adventure in Etymology last week, or the Celtic Pathways or Omniglot News podcast, or the new language and other pages that weren’t added to Omniglot? Were you aware of all of these?

Maybe I’ll start doing the Adventures in Etymology every other week, and alternating with the Celtic Pathways podcast.

Incidentally, here’s a little piece I wrote on the train from Glasgow to Mallaig. I was trying to write a train-related song, and came up with this. I haven’t thought of a tune for it yet.

The snake of steel
rattles and shakes
through steep glens
where eagles soar
past foaming fishpaths
where waterdogs play
through empty lands
where none do bide
to the ocean’s edge
where seals hide
and the water meets the sky

The threads of distraction
are loosened
and there’s time to see
beyond the wind’s eye
time to think and dream
to talk and rest
As the iron horse
clitters and clatters
Along the metal road

I’m also working on a song in Scottish Gaelic inspired by my lessons in Duolingo. It’s called Thoir an Aire (Watch out).

Thoir An Aire (Watch Out)
Seist (Chorus)
Thoir an aire, thoir an aire (Watch out, watch out)
Thoir an aire, tha Iain a’ tighinn (Watch out, Iain is coming)
Thoir an aire, thoir an aire (Watch out, watch out)
Tha Iain rùisgte is tha e a’ tighinn (Iain is naked and he’s coming)

Ghoid Màiri a drathais (Mairi stole his underpants)
Ghoid Màiri a briogais (Mairi stole his trousers)
Ghoid Màiri a geansaidh gorm is geal (Mairi stole his blue and white jersey)
Ghoid Màiri a lèine (Mairi stole his shirt)
Ghoid Màiri a brògan (Mairi stole his shoes)
Ghoid Màiri aodach Iain gu lèir (Mairi stole all his clothes)

Ruith air falbh, ruith air falbh (Run away, run away)
Ruith air falbh tha Iain a’ tighinn (Run away, Iain is coming)
Ruith air falbh, ruith air falbh (Run away, run away)
Tha guga aige is tha e a’ tighinn (He has salted gannet and he’s coming)

Càit bheil Calum? (Where is Calum?)
Càit a bheil Coinneach? (Where is Kenneth?)
Càit a bheil Ceiteag? (Where is Katie?)
Am faca tu iad? (Have you seen them?)
Càit a bheil Mairead? (Where is Margaret?)
Càit a bheil Mòrag? (Where is Morag?)
Ruith iad air falbh (They ran away)
oir tha Iain a’ tighinn (because Iain is coming)

All photos were taken by me. The videos are from the end-of-course cèilidh at SMO. I’m not sure who took them.