Underthrowing

The other day the word onderwerp [ˈɔndərwɛrp] came up in one of my Dutch lessons. It means subject, topic or issue, and to help me remember it, I decided to look into its etymology.

SUBJECT

It comes from onder (under, among) and werpen (to throw, shed, cast), and is a calque of the Latin word subiectum (that which is spoken of, the foundation or subject of a proposition) [source].

Related expressions include onderwerpen (to subject), onderwerping (submission, subjugation, subjection), onderwerpszin (subject clause), gespreksonderwerp (topic of conversation, talk, conversation piece), nieuwsonderwerp (news item)

Subiectum comes from subiciō (throw under or near; supply; forge; subject; propose), from sub- (under) and‎ iaciō (throw, hurl). The English word subject comes from the same root, as do related words in other languages, such as sujet (subject, cause, reason) in French, and soggetto (subject, dependent) in Italian [source].

So an onderwerp and a subject is something that is thrown under.

A related Dutch word is voorwerp [ˈvoːrˌʋɛrp], which means object or item, and comes from voor (for, before, in front of) and werpen (to throw, shed, cast), and is a calque of the Latin word obiectum (a charge, accusation), which is the root of object comes from the same root, as do related words in other languages, from obiciō (throw to; offer, present) [source]

Knickknacks

An interesting Dutch word I learnt yesterday is liflafjes [ˈlɪf.lɑf.jəs], which
means scraps, trimmings, leftovers or knickknacks [source]. The singular version, liflafje, apparently means “a small meal that fails to fill” or “a trifle” and is a diminutive of liflaf, which means insipid food, insipid text(s) or bland writing, and used to mean insipid or tasteless [source].

Knick-Knack

According to webwoordenboek.nl, liflaf means “een smakelijk maar weinig voedzaam gerechtje” (a tasty but not very nutritious dish), or “een aardig maar overbodig iets” (a nice but unnecessary thing).

These words come from liflaffen, a dated word that’s used mainly in Belgium to mean to grovel, fawn, flatter, caress or fondle. A related word is liflafferij [ˌlɪf.lɑ.fəˈrɛi̯], which means flattery or sweet-talking [source].

A knick(-)knack is a small ornament of minor value, a trinket or bauble. It is a reduplication of knack (aptness, petty contrivance, trick), which possibly comes from the Middle English krak (a sharp blow). An equivalent in Dutch is snuisterij [source].

A mishmash is a collection containing a variety of miscellaneous things. It is a reduplication of mash. Some synonyms include hodgepodge, melange, mingle-mangle, oddments and odds and ends. Do you have any others? An equivalent in Dutch is mikmak [source].

Snoring Fits

I came across an interesting Dutch word today – snorfiets [snɔrfits], which sounds like ‘snore fits’, and means a moped or scooter, particularly one limited to a maximum speed of 25 km/h (15.5 mph) [source].

Jawa Snorfiets

Snor [snɔr] on its own means mustache or whiskers, and when I saw snorfiets I thought it maybe referred to a bicycle with mustache-shaped handlebars, or some other mustache-shaped parts. In fact it comes from snorren (to hum, roar, purr, whirr).

Fiets [fits] means bicycle, and its origins are uncertain. It may be named after Elie Cornelis Viets, a wheelwright from Wageningen who made and repaired bicycles from 1880. It may be an abbreviation of a Dutch version of the French word velocipède, or it might come from vietse/fiette, Limburg and East Brabant dialect words meaning ‘to run fast or move quickly’, or from the older dialect word vietsen (to move quickly). The last exclamation is thought to be the most likely [source].

Bicycles, or fietsen, are quite popular in the Netherlands, so much so that there are more bikes than people there. According to an article in The Brussels Times, in 2018 there were an estimated 22.9 million bicycles in the Netherlands, and just 17.2 million people, or 1.3 bicycles per person.

Other types of fiets include:

  • bakfiets = cargo bike, freight bike
  • bierfiets = a party bike, beer bike – a pedal-powered road vehicle with a bar counter, multiple seats and a beer tap, so that the riders can drink while riding
  • bromfiets = moped
  • ligfiets = recumbent bike
  • motorfiets = motorbike
  • omafiets = roadster bike (“grandma bike”)
  • racefiets = racing/road bike

Neshness

If someone told you they were feeling a bit nesh, would you know what they meant?

Nesh [nɛʃ] means “sensitive to the cold” and “timid or cowardly”, according to Dictionary.com, and is apparently used in in northern and Midlands English dialects. Although I grew up in the northwest of England, I’d never heard it before a friend mentioned it yesterday.

According to Wiktionary it means:

  • Soft, tender, sensitive, yielding
  • Delicate, weak, poor-spirited, susceptible to cold weather, harsh conditions etc
  • Soft, friable, crumbly

As a verb it means “to make soft, tender or weak”, or “to act timidly”.

It comes from the Middle English nesh/nesch/nesche, from the Old English hnesċe/ hnysċe/hnæsċe (soft, tender, mild; weak, delicate; slack, negligent; effeminate, wanton), from the Proto-West Germanic *hnaskwī (soft), from the Proto-Germanic *hnaskuz (soft, tender), from the Proto-Indo-European *knēs-/*kenes- (to scratch, scrape, rub).

Related words include:

  • neshen = to make tender or soft, to mollify
  • neshness = the condition of being nesh

Chocolate Beetroot Brownies

From the same roots we get the German word naschen (to nibble, to eat sweets on the sly), and the English word nosh (food, a light meal or snack, to eat), via the Yiddish word נאַשן‎ (nashn – to snack, eat) [source].

Idle blackberrying

While putting together a post on the Celtiadur this week, I came across the Welsh word mwyara [mʊɨ̯ˈara/mʊi̯ˈaːra], which means to gather/pick blackberries, to go blackberrying, and also to be idle. I wouldn’t associate picking blackberries with being idle, but someone must have done in the past. Is picking blackberries or other fruit associated with idleness in other languages?

Blackberries

Mwyara comes from mwyar (blackberries, berries), from the Proto-Brythonic *muɨar (blackberries, berries), from the Proto-Celtic *smiyoros (berries) [source].

Idle means to pass time doing nothing, to move, loiter or saunter aimlessy, or (of a machine or engine) to operate at a low speed [source]. It comes from the Middle English idel/ydel, from the Old English īdel (empty, void, bereft, worthless, useless, vain), from the Proto-Germanic *īdalaz (idle, void, unused), from the Proto-Indo-European *yeh₁- [source].

Words from the same root include the Dutch ijdel (vain, idle, petty) and iel (thin, slender), the German eitel (vain), and the Welsh iâl (clearing, glade) [source].

Sample Monsters

In Dutch the word monster [ˈmɔnstər] means a sample, and also a monster. It was borrowed from the Old French word monstre (monster) in the 13th century and at first meant a monster or monstrosity, and later in the 14th century came to mean a sample, specimen or test piece as well. It is also used to describe something very large [source].

Tree monster

The Old French word monstre came from the Latin mōnstrāre (to show), from mōnstrum (a divine omen indicating misfortune, an evil omen, portent; monster), from monēre (to warn, admonish). From the same root we get such English words as monster, muster, monitor, admonish [source], and also money, which is named after the Roman goddess Juno Moneta, whose temple in Rome housed the mint [source].

Here are some examples of how monster is used (from Duolingo and Reverso):

  • We wegen het monster af = We weigh the sample (or monster)
  • Hij neemt een monster van onze koeien = He takes a sample from our cows
  • Een troebel monster moet worden gefiltreerd = When the sample is cloudy, it should be filtered
  • Hier kon ik het monster aanroepen = It’s where I was told I could summon the monster
  • Loch Ness is de perfecte bergplaats voor een prehistorisch monster = Loch Ness would be the perfect hiding place for a prehistoric monster
  • Een driekoppig monster en vliegende schotels = A three-headed sea monster and some flying saucers

Some related words include:

  • monsterlijk = monstrous(ly)
  • monstergolf = monster wave, giant breaker, rogue
  • monsterjacht = monster hunt(ing), monster yacht
  • monsterjager = monster hunter
  • monsterverbond = monstrous convenant, unholy alliance
  • monsterzege = landslide (victory), monster victory
  • zeemonster = sea monster
  • bloedmonster = blood sample

Is monster, or something similar, used to mean something very big in other languages?

Blithely Blithesome

The Dutch word blij [blɛi] means happy, glad, pleased or delighted. It comes from the Middle Dutch blide (happy, cheerful, joyous), from the Old Dutch *blīthi (calm, happy), from the Proto-West Germanic *blīþī (happy), from the Proto-Germanic *blīþiz (serene, mild, pleasant, pleasing, delightful, friendly), from Proto-Indo-European *bʰlī- (light, fine, pleasant) from *bʰleh₁-/*bʰel- (to shine) [source].

Blij ei

Here are some related words and examples of how it’s used (from bab.la and Reverso):

  • blijdschap = joy, gladness
  • verblijden = to gladden, delight
  • blij zijn = to be glad, rejoice, enjoy, be happy
  • blij maken = to gladden, cheer up
  • heel blij zijn = to burst with joy
  • blij zijn met een dode mus = to get all excited about nothing (“to be happy with a dead mouse”)
  • Ik ben blij dat je ervan zult genieten = I’m glad you’ll enjoy it
  • Ik ben blij je eindelijk te ontmoeten = I’m pleased to finally meet you
  • Niet iedereen zal hiermee blij zijn = Not everyone is going to be happy with this

Words from the same root include the Swedish word blid [bliːd] (mild, kind), the Danish word blid [ˈbliðˀ] (gentle) and the word blíður, which means kind, obliging, mild, tender, affable, friendly or good-natured in Icelandic, and hospitable, hearty, friendly, sincere, pleased, mild or smooth in Faroese [source].

The English word blithe [blaɪð / blaɪθ] also comes from the same root, via the Middle English blithe (glad, happy, joyful; gentle, mild; gracious, merciful; bright, shining; beautiful, fair), and the Old English bliþe [ˈbliː.θe/ˈbliː.ðe] (happy, gentle) (to shine) [source].

It means carefree and lighthearted, or very happy or cheerful, and also lacking or showing a lack of due concern, heedless, casual and indifferent [source].

It tends to be used in certain expressions, such as:

  • He spoke with blithe ignorance of the true situation.
  • She had a blithe disregard for their feelings.

Some related (and rarely-used) words include blitheful (joyous), blitheless (sorrowful, sad, pitiful, miserable, wretched), blithely (without care, concern or consideration; or in a joyful, carefree manner), blithen (to be(come) happy), and blithesome (happy or spriteful, carefree).

Blithe [bləið] is more commonly used in Scottish English and in Scots, and means joyous, cheerful, happy, glad or well-pleased. A related word, used particularly in Orkney and Shetland, is blithemeat, which is a thanksgiving feast after the birth of a child [source].

In Shetland blithe is written blyde and means glad. Here are the Blyde Lasses, a folk duo from Shetland:

Milestones

A Manx milestone

Yesterday I added details of a language called Akawaio (Ka’pon) to Omniglot. It’s a Cariban language spoken mainly in northern Guyana, and also in northern Brazil and eastern Venezuela, by about 6,380 people.

You may be wondering why I mention this. What’s so special about this language? Well, it just happens to be the 1,500th language I’ve written about on Omniglot, and it feels like a significant milestone to me. There are many more languages out there: 7,139, according to Ethnologue – so only another 5,639 to go! That should keep me busy for a while.

Of the languages on Omniglot, the majority (1,107) are written with the Latin alphabet. There are also 126 written with the Cyrillic alphabet, 75 written with the Arabic alphabet, 72 written with the Devanagari alphabet, and smaller numbers of languages written with other alphabets and writing systems. [More language and writing stats]

It’s becoming increasingly challenging to find information about languages that don’t yet appear on Omniglot. About 4,065 of the world’s languages have a written form, although many are rarely written, and the remaining 3,074 are probably unwritten [source]. There is little or no documentation for many languages, and what documentation there is can be difficult to find. Inspite of this, I will continue to add new language profiles to Omniglot, and appreciate any help you can offer.

An Omniglot minion

I’ve been working on Omniglot on my own since 1998 – there are no minions or other assistants to help me. However, many other people have contributed to Omniglot, by sending me corrections, new material, suggestions, donations and so on, and I am profoundly grateful to all of them.

This is the 3,414th post I’ve written on this blog since launching it in March 2006. At first I tried to write something every day, but soon realised that was too much. At the moment I aim to write two posts a week, plus the language quiz on Sundays.

In April 2007 I started uploading videos to YouTube. Some of the videos feature silly little conversations in languages I’m learning. Others involve music-related events I’ve taken part in, and tunes and songs I’ve written. In 2021 I started uploading videos more regularly, particularly videos about words and etymology, and some songs as well. As well as the Adventures in Etymology videos I upload on Sundays, I plan to make videos featuring alphabets, phrases, etc in a variety of languages. Here’s one I made of the Danish alphabet:

Since June 2018 I’ve made 42 episodes of the Radio Omniglot Podacast, and 5 episodes of Adventures in Etymology, a new series I started in March 2021. It started as a series of videos I made for Instagram and Facebook, then I posted them on Youtube as well, and decided to add them to the Radio Omniglot site. I have ideas for other series I could make for Radio Omniglot, and would welcome any suggestions you may have.

In September 2018 I launched the Celtiadur, a blog where I explore connections between Celtic languages. This is based the Celtic cognates part of Omniglot. So far I’ve written 227 posts, and add a new one every week.

Since 1998 I’ve become fluent in Welsh and Irish, regained my fluency in French, maintained my fluency in Mandarin Chinese, more or less, and have learned enough Esperanto, Scottish Gaelic, Manx, Spanish, Swedish, Danish and Dutch to have at least basic conversations. I’ve also learnt quite a bit of Russian and Czech, and some Romanian, Cantonese, Slovak, Slovenian, Serbian, Icelandic, Faroese, British Sign Language, Breton and Cornish.

I’m currently concentrating on Spanish, Swedish, Danish and Dutch, while trying to maintain my other languages, particularly French and Welsh. For the past 4 years or so I’ve studied languages every day on Duolingo – my current streak reached 1,369 today. I’ve also been using Mondly and Memrise. [More about my language learning adventures].

While not working on Omniglot or learning languages, I like to sing, play musical instruments and write songs and tunes. My musical adventures started long before Omniglot, but for many years after leaving school I only really listened to music. In 2005 I started going to Ireland every summer to learn Irish language, and also Irish songs, tunes and dances. This inspired me to take up music again. Since then I’ve learnt to play the guitar, mandolin, ukulele, cavaquinho and harp, and started playing the recorder, piano and tin whistle again. I’ve learnt songs in many different languages, and written quite a few songs and tunes.

Here’s a song I wrote in 33 different languages:

Enough of this shameless self-promotion. What about you? Have you reached any significant milestones recently?

Cups of Comfort

An interesting expression that came up in my Dutch lessons recently is bakje troost [ˈbɑ.kjə troːst], which is slang for a cup of coffee, and a diminutive of bak troost. It could be translated literally as a “little cup of comfort” or a “little cup of solace”. It is also known as bakkie troost [source].

Department of Coffee and Social Affairs

Here are some examples of how it’s used (from Reverso):

  • Hoe kom je hier aan een bakje troost?
    What do I have to do to get some more coffee around here?
  • Bakje troost voor ons
    Cup of Joe for the guys
  • Kijk eens aan, een bakje troost
    Here you go. Cup of joe

Bak means a bin, box, crate, tray or tub; a cup or mug; a jail, slammer or prison (slang), or a car. It comes from the French word bac (ferry, vat), from the Old French bas/bac (flat boat), possibly from the Vulgar Latin *baccu (container), from the Latin bacar (kind of wine glass). Or from a Celtic or Germanic word [source].

Some related words include:

  • afvalbak = rubbish bin, trashcan, dustbin
  • bloembak = flower pot, planter, window box, flower tub
  • engelenbak = the highest box at a theatre (“angel box”)
  • glasbak = bottle bank
  • ragbak = a run-down car

Troost means comfort or consolation. It comes from the Middle Dutch troost, from the Old Dutch trōst, from the Proto-Germanic *traustą (shelter, help, aid, trust, confidence, alliance), from *traustaz (firm, strong), from thge Proto-Indo-European *deru-/*drew-/*drū- (to be firm, hard, solid, tree) [source].

The English words trust and tryst come from the same Germanic root, as do the German word Trost (consolation), the Swedish word tröst (comfort, consolation, dummy / pacifier), and related words in other languages [source].

This week some of the lockdown restrictions were lifted here in Wales, and cafés are open again, at least for takeaways. Yesterday I saw a long queue of people outside a café, probably waiting for their bakjes troost.

In the beforetimes I did go to cafés now and then for a cup of hot chocolate or herbal/fruit tea, maybe a pastry, and a change of scenery. This is something I miss a bit, but as I don’t drink coffee and rarely drink tea, I have no craving for caffeine, and won’t be queueing outside any cafés.

Are you missing cafés and coffee?

Penny Pouches

An interesting Danish word I learnt today is pung, which means purse, wallet, pouch or scrotum. It comes from the Old Norse word pungr (purse) [source], and appears in words like:

  • punge = to pay (a large) sum of money
  • pengepung = wallet, purse, budget, pockets, funding (“money-pouch”)
  • pungdyr = marsupial (“pouch-animal”)
  • pungdjævel = Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii)
  • pungulv = Thylacine, Tasmanian tiger/wolf (Thylacinus cynocephalus)
  • pungbrok = hernia [source]

Pengepung

The word penge [ˈpʰɛŋə / ˈpʰɛŋŋ̩] means money, and was originally a plural of penning (coin), from the Old Danish pænning, Old Norse peningr (coin, penny, piece of property, article) [source], which was borrowed from the Old Saxon penning or the Old English penning/peniġ, from the Proto-Germanic *panningaz (coin) [source].

Some related expressions include:

  • pengeafpresning = extortion, extraction
  • pengekat = neck pouch
  • pengepolitik = monetary policy
  • pengeseddel = bill, banknote [source]

From the same root we get the English words penny and pence, the Irish word pingin (penny), the Dutch penning (medal, commemoration coin; money, cash), the German Pfennig (pfennig, penny), the Swedish words penning (coin, penny, money, cash), pengar (money) and peng (coin, money), and related words in other Germanic languages [source].

I carry my cash, cards and other bits and bobs in a wallet. How about you? If you use a pecunary receptacle, what do you call it, and what do you keep in it?