Small Cakes

An interesting Danish word I learnt recently is småkage [ˈsmʌˌkʰæːjə], which means biscuit or cookie, or literally “small cake” [source].

Færdige småkager

The Dutch word koekje [ˈkuk.jə], meaning cookie, is a diminutive of koek (cake), so you could say the it means “small cake” as well. It was borrowed into English and became cookie. This was borrowed back into Dutch as cookie to refer to internet cookies [source].

The word kage [ˈkʰæː(j)ə] (cake) comes from the Old Danish kakæ, from Old Norse kaka (cake), from Proto-Germanic *kakǭ (cake), from the Proto-Indo-European *gag-/*gōg- (round, ball-shaped object; lump; clump). The Dutch word koek comes from the same Proto-Germanic root [source].

The English word cake comes from the same Old Norse root, and has been borrowed by a number of other languages [source], including Dutch, where it became kaak [kaːk] (ship biscuit) and cake [keːk] (pound cake).

In French the word cake [kɛk] refers to fruitcake (containing rum) or quick bread (a smallish loaf-shaped baked good). In Portuguese it became queque [ˈkɛ.kɨ], meaning a muffin or cupcake – the same word in Spanish, pronounced [ˈkeke], refers to a cake, cupcake or biscuit.

The plural form cakes was borrowed into Danish and became kiks [ˈkʰiɡs] – a cracker. In German it became Keks (biscuit / cookie), which was borrowed into Russian and became кекс [kʲeks], which means cake, fruitcake, cupcake, dude or guy. This sounds a bit like the word kecks, which in northern England and Scotland is a slang word for trousers and/or underpants, from kicks (breeches).

Here’s an audio version of this post.

(Some audio by TTSMP3.com)

Incidentally, the photo above shows what I would call cookies. The one below shows what I call biscuits:

Biscuits

Not everyone would agree with this, perhaps, and apparently some might call these biscuits:

biscuits

They look more like scones to me.

What are biscuits / cookies to you?

Bird Talk

The word inauguration seems an appropriate one to investigate today. According to Wiktionary, it means “The act of inaugurating, or inducting into office with solemnity; investiture by appropriate ceremonies.” or “The formal beginning or initiation of any movement, enterprise, event etc.”.

Inauguration comes from the Middle French inauguration (installation, consecration), from the Latin Latin inaugurātiō (consecration or installment under good omens), from the Latin inaugurāre (to take auspices, take omens from the flights of birds, divine, consecate, install), from in (in, on) and augurō (to prophesy, interpret omens), from augur (augur, soothsayer) [source].

The origins of augur are uncertain – it might come from avis (bird) and garrire (to talk). As augury involved observing the flight of birds and divining omens from it, this makes sense. Alternatively it might come from the Old Latin *augus (increase) [source].

Incidentally, a soothsayer – one who predicts the future using magic, intuition or intelligence – originally meant one who tells the truth. It comes from sooth an old word for truth, augury, blandishment or reality, and sayer, one who says or makes announcements or a crier [source].

Here’s an audio version of this post.

Strangely Rare

Strangely Rare

An interesting Dutch word I learnt recently is raar [raːr], which looks and sounds a bit like the English word rare, and is related to it, but actually means wierd, strange, funny, odd or unusual.

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

  • Ik heb een raar telefoontje gehad = So I got a weird phone call today
  • Want je doet een beetje raar = Because you’ve been acting a little weird
  • Zelden heb ik zo’n raar voostel gelezen = I have rarely come across a proposal as strange as this
  • Het lijkt gewoon op een raar besluit = Okay, well, it just seems like an odd decision

Raar comes from the Middle Dutch raer (rare, unusual), from the Latin rarus (scattered, seldom, few, rare, uncommon, thin, loose), ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European *h₁reh₁- (to separate) [source].

From the same root we get words in quite a few other languages, including:

  • The English word rare (uncommon, scarce), via the Middle English rare/rere (airy, vacuous, porous, breathable, uncommon, scarce, small) and Old French rare/rere (rare, uncommon).
  • The Danish word rar [ʁɑːˀ] (pleasant, kind, nice), via the Middle Low German rar (rare, valuable).
  • The French word rare [ʁɑʁ] (rare, scarce, sparse).
  • The Spanish words raro [ˈraɾo] (strange, odd, rare) and ralo (scarce, uncommon, sparse)
  • The Swedish word rar (cute, sweet, and rarely, rare), via the Middle Low German rar (rare, valuable).

Another Dutch word for strange is vreemd [vreːmt] (strange, weird odd, foreign) [source].

The Dutch word for rare is zeldzaam [ˈzɛlt.saːm], which also means scarce or uncommon. This comes from the Proto-Germanic *seldasiuniz (rarely seen), from *selda- (rare) and *siuniz (sight) [source].

The German word seltsam (strange, weird, odd, funny, curious) comes from the same root [source], as does the rare English word seldsome (rare, uncommon) [source].

The English word seldom (infrequently, rarely), comes from the Proto-Germanic *seldanē (seldom; rarely), from *seldanaz (rare) [source].

Here’s an audio version of this post.

(Some audio by TTSMP3.com)

Here’s a song I wrote a few years ago that seems to fit with today’s topic: It’s Okay To Be Odd

Suffering Gladly

Suffering (Fools) Gladly

In Danish, one way to say that you like something or someone involves suffering: jeg kan godt lide, or literally “I can good/well suffer”. The negative version is jeg kan ikke lide (“I cannot suffer”).

Here are some examples (from bab.la):

  • Alle kan godt lide den = Everyone is in favour
  • Jeg kan godt lide grønærter = I love green peas
  • Jeg kan ikke lide fodbold = I don’t like football
  • Jeg kan ikke lide at gentage mig selv = I don’t like repeating myself

The English expression I do not suffer fools gladly has a similar structure. A version of this phrase first appeared in the Bible as, “For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise.” (2 Corinthians 11:19 – KJV). It is usually used in the negative these days though [source].

Another way to say you like something in Danish is to say that you think about it. For example, jeg synes om sprog = I like languages (“I think about languages”). As well as to like, synes om also means to love or appreciate [source], and synes means to think (about), seem or reflect on [source].

In English you might say that you think well of someone or something, although this might sound a bit old fashioned.

Similarly in Swedish, saying that you think about something/someone – tycka om, means that you like, enjoy, appreciate, get off on, relish or are fond of it/them [source]. If you really like or love something or someone, you could say that you think much about them, or tycka mycket om.

Here are some examples (from bab.la):

  • Jag kanske börjar tycka om arkeologi = Maybe I’m just really beginning to enjoy archeology
  • Barn som lär sig att tycka om frukt i skolan kommer att fortsätta att äta frukt som vuxna = Children who learn to like fruit at school will carry on eating fruit into adulthood
  • Jag tycker inte om dig = I dont like you

Another way to say you like something/someone in Swedish is gilla, which means to like, approve, favour, go for, hold with or be fond of [source]. For example, han gillar choklad – he likes chocolate.

In Spanish the most common way to say you like something is to use the verb gustar (to be pleasing, to taste), e.g. me gusta el té = I like tea, or literally “(to) me pleasing the tea” [source]. You could say in English that something is to your taste, or if you don’t like it, it’s not your cup of tea.

Here’s an audio version of this post.

(Danish, Swedish and Spanish audio by TTSMP3.com)

What other interesting ways are there to say you like or don’t like things?

Sōsharudisutansu

離れる (hanareru)

The Japanese word 離れる (hanareru) means to be separated, to be apart, to be distant​; to leave, to go away​; to leave (a job, etc), to quit, to give up​; to lose connection with; to drift away from​ [source].

It seems quite an appropriate word for this year, and the winner of this year’s kanji invention contest came up with a new kanji to represent these ideas (see the image). It’s pronounced hanarete suwaru or za and means ‘seated apart’ or ‘social distance’.

Social distancing is also ソーシャルディスタンス (sōsharudisutansu) in Japanese.

The new character is based on 座 (suwaru / za) with one of the 人 (hito – person) characters moved to be more distant from the other. 座 means seat, place; position, status; gathering, party, company; stand, pedestal, platform [source].

The kanji contest or, 創作漢字コンテスト (sōsaku kanji kontesuto), is sponsored by the Sankei Newspaper (産経新聞社) and the Shizuka Shirakawa Memorial Institute for Oriental Characters and Culture (白川静記念東洋文字文化研究所) at Ritsumeikan University (立命館大学). It has been held annually for the past 11 years. Over 26,000 entries were submitted this year – mainly from Japan, and some from Taiwan as well, and the winner was Akinobu Yamaguchi (山口明伸) from Yokohama. You’d think there were more than enough kanji already, but obviously not.

I heard about this via Facebook, and it got me wondering if I could come up with any new kanji or hanzi. Have you thought of any new kanji?

Chrimbo

Language quiz image

A multilingual Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate it.

Or if you prefer, Happy Holidays, Jolly Yuletide, Seasons Greetings, Happy Friday, 行憲紀念日快樂! (Happy Constitution Day – for readers in Taiwan).

Here’s a version of ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ I wrote yesterday. I was inspired by a friend who re-wrote of ‘We Three Kings’. It references other songs written by me and my friends.

‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ is a traditional English carol from the south west of England that has been around is various guises at least since the 19th century. More details.

Here are a few other Christmasy songs I found recently on YouTube that I thought I’d share with you:

The Carol of the Bells has been popping up in my feed quite a bit. It is based on the Ukrainian song Щедрик (Shchedryk):

Here’s a rather different version:

This is not exactly a Christmas song, but does have a Christmasy theme, and is a lot of fun to watch and listen to. It is by Nanowar of Steel, an Italian band, and was inspired by the IKEA catalogue. How many languages can you spot in it?

A couple of other Christmasy songs that I quite like:

Chimney John

At this time of year various gift givers are preparing to deliver presents. They have different names in different countries and languages. Let’s look at a couple:

In England presents are traditionally delivered by Father Christmas, who has been around in various guises since at least the 17th century. Originally he wasn’t a present giver but rather the spirit of good cheer, and bringing of peace, joy, good food and wine and revelry. He was depicted as a large man wearing green or red fur-lined robes. The first mention of a personification of Christmas in English appears in Ben Jonson’s 1616 play, Christmas his Masque, in which he is known simply as ‘Christmas’. He also went by ‘Sir Christmas’, ‘Lord Christmas’ or ‘Old Father Christmas’ [source].

After the English Civil War, when the Christmas was banned by the Puritan government, the Royalists adopted Father Christmas as a symbol of the ‘good old days’. During the 19th century he became more associated with children, presents, chimneys and so on as the Victorians adopted more child-centric Christmas traditions [source].

During the 19th century Santa Claus, based on the Dutch Sinterklaas (Saint Nicolas), came to the UK from the USA and Canada. Eventually Father Christmas and Santa Claus became synonomous and the names are now used interchangebly.

Other names for Father Christmas in the UK include Father Chrimbo, Daddy Chrimbo, and according to this site, Tabitha the Christmas Hedgehog (in Cumbria), Odin (in Yorkshire), Big Johny Winter (in Northumbria), Joel Noel (in Devon) and Gef the Talking Mongoose (in the Isle of Man).

Meanwhile in Wales presents are delivered by Siôn Corn [ʃoːŋ kɔrn] or “John of the chimney”. I can’t find information about the origins of this name. Does anybody know?

Sion Corn-Father christmas.

Who brings the presents / gifts where you are?

Fragments

One of the Spanish words I learnt this week was pizarra [piˈθara / piˈsara], which means slate (rock), (roof) slate, blackboard, chalkboard, whiteboard, or in Cuba, a dashboard [source]. It comes from the Basque word pizar (fragment, blackboard, slate) [source].

When I first saw it I thought it had something to do with pizzas, but obviously not, unless a blackboard is used as a menu in a pizza restaurant.

Starters, red and white pizzas, dessert menu - SPQR Pizzeria, Melbourne - stitched

Some related words and expressions include:

  • pizarra blanca = whiteboard
  • pizarra de papel = flip chart
  • pizarral = slate quarry
  • pizarrín = slate pencil
  • pizarrón = blackboard
  • pizarroso = slaty (soil) / slate (roof)

Another word for blackboard or chalkboard, which is used in Spain, is encerado [enθeˈɾado / enseˈɾado], which also means waxed, polished, wax-coloured, oilcloth, tarpaulin or tarp. It comes from encerar (to wax, polish), from the Latin incērāre (to wax), from cēra (wax, beeswax, honeycomb, wax tablet, wax seal, wax image) [source], which is also the root of the Spanish word cera (wax, crayon).

Another name for a waxed writing tablet in Latin is tabula, and they have been used since at least the 14th century BC – the oldest known example was found in a shipwreak near the town of Kaş in the southwest of Turkey. They usually consist of a wooden frame with wax in the middle, and often two such frames were joined together. A stylus was used to write in the wax, with a sharp end for writing and a flat end for erasing. They were used in parts of Europe until the 19th century [source].

TABLILLA DE CERA Y STYLUS

The Latin expression tabula rasa, meaning a blank/clean slate (lit. “an erased slate”) originally referred to a tabula that has had the writing erased from it, and now refers to the idea that individuals are born without any innate mental content [source].

In some places where slate is readily available, people used to write on it with chalk, especially in schools. They were also used to write people’s debts in pubs, and when their debts were paid, they had a clean slate, or had had their slate wiped clean.

iSlate

I feel the beginnings of a new section for Omniglot on writing surfaces and tools.

Incidentally, the word pizza was borrowed from Neapolitan, and is thought to be related to the Byzantine Gree wordk πίτα (píta – cake, pie) [source].

Here’s an audio-visual version of this post I made with Doodly:

Slovenly Sloofs

One of the interesting Dutch words I learnt recently is sloof [sloːf], which means an apron or drudge [source], or “a hard-working woman doing domestic work; e.g. a maid or housewife” [source].

Sloof meaning an apron comes from the Middle Dutch slove/sloof (an apron with short sleeves) [source].

Sloof meaning a drudge or toiling housewife comes from the verb sloven (to work hard, to drudge, to show off). For example, Hij haat me en ik sloof me uit = He hates me and I’m slaving for him [source].

A sloof (drudge) might wear a sloof (apron) and sloffen (slippers) as they slip (slip) around their sloffige (dusty) house seeking a sloop (pillowcase) and trying to avoid a slop (bad situation) and trying not to fall in slaap (asleep).

There are probably plenty of other words beginning with the pleasing combination sl in Dutch – there are certainly plenty in English – slip, slap, slop, sloop (from the Dutch sloep), slide, sleep, and so on.

No Slovenly Dressers Please

The English word sloven [ˈslʌvən] means a habitually dirty or untidy man or boy; a low, base, lewd person, and used to mean an immoral woman. It comes from the Middle Flemish sloovin (a scold), from the Proto-Germanic *slup-. It’s related to Middle Dutch sloef (untidy, shabby) [source].

Duolingo Progress

I’ve been studying various languages on Duolingo for nearly four years now. My current streak is at 1,238 days today, and I had a 96 day streak before then, so for the past 1,334 days I have been studying at least a little every single day. This year I’ve averaged about 1 hour a day, and at the moment I’m focusing on Dutch and Spanish. Last week I came top of the diamond league – the highest you can get.

My 2020 Duolingo report

So far I’ve completed courses in Swedish, Danish, Russian, Czech, Esperanto, Spanish and Romanian. The courses and the app have changed quite a bit – more for some languages than others. New lessons, tips and levels have been added, especially for Spanish, which has at least 3 or 4 times more lessons than the other languages I’ve studied. That makes sense, I suppose, as there are currently 28.6 million people learning Spanish on Duolingo – far more than any other language. Today I noticed that there are new grammar lessons in Spanish, which are useful, and there are also Spanish podcasts, which I haven’t listened to yet.

One aspect of Duolingo I’m not keen on is the hearts system. At the start of each day you have 5 hearts. Every time you make a mistake you loose one. If you run out of hearts, you can ‘buy’ more, refresh a topic you have already completed to gain more, or wait until the next day. Or you can subscribe and get unlimited hearts. Making mistakes is part of language learning, and not something you should have to worry about, as long as you learn from them. You sometimes get tips when you mistakes in Spanish, which are useful, but not in other languages.

If you’ve studied other languages on Duolingo, how do they compare to Spanish in terms of numbers and types of lessons?

I expect that there are more lessons, etc for French, German, Japanese, Italian, Korean and Chinese – the most popular languages after Spanish – than for less popular languages.