Playing Around

In English then word play has a variety of meanings. You can play a role in a play or drama, play a game or sport, play an instrument, play with toys or other things, or just play in general.

Playing

In Portuguese, however, there are several different words that can be translated as to play, such as:

  • jogar – to play (a game, a sport), gamble, throw, drop
  • brincar – to play (with toys), to joke
  • representar – to play (a role), to represent, put on, act, make a complaint
  • pregar (uma peça em alguém) – to play (a trick on sb)
  • bancar (o idiota) – to play (the fool)

According to Carlos Carrion, who sent me this information, these words are translated as to play or the equivalent in most of the languages in Google Translate.

There are several ways to translate to play in Welsh, including:

  • chwarae = to play (a game, sport, instrument), amuse oneself, compete, frolic
  • canu = to play (piano, harp, organ), to sing, intone, chant
  • seinio = to play (a musical instrument), make noise/sound, ring
  • piltran = to play at (doing something), potter about, fiddle
  • actio / perfformio = to play (a role), to act, perform

Are there different words for different kinds of play in other languages?

Sources: ReversoDictionary, Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, Geiriadur yr Academi

Jargon

When I come across an unfamiliar word, I usually find it interesting and intriguing, and try to find out what it means and where it comes from. I also do this when I hear words being used in ways that are unfamiliar to me.

For example, the builder who is currently working on the new studio in my garden often shares building jargon with me. I find this interesting as I can see examples of what he means. The latest term was snots, which refers to drops of cement that fall off while it’s being applied to walls. [More details].

Jargon image

Sometimes, though, I find new words annoying, especially when a lot of them appear together. For example, I often receive emails from companies who are keen to advertise on Omniglot, who want to managing the ads on my site, or who want to redesign the site. These emails include lots of specialist vocabulary and abbreviations that I only partially understand. If I think they have something to offer that might benefit the site, I will try to decipher the jargon. Otherwise I don’t bother.

According to Dictionary.com, jargon [ˈdʒɑː.ɡən/ˈdʒɑɹ.ɡən] is:

  • the language, especially the vocabulary, peculiar to a particular trade, profession, or group: medical jargon.
  • unintelligible or meaningless talk or writing; gibberish.
  • any talk or writing that one does not understand.
  • pidgin.
  • language that is characterized by uncommon or pretentious vocabulary and convoluted syntax and is often vague in meaning.

It comes from the Middle English jargo(u)n (the sound of conversation, talking), from the Old French jargon (talk, chatter, conversation, talking), a variant of gargon/gargun (chatter, talk, language) [source].

When people mention things like header bidding, operational yield management, proprietary stacks, display inventory, RPMs and CPMs (all from one email), I tend to switch off. Perhaps it would be useful and lucrative for me to know about such things, but I’d rather not. I might also find myself becoming a little initated with the people who use such terms, and wondering why they can’t just use more transparent language.

How do you feel about jargon and other unfamiliar forms of language?

Resolutions

Do you make New Year’s resolutions?

Resolution

If you have made any this year, are any of them related to languages?

I don’t tend to make New Year’s resolutions, and when I do, I rarely keep them. Sometimes I do manage to stick at things, at least for a while. Today, for example, my current streak on Duolingo reached 1,628 days. I’m learning Japanese and Spanish there, and keeping my Danish and Swedish ticking over. I’m also learning Dutch on Memrise, although I do miss occasional days. I don’t plan to learn any new languages for now, but who knows what could happen.

Meanwhile on Omniglot, I will carry on adding new material and improving the existing pages.

I’m taking a break from the monthly Radio Omniglot podcasts after reaching episode 50 in December, but will keep making the weekly Adventures in Etymology series and Omniglot News podcasts and videos. I also plan to add a new series – Celtic Routes – which will explore links within the Celtic language family, and between Celtic languages and other European languages. This will be based on my Celtiadur blog.

In other news, I’ve finally found a way to reduce some of the clutter of ads at the bottom of the pages on Omniglot.com using a PHP script that displays a different banner each time you refresh the page. Ideally there wouldn’t be any banners or other ads, but I do sort of need to make a living, and the ads help with that.

Old Long Since

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve and if you’re celebrating it with others, you might just sing the song Auld Land Syne. So I thought I’d look into the history of the song and the meanings and origins of some of the words.

Auld Lang Syne

Auld Land Syne was based on a Scottish folk song with parts of it written by Robert Burns. It acquired the traditional tune in 1799. Burns sent a copy the original song to the Scots Musical Museum in 1788 claiming that it had never been written down before, and that he got it from an old man. The first verse and chorus have a lot in common with the ballad “Old Long Syne”, which was published by James Watson in 1711.

Here is Burn’s version of the song:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?

Chorus
For auld lang syne, my jo, (For old times, my dear)
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet, (And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet)
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stoup! (And surely you’ll buy your pint-pot)
and surely I’ll be mine! (and surely I’ll buy mine)
And we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes, (We two have run about the hills)
and pou’d the gowans fine; (and picked the daisies fine)
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit, (But we’ve wandered many a weary foot)
sin’ auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn, (We two have paddled in the stream)
frae morning sun till dine; (from morning sun till dinner time)
But seas between us braid hae roar’d (But seas between us broad have roared)
sin’ auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere! (And there’s a hand my trusty friend)
and gie’s a hand o’ thine! (And give me a hand o’ thine)
And we’ll tak’ a right gude-willie waught, (And we’ll take a right good-will draught)
for auld lang syne.

This is what it sounds like in the original Scots:

For auld lang syne [fər o̜ːld lɑŋ səin] means literally “for old long since”, and can be translated as “for old times”, “for days gone by” or “for the sake of old times”.

pint-stoup [pəint.stʌup] means pint-pot, that is a tankard or drinking vessel containing a Scots pint (3 imperial pints / 1.696 L) [source].

brae [breː] = the brow of a hill, a hill, hillside or the high ground adjoining a river bank. From the Middle English bro/bra (bank of a stream, raised edge of a ditch or pit), from the Old Norse brá (eyebrow, eyelash) [source].

pou [puː] (also pul and pow) = to pull, to pluck (fruit, flowers, etc), or to gather produce of any kind. From the Middle English pullen, from Old English pullian (to pull, draw, tug, pluck off) [source].

gowan [ɡʌu.ən] = common daisy (Bellis perennis). From the old northern English dialect word golland. Possibly from the Old Norse gull/goll (gold) [source].

fiere [fiːr] = a companion, comrade, spouse, contemporary or equal. From the (Northumbrian) Old English fǣra, for ġefēra (companion, comrade), from ġe- (co-) and fēra (traveller) [source].

waught [wɑːxt] = to quaff, drink deeply, take large draughts (of); a draught of liquid, a long pull, swig or gulp of any drink. Of unknown origin.

Sources: Wikipedia, Dictionary.com, DSL – Dictionaries of the Scots Language / Dictionars o the Scots Leid, Wiktionary

Perspective

Yesterday was the Winter Solstice, at least here in the Northern Hemisphere. It was the shortest day of the year, and from now on the days will get longer.

winter solstice sunrise

This came up when I was talking to a Chinese friend yesterday, and she said that it was the longest night, and that the nights will get shorter from now on.

It struck me that this was an interesting perspective, and I wondered if this was a culture difference or just her.

Are the days getting longer or the nights getting shorter for you?

Is the glass half full or half empty?

Another thing I noticed recently is that the Dutch word lang means both long and tall. For example, to ask how tall someone is you would say “Hoe lang ben je?” (“How long are you?”), to which I would reply “Ik ben één meter zevenenzestig centimeter lang” (“I am 1m 67cm long”). When you translate it literally into English it sounds a bit strange, at least to me.

Sea Swine

A porpoise is a small cetacean of the family Phocoenidae, and is related to dolphins and whales.

Eye Contact !

The word porpoise comes from the Middle English porpeys/purpeys, from the Anglo-Norman porpeis/purpeis, from the Old French po(u)rpois/pourpais (porpoise), from the Vulgar Latin *porcopiscis (porpoise), from the Latin porcus (pig) and piscis (fish) [source].

Other (archaic / poetic) English words for porpoises, and dolphins, include: sea hogs, sea pigs, seaswine, or mereswine, from the Old English mereswīn (porpoise).

In French a porpoise is a cochon de mer (“sea pig”), or a marsouin [maʁ.swɛ̃], which comes from the Old English mereswīn (porpoise), or from another Germanic language, such as *mariswīn (porpoise, dolphin) in Old Frankish, meerswijn (dolphin, porpoise) in Middle Dutch, or marsvín (dolphin) in Old Norse. These all come from the Proto-Germanic *mariswīną (dolphin, porpoise) from *mari (sea, ocean, lake) and *swīną (swine, pig) [source].

Related words in modern Germanic languages include:

  • Mereswyne/Merswine = porpoise or dolphin in Scots
  • Meerscheinchen = guinea pig in German
  • marsvín = guinea pig in Icelandic and Faroese
  • marsvin = guinea pig or porpoise in Danish and Norwegian
  • marsvin = guinea pig in Swedish
  • meerzwijn = porpoise in Dutch

Source: Wiktionary

Connections

One of the things that really interests me is finding connections between languages. This is one reason why I enjoy working on Omniglot, and writing and talking about words and etymologies.

Connected

Recently I’ve been concentrating on Mayan languages, as you may have noticed. There are now details of all the Mayan languages currently in use on Omniglot, apart from Cauque Mayan, or Kaqchikel-K’iche’ Mixed Language, which is spoken in Santa María Cauqué in the Department of Sacatepéquez in southern Guatemala. If any of you know more about this language, do let me know.

There are also numbers pages, phrases pages, and versions of Tower of Babel story in various Mayan languages. I’ll be adding more numbers pages soon.

When putting together these pages, particularly the numbers and phrases ones, I notice the similarities and differences between them, and I find patterns and connections, which is endlessly facsinating to me.

In a Celtiadur post I wrote yesterday, I discovered connections between words for thunder, tornado and Thursday in Celtic and other European languages.

When learning languages that are related to each other, such as Danish and Swedish, and/or related to languages I already know, I also find connections. Sometimes I have to dig deep into the origins of words to find those links, and this helps me remember them.

Are you learning, or have you learnt, several similar languages at the same time? Do you get them muddled at all? If not, how do you avoid confusion?

Soapy Chairs

When is a chair not a chair?

Chairs

The Japanese kanji 椅子 (isu) means chair or stool, and also post, office or position. The word チェア (chea) is used for chair in words like オフィスチェア (ofisuchea), which means office/desk/computer chair.

There are other words pronounced isu or something similar which mean different things:

  • イス (isu) = swords (suit in playing cards)
  • 異数 (isū) = unusual, exceptional, phenomenal
  • 逸す (issu) = to lose, miss, overlook, omit
  • 伊豆 (izu) = Izu (place name)
  • 出ず (izu) = to leave, exit, go out

In Mandarin Chinese a chair is 椅子 (yǐzi). The character 椅 (yǐ) on its own also means chair.

There are other words with similar pronunciation which mean different things:

  • 胰子 (yízi) = soap, pancreas (of pigs, sheep, etc)
  • 义子 [義子] (yìzǐ) = an adopted son

There are some longer words that include some variation on yizi, such as

  • 一字(一)字 (yīzì(-yī)zì) = word by word
  • 一子儿 [一字兒] (yī ziér) = hank, small bundle; in a line, in a row
  • 易子而食 (yì zi ér shí) = exchange of children for food (during extreme famine)
  • 以资鼓励 [以資鼓勵] (yǐzīgǔlì) = to give an honors testimony for; as an encouragement

Sources: Jisho, LINE Chinese-English Dictionary, 汉英大词典 Chinese-English Comprehensive ABC Dictionary

This was inpsired by this post on Instagram:

So this post is sort of right – in Japanese if you mispronounce the word for chair it can mean something different, but not what whoever made this post thinks. I know it’s a joke, but it would be funnier if they had actually checked.

You can find more language-related nonsense like this on The Language Nerds website.

Humdudgeon

Humdudgeon is an interesting Scots word I came across the other day on TikTok.

Can you guess what it means?

Here are some possibilities:

  1. a species of duck
  2. a fuss or needless complaint
  3. a children’s game
  4. a tool for extracting stones from cows’ hooves

It is in fact a fuss or needless complaint, a big stupid person of an evil disposition, or a bungler. In the plural it means a fit of sulks. Here are some examples of how it’s used:

  • Dinnae ye be giein me ony ae yer humdudgeon
    Don’t give my any fuss
  • I would never be making a hum-dudgeon about a scart on the pow.
    I would never make a fuss about a cormorant on the pool
  • You’re a fearful humdurgeon
    You’re a fearful bungler

It is a combination of hum (a hoax or imposition, humbug) and dudgeon (feeling of anger or resentment) [source]. It can also refer to an imaginary illness [source].

Hum comes from the Middle English hummen (to hum, buzz, drone, make a murmuring sound to cover embarrassment), which is probably of imitative origin [source].

The origins of dudgeon are uncertain. It possibly comes from the English word dudgen (something worthless, trash, contemptible), or from the Italian word aduggiare (to overshadow) [source].

If you’re in high dudgeon you’re indignant and enraged or if you leave in high dudgeon you do so resentfully or furiously. Can you also be in low dudgeon (generally happy and content) or even in in mid dudgeon (more or less happy but somewhat angry as well)?

To me, High Dudgeon sounds like a quiant little village somewhere in the southwest of England where the residents are relentlessly indignant and enraged about everything. While in nearby Low Dudgeon people are much more chilled.

Cotswolds
A photo of Lower Slaughter, a real village in the Cotswolds in the southwest of England, not far from Upper Slaughter. The slaughter part of their names comes from the Old English word slothre (a muddy or miry place) [source], which probably comes from slóh (a slough, hollow place filed with mire, a pathless, miry place) [source]

Hairy Cats and Little Dogs

When you see a caterpillar, does it make you think of a cat or a dog?

Caterpillar

Why do I ask? Well, the word caterpillar comes from the Late Latin words catta (cat) and pilōsa, a form of pilōsus (hairy, shaggy), via the Old Northern French word catepeluse (caterpillar). So a caterpillar is a “hairy cat” [source].

In French the word for caterpillar is chenille [ʃə.nij], which comes from the Latin canīcula (little dog) because apparently the head of a caterpillar looks like a dog [source].

In Welsh a caterpillar is a deilbryf (“insect/lava/maggot of leaves”), ymlusgyn (“little creeper”), teiliwr (blewog) (“(hairy) tailor”) or teiliwr cantroed (“tailor with hundred feet”) [source].

In Irish a caterpillar is a cruimh chabáiste (“cabbage maggot”) or a péist cháil (“cabbage/kale beast”) [source].

Are there interesting words for caterpillars in other languages?