Falling Apples

A friend asked me to look into the origins of the saying An acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree. I can only find a few examples of this saying online, but lots of examples of the apple never falls far from the tree and similar sayings. It refers to the idea that people inevitably share traits with or resemble their parents or family.

Apple Tree

According to The Phrase Finder, the origins of this saying are uncertain. The earliest known example of its use in English appears in 1830 in Benjamin Thorpe’s translation of Rasmus Rask’s Grammar of the Anglo-Saxon Tongue:

Traces still exist in the daily language of the Icelanders, for instance in the proverb, eplit fellr ekki lánt frá eikinni the apple falls not far from the tree (the oak!).

In a letter by Ralph Waldo Emerson published in 1839, he quotes the German proverb ‘der Apfel fällt nicht weit von Stamm’ – “As men say the apple never falls far from the stem.”

In 1843, The Bible in Spain by George Henry Borrow includes the line:

“The apple”, as the Danes say, “had not fallen far from the tree;” the imp was in every respect the counterpart of the father, though in miniature.

According to English Language & Usage, a Welsh version of this saying appears in A Dictionary of the Welsh Language, Explained in English:

Ni fell zygwyz aval o avall
The apple will not fall far from the tree

The spelling here is unusal and non-standard: z = dd and v = f, so in modern standard spelling it would be “Ni fell ddygwydd afal o afall”, I think.

There are also versions of this saying from Turkish – Iemisch agatsdan irak dushmas (The apple does not fall far from the tree), and Old English – Se æppel næfre þæs feorr ne trenddeð he cyð hwanon he com. (The apple never rolls so far that it does not make known whence it came.)


I also found an idiom with a similar meaning in Japanese: 狐の子は頬白 (kitsune no ko wa tsurajiro), which means “fox cubs have white cheeks” [source].

Do you know of examples of this saying in other languages?


I learnt a cute Dutch word today – ietsiepietsie. It means a little, a little bit, teeny tiny or a teeny tiny bit, and is also written ietsie pietsie, ietsje pietsje or ietsjepietsje [source].

Itsy Bitsy Katydid

You could also translate it as itsy-bitsy, itty-bitty or teensy weensy Do you know any similar expressions in English or other languages.

It is a reduplication* of ietsje (somewhat, a little bit), a diminutive version of iets [its] (something, anything), which comes from the Middle Dutch iet (something, anything, to any degree, a little, somewhat, sometimes, perhaps), a contraction of iewet, from the Old Dutch *iowiht, from the Proto-Germanic *ne (not) plus io (ever) plus *wiht, from *wihtą (thing) [source].

*Reduplication is “a morphological process in which the root or stem of a word (or part of it) or even the whole word is repeated exactly or with a slight change.” They’re not very common in Dutch. Other examples include taaitaai (gingerbread), tamtam (fanfare, grapevine) and bla-bla (blah-blah, talk) [source].

They’re more common in English. Examples include easy-peasy, hoity-toity, hurdy-gurdy, raggle-taggle, tut-tut, chit-chat and knick-knack [source].

Gossipy Cancans

The cancan is a “high-kicking chorus line dance originating in France”, and also a “a trick [in motocross] where one leg is brought over the seat, so that both legs are on one side.” [source].


Accorrding to the English version of Wiktionary, it comes from the French cancan [kɑ̃.kɑ̃], which refers to the dance, and also means gossip.

Apparently there was a disbute at the Collège de France in around 1550 about the pronunciation of the Latin word quamquam – some scholars favoured the reconstructed Latin prononuciation of [ˈkʷam.kʷã(m)], while others preferred the French Latin pronunciation of [kɑ̃.kɑ̃]. Since then, cancan has referred to “any kind of scandalous performance”.

Accorrding to the French version of Wiktionary however, cancan (gossip) originally meant a loud noise about something, and comes from quanquan (noise, brilliance for a trifle, a narrative full of slander, an indiscreet report), from the Latin quamquam (although, while), from quam (in what way, how, as much as).

Alternatively, cancan might come from the Arabic كانكان (kan kan), which means futile talk.

The cancan, as in the dance, comes from a children’s name for canard (duck), and is onomatopoeic inspired by the quacking of ducks and evocative of their waddling.

Related words in French include cancaner (to gossip (maliciously), to quack), cancaneuse (a gossip), and cancanier (gossiping, gossip, gossipy).

Incidentally, the word gossip comes from the Middle English godsybbe/godsib (a close friend or relation, a confidant, a godparent), from the Old English godsibb (godparent, sponsor), from god (god) and sibb (relationship, peace) [source].


On Tuesday night I was at my usual Welsh folk music session having a nice time, then unfortunately a guy fell over and banged his head – he was a bit unsteady on his feet, and had drunk quite a bit. He was okay and has apparently recovered now, but it put a bit of a dampener on the evening.

A dampener is a device that moistens or dampens something, or a discouraging event or remark. Synonyms include buzzkill, killjoy and spoilsport. Do you have any others?


It comes from the Middle English dampen (to stifle, suffocate), from the Proto-Germanic *dampaz (vapour), from *dimbaną (to fog, smoke) [source].

Last night when talking about this incident in French, I learnt the phrase gâcher qch, which means to to a dampener/damper on something. Gâcher on its own means to spoil, ruin, muck up, bungle, waste, squander (chances), temper (plaster) or mix (mortar). It appears in phrases like gâcher le paysage (to be a blot of the landscape) and gâcher (to kill a party [source].

Gâcher comes from the Old French gaschier (to spol, spoil, waste), from guaschier/waschier (to wash, soak), from the Frankish *waskan (to wash, bathe), from the Proto-Germanic *waskaną (to wash), from the Proto-Indo-European *wod- (wet) [source].

Words from the same roots include wash in English, wassen (to wash, clean) in Dutch, guazzàre (to wallow) in Italian, and vaske (to wash, shampoo, launder, shuffle) in Danish [source].


An interesting French I learnt yesterday was hameçonnage, which means phishing or a phishing scam – that is “The malicious act of keeping a false website or sending a false e-mail with the intent of masquerading as a trustworthy entity in order to acquire sensitive information, such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details.” or “The act of circumventing security with an alias.” [source].

rebar hook

It comes from hameçonner (to attract and seduce by a deceptive appearance, to phish), from hameçon (fishhook), from the Old French ameçon, from the Latin hāmus (hook, barb), possibly from the Proto-Germanic *hamô (clothes, skirt, fishnet, harness, collar) [source].

The word hameçon also appears in the expression mordre à l’hameçon, which means to take the bait or rise to the bait, or literally “to bite the hook” [source].

Another word for a scam, swindle or fraud in French is escroquerie, and a phishing scam is escroquerie par hameçonnage [source].

Escroquerie comes from escroquer (to swindle, cheat, defraud), from the Italian scroccare (to scrounge, sponge, cadge, blag) from scrocco (scrounging, sponging), from the Old High German *scurgo, from scurgen (to knock over, push aside), from or related to the Proto-Germanic *skeran (to cut, shear), from the Proto-Indo-European *(s)ker- (to cut) [source].

The English word shear comes from the same roots, as does the French word déchirer (to tear, rip up) [source].

Half a Story

A way to say excuse me in Irish is gabh mo leithscéal, which is pronounced [ˌɡɔ mə ˈlʲɪʃceːl̪ˠ] or something like that. If you’re talking to two or more people, you would say gabhaigí mo leithscéal. There are similar phrases in Scottish Gaelic – gabh mo leisgeul, and Manx – gow my leshtal. These mean literally “take my excuse”.

Gabh mo leithscéal (take my half story

The first word in these phrases comes from the Old Irish gaibid [ˈɡavʲiðʲ] (to grasp or receive), from the Proto-Celtic *gabyeti (to grab, seize, take or hold), from Proto-Indo-European *gʰeh₁bʰ- (to grab or take) [source].

Related words in other languages include gafael (to hold, grasp, grip) in Welsh, gavel (capacity, grasp) in Cornish, gable in English, and words for to have in Romance languages, such as avere in Italian and avoir in French [source].

The second word in these phrases means my, and the third one means excuse. The words for excuse come from the Old Irish leithscél / leithsgéal / leithsgéul (excuse), from leth (half, side, direction) and scél (story), so an excuse is a “half story” [source].

A related word in Irish is leithscéalach (fond of excuses, apologetic). There’s a similar word in Scottish Gaelic: leisgeulach (excusing, apologetic) and in Manx: leshtallagh (apologetic, apologist, excuser, extenuating).

Seeding Discord

Yesterday I learnt an interesting phrase in French – semer la zizanie, which means to stir up ill-feeling, to mess around/about, to drive a wedge (between) or to wreak/raise havoc [source].

J. Zizanie des marais P8100001 2

The word semer means to sow, spread, scatter, lose or shake off. You can also semer le doute (cast doubts), semer la panique (spread panic) or semer la discorde (sow/seed discord, foster division) [source].

It comes from the Latin sēmināre (to sow), from sēminō (I plant, sow), from sēmen (seed, graft, offspring, cause), from the Proto-Italic *sēmen (seed), from the Proto-Indo-European *séh₁mn̥ (seed), from seh₁- (to sow, plant). English words from the same roots include season, seed, seminar and sow [source].

Zizanie means discord or ill-feeling, and comes from the Latin zīzania (tares, cockle), from zizā̆nium (tares, cockle, darnel, jealousy, discord), from the Ancient Greek ζῐζᾰ́νῐον (zizánion – darnel, ryegrass), from the Aramaic זזניא‎, from the Sumerian 𒍣𒍝𒀭 (zizān – wheat) [source].

Words from the same roots include زِوَان‎ (ziwān – darnel, ryegrass) in Arabic, zizzania (darnel, tare, discord) in Italian, and cizaña (darnel, tare, dissension, enmity) [source].

Tare is a vetch or any of the tufted grasses of genus Lolium [source]. Darnel is a species of ryegrass of the genus Lolium temulentum [source], and cockle is another name for the same plant [source].

Incidentally, the word wreak, which only appears in the phrase to wreak havoc (to cause damage, disruption or destruction), and a few other phrases, means to cause harm, afflict, inflict, harm, injure; to chasten, chastise, punish, smite, and used to mean to inflict or take vengeance on, or to take vengeance for [source].


As today is the day before Christmas, I thought I’d look into the origins of the word eve.


Eve means the day or night before, and is usually used for holidays and other significant events, such as Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. It can also mean the period of time when something is just about to happen or to be introduced, such as the eve of a scientific breakthrough, and it used to mean evening or night.

It comes from the Middle English word even (eve, evening), from the Old English ǣfen (evening, eve), from the Proto-Germanic *ēbanþs (evening) [source]. Evening comes from the same Proto-Germanic root, via the Middle English evenyng (evening), and the Old English ǣfnung (evening) [source].

Related words in English including eventide, a poetic / archaic word for evening, and yestereve (yesterday evening).

Related words in other languages include avond (evening, night) in Dutch, Abend (evening, night) in German, aften (evening, night) in Danish and aften (night, evening, eve, dinner, supper) in Norwegian [source].

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

Water Trumpets

Last night while talking about the weather in French, as you do, one expression that came up was une trombe d’eau, which means a cloudbust, downpour or waterspout [source]. There have been several of these this week.

The word trombe [tʁɔ̃b] on its own means waterspout or whirlwind [source]. It comes from the Italian tromba (trumpet, horn, bugler, well, shaft), possibly from the Frankish *trumba (trumpet), which is of imitative origin [source].

Other phrases featuring trombe include:

  • entrer en trombe = to burst in, storm in
  • sortir en trombe = to burst out, storm out
  • partir en trombe = to accelerate away
  • passer en trombe = to zoom past, hurtle past

A related word from the same roots is trompe [tʁɔ̃p], which means a trumpet, the trunk of an elephant [source] or a squinch (a small arch, corbelling, etc, across an internal corner of a tower, used to support a superstructure such as a spire) [source].

Shiny brass 3

Another word with the same roots is tromper [tʁɔ̃.pe] (to deceive, cheat on, disapoint, elude), which comes from the Old French tromper (to tramp, trump, delude), from trompe (horn, trump, trumpet) [source].

The English word trumpet also comes from the same roots, via the Old French trompette (trumpet), a diminutive or trompe [source]. As does the word trombone, via the Italian trombone (trombone, annoying or boring person), from tromba (trumpet) and -one (augmentative suffix) [source].

The trump an elephant makes, which is also a slang word for flatulence in the UK, and used to mean a trumpet, comes from the Old French French trompe (horn, trump, trumpet) [source]. However trump as in a trump card or a suit in cards is thought to come from the French triomphe (triumph), or the Old French triumphe, from the Latin triumphus (a hymn in honour of Bacchus, a triumph or celebration), from the Old Latin triumpus, from the Etruscan *𐌈𐌓𐌉𐌀𐌌𐌐𐌄 (*θriampe), from the Ancient Greek θρίαμβος (thríambos – a hymn to Dionysus) [source].

Short Shrift

The other day I heard the expression short shrift being used, and started wondering what a shrift might be, and why it’s a short one that’s usually given or received.

The expression to give short shrift means to ignore, disregard or exclude (sb/sth); to give (sb/sth) very little time or attention. For example “Despite its urgency, ministers are giving the issue short shrift in parliament.” [source].

The word shrift means the act of going to or hearing a religious confession; a confession to a priest, or forgiveness given by a priest after confession. It comes from the Middle English shrift (confession, penitence, repentance), from the Old English sċrift (penance, penalty, a judge), from sċrīfan (to prescribe absolution or penance; to pass judgment), from the Proto-Germanic *skrībaną (to write), from the Latin scrībō (I write), from the Proto-Indo-European *(s)kreybʰ- (to scratch, tear) [source].


Short shrift is a rushed sacrament of confession given to a prisoner who is to be executed very soon; a speedy execution, usually without any proper determination of guilt; a short interval of relief or time, or something dealt with or overcome quickly and without difficulty [source].

The word shrive (to hear or receive a confession; to prescribe penance or absolution) comes from the same roots [source]. So does shrove, an old word that means to join the fesitivities of Shrovetide or to make merry. It appears in the name Shrove Tuesday, the day before the beginning of Lent, also known as Pancake Day, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday [source] or Jif Lemon Day [source]. Other names are probably available.

So now we know.