Yulemonth

As today is the first day of December, I thought I’d look into the origins of the names for this month in various languages.

December comes from the Middle English December/Decembre, from the Old French decembre, from the Latin december, from decem (ten) and the adjectival suffix -ber. December was the tenth month in the Roman calendar, which started in March [source]. The days between December and March were not included in the calendar as part of any month. Later they became January and February and were added to the beginning of the calendar [source].

hoar frost

In the Old English December was known as Ġēolamonaþ/Gēolmōnaþ/Iūlmōnaþ (“Yule month”) or ǣrra ġēola (“before Yule”). The word Yulemonth apparently exists in modern English, although is rarely used [source]. December is associated with Yuletide / Christmas in a few other languages: mí na Nollag (“month of Christmas”) in Irish, Mee ny Nollick (“month of Christmas”) in Manx, and joulukuu (“yule month”) in Finnish and Võro.

In many languages the name of this month is a version of December, but there are some exceptions.

In Aragonese December is abiento, in Asturian it’s avientu, in Basque it’s abendu and in Occitan it’s abén. These all come from the Latin adventus (arrival, approach, advent), from adveniō (arrive) and the suffix -tus [source].

In Belarusian December is снежань (sniežań) [ˈsʲnʲeʐanʲ], which comes from снег (snjeh – snow) [source]. The Cherokee name for December is also related to snow: ᎥᏍᎩᎦ (vsgiga) or “snow moon” [source].

In Proto-Slavic the month after the Winter solitice was known as *prosinьcь. There are a number of possible roots for this word: *siňь (gray), *sijati (to shine, glow – referring to the winter solstice) or *prositi (to pray – referring to Christmas). Descendents in modern Slavic languages include prosinec (December) in Czech, просинац (December) in Serbian, and prosinec (January) in Slovenian.

In Welsh December is Rhagfyr [ˈr̥aɡvɨ̞r / ˈr̥aɡvɪr] (“foreshortening”), because it’s a time when days get shorter [source].

December is “twelve month” or “month twelve” in Chinese: 十二月 (shí’èryuè), Japanese: 十二月 (jūnigatsu), Korean: 십이월 (12월/十二月/12月 – sipiweol), and Vietnamese: tháng mười hai (𣎃𨑮𠄩).

Are there other interesting names for December in other languages?

You can find the names of months in many languages here.

Cheesy Juice

Today’s etymological adventure starts with the word ost, which means cheese in Danish, Swedish and Norwegian. In Danish it’s pronounced [ɔsd̥], in Swedish and Norwegian it’s pronounced [ust] [source]. It also means east, but we’re focusing on the cheesy meaning today.

Ost

Ost comes from the Old Norse ostr (cheese), from Proto-Germanic *justaz (cheese), from Proto-Indo-European *yaus-/*yūs- (sap, juice, broth), from *yewH- (to blend, mix (food), knead).

The Old Norse ostr is also the root of words for cheese in Icelandic and Faroese (ostur), in the Sylt dialect of North Frisian (Aast), in Finnish (juusto), in Estonian (juust), in Northern Sami (vuostá), in Skolt Sami (vuâstt), and in other Finnic and Sami languages [source].

From the PIE root *yaus-/*yūs- we get the Latin: iūs (gravy, broth, soup, sauce, juice), from which we get the English word juice, which was borrowed into Faroese and Icelandic (djús), Swedish and Danish (juice), and other languages [source].

The Welsh word for porridge, uwd [ɨ̞u̯d/ɪu̯d], comes from the PIE root *yaus-/*yūs-, via the Proto-Celtic *yut-/*yot- [source]. The Russian word уха (ukha – a kind of fish soup) comes from the same PIE root [source].

From the Latin iūs, we also get (via French) the English word jus (the juices given off as meat is cooked). The Dutch word jus (gravy) comes from the same French root [source].

The English word cheese comes from the Middle English chese (cheese), from Old English ċīese (cheese), from the Proto-West Germanic *kāsī (cheese), from the Latin cāseus (cheese), from Proto-Indo-European *kwh₂et- (to ferment, become sour) [source].

Words for cheese in other West Germanic language come from the same Germanic root, including: kaas in Dutch and Afrikaans, Käse in German, Kjees in Low German and tsiis in West Frisian [source].

From the Latin cāseus we also get words for cheese in Spanish (queso), Galician (queixo), Portuguese (queijo), Welsh (caws), Irish (cáis), Manx (caashey), and other Celtic languages. The Swedish word keso (cottage cheese) was borrowed from Spanish [source].

Another word for cheese in Late/Vulgar Latin was fōrmāticum, from fōrma (form, mold). From this we get words for cheese in French (fromage), Italian (formaggio), and similarly cheesy words in various other languages [source].

Cheese, Juice and Porridge

In North Germanic languages such as Swedish, the word for cheese is ost, or something similar. Since I learnt this, I’ve been wondering where it comes from, so I decided to investige.

Ost comes from the Old Norse ostr (cheese), from the Proto-Germanic *justaz (cheese), from the Proto-Indo-European *yewH-s- (sap, juice, broth), from *yewH- (to blend, mix (food), knead).

From the same root we get the Latin word iūs (gravy, broth, soup, sauce, juice), from which we get the English juice, the French jus (juice), and the Welsh uwd [ɨ̞u̯d / ɪu̯d] (porridge, oatmeal).

Words for cheese in Finnic and Samic languages are also related: juusto in Finnish, juust in Estonian, and vuostá in Northern Sami.

Brunost

Cats and Porridge

att gå som katten kring het gröt

What connection is there between cats and porridge?

Well in Swedish, att gå som katten kring het gröt (“to walk like the cat around hot porridge”) means that you are not getting to the point, beating around the bush, stalling, avoiding talking directly about something sensitive or unpleasant, approaching something indirectly and cautiously, walking on egg shells, pussyfooting around, or wasting time.

Some examples of how this phrase is used:

  • Låt oss inte gå som katten kring het gröt
    Let us not beat around the bush
  • Vi går som katten kring het gröt, både politiskt och diplomatiskt sett.
    We tread on eggshells, both politically and diplomatically.
  • Vi har tassat likt katten kring het gröt i den frågan alltför länge.
    We have pussyfooted on that issue for far too long.
  • Vi här har varit rädda och gått som katten kring het gröt.
    We here have been fearful and have beaten around the bush.

Source: bab.la

Similar idioms involving cats and porridge are found in a number of other languages:

  • Czech: chodit kolem horké kaše = to walk around hot porridge
  • German: wie die Katze um den heißen Brei herumschleichen = as the cat sneaks around the hot porridge
  • Finnish: kiertää kuin kissa kuumaa puuroa = to pace around hot porridge like a cat
  • Norwegian: å gå som katta rundt den varme grauten = to walk like a cat around hot porridge

These are all equivalents of to beat around the bush.

The English idiom to beat around the bush was first used in writing in 1572, and referred to the practise of beating bushes in order to flush out game animals [source].

Some other cat-related idioms

  • It’s rain cats and dogs = It’s raining heavily
  • To let the cat out of the bag = to reveal a secret
  • Curiosity killed the cat
  • When the cat’s away the mice will play
  • French: Avoir d’autres chats à fouetter = To have other cats to whip = To have other fish to fry / other things to do.
  • French: Avoir un chat dans la gorge = To have a cat in the throat = To have a frog in one’s throat
  • French: appeler un chat un chat = to call a cat a cat = to call a spade a spade = say it like it is
  • French: Chat échaudé craint l’eau froide = Scalded cat fears cold water = Once bitten, twice shy
  • Spanish: El gato escaldado del agua fria huye = The cat that has been scalded runs away from cold water = Once bitten, twice shy
  • German: meine Arbeit war für die Katz = my work was for the cat = my work was a waste of time
  • German: das hat die Katze gefressen = the cat ate it = the fairies took it
  • German: wenn die Katze aus dem Haus ist, tanzen die Mäuse (auf dem Tisch) = when the cat is out of the house, the mice dance (on the table) = when the cat’s away the mice will play

Sources: Idioms of the world, Reverso

Do you know other cat- or porridge-related idioms?

Multilingual Skye

Skye is quite a multilingual place with residents and visitors from around the world. During the past few days I’ve met people from a variety of countries, and have spoken quite few different languages, including Scottish Gaelic, Irish, French, German, Swedish, and a bit of English. There are also speakers of Scots, Italian, Finnish and Japanese here, and there are people in the song class who have studied Old Norse, Old English, and Ugaritic.

On Tuesday night I met a guy from New Mexico who is a native speaker of Navajo – his wife has Scottish roots and is studying Gaelic here while he has a holiday. I asked him if he could record a few things in Navajo for me, but he said he can’t read the language very well, so would find it difficult to read them from Omniglot.

Session in the Talla Mòr

Last night there was an epic music session in the bar with lots of tunes and songs – I sang a few of my own songs, which went down well, and others sang in Scottish Gaelic, Irish, Scots and English. When I left the bar at 2am the session was still going, and apparently carried on until at least 4am. So many of us are feeling rather tired today.

Session in the Talla Mòr

Today we recorded a few songs in the college’s recording studio for the people who are doing the sound engineering course. I’m looking foward to hearing the recording.

The end of course cèilidh takes place tonight, and each class will be doing their party piece. Most will be singing, and the song class will be doing five songs.

Hyppytyynytyydytys

Pomppulinna / bouncy castle

I discovered a very useful word in Finnish today – hyppytyynytyydytys – which apparently means “bouncy cushion satisfaction”.

You can hear it pronounced on Forvo.

It breaks down as follows:

hyppy = to jump, leap, hop, bounce
tyyny = pillow, cushion, oad, bolster
tyydytys = satisfaction, gratification

I suspect it was made up for fun.

Bouncy (elastic, springy) in Finnish is kimmoisa, and a bouncy castle is a pomppulinna, which appears to be a brand name.

So if you were satisfied with your bouncy castle, could you say you have “pomppulinnatyydytys”?

What if you were dissatisfied with your bouncy cushion or castle?

Bouncy castles are also known as inflatable castles or jumping castles. The first such inflatable structures were made in the USA and known as “space walks”. What do you call them?

Sources: The Language Closet, GoogleTranslate, bab.la, Wikipedia

The Foreshortening Dark

December in various languages

In many languages this month is known as December, or something similar, which comes ultimately from the Latin *decumo-mēnsris (of the tenth month) – the Roman calendar started in March (mārtius) [source].

However in some languages December has a completely different name:

In Welsh December is Rhagfyr [ˈr̥aɡvɨ̞r], which means the ‘foreshortening’, from rhagfyrhau (to foreshorten), from rhag (a prefix with various meanings) and byr (short, small) [source].

In Breton December is miz Kerzu [miz ˈkɛʁ.zy] – which means ‘very dark month’. The Cornish for December is similar and has the same meaning: Mys Kevardhu [source].

In Scottish Gaelic December is Dùbhlachd, From dubh (dark), so it’s a dark time [source].

In Irish December is Mí na Nollag (the month of Christmas). Nollag is the genetive of Nollaig, which comes from the Old Irish Notlaic (Christmas), from Latin nātālīcia (a birthday party), from nātālis (natal), from nātus (born) [source].

In Finnish December is joulukuu (Christmas/yule moon) [source], which was also the meaning of the Old English word for this month: Gēolmōnaþ.

In Czech December is prosinec [prɔsɪnɛt͡s], which comes from prosinoti (flashing, shining) [source].

In Polish December is grudzień [ˈɡru.d͡ʑɛɲ], from the Proto-Slavic *grudьnъ, from *gruda (heap, lump) & *-ьnъ [source].

Are there interesting names for December in other languages?

Sounds good to me

Have you ever learnt a language just because you like the way it sounds?

This is one of the reasons for learning a language discussed by John McWhorter is this TED talk:

He talks about the joys of getting your tongue round the sounds of other languages, and mentions Khmer, with its large inventory of vowels.

Which languages sound good to you?

Are there any particular sounds or combinations of sounds that really appeal to you (in any language)?

I like listening to languages with clicks, such as Xhosa and Zulu, and also to ones with ejectives, such as Georgian. I also like listening to and speaking tonal languages, like Mandarin and Cantonese.

At the moment, my favourite language in terms of sounds, is Swedish.

Other sound favourites include Japanese, Finnish, Italian, Icelandic and Swahili.

Café Lingua – lifandi tungumál

Yesterday evening I went to Café Lingua – lifandi tungumál at the University of Iceland / Háskóli Íslands. It’s a regular meet-up for language enthusiasts, and last night there were a lot of extra people there who are in Reykjavik for the Polyglot Conference. It was great to see lots of familiar faces, and to meet new people.

I had conversations in English, Welsh, Irish and Mandarin, and spoke odd bits of Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Cantonese, Swedish, Icelandic, Czech, Russian, Finnish and French. Other languages were available.

Today I’m going on a Golden Circle tour with other Polyglot Conference participants.