Procastination

Procrastinate Now! (or tomorrow, or whenever you feel like it)

Procrastination – “the act of postponing, delaying or putting off, especially habitually or intentionally.” From the Middle French procrastination, from the Latin prōcrāstinātiō (a putting off until tomorrow), from prōcrāstinō (procrastinate), from prō (of) + crāstinus (tomorrow), from crās (tomorrow) [source].

Crās comes from the Proto-Italic *krās, and is probably from the Proto-Indo-European *ḱerh₂- (head, top), which is the root of words for head, horn, cow and others in various Indo-European languages
[source].

Crās became crai in Italian, crás in Portuguese and cras in Sardinian. These all mean tomorrow, but only the Sardinian one is still used. Tomorrow is domani in Italian – from the Late Latin dē māne (of the early morning), amanhã in Portuguese – from Vulgar Latin *ad maneana (at morning). The French demain (tomorrow), and the Romanian dimineață (morning), come from the same root as the Italian domani.

The antonym of procrastination is precrastination / pre-crastination, or “the completion of a task too quickly or too early, when taking more time would result in a better outcome” [source]. It was coined by David Rosenbaum in an article he wrote in 2014: Pre-crastination: hastening subgoal completion at the expense of extra physical effort. [More information].

I have a tendency to procrastinate, and often put off things that don’t seem important or urgent. For example, there’s a pile of papers on my desk that could do with filing, and I might just get round to it one of these days. It’s not the end of the world if I don’t though.

Sometimes, when I’m in a getting-things-done-mood, I go round doing all the things I’ve been putting off for days/week/months/years. Or at least as many of them as I can before I get distracted by something more interesting.

Some things I put off and do something easier instead – writing this blog post, for example, rather than recording the next episode of my podcast, or doing some language lessons rather than practising one of my instruments.

I precrastinate as well, but wasn’t aware of it. Or at least I didn’t have a word for this practice until now.

Are you a procrastinator, and/or a precrastinator?

What task / jobs / activities do you tend to put off?

What things to you prefer to do instead?

Atchoo!

Bless you!

When someone sneezes, you might say Bless you!, at least in English.

In Spanish, I discovered the other day, you say ¡Jesús!. A Welsh friend told me this, and another friend thought it sounded like the Welsh phrase Ga i sws? (May I have a kiss?).

In Welsh you might say Rhad arnat ti!/arnoch chi! (Bless you!), Bendith y Tad! (Blessing of the Father!) or Bendith y mamau! (Blessing of the mothers!).

In French you say À tes/vos souhaits ! (As you wish!).

In German you Gesundheit! (Health!)

What about in other languages?

Knives and Cutlasses

Canif

Yesterday I discovered that the French word for penknife is canif [ka.nif], which was borrowed from the Middle English knif / knyf [kniːf] (knife, dagger) [source]. The English word knife comes from the same root.

Knif comes from the Old English cnīf [kniːf] (knife), which was possibly borrowed or influenced by the Old Norse knífr (knife), which comes from the Proto-Germanic *knībaz [ˈkniː.βɑz] (pincers, shears, knife), from the Proto-Indo-European *gneybʰ- (to pinch, nip), from *gen- (to pinch, squeeze, bend, press) [source].

Cnīf was first used in writing in the 11th century. Before then, seax [sæɑ̯ks] was the word for a knife or dagger, which is related to the word Saxon [source].

The French word for knife is couteau [ku.to], which comes from the Old French coutel, from the Latin cultellus (small knife, dagger), a diminutive of culter [ˈkul.ter] (knife, razor) [source], which is also the root of words for knife in Romance languages, the English words cutlass and cutlery, and the Welsh word cyllell [ˈkəɬɛɬ].

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

Hopes and Dreams

I learnt this week that there are two words in Russian for dream – сон [son] and мечта (mɛtʃˈt̪a). The former refers to the dreams you have when asleep, while the latter refers to dreams as in hopes, wishes or visions.

If you’re asleep and dreaming, in Russian you ‘see dreams’, or видеть сны [ˈvʲidʲɪtʲ snɨ]. If you’re dreaming of becoming rich or famous, then you use the verb мечтать [mʲɪt͡ɕˈtatʲ]. If you have a bad dream or nightmare though, it’s a кошмар [koʃˈmar], from the French cauchemar (nightmare)

Сон means sleep or dream, and comes from the Proto-Slavic *sъnъ (sleep, dream), from the Proto-Balto-Slavic *supnas (sleep), from Proto-Indo-European *súpnos (dream). This is also the root of words for sleep in North Germanic languages such as Danish (søvn), Icelandic (svefn) and Swedish (sömn), and the archaic English word sweven (a dream, vision) [source].

Мечта comes from the Proto-Slavic *mьčьta (dream), possibly from Proto-Indo-European *meyk- (to shimmer), [source].

Some examples of how they’re used:

  • День и ночь меня преследует один и тот же сон = The same dream haunts me day and night
  • С тех пор, как ты уехал, мне снится один и тот же сон = I keep having this dream since you left
  • У меня есть мечта = I have a dream
  • Быть художником – это последняя мечта, которая у Джимми осталась = Being an artist is the last dream Jimmy has
  • Даже находиться в этом офисе – это та мечта, ставшая реальностью = Just being in this office is a dream come true

Source: Reverso

Do other languages make this distinction between different kinds of dreams?

Trolling Carols

One of the songs we started to learn last night at Bangor Community Choir is a version of the Christmas carol Deck the Halls (With Boughs of Holly). It contains the line “Troll the ancient Yule-tide carol”, which got me thinking that maybe the word troll had a different meaning when this carol was written.

The melody of Deck the Halls comes from a 16th century Welsh tune, Nos Galan (New Year’s Eve). The English words were written by Thomas Oliphant, and were first published in 1862 in Welsh Melodies (Volume 2) by John Thomas. The line in question was “Troul the ancient Christmas carol” in the original version.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, troll can mean:

  1. a dwarf or giant in Scandinavian folklore inhabiting caves or hills
  2. to antagonize (others) online by deliberately posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content
  3. to cause to move round and round
  4. to sing the parts of (something, such as a round or catch) in succession; to sing loudly; to celebrate in song
  5. to fish by trailing a lure or baited hook from a moving boat

According to Wiktionary, other meanings of troll include:

  • an ugly person
  • optical ejections from the top of the electrically active core regions of thunderstorms that are red in color that seem to occur after tendrils of vigorous sprites extend downward toward the cloud tops.
  • to saunter
  • to trundle, to roll from side to side
  • to draw someone or something out, to entice, to lure as if with trailing bait.

I think troll in the carol most likely refers to singing, rather any of the other definitions.

The noun troll comes from the Old Norse trǫll (witch, mage, conjurer), from the Proto-Germanic *truzlą (a supernatural being, demon, fiend, giant, monster), which is also the root of the English word droll (oddly humorous, whimsical), and the French drôle (funny, amusing, strange, wierd, bizarre), as well as words for troll in Germanic languages.

Trolling

The verb troll comes from the Middle English troll (to go about, stroll, roll from side to side), from the Old French troller (to quest, to wander), from the Proto-Germanic *truzlōną (to lumber).

Source: Wiktionary

To me a troll is a mythical beast that appears in folklore and stories like The Hobbit, and in Terry Practchett’s Discworld series, or an internet troll.

What do you think of when you hear or read the word troll?

Registering the Matrix

Language quiz image

Yesterday I learnt that the French for a number plate / license plate / vehilce registration plate is une plaque d’immatriculation [source].

The word immatriculation means registration, and comes from the word immatriculer (to register), which comes from the Medieval Latin immatriculare (to join) [source]. This comes from the Latin mātrīcula (public register), a diminutive of mātrīx (uterus, womb, source, origin, list, register) [source].

Mātrīx comes from Latin māter (mother, woman, nurse, motherland), from the Proto-Italic *mātēr (mother), from Proto-Indo-European *méh₂tēr (mother), which is the root of words for mother in many languages [source].

The English word matrix comes from the Latin mātrīx, either directly, or via the Old French matrice (pregnant animal) [source].

I never know what connections I’ll find when I set off on an etymological adventure like this. Yesterday I found that matriculation and mātrīx were connected, which inspired me to write this, but I wouldn’t have guessed that mātrīx and māter were also connected.

Gibberish

When someone is talking in a way that doesn’t make sense to you, is using specialist jargon, is speaking a foreign language you don’t know, or is using made-up words, you might say they’re talking gibberish.

Other words for gibberish include gobbledygook, claptrap, jibber, jabber, jibber-jabber, folderol, twaddle, hogwash, bunkum, blabla, humbug, mumbo-jumbo, jargon, babble, double Dutch and nonsense [source].

Gibberish is possibly onomatopoeic in origin, imitating to the sound of chatter, or from the the Irish word gob (mouth) [source].

In French equivalents of gibberish include charabia, galimatias, amphigouri, blabla and foutaise. To talk gibberish is dire du charabia, baragouiner or bredouiller [source].

You can hear a bit of gobbledygook in the latest episode of the Radio Omniglot Podcast, which I recorded yesterday, and edited today. My friends and I sometimes talk in gobbledygook just for a laugh. Maybe I should add a page about it to Omniglot.

Do you know any other words of gibberish in English or other languages?

Goats and Cabbages

ménager la chèvre et le chou

If you’re not sure about something, or don’t want to commit yourself to something, you’re said to be sitting on the fence.

In French you’re said to be ménager la chèvre et le chou (“to look after the goat and the cabbage”). Another translation of this phrase, according to Wiktionary, is to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. Has anyone heard this expression?

Are there other ways to refer to fence-sitting?

A related word is: chèvrechoutisme (“goat-cabbage-ism”), which is apparently an expression used in Belgium to mean “A policy of attempting to please everybody or reconcile conflicting options.” [source]. A person who persues such a policy is known as a chèvrechoutiste (“goat-cabbage-ist”) [source].

The word ménager means to handle carefully, to treat considerately, to use sparingly, to take care of, to look after, to arrange, to put in or to make. The reflexive version of the verb, se ménager, means “not to push oneself too hard”. As an adjective ménager means household, domestic, housewife or canteen, and ménage means housework or (married) couple, as in ménage à trois [source]

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?