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

Elephant Paths

A desire path is “a path created as a consequence of erosion caused by human or animal foot traffic. The path usually represents the shortest or most easily navigated route between an origin and destination.” They tend to appear as shortcuts where constructed paths are not direct, have gaps, or don’t exist. Desire paths are also known as desire lines (in transport planning), game trails, social trails, fishermen trails, herd paths, cow paths, elephant paths, goat tracks, pig trails, use trails or bootleg trails [source].

A view from Roman Camp
An example of a desire path on Roman Camp in Bangor

In Dutch a desire path is olifantenpad [ˈoː.li.fɑn.tə(n)ˌpɑt] or olifantenpaadje (elephant path) because elephants tend to choose the shortest path to wherever they go, and make paths on the way. These terms became popular particularly in 2011 after the publication of the book Olifantenpaadjes by Jan-Dirk van der Burg and Maarten ‘t Hart, in which they document such paths [source].

When such paths are made by animals, they are known as wildpad, wildspoor or (wild)wissel [source].

Are there other names for them?

Another kind of path is the geitenpad or goat path, which is may be narrow, temporary and dangerous, and may not be recognizable as a path. They are kind of the opposite of olifantenpad.

Other types of Dutch paden (paths) include:

  • bergpad = mountain path/road
  • bospad = forest path
  • fietspad = cycle path
  • gangpad = aisle
  • ruiterpad = bridle path/way
  • voetpad = footpath, walkway

In French a desire path is known as a chemin de l’âne (donkey path) or ligne de désir (line of desire).

What about in other languages?

Small Trinkets

If you mislay your bijou bijous you could say that have a bijou problemette.

bijoux

The word bijou can mean small and elegant (of a residence – often ironic),
intricate or finely made, or a jewel, a piece of jewellry; a trinket or a small intricate piece of metalwork. In the above sentence bijou bijous means ‘finely made jewelery’, and a bijou problemette means ‘a little problem’, an example of British understatement.

Bijou, as jewellery, comes from the French bijou (a piece of jewellery), from the Breton bizoù (ring), from biz (finger), from the Proto-Celtic *bistis (finger) [source].

Bijou, as in small and elegant, etc, comes from the Mediterranean Lingua Franca (Sabir) bijou, from the Occitan pichon (small, little), from the Late Latin pitinnus, possibly from Proto-Celtic *kʷezdis (piece, portion) [source], which is also the root of peth (thing, object) in Welsh, cuid (part portion) in Irish, and related words in other Celtic languages.

A Touch of the Cafards

If a French-speaking person told you that they have the cafard, would you know what they meant?

In French, avoir le cafard means to feel down, blue or to have the blues. The word cafard [ka.faʁ] means depression, sadness, melancholoy. It also means a false devotee, hypocrite or bigot; an informant; or a cockroach [source].

Feeling blue

It comes from the Arabic كَافِر‎ (kāfir – unbeliever, disbeliever; farmer; ungrateful), from كَفَرَ‎ (kafara – to disbelieve, cover, conceal) [source].

Related words and expressions include:

  • un coup de cafard = a fit of the blues
  • attraper le cafard = to get the blues
  • donner le cafard = to depress
  • J’ai toujours le cafard les lundis = I always feel blue on Mondays
  • cafardeux (-euse) = glum, gloomy, depressing
  • cafarder = to sneak, to sneak on, to tattle (on), to tell tales, to rat (sb out), to blab, to grass up, to dob in, to tittle-tattle
  • cafardage = sneaking, talebearing, taletelling, tattling
  • cafardeur (-euse) = snitch, squealer, tattletale, grass, telltale

How would you describe someone who informs on / betrays people, or a cafardeur/cafardeuse, and what they do (cafarder)?

Earthskill

An interesting Dutch word I learnt this week was aardrijkskunde [ˈaːr.drɛi̯ksˌkʏn.də] which means geography. It comes from aardrijk (earth, world) and kunde (expertise, skill, ability), so could be translated literally as “earth-skill” or “world-expertise” [source].

Earth

The word geografie [ˌɣeː.oː.ɣraːˈfi] also exists in Dutch. It comes from the French géographie, from Latin geōgraphia, from Ancient Greek γεωγραφία (geōgraphía), which all mean geography, from γεω- (geō – earth) and γράφω (gráphō – to write) [source].

One of the things I like about Dutch is that there are lots of words like this that come from native roots, rather than being borrowed from Latin and/or Greek, as they tend to be in English. The meanings of such words may not be immediately obvious, but once I find out what their individual parts mean, I can usually remember them.

Other examples in Dutch include:

  • artsenijkunde = medicine (“medical-skill”)
  • dierkunde = zoology (“animal-skill”) – also zoölogie
  • geschiedkunde = history (“occurence-skill”)
  • natuurkunde = physics (“nature-skill”) – also fysica
  • oudheidkunde = archaeology (“antiquity/oldness-skill”) – also archeologie
  • sterrenkunde = astronomy (“star-skill”) – also astronomie
  • taalkunde = linguistics (“language-skill”) – also linguïstiek or taalwetenschap
  • wetenschap = science (“know-scape/ship”)

Source: Wiktionary

There’s a version of English known as Anglish in which words borrowed from other languages, especially Latin and Greek, have been replaced by words based on English roots. Geography, for example, is landlore, medicine is leechcraft, zoology is deerlore, history is stear or yorelore, astronomy is rodderlore, linguistics is speechlore and science is witship or wittenskip [source].

Other languages that tend to use their own wordhorde to make new words include Icelandic, Czech, Hungarian and Mandarin Chinese. They do borrow words for other languages, but not nearly as much as English and many other languages do.

Fairs and Carnivals

An interesting Dutch word I learnt recently is kermis [ˈkɛr.mɪs], which means a carnival, fair, fairground, funfair or amusement park [source]. I remember it by linking it to Kermit the Frog, and thinking of him going to a fair.

Opening Leuven kermis 2010

It comes from the Middle Dutch kermisse, a contraction of kerkmis, from kerk (church) and mis (mass) [source].

Some related expressions include:

  • kermisklant = funfair worker, carnival worker, carny, funfair customer
  • kermistent = an attraction at a carnival or a fair
  • kermisattractie = fairground attraction, fairground ride sideshow attraction
  • kermiskraam = fairground booth/stall
  • kermisterrein = fairground, midway, carnival
  • het is kermis in de hel = the devil’s beating his wife (“it is a funfair in hell”) – said when a sunshower* occurs

*sunshower = a rain shower which occurs while the sun is shining

Kermis is related to the German word Kirmes, which in parts of western and central Germany means a fair, funfair or fairground, but originally referred to a solemn mass held annually to celebrate the anniversary of the consecration of a village church – such masses are now known as Kirchweihfesten (parish celebrations). In time the Kirmessen became major village festivals [source].

Kirmes

The English word kirmiss was borrowed from Germany and/or Dutch, and in parts of the USA apparently refers to an indoor entertainment and fair combined [source].

This word was also borrowed from Dutch into French as kermesse (fête), and from French into Italian as kermesse (social event, gathering, meeting or gala) [source].

The English word fair, as in a funfair or (travelling) carnival, comes from the Middle English feire, from the Old French foire (celebration), from the Latin fēriae (holy day, festival, holiday, vacation) [source].

The English word carnival comes from the French carnaval (carnival), from the Italian carnevale (carnival), possibly from the Latin carnem levāmen (“meat dismissal”) or from carnuālia (meat-based country feast) [source].

Trick or Snoep

In some places tonight is the night when children dress up in strange costumes and terrorize their neighbourhoods by demanding ‘treats’ and threatening ‘tricks’ if those ‘treats’ are not forthcoming. Or in other words, Halloween.

Although we in the UK tend to think of as an American import, the tradition of people dressing up and going from house to house and asking for food dates back to at least the 16th century in Ireland, Scotland and some other parts of the UK. It was known as mumming, guising or souling. People would sing a song or do some kind of trick, and receive a cake or other food in return [source].

Dutch equivalents of trick or treat are snoep of je leven (sweets or your life) or snoep of ik schiet (candy or I shoot), which sound rather more sinister than trick or treat [source]. Is this a common tradition in Dutch-speaking lands?

French equivalents include un bonbon ou un sort (a sweet or a spell) or farce ou friandise (practical joke or sweet) [source].

Is trick and treating, or something similar practised elsewhere? If so what’s it called.

jack-o'-lanterns

Peaches, grapes and quinces

An interesting word that came up in my Spanish lessons this morning was durazno [duˈɾasno], which is a peach in Latin American. In Spain a peach is a melocotón [melokoˈton].

Yummy peach!

Durazno comes from the Latin dūracinus, which means ‘hard-berried’, from dūrus (hard) acinus (berry, grape). It originally referred to grapes used for eating rather than wine-making. Later is was also used for other fruits with a central stone, such as peaches [source].

Other words from the same root include:

  • Arabic: دُرَّاق‎‎ (durrāq) – peach
  • French: duracine – a variety of peach with firm flesh
  • Greek: ροδάκινο (rodákino) – peach
  • Italian: duracina – clingstone (peach), bigaroon (a type of cherry)
  • Quechua: turasnu – peach
  • San Juan Colorado Mixtec: durastun – peach
  • Tetelcingo Nahuatl: trösno – peach

A clingstone is a type of fruit with a stone that clings to the flesh, such as a peach [source]. The antonym is freestone, a type of fruit with a stone that doesn’t cling to the flesh (much).

The Quechua, Mixtec and Nahuatl words were borrowed from Spanish. The Arabic word came from the Ancient Greek δωράκινον (dōrákinon).

Melocotón comes from the Latin mālum cotōnium (quince – “apple of Cydonia”), from mālum (apple) and cotōnium (quince tree) [source].

The English word quince comes from the same root via the Old French cooing (quince), and the Late Latin cotōneum (quince) [source].

Cydonia or Kydonia (Κυδωνία) was a city in northwest Crete in the site of modern Chania (Χανιά) [source].

The English word peach comes from the Middle English peche (peach), borrowed from the Old French pesche (peach), from the Vulgar Latin *pessica (peach) from the Late Latin persica (peach), from the Classical Latin mālum persicum (peach, “Persian apple”), from the Ancient Greek μᾶλον περσικόν (mâlon persikón – peach, “Persian apple”) [source].

The scientific name for peach is Prunus persica (“Persian prune”), and comes from the old belief that peaches were native to Persian, and because peaches are related to plums. They are in fact native to the north west of China [source].

Almost, Nearly, Not Quite

One of the words that came up in the French Conversation Group last night was faillir [fa.jiʁ], which means to almost do something or to fail.

Presque ...

Whether you almost do something or fail to do it is really a matter of perspective – the end result is the same. Yesterday, for example, I almost made another episode of the Radio Omniglot podcast. I recorded about 15-20 minutes of it several times, decided it wasn’t good enough, then got distracted with other things, as often happens. I can talk about language-related topics at the drop of a hat until the cows come home, but actually making my ramblings into a reasonably coherent podcast is a different kettle of fish. The editing always takes quite a while, and I usually find something else to do instead.

Today I told myself that I would make the podcast first thing, before checking emails, or getting distracted by other things. Several hours later I still haven’t produced the podcast, but I have learnt some more Swedish and Danish, answered some emails and written this.

Anyway, back to faillir – appears in expressions like:

  • faillir faire = to almost/nearly do
  • J’ai failli tomber = I almost/nearly fell
  • J’ai failli lui dire = I almost/nearly told him
  • J’ai failli l’oublier = I almost forgot about it
  • faillir à qch = to fall short of sth
  • faillir à sa tâche = to fall short of one’s tsak
  • faillir à son devoir = to fall short of one’s duty
  • Il ne faut pas faillir à notre devoir = We must not falter in our duty now
  • J’ai un plan astucieux qui ne peut faillir = I have a cunning plan that cannot fail
  • avoir failli faire qch = to narrowly miss doing sth

Related words include:

  • failli(e) = bankrupt, insolvent
  • la faillite = bankruptcy, collapse (political)
  • une entreprise en faillite = a bankrupt business
  • être en faillite = to be bankrupt
  • faire en faillite = to go bankrupt, fail, go broke, go bust
  • la ferme a failli faire en faillite = the farm almost went bankrupt
  • il faut qu’il faille faire en faillite = he must almost go bankrupt
  • faille = flaw, loophole, weak spot, fault
  • faille fiscale = tax loophole
  • faille spatio-temporelle = time warp

Faillir comes from the Middle French faillir (to fail), from the Old French falir, from the Vulgar Latin *fallīre, from the Latin fallere (to deceive, disappoint, cheat), from the Proto-Indo-European *bʰāl- (to lie, deceive). The English word fail comes from the same root, via the Middle English failen, and the Anglo-Norman faillir (to fail).

Another way to say that you almost did something is J’ai presque fait qch, for example, Il est presque tombé and Il a failli tomber both mean ‘He almost fell’. In the case of the latter, the impression I get is that he was expected to fall, but didn’t, while in the case of the former, there seems to be no expectation that he would fall. Is that right?

Sources: Reverso, Wiktionary, bab.la

You Pancake!

If you said to someone “Je bent een pannenkoek!“, they’d probably have no idea what you were talking about, unless they spoke Dutch. This is a kind of mild / affectionate insult in Dutch meaning literally “You’re a pancake”.

It’s often used to refer to oneself – Oh, wat ben ik toch een pannenkoek! (Oh, what a pancake I am!) when you’ve done something stupid, dumb, foolish or clumsy.

pancakes!

Pannenkoek [ˈpɑnə(n)ˌkuk] means pancake, crêpe or flapjack. It comes from pan (pan, cooking pot) and koek (cake, cookie, biscuit, pie).

Pan comes from the Middle Dutch panne (pan), from the Old Dutch *panna (pan), from the Latin panna, a contraction of patina (a broad, shallow dish; a pan; stewpan; a kind of cake; a crib, manger), from the Ancient Greek πατάνη (patánē – a kind of flat dish) [source].

Koek comes from the Middle Dutch coeke (cake), from the Old Dutch *kuoko (cake), from the Proto-Germanic *kōkô (cake). The English words cake, cookie and quiche come from the same root – cake via Old Norse, cookie via Dutch, and quiche via French [source].

Words used in a similar way in Dutch include sufkop (“dull head”, numskull), dommerd (dummy), gekkie (weirdo, goof), oelewapper (ding-dong, dummy, monkey), druif (grape), oliebol (donut, dumpling), koekebakker (“cake bakker”), uilskuiken (“owlet”, nincompoop, birdbrain), flapdrol (fool, nincompoop), mafkees (weirdo, goofball), oen (“castrated donkey”, moron), sukkel (dummy, idiot, twerp) [Information from Anna Rutten and Wiktionary].

Some equivalents of pannenkoek I can think in English are muppet, idiot, wally, plonker and numpty. Others, from Reverso, include: knucklehead, slouch, douche and potato-head.

Can you think of more in English or other languages?