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].

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].


The word myriad [ˈmɪɹi.æd/ˈmɪɹi.əd] means a countless number or multitude, and in the past it meant 10,000. It comes from the French myriade (myriad, 10,000), from the Latin Latin myrias (10,000), from the Ancient Greek μυριάς (muriás – countless, 10,000), from μῡρῐ́ος (mūríos – numberless, countless, infinite) [source].

Peering through the dust
A myriad of stars

The use of 10,000 to mean countless or infinite happens in other languages as well. For example in Chinese 万 [萬] (wàn) means 10,000 or a great number [source]. The same character (man) in Japanese means 10,000, a myriad, everything, all or various. When pronounced ban it means completely, absolutely or totally [source].

Do other languages do something similar?

Other English words that refer to a large but unspecified number include um(p)teen or umpty, which come from umpty (a colloquial name for a dash in Morse Code used as World War I army slang) and -teen [source].

Also zillion, gazillion, bazillion, jillion, bajillion and squillion [source].

Do you have any others?


The Dutch word ruimen [ˈrœy̯mə(n)] means to clean up, to clear or to remove. It comes from the Middle Dutch rumen, from the Old Dutch *rūmen, from the Proto-Germanic *rūmijaną (to make room, to clear), from *rūmaz (roomy, spacious, open) and *-janą (a suffix that makes adjectives) [source].

De mannen die onze rommel opruimen

Words from the same roots include ream (to enlarge a hole), and rim in English; arrimer (to stow, secure) in French; räumen (to vacate, move out of, clear, shift) in German; and rymma (to hold, escape, flee, evacuate) in Swedish [source].

When ruimen is combined with suffixes, the meaning changes somewhat:

  • afruimen = to clean up, to pick up, to clear (a table), clearing
  • inruimen = to put away, to fit in, to accept, to load (a dishwasher)
  • leegruimen = to clean out, clearing out
  • ontruimen = to clear, to evacuate, to vacate
  • opruimen = to clean up, to clear, to tidy up
  • puinruimen = to clear the debris, rubble
  • uitruimen = to clean out, to clear out, to unload, unloading
  • verruimen = to boarden, to expland, to extend
  • wegruimen = to get rid of, clearing away, disposal

Related words include ruim [rœy̯m], which means spacious, roomy, large, ample, generous; more than, over, and also the cargo hold (of a ship) or a wide, open space; and ruimte, which means a space, room or area, and also (outer) space. A spaceship is a ruimteschip or ruimtevaartuig (“space faring thing”), and an astronaut is a ruimtevaarder (“space farer”), who might go on a ruimtewandeling (spacewalk) [source].

I’m good a tidying up (opruimen) and putting things away (inruimen), but not so good at getting rid of things (wegruimen). I tend to accumulate a lot of things, thinking they might come in handy one day. Occasionally I clear out the cupboards, drawers, sleeves and other places where such things tend to end up.

How tidy are you?

By the way, tidy is cognate with the Dutch word tijdig (timely, in/on time), and used to mean in good time or timely in English. The Dutch for tidy is netjes [source].

In Wenglish (Welsh English), tidy! as an exclamation means fine or splendid, a tidy spell is quite a long time, a tidy few is quite a number, a tidy feller is a decent chap, probably ‘good with his hands’, a tidy swill is a wash involving at least the face and hands, and talk tidy! means speak properly! [source].

Some details provided by Anna Rutten

Sleep like a …

If you have slept well, you might say that you have slept like a baby, like a log, like a rock, like a top or like a lamb. Apparently in Chaucer’s time you might have said that you had slept like a swine, or whatever that was in Middle English [source].

Curled up sleeping cat

If you search for “sleeping” on Flickr, as I just did, you mainly get photos of sleeping cats and sleeping babys, so maybe you could also say that you slept like a cat. The cat in the photo above is my sister’s cat Fletcher, by the way.

In Welsh you might sleep like a hog / wild boar (cysgu fel twrch), or like a hedge (fel clawdd), like a sow (fel hwch), like a pig (fel mochyn), like a small rope/cord (fel cordyn), like a nail (fel hoelen), like a stone (fel carreg) or like a mole (fel gwadd) [source].

In Scottish Gaelic you could say bha cadal nam maigheach orm (I slept like a hare), and cadal nam maigheach ort!, or literally “sleep of the hare on you”, is how you say “sweet dreams, sleep tight!” or something similar [source].

In French you might sleep like a dormouse (dormir comme un loir), like a marmot (comme une marmotte), like a stump (comme une soche), like a baby (comme un bébé) or with closed fists (à poings fermés) [source].

What about in other languages?

Before the Deluge

The word antediluvian means:

  • Ancient or antiquated
  • Extremely dated
  • Pertaining or belonging to the time period prior to a great or destructive flood or deluge.
  • (biblical) Pertaining or belonging to the time prior to Noah’s Flood.

It comes from the Latin ante- (before) and dīluvium (flood), which comes from dīluō (I wash away) and -ium (a suffix used to form abstract nouns), from dis- (apart, reversal) and‎ lavō (I wash) [source].

Afon Dyfrdwy / River Dee

The English word deluge (a great flood or rain), comes from the same Latin roots, via the Old French deluge (a large flood), as does the word diluvium (an inundation of flood, deluge; a deposit of sand, gravel, etc made by oceanic flooding) [source].

Other words from the same Latin roots include déluge (The Flood, deluge) in French, diluvio (deluge, downpour) in Spanish, díle (flood, deluge, torrent) in Irish, and dilyw (flood, deluge, destruction, ruin) in Welsh [source].

In Scottish Gaelic dìle [dʲiːlə] can refer to a deluge or flood. The phrase an dìle bhàite means heavy downpour or pouring rain, and the equivalent of it’s raining cats and dogs is tha an dìle ‘s an deàrrsach ann or tha an dìle bhàite ann an ceartair. As an adjective it means endless, for example gu dìlinn means “until the end of time” [source].

Another word for flood is inundation, which comes from the Old from inundacion (flood), from the Latin inundātiō (inuncation, overflowing, flood, crowd of people), from inundō (I overflow, inundate, flood) from in- (in, within, inside) and undō (I surge, flow), from unda (wave, billow) [source].

Undulate and undulation come from the same root, as does und, an obsolete word meaning wave, or in heraldry, a billow- or wave-like marking [source].

The word flood comes from the Middle English flod (river, lake, ocean, flood, rising tide), from the Old English flōd (flowing of the tide, river, stream, water, flood, deluge), from the Proto-Germanic *flōduz (river, flood), from the PIE *pléh₃tus (overflow, deluge), from *pleh₃(w)- (to flow, run) [source].

Cognates in other languages include flod (river, flood, high tide) in Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, Flut (flow, flood, hight tide) in German, and vloed (flood, current) in Dutch [source].


Essuie-tout [e.sɥi.tu] is what you might call paper towels in French. It literally means “wipe-all”, and comes from essuyer (to wipe, wipe down, soak up) and tout (whole, entirely, total, all) [source].

kitchen roll

Essuyer comes from the Old French essuier (to wipe), from the Latin exsūcāre from exsūcō (I juice, I dry), from ex- (out, away) and sūcus (juice, moisture) [source].

Such towels are also known as sopalin [sɔ.pa.lɛ̃] in French, which is a genericized trademark that was first registered in 1948 by the Société du papier linge (Linen Paper Company) and comes from the first syllables of the company name [source].

In English they are also known as kitchen towels, kitchen roll or kitchen paper. There may be other names for them as well. What do you call them?

Essuie also appears in essuie-glace (windscreen wiper), and essuie-mains (hand towel). Related words include; essuyer (to wipe, rub away, swab, suffer, experience), s’essuyer (to dry o.s.), ressuyer (to dry, dry out) [source].

You can essuyer une défaite (suffer a defeat), essuyer une rebuffade (suffer a rebuff), essuyer le feu (come under a fire), essuyer un refus (get a refusal), essuyer un revers (suffer a setback) or even essuyer la vaisselle (dry the dishes) [source].