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].

Dahu Hunting

If someone sent you to hunt for a dahu, would you go?


In French the expression chasse au dahu (dahu hunt) is one equivalent of a wild goose chase, that is “a wild or absurd search for something nonexistent or unobtainable; any senseless pursuit of an object or end; a hopeless enterprise” [source].

The dahu [da.y], or dahut, is an imaginary creature that lives in mountainous areas of France and Switzerland. According to legend, the dahu looks a bit like a mountain goat or a chamois, and has legs shorter on one side than the other. This makes it easier for it to stay upright on step mountain sloops, but also means that it can only go around the mountain in one direction.

There are two varieties of dahu: the dahu lévogyre [da.y le.vo.ʒiʁ] or laevogyrous dahu, which has shorter legs on the left side, so goes around mountains in an anti-clockwise direction, and the dahu dextrogyre [da.y dɛks.tʁo.ʒiʁ] or dextrogyre dahu, which has shorter legs on the right side, and goes around mountains in the opposite direction. In some stories the dextrogyre dahu are the males and the laevogyrous dahu are the females.

If you want to catch a dahu there are apparently several methods. One involves two people, one with a big bag who waits at the bottom of a mountain, while the other sneaks up behind a dahu and makes a dahu-like sound. The dahu will turn around when it hears the sound, loose its balance and roll down the hill to be caught in the bag. Another method involves putting some pepper on a stone on the mountain. The when a dahu comes to see what’s on the stone, it sniffs the pepper, sneezes and knocks itself out on the stone. A dahu hunt is best undertaken at night and between November to February.

Dahu hunting became popular in mountainous parts of eastern France in the late 19th century, when tourists from urban areas with little knowledge of the countryside started visiting the mountains in large numbers. Local mountain guides would convince some of these guillable visitors to go hunting dahu, and tell them that to catch a rare and precious dahu, they would have to hide themselves on a mountain slope all night.

In Scotland the wild haggis (Haggis scoticus) is sometimes hunted, though rarely caught, and according to American folklore, the sidehill gouger is a beast somewhat like a dahu with legs shorter on one side than the other that lives in the hills of Wisconsin. Such creatures are also known as Sidehill Dodger, Sidehill Galoot, Wampus, Wampahoofus, Boofum, Hunkus, Rickaboo Racker, Prock, Gwinter or Cutter Cuss [source].

The expression wild goose chase first appeared in writing in 1593 in a book about horsemanship by Gervase Markham, an English poet. He describes a type of horse race in which riders try to follow a lead horse taking an erratic course, a bit like wild geese following their leader when flying.

Are there interesting equivalents of a dahu hunt or wild goose chase in other languages?

More information about the Dahu


Recently I came across the French word antisèche [ɑ̃.ti.sɛʃ]. At first glance I would guess that it meant something like “anti-dry”, so maybe it’s a moisturiser or something similar that prevents dryness.

While that would be an accurate literal translation – it comes from anti- and sécher (to dry) – what it actually means is a cheat sheet or crib sheet. That is, a sheet of paper used to assist on a test [source].


As well as meaning to dry, sécher also means to skip or miss (class), to dry out, to wither, to dry up or to be stumped. So an antisèche is something that prevents you from being stumped or drying up when asked difficult questions [source].

I have a number of antisèches, or maybe they’re more feuilles de référence, that summerise grammatical information for Irish and Russian. They’re very handy when I’m trying to write anything in these languages. You can find a variety of these for languages and other subjects on Amazon.

Are there interesting names for such things in other languages?


Apparently the game pictured below is known as babyfoot in French. Which is kind of cute.

Table soccer game

According to the Belgian magazine, Le Soir illustré, the French inventor Lucien Rosengart (1881–1976) came up with the game of table football in the 1930s when he was looking for things to keep his grandchildren entertained during the cold winter months. He called the game “baby foot”.

The name babyfoot, which is also written baby-foot is used in France, Canada and Switzerland. It is also known as football sur table or football de table in Canada, as kicker in Belgium, foot-foot in Switzerland, and football de table in France.

I would call it table football, which is the usual name for this game in the UK, and was patented by Harold Searles Thornton in 1921.

It was brought to the the USA in the 1950s by Lawrence Patterson, and it is called foosball [ˈfuːzbɔːl], which comes from the German name tischfußball (table football).

In German it is known as Tischfußball (table football), Tischkicker (table kicker) or Kicker.

What do you call it?

Do you know any interesting names for this game in other languages?

Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Table_football

Good Pickaxes

In French when you make a good guess or choice, you are said to be making une bonne pioche or literally “a good pickaxe” [source].

Claes Oldenburg

The word pioche [pjɔʃ] means pickaxe, and also a stock or pile of undealt cards in a card game, and chance or luck. It comes from pic (woodpecker, pick), from the Vulgar Latin *piccus (sharp point, peak, spike, pike), from the Latin pīcus (woodpecker, griffin), from the Proto-Italic *pikos, from the Proto-Indo-European *(s)peyk- (woodpecker; magpie), or from the Vulgar Latin *pīcca (pickaxe, pike), possibly from the Frankish *pikkōn (to peck, strike), from the Proto-Germanic *pikkōną (to pick, peck) [source].

Here are some examples of how pioche and related words are used:

  • faire une mauvaise pioche = to pick the wrong card
  • manche de pioche = pickaxe handle
  • pioche de jardinage = garden hoe
  • piocher = to dig up, to take from the pile, to take a card
  • piocher dans = to dip into
  • piocher pour qch = to cram for sth

Are there any interesting equivalents of this phrase in other languages, or any pickaxe-related phrases?