Gleann Cholm Cille

I arrived safely in Glencolmbcille (Gleann Cholm Cille) on Saturday night. As we went further west the skies got darker, and when we arrived in Donegal the heavens opened, and it rained almost non-stop until this morning. I don’t come here for the fine weather, but this was a bit extreme, even for this part of the world. Today the sky cleared for a while, and the sun even put in a welcome appearance.

Irish language classes started yesterday afternoon, and the cultural workshops started this afternoon. I’m doing the sean-nós singing, as usual, and am enjoying it, and the Irish classes very much.

There are plenty of people here who I know from previous visits, and quite a few new faces as well. So far I spoken a lot of Irish, and bits of French, Breton, Swedish, German and Czech – people come here from all over the world, so it’s a great place to practise languages.

Last night we were treated to some excellent music and poetry from Bríd Harper and Diarmuid Johnson. Here they are playing some Welsh tunes. Tonight there is some more poetry, this time from Áine Ni Ghlinn.

Polyglotting

Yesterday was the first full day of the Polyglot Gathering, and it went well. I went to some interesting talks and workshops, met lots of people, caught up with old friends, and spoke many languages.

Quite a few people came to my workshop on Scottish Gaelic songs, and they seemed to enjoy it. I chose relatively simple songs with choruses that people could sing, even if they couldn’t manage the verses. There were even a few people there who speak Gaelic, or who are learning it.

In the evening there was some polyglot karaoke, which was fun, and some people who took part were quite good singers.

Polylgot karaoke

Today was similar with some interesting talks and workshops. Fortunately the sun came out after several days of almost non-stop rain. The Scottish and Welsh dance workshop I ran with a Scottish friend went well. Not many people came, but enough for the dances we did, and there wouldn’t have been space for many more.

Polyglot dance workshop

There was a spontaneous juggling workshop this evening involving me and a juggler from Montreal. We learnt from each other, and tried to teach a few others to juggle. As we’re polyglots, we did this in English, French and German.

Bratislava

I’m currently in Bratislava in Slovakia for the 2019 Polyglot Gathering, which starts tomorrow, although there was an opening ceremony this evening.

The Polyglot Gathering 2019 begins

Today I went on a tour taking in three countries – Slovakia, Hungary and Austria. I had conversations in English, French, German, Mandarin, Spanish and Irish, and spoke odd bits of Czech, Slovak, Russian, Scots, Hungarian, Portuguese, Welsh, Esperanto and Swedish.

Hainburg Castle

I probably won’t have much time for blogging with all the intensive polylgotting that’s going on. Normal service will be resumed next week.

Cheeky faces

Face

In my Czech lessons this week I learnt two words that can mean face – obličej [ˈoblɪt͡ʃɛj] and tvář [tvaːr̝̊], which also means cheek. I couldn’t work out why one was used to mean face in some contexts, and the other in other contexts. Can any of you enlighten me?

Obličej comes from the Proto-Slavic ob + lice (face, cheek), which is also the root of the Czech líc (front, face, right side, face side) and líce (cheeks).

Cognates in other Slavic languages include: Polish oblicze (face, character), Russian обличье (image, character, look), and Ukrainian обли́ччя (face, character) [source].

Tvář comes from the Proto-Slavic *tvarь (creation, creature) [source]. Cognates in other Slavic languages include: Polish twarz (face), Russian тварь (creature, being, animal, beast, monster; mean, vile, worthless), and Croatian tvar (substance, material) [source].

Another Czech word for face is ksicht, from the German Gesicht (face).

Asterix and the King

Have you ever wonder why the names of the Gauls in the Asterix books all end in -ix?

Asterix & Obelisk

There were genuine Gauls with names ending in -ix, or rather rix, which means king in Gaulish. They include Vercingetorix (see photo), Dumnorix, Albiorix, Adgennorix and Dagorix [source]. Asterix and friends have joke names with the -ix suffix to make them sound Gaulish.

The word rix comes from the Proto-Celtic *rīxs (king), from Proto-Indo-European *h₃rḗǵs (ruler, king). Words for king in Irish (), Scottish Gaelic (rìgh), Manx (ree) and Welsh (rhi) come from this root [source].

The Welsh one is in fact rarely used – the usual Welsh word for king is brenin, which comes from the Proto-Celtic *brigantīnos ((someone) pre-eminent, outstanding), from the Proto-Indo-European *bʰerǵʰ- (to rise, high, lofty, hill, mountain) [source], which is also the root of such English words as barrow, burrow, bury, borough, burgher and fort [source].

Words for realm or kingdom in Germanic languages come from this root, including Reich (empire, realm) in German, rike (realm, kingdom, empire, nation) in Swedish, and rik (realm, kingdom) and kinrick / kin(g)rik (kingdom) in Scots.

We also get the English suffix -ric from this root – as in bishopric (a diocese or region of a church which a bishop governs), and in the obsolete English word for kingdom – kingric, which means “king king” [source].

The words for king in the Romance languages also come from *h₃rḗǵs, via the Latin rēx (king, ruler) [source].

Blue Ants and Pencils

Blyant (pencil in Danish and Norwegian)

In Danish the word for pencil is blyant [ˈblyːˌanˀd], which sort of sounds like blue ant. When I learnt this, I wondered where this word comes from, and I thought I’d share what I found with you.

The word blyant, which is also used in Norwegian, combines bly (lead) with the French suffix -ant. It is an abbreviation of blyertspen [source], which comes from blyert (black lead, graphite), from the German Bleiertz (lead ore – lit. “lead earth”) and pen [source].

Related words include:

  • blyantsholder = pencil holder
  • blyantspenge = financial allowance for members of the European Parliament (“pencil money”)
  • blyantspids = the tip of a pencil
  • blyantspidser = pencil sharpener
  • blyantsstreg / blyantstreg = pencil line
  • blyantstegning / blyanttegning = pencil drawing

Source: Den Danske Ordbog

The words for pencil in Swedish (blyertspenna), Faroese and Icelandic (blýantur) come from the same roots [source].

The German word for pencil, Bleistift [ˈblaɪ̯ʃtɪft] comes from a similar root: Blei (lead) and Stift (pen) [source].

There is in fact a creature called a blue ant (Diamma bicolor) – it is blue, but is a species of wasp rather than an ant, and lives in parts of Australia [source].

Ties

Illustration of a tie

Today I discovered that the Russian word галстук [ˈɡalstʊk] (tie, necktie, neckerchief) was borrowed from the German Halstuch (tie, scarf, cravat, necktie, neckwear, kerchief, bandana, neckerchief neckcloth), or from the Dutch halsdoek (neckerchicef, scarf, shawl).

When words beginning with h are borrowed into Russian, the h becomes г (g), as there is no h sound in Russian. This is probably why I didn’t spot the connection between галстук and Halstuch before.

Halstuch comes from Hals (tail, stem, cervix neck, throat) and Tuch (cloth, sheet, square, blanket, drape, kerchief, towel, scarf, dishcloth).

There are quite a few other Russian words borrowed from German, including вахтёр (porter, janitor, watchman) – from Wächter, картофель (potatoes) – from Kartoffel, and клавир (keyboard instrument) – from Klavier.

Sources: Wiktionary, bab.la

Cards, charts & papyrus

χάρτης / Papyrus

What do cards, charts and papyrus have in common?

The words card and chart both come from the Ancient Greek word χάρτης (khártēs – papyrus), via the Old French carte / charte / chautre (charter, record, letter), from Latin charta (see below) [source].

χάρτης comes from χαράσσω (kharássō – I scratch, inscribe), from the Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰer- (to scratch) [source].

χάρτης is also the root of the Latin word charta (papyrus, paper, poem, a writing, map, the papyrus plant), from which we get words in many languages, including the Italian carta (paper, map, menu), the Spanish carta (letter, map, menu, playing card), the German Charta (charter), the Irish cárta (card), the Icelandic kort (map, card, credit card), and the Czech charta (charter).

I discovered this when looking into the origins of the Spanish word cartera (wallet, handbag), which comes from the same root, as do the English words cartel, cartography and charter.

Knufflige Knuffelbeests

Giant Giraffe

If someone called you a knuff, would you see it as a compliment or an insult?

Knuff is an obsolete English word that means a lout or clown, so it would be an insult. It comes from the Old English cnof (a churl). The k is silent, but I think in Old English the c was pronounced [source].

Possibly related Swedish words include knuff (nudge, push, boost, dig, shove) [source] and knuffa (to push, nudge, shove) [source].

Possibly related German words include knuffen (to nudge; to jab; to pinch (usually playfully or even tenderly)) [source] and knuffig (cuddly) [source]

Possibly related Dutch words include knuffelen (to cuddle, hug), from the Low German knuffen (to poke; bump; nudge) [source], knuffig (cuddly) [source], knuffel (hug, cuddle, stuffed toy) [source] and knuffelbeest (stuffed toy) [source].

The word knuff came up in one of my Swedish lessons this week, and as I like the sound of it, I thought I’d write about it. There’s something about that combination of k and n and the beginning of a word that makes it sound cute and cuddly to me.

Which sounds and combinations of sounds (in any language) most appeal to you?

Bamboozling Baboons!

This week I learnt a couple of interesting French words – embabouiner [ɑ̃.ba.bwi.ne] (to flatter, butter up) and embobiner [ɑ̃.bɔ.bi.ne] (to bamboozle).

Embabouiner combines the prefix em- and suffix -er with babouin (baboon), so you are making a baboon of someone when you flatter them [source].

Babouin comes from the Middle French babouyne, baboin, from Old French babouin, from baboue (grimace, muzzle), which is related to German dialectal word Bäppe (lips, muzzle) [source].

Baboons.

Embobiner means to get round (someone), to pull to wool over someone’s eyes, to bamboozle or to outfox. It can also mean to wind up, reel up/in or wrap up. It combines the same prefix and suffix as embabouiner with bobine (bobbin, reel, spool, drum), so you are winding someone on a bobbin when you bamboozle them [source].

Bobine probably comes from the Latin word balbus, (stammering, stuttering, lisping, fumbling) and is immitative of the noise of a bobbin [source].

The English word bamboozle comes from the 17th century slang word bam (to trick, to con), from the noun bam (fraudster, cheat), possibly from the French embobiner [source].