Neshness

If someone told you they were feeling a bit nesh, would you know what they meant?

Nesh [nɛʃ] means “sensitive to the cold” and “timid or cowardly”, according to Dictionary.com, and is apparently used in in northern and Midlands English dialects. Although I grew up in the northwest of England, I’d never heard it before a friend mentioned it yesterday.

According to Wiktionary it means:

  • Soft, tender, sensitive, yielding
  • Delicate, weak, poor-spirited, susceptible to cold weather, harsh conditions etc
  • Soft, friable, crumbly

As a verb it means “to make soft, tender or weak”, or “to act timidly”.

It comes from the Middle English nesh/nesch/nesche, from the Old English hnesċe/ hnysċe/hnæsċe (soft, tender, mild; weak, delicate; slack, negligent; effeminate, wanton), from the Proto-West Germanic *hnaskwī (soft), from the Proto-Germanic *hnaskuz (soft, tender), from the Proto-Indo-European *knēs-/*kenes- (to scratch, scrape, rub).

Related words include:

  • neshen = to make tender or soft, to mollify
  • neshness = the condition of being nesh

Chocolate Beetroot Brownies

From the same roots we get the German word naschen (to nibble, to eat sweets on the sly), and the English word nosh (food, a light meal or snack, to eat), via the Yiddish word נאַשן‎ (nashn – to snack, eat) [source].

Idle blackberrying

While putting together a post on the Celtiadur this week, I came across the Welsh word mwyara [mʊɨ̯ˈara/mʊi̯ˈaːra], which means to gather/pick blackberries, to go blackberrying, and also to be idle. I wouldn’t associate picking blackberries with being idle, but someone must have done in the past. Is picking blackberries or other fruit associated with idleness in other languages?

Blackberries

Mwyara comes from mwyar (blackberries, berries), from the Proto-Brythonic *muɨar (blackberries, berries), from the Proto-Celtic *smiyoros (berries) [source].

Idle means to pass time doing nothing, to move, loiter or saunter aimlessy, or (of a machine or engine) to operate at a low speed [source]. It comes from the Middle English idel/ydel, from the Old English īdel (empty, void, bereft, worthless, useless, vain), from the Proto-Germanic *īdalaz (idle, void, unused), from the Proto-Indo-European *yeh₁- [source].

Words from the same root include the Dutch ijdel (vain, idle, petty) and iel (thin, slender), the German eitel (vain), and the Welsh iâl (clearing, glade) [source].

Milestones

A Manx milestone

Yesterday I added details of a language called Akawaio (Ka’pon) to Omniglot. It’s a Cariban language spoken mainly in northern Guyana, and also in northern Brazil and eastern Venezuela, by about 6,380 people.

You may be wondering why I mention this. What’s so special about this language? Well, it just happens to be the 1,500th language I’ve written about on Omniglot, and it feels like a significant milestone to me. There are many more languages out there: 7,139, according to Ethnologue – so only another 5,639 to go! That should keep me busy for a while.

Of the languages on Omniglot, the majority (1,107) are written with the Latin alphabet. There are also 126 written with the Cyrillic alphabet, 75 written with the Arabic alphabet, 72 written with the Devanagari alphabet, and smaller numbers of languages written with other alphabets and writing systems. [More language and writing stats]

It’s becoming increasingly challenging to find information about languages that don’t yet appear on Omniglot. About 4,065 of the world’s languages have a written form, although many are rarely written, and the remaining 3,074 are probably unwritten [source]. There is little or no documentation for many languages, and what documentation there is can be difficult to find. Inspite of this, I will continue to add new language profiles to Omniglot, and appreciate any help you can offer.

An Omniglot minion

I’ve been working on Omniglot on my own since 1998 – there are no minions or other assistants to help me. However, many other people have contributed to Omniglot, by sending me corrections, new material, suggestions, donations and so on, and I am profoundly grateful to all of them.

This is the 3,414th post I’ve written on this blog since launching it in March 2006. At first I tried to write something every day, but soon realised that was too much. At the moment I aim to write two posts a week, plus the language quiz on Sundays.

In April 2007 I started uploading videos to YouTube. Some of the videos feature silly little conversations in languages I’m learning. Others involve music-related events I’ve taken part in, and tunes and songs I’ve written. In 2021 I started uploading videos more regularly, particularly videos about words and etymology, and some songs as well. As well as the Adventures in Etymology videos I upload on Sundays, I plan to make videos featuring alphabets, phrases, etc in a variety of languages. Here’s one I made of the Danish alphabet:

Since June 2018 I’ve made 42 episodes of the Radio Omniglot Podacast, and 5 episodes of Adventures in Etymology, a new series I started in March 2021. It started as a series of videos I made for Instagram and Facebook, then I posted them on Youtube as well, and decided to add them to the Radio Omniglot site. I have ideas for other series I could make for Radio Omniglot, and would welcome any suggestions you may have.

In September 2018 I launched the Celtiadur, a blog where I explore connections between Celtic languages. This is based the Celtic cognates part of Omniglot. So far I’ve written 227 posts, and add a new one every week.

Since 1998 I’ve become fluent in Welsh and Irish, regained my fluency in French, maintained my fluency in Mandarin Chinese, more or less, and have learned enough Esperanto, Scottish Gaelic, Manx, Spanish, Swedish, Danish and Dutch to have at least basic conversations. I’ve also learnt quite a bit of Russian and Czech, and some Romanian, Cantonese, Slovak, Slovenian, Serbian, Icelandic, Faroese, British Sign Language, Breton and Cornish.

I’m currently concentrating on Spanish, Swedish, Danish and Dutch, while trying to maintain my other languages, particularly French and Welsh. For the past 4 years or so I’ve studied languages every day on Duolingo – my current streak reached 1,369 today. I’ve also been using Mondly and Memrise. [More about my language learning adventures].

While not working on Omniglot or learning languages, I like to sing, play musical instruments and write songs and tunes. My musical adventures started long before Omniglot, but for many years after leaving school I only really listened to music. In 2005 I started going to Ireland every summer to learn Irish language, and also Irish songs, tunes and dances. This inspired me to take up music again. Since then I’ve learnt to play the guitar, mandolin, ukulele, cavaquinho and harp, and started playing the recorder, piano and tin whistle again. I’ve learnt songs in many different languages, and written quite a few songs and tunes.

Here’s a song I wrote in 33 different languages:

Enough of this shameless self-promotion. What about you? Have you reached any significant milestones recently?

Penny Pouches

An interesting Danish word I learnt today is pung, which means purse, wallet, pouch or scrotum. It comes from the Old Norse word pungr (purse) [source], and appears in words like:

  • punge = to pay (a large) sum of money
  • pengepung = wallet, purse, budget, pockets, funding (“money-pouch”)
  • pungdyr = marsupial (“pouch-animal”)
  • pungdjævel = Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii)
  • pungulv = Thylacine, Tasmanian tiger/wolf (Thylacinus cynocephalus)
  • pungbrok = hernia [source]

Pengepung

The word penge [ˈpʰɛŋə / ˈpʰɛŋŋ̩] means money, and was originally a plural of penning (coin), from the Old Danish pænning, Old Norse peningr (coin, penny, piece of property, article) [source], which was borrowed from the Old Saxon penning or the Old English penning/peniġ, from the Proto-Germanic *panningaz (coin) [source].

Some related expressions include:

  • pengeafpresning = extortion, extraction
  • pengekat = neck pouch
  • pengepolitik = monetary policy
  • pengeseddel = bill, banknote [source]

From the same root we get the English words penny and pence, the Irish word pingin (penny), the Dutch penning (medal, commemoration coin; money, cash), the German Pfennig (pfennig, penny), the Swedish words penning (coin, penny, money, cash), pengar (money) and peng (coin, money), and related words in other Germanic languages [source].

I carry my cash, cards and other bits and bobs in a wallet. How about you? If you use a pecunary receptacle, what do you call it, and what do you keep in it?

Best Countries for Language Learning

Preply image

According to research carried out by Preply, the countries with the best language learning environments are Luxembourg, Sweden, Cyprus, Malta, Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, Slovenia, Spain and Estonia.

Their Worldwide Language Index was compiled from analyzing data from 30 European countries, plus the USA, on such factors as the number of official languages, the degree of multilingualism, language learning in schools, the level of competence in foreign languages, access to language learning technology, and whether TV and films are subtitled or dubbed.

Overall, Luxembourg scored hightest, so if you grew up in Luxembourg, you are more likely to be successful in learning several languages. Are there any Luxembourgers reading this? Would you agree with this?

Luxembourg has three official languages: Luxembourgish, German and French, and education is in all three languages. English is also taught in schools, and students can choose to learn Italian, Spanish, Portuguese or Chinese. In addition, some classes are taught in Portuguese or English for the children of immigrants [source].

In terms of individual factors, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Malta, Spain, Austria, Hungary, France, Latvia, Poland, Italy, Sweden and Croatia all score highly for language learning in school. The countries with the highest level of command of the best known foreign languages include Luxembourg, Sweden and Malta.

The UK only scores highly in the Subtitles, Dubbing and Voiceover category, and the USA scores highly in language diversity.

What this study didn’t look at, as far as I can tell, is whether these countries are also good places to learn languages if you’re from elsewhere. It would be interesting to see how well each country teaches their local language(s) to immigrants or visitors interested in learning them.

Note: this post is sponsored by Preply, an online learning platform, connecting a global network of tens of thousands of active learners and 15,000 verified tutors to study and teach over 50 languages.

Soul Deer

The Dutch word dier [diːr / diər] means animal and is cognate with the English word deer, which originally meant animal, but the meaning narrowed over time. They are also cognate with words for animal in other Germanic languages, such as Tier in German, dyr in Danish and Norwegian, dýr in Faroese and Icelandic, and djur in Swedish [source].

deer

Dier comes from the Middle Dutch dier (animal), from the Old Dutch dier (animal), from the Proto-West Germanic *deuʀ ((wild) animal, beast), from the Proto-Germanic *deuzą ((wild) animal, beast), from the Proto-Indo-European *dʰewsóm [source], from *dʰews- (to breathe, breath, spirit, soul, creature) [source].

Some related words include:

  • dierdicht = poem about anthropomorphised animals
  • dierenarts = vet (mainly one who treats pets)
  • dierenrijk = animal kingdom
  • dierentuin = zoo
  • dierkunde = zoology
  • dierlijk = animal, beastly, instinctive, primitive
  • huisdier = pet
  • landbouwhuisdier = farm animal
  • zoogdier = mammal

Deer comes from the same root, via the Middle English deere, dere, der, dier, deor (small animal, deer), from the Old English dēor (animal) [source].

From the PIE root *dʰews- we also get the Russian word душа [dʊˈʂa] (soul, spirit, darling), via the Old East Slavic доуша (duša – soul), and the Proto-Slavic *duša (soul, spirit), and related words in other slavic languages.

Another Dutch word for animal is beest [beːst] which is cognate with the English word beast. Both come from the same PIE root as dier/deer (*dʰews-): beest via the Middle Dutch beeste (animal), from the Old French beste (beast, animal), from the Latin bēstia (beast) [source], and beast via the Middle English beeste, beste (animal, creature, beast, merciless person) [source].

Some related words include:

  • feestbeest = party animal
  • knuffelbeest = stuffed toy animal (“cuddle-beast”)
  • podiumbeest = someone who enjoys being on stage and is often on stage
  • wildebeest = wildebeest, gnu

The English word animal is also related to souls and spirits as it comes via Middle English and Old French, from the Latin anima (soul, spirit, life, air, breeze, breath) [source].

The Dutch word for deer is hert [ɦɛrt], which comes from the Old Dutch hirot, from the Proto-Germanic *herutaz (deer, stag), from the Proto-Indo-European *ḱerh₂- (horn). The English word hart comes from the same root via the Old English heorot (stag), and means a male deer, especially a male red deer after his fifth year [source].

Here’s an audio version of this post.

In the Same Boat

All in the same boat

Over the past year, and before, we’ve often been told that we’re all “in the same boat”, at least in the UK. The intention is to suggest that we are all in a similar situation or predicament, and the expression is often used by those in positions of power, wealth and privilege.

The idea of being in the same boat meaning ‘having the same fate’ first appeared in writing in 1584 in Thomas Hudson’s translation of Du Bartas’ Historie of Judith:

haue ye paine ? so likewise paine haue we :
For in one bote we both imbarked be.
Vpon one tide, one tempest doeth vs tosse,
Your common ill, it is our common losse.

It appeared more or less in the current form in writing by Thomas Taylor, a British cleryman in 1629. He said:

He is in the same boate which is tossed and threatned with the tempest, and is someway interessed in the common cause, and quarrell.

Source: phrases.org.uk

Equivalents of this phrase in French include:

  • être logés à la même enseigne = to be lodged at the same sign
  • être dans le même bateau = to be in the same boat
  • être dans la même galère = to be in the same galley
  • être dans la même barque = to be in the same rowing boat
  • être dans le même pétrin = to be in the same kneading trough
  • être dans le même bain = to be in the same bath

Source: Reverso.net

Which of these, if any, is most commonly used?

In other languages, such as Dutch, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian and Japanese, you can talk about being in the same boat. Are there any languages in which this idea is referred to without mentioning boats?

Shivery Types

Koukleum

Are you a shivery type? Or maybe a heat freak? Or in other words, do you prefer warmer temperatures, and turn up the heating when it gets cold?

If so, then you could call yourself a koukleum [ˈkɑu̯kløːm], a Dutch word meaning a “person who is often/easily cold, person bothered by the cold a lot” [source], or a ‘shivery type’ [source]. It comes from kou (a low temperature situation) and kleumen (to be stiff with cold) [source].

Related words include:

  • koukleumen = to suffer in low temperatures
  • kleumen = to be stiff with cold
  • kleumer = a person who is prone to cold; a cold or untrustworthy person
  • kleumerig = stiffened from the cold

The German word Frostbeule has a similar meaning to koukleum, and also means frostbite or chilblain [source].

A koukleum might suffer from cryophobia (an abnormal fear of ice or frost; a morbid fear of freezing) [source], and might be a cryophobic, which is the nearest English word I can find.

The opposite of cryophobic is cryophilic, which usually refers to plants or animals and means “having an affinity for or thriving at low temperatures; able to thrive at low temperatures” [source].

According to this article, about 20% of people have a genetic mutation which makes them better able to resist cold temperatures and to live in cold climates.

I’m not a koukleum, and in fact prefer cooler temperatures. I haven’t found a word for this preference in Dutch, English or other languages. How about you?

Sniding Wind

A Dutch friend included the expression sniding wind in a poem she wrote today:

Language quiz image

Tea by the sea
A sniding wind
comes from the east
It blows through
All my layers
Making my hands
Go cold and colder
White frotty waves
Black seaweed
Pink tea gone cold too
Quick rush back home
On my cloggerdy clogs

More Tea by the sea poems.

After writing it, she realised that sniding wind was an Anglified version of the Dutch expression snijdende wind (cutting wind).

While sniding doesn’t exist in English, the word snide [snaɪd] does, and means “disparaging or derisive in an insinuative way” and “tricky, deceptive, false, spurious, contemptible” [source].

Snide comes from snithe [snʌɪð / snaɪð] (sharp, cutting, cold, piercing (wind/weather)), from the Middle English snithen, from the Old English snīþan (to cut, lance, hew, reap, mow), from the Proto-Germanic *snīþaną (to cut), from the Proto-Indo-European *sneyt- (to cut) [source]. So it could have been a snithing wind – it certainly was yesterday.

The Dutch word snijden (to cut, carve, intersect) comes from the same root, as does the German word schneiden (to cut, trim, slice), the Swedish word snida (to carve, engrave), the Icelandic word sníða (to trim, tailor).

Scribacious Library Mice

An interesting word I learnt the other day while listening to the Something Rhymes with Purple podcast was scribacious, which means “prone to excessive writing” [source], “having the tendency to write a lot or too much“ [source], or “addicted to writing, fond of writing” [source].

Scribacious comes from scribe (someone who writes), from the Middle English scribe, from the Old French scribe (scribe), from the Late Latin scriba (secretary), from scribere (to write, draw (up), draft, scratch).

Are there any other words that mean “fond of writing”?

Some related words include:

  • scribaciousnesss = the quality or state of being scribacious
  • scribal = relating to scribes and their work
  • scribely = of, relating to, or characteristic of a scribe; scribal
  • scribable = capable of being written upon
  • scribbleomania = obsession with scribbling
  • scripturient = having a violent desire to write

Bookworm / Library mouse

One who is fond of reading might be called bookish, a bookworm or a bibliophile. Do you know any other words for this?

In Dutch a bookworm is a boekenwurm [source], and similarly in German a bookworm is a Bücherwurm [source].

In Spanish a bookworm is a ratón de biblioteca (a library mouse), a ratón de archivo (an archive mouse), a gusano de libro (a bookworm) [source].

In French a bookworm is a rat de bibliothèque (a library rat) or a dévoreur de livres (a devourer of books) [source].

In Italian a bookworm is a topo di bibliteca (a library rat/mouse) [source].

What about in other languages?