Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

Oban / An t-Òban
A sunny morning in Oban / Madainn ghrianach anns an Oban

The trip from Oban to Skye went smoothly, and I bumped into a couple on the bus who I met at SMO last year. There were several other SMO-bound people on the bus, but I didn’t know them at the time. We arrived safely at Broadford on Sunday afternoon, and got a lift to the college from there. Along the way, there was sunshine, lots of rain and some high winds, and the views from the bus were beautiful.

Tyndrum / Taigh an Droma
Changing buses in Tyndrum / Ag atharrachadh bhusaichean ann an Tyndrum

So far, the Gaelic song course has been a lot of fun. There are eleven of us in the class from Scotland, England, Ireland, Switzerland and Germany. Some are here for the first time, others have been here before. Most speak at least some Gaelic, and there’s one native speaker. For me, it’s my 10th time here doing Gaelic song courses, and the 7th course I’ve done with Christine Primrose – the other song courses were with Joy Dunlop, Margaret Stewart and Mary Ann Kennedy.

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig
Àrainn Chaluim Chille – the newer part of the college / Am pàirt as ùire den cholaiste

We learnt five songs on Monday, eleven yesterday, and another four today. Some of them I already know, or have at least heard before, which makes it easier to pick them up. Others are a bit more challenging with lots of verses, and complex melodies that change with every verse to fit to the words. Everything is taught by ear, and Christine likes to tell stories about the songs, the people who wrote them, and how life was at the time they were written. A lot of the songs are relatively old – from the 17th or 18th centuries, and have been passed on orally since then.

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig
Àrainn Ostaig – the older part of the college / am pàirt as sine den cholaiste

On Monday night there was a pub quiz, which was good fun. The team I was in didn’t win, but we were only one point behind the winning team.

The people who study here and work here come from many different places and speak a variety of languages. I try to speak as much Scottish Gaelic as I can while I’m here – that’s one of the reasons why I come here – and I’ve also had conversations in French, Irish and Mandarin Chinese, and spoken odd bits of Welsh, German, Portuguese, Japanese, and even a bit of English.

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig
The views from here are quite nice / Tha na seallaidhean às an seo gu math snog

Last night there was a concert featuring Eilidh Shaw and Ross Martin, a husband and wife duo – he plays the guitar, and she sings and plays the fiddle. They write interesting songs and lively tunes in a traditional Scottish style and sounded great. It was also a nice way to celebrate my birthday.

We have a bit of time off today, and there’s a music session in the bar tonight. I was planning to go for a walk, but it’s raining quite a lot, so I’m spending my free afternoon relaxing in my room, learning a bit more Gaelic, writing nonsense like this, and reading.

Whimperatives

When you ask someone to do something for you, but in an indirect kind of way, or in other words, you phrase an order or imperative obliquely as a question, this is apparently called a whimperative. For example, you might say “Would you mind closing the window?”, rather than the more direct “Please, close the window” or “Close the window!”. Or you might say “Why don’t you be quiet?” instead of “Be quiet” [source].

Do Not Discard It In The Void

This word was coined by Jerrold Sadock, a professor of Linguistics at the University of Chicago, in an essay he wrote in 1970. It’s a blend of whimper and imperative. Another term for a whimperative is interrogative directive [source].

A whimper is a low intermittent sob, and to whimper means to cry or sob softly and intermittently, to cry with a low, whining, broken voice, to whine, to complain, or to say something in a whimpering manner [source].

It is probably of imitative origin, or may by related to wimmern (to whimper, moan) in German. The words wimp and wimpy possibly come from whimper, and were likely influenced by the charcter J. Wellington Wimpy in the Popeye comics [source].

Always Tuesday - Bijou Planks 81/365

The word imperative (essential, crucial, expressing a command) comes from the Latin word imperātīvus (of or proceeding from a command, commanded), from imperō (to comand, give orders to, demand, rule, govern), from in- (in) and parō (to arrange, order, resolve) [source].

Words from the same roots include pare (to cut away the outer layer from something, especially a fruit or a vegetable) in English, parer (to adorn, bedeck, fend off) in French, parer (to stop, halt, put up, lift, stand up) in Spanish and paratoi (to prepare) in Welsh [source].

Unlimited Web Hosting - Kualo

Overflowing Vases

The French equivalent of the saying “the straw that broke the camel’s back” or “the last / final straw” is la goutte d’eau qui fait déborder le vase (the drop of water that makes the vase overflow). Which makes as much a sense, and no animals are harmed.

La goutte d'eau qui fait déborder le vase. it's the straw that breaks the camel's back

These sayings mean “The final additional small burden that makes the entirety of one’s difficulties unbearable.” The earliest known version in English appears in a debate between Thomas Hobbes and John Bramhall in 1677: ‘the last Feather may be said to break a Horses Back’.

It is thought to be based on the Arabic proverb: اَلْقَشَّة اَلَّتِي قَصَمَت ظَهْر اَلْبِعِير⁩ (al-qašša allatī qaṣamat ẓahr al-biʕīr), or “The straw that broke the camel’s back”.

Other versions in English include:

  • It is the last straw that overloads the camel (1799)
  • It was the last ounce that broke the back of the camel (1832)
  • The last straw will break the camel’s back (1836)
  • As the last straw breaks the laden camel’s back (1848)
  • This final feather broke the camel’s back (1876)
  • The straw that broke the donkey’s back
  • The last peppercorn breaks the camel’s back
  • The melon that broke the monkey’s back
  • The feather that broke the camel’s back
  • The straw that broke the horse’s back
  • The hair that broke the camel’s back
  • The last ounce broke the camel’s back

There is also “the last drop makes the cup run over”, and variations on that theme in English.

Versions in quite a few other languages also refer to overflowing cups or other vessels, for example:

  • German: der Tropfen, der das Fass zum Überlaufen bringt.
    the drop that makes the barrel overflow
  • Italian: la goccia che fa traboccare il vaso
    the drop of water that makes the glass overflow
  • Russian: ка́пля, перепо́лнившая ча́шу (káplja, perepólnivšaja čášu)
    the drop that made the bowl overflow
  • Turkish: bardağı taşıran son damla
    the last drop that makes the glass overflow

There are, however, quite different versions in some languages:

  • Scottish Gaelic: théid capall don choille ach brisidh aon uallach a chridhe
    the colt will go to the forest, but one burden will break his heart
  • Welsh: pennog gyda phwn dyrr asgwrn cefn ceffyl
    adding a herring to a load break’s a horse’s backbone (not sure of this translation)

Are there interesting equivalents of this saying in other languages?

Sources: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/the_straw_that_broke_the_camel%27s_back#English
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_that_broke_the_camel%27s_back
https://geiriaduracademi.org/
https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/the-last-straw.html

Unlimited Web Hosting - Kualo

Interlinguistic Conflicts

Is it a good idea to study two or more closely related languages at the same time?

dominance

Perhaps. If you can devote more or less the same time to each one, and are able to keep them separate in your head, then there are certainly advantages to doing so. However, if you spend more time with one of them, it might interfere with the other(s), and they could end up fighting for dominance.

Many years ago, I started learning Irish and Scottish Gaelic. At first, I listened to songs in them which I tried to sing, even though I didn’t understand most of the words. Later, I started studying the languages, on my own at first, then I took some classes.

From 2005 to 2019, I spent a week or two every summer studying, speaking and singing in Irish in Donegal in the northwest of Ireland. I’ve also taken part in short courses in Scottish Gaelic songs at a college on the Isle of Skye in Scotland quite a few times between 2008 and 2022.

Until recently, I felt more fluent and confident in Irish, and it was my default Gaelic language. When I spoke Scottish Gaelic, I tended to fill in any gaps in my vocabulary and knowledge with Irish, which often works, as the two languages are closely related.

Over the past year though, I’ve been learning more Scottish Gaelic, and now feel a lot more confident with it. When I started brushing up my Irish this month, I realised that Scottish Gaelic is now the dominant form of Gaelic in my head, and Irish feels like a slightly deviant relative.

This happens with my other languages as well. Especially with closely related languages like German and Dutch (Dutch is currently winning), Swedish and Danish (Swedish is dominating at the moment), and French and Spanish (they’re fairly evenly balanced, although I feel more confident with French).

I studied (Mandarin) Chinese and Japanese at university, and became fluent in Chinese during the 5+ years I spent studying and working in Taiwan. However, I only spent one semester studying Japanese in Japan, and didn’t become as fluent in Japanese.

When I tried to read Japanese texts, I could recognise many of the kanji (Chinese characters) and knew what they meant and how to pronounce them in Mandarin, but not necessarily in Japanese. Recently I’ve been learning more Japanese and am getting better at reading it and speaking it. When I see kanji know, the Japanese pronunciation often comes first rather than the Mandarin pronunciation. I haven’t forgotten my Mandarin, but it is not as dominant as it was.

Are there interlinguistic conflicts in your head?

Laxness

During the days between Christmas and New Year things may seem a bit more lax than usual, so I thought I’d look into the origins of the word.

lazy

Lax means lenient and allowing for deviation, not strict, loose, not tight or taut, lacking care, neglectful or negligent. It comes from the Latin laxus (wide, roomy, loose), from Proto-Indo-European *slǵ-so (weak, faint) [source].

The English word leash comes from the same roots, via the Middle English lesse (a leash for holding a coursing hound or watchdog) [source], the Old French lesse (leash, lead), and the Latin laxā (thong, a loose cord), from laxus [source].

The English word lease also comes from the same roots, at least partly: from Middle English *lesen, the Anglo-Norman lesser/lasier (to let, let go), from Latin laxō (to loose) from laxus, and partly from Old High German lāzan (to let, let go, release) [source].

Related words in other languages include laks (lax, slack) in Dutch, lâche (loose, slack, coward(ly), low, lazy) in French, lax (lax, easy, loose) in Geman, and llaes (loose, slack, free, trailing, flowing, low) in Welsh [source].

Saturn’s Bathing Day

The English word Saturday comes ultimately from the Proto-West Germanic *Sāturnas dag (Saturn’s day), which is a calque (translation) of the Latin diēs Saturnī (day of Saturn).

Saturday

There are similar words in other West Germanic languages, such as West Frisian (saterdei), Low German (Saterdag), and Dutch (zaterdag), all of which mean Saturday [source].

There German word for Saturday, Samstag, comes from Middle High German sam(e)ztac, from Old High German sambaztag (Sabbath day), from Gothic *𐍃𐌰𐌼𐌱𐌰𐍄𐍉 (*sambatō), a version 𐍃𐌰𐌱𐌱𐌰𐍄𐍉 (sabbatō – Saturday, the Sabbath day), from Koine Greek σάββατον (sábbaton – Sabbath), from Hebrew שַׁבָּת‎ (šabbāṯ – Sabbath), possibly from Akkadian 𒊭𒉺𒀜𒌈 (šapattum – the middle day of the lunar month).

Words from the same roots include samedi (Saturday) in French, sâmbătă (Saturday) in Romanian, and szombat (Saturday, Sabbath) in Hungarian [source].

In northern and eastern Germany, another word for Saturday is Sonnabend (“Sunday eve”), as apparently in Germanic recking, the day begins at sunset. It a calque of the Old English sunnanǣfen (Saturday evening) [source].

Words for Saturday in the North Germanic languages have a different root, however. These include lördag in Swedish, lørdag in Danish and Norwegian, leygardagur in Faroese and laugardagur in Icelandic. They all come from the Old Norse laugardagr, from laug (pool) and dagr (day), so literally “bathing day” [source].

These words have also been borrowed into Finnic languages: Saturday is lauantai in Finnish, laupäev in Estonian and lavvantaki in Ingrian.

Are there any other languages in which Saturday means something like “bathing day”, or something else interesting?

See also: Days of the week in many languages on Omniglot.

Hanging Nails

A hangnail is an angry nail, not a nail that’s hanging off. Let’s find out more.

Rusty key / rusten nøkkel

A hangnail is:

  • A loose, narrow strip of nail tissue protruding from the side edge and anchored near the base of a fingernail or toenail.
  • A pointed upper corner of the toenail (often created by improperly trimming by rounding the corner) that, as the nail grows, presses into the flesh or protrudes so that it may catch (“hang”) on stockings or shoes.

It comes from the old word agnail (a corn or sore on the toe or finger, torn skin near a toenail or fingernail), from Middle English agnail, from Old English angnægl, from ang (compressed, narrow, tight) and nægl (nail), from Proto-Germanic *naglaz (nail, peg), from Proto-Indo-European *h₃nogʰ- (nail). It was reanalyised as hang + nail in folk etymology [source].

Ang comes from Proto-Germanic *angus (narrow, tight) from Proto-Indo-European *h₂énǵʰus, (narrow, tight), from *h₂enǵʰ- (to constrict, tighten, narrow, tight, distresed, anxious) [source].

Words from the same root include anger, angina, angst, anguish, anxiety and anxious in English, ahdas (tight, narrow, cramped) in Finnish, cúng (narrow) in Irish, and узкий [ˈuskʲɪj] (narrow, tight) in Russian [source].

The word England possibly comes from the same root (at least the first syllable does) – from Middle English Engelond (England, Britain), from Old English Engla land (“land of the Angles”), from Proto-West Germanic *Anglī, from Proto-Germanic *angulaz (hook, prickle), from Proto-Indo-European *h₂enk- (to bend, crook), which may be related to *h₂enǵʰ- (to constrict, tighten, etc) [source].

Other names for hangnail include whitlow, wicklow, paronychia and nimpingang [source].

Whitlow comes from Middle English whitflaw. The whit part comes from Middle Dutch vijt or Low German fit (abscess), from Latin fīcus (fig-shaped ulcer), and the flaw part comes from Middle English flawe, flay (a flake of fire or snow, spark, splinter), probably from Old Norse flaga (a flag or slab of stone, flake), from Proto-Germanic *flagō (a layer of soil), from Proto-Indo-European *plāk- (broad, flat). [source]

Wicklow is a common misspelling of whitlow, and paronychia comes from Ancient Greek παρα (para – beside), and ὄνῠξ (ónux – claw, nail, hoof, talon) [source]

Nimpingang comes from Devonshire dialect and refers to “a fester under the finger nail”. Nimphing gang is an alternative version, and in West Somerset it is known as a nippigang. It comes from impingall (ulcer, infected sore), from Old English impian (to graft) [source] from Proto-West Germanic *impōn (to graft), from Vulgar Latin imputō (to graft), from Ancient Greek ἔμφυτος (émphutos – natural, (im)planted) [source]

Words from the same roots include imp (a small, mischievous sprite or a malevolent supernatural creature) in English and impfen (to inoculate, vaccinate) in German [source]

Pens and Pencils

The words pen and pencil appear to be related, but are they? Let’s find out.

Pens and Pencils

The word pen, as in a writing implement, comes from Middle English penne (pen, quill, wing, feather), from the Anglo-Norman penne, from Latin penna (wing, feather, quill pen), from Proto-Italic petnā (feather, wing), from Proto-Indo-European *péth₂r̥/pth₂én- (feather, wing), from *peth₂- (to spread out, to fly) [source].

Words from the same roots include petal, petulant, petition, plume, plumage, fathom, feather and helicopter in English, adar (birds) and adain (wing) in Welsh, and Faden (yarn, thread, fathom, suture) in German [source].

The word pen, as in an enclosure for animals, comes from Middle English pen(ne) (enclosure for animals), from Old English penn (enclosure, pen, fold), from Proto-Germanic *pennō/*pannijō (pin, bolt, nail, tack), from Proto-Indo-European *bend- (pointed peg, nail, edge).

The English word pin comes from the same PIE root, as does the Dutch word pin (peg, pin), the German word Pinne (pin, pivot, tiller), and the Swedish word pinne (stick, peg, pin) [source].

The word pencil comes from Anglo-Norman, from the Old French pincel (paintbrush), from the Vulgar Latin *penicellum, from the Latin pēnicillum (a painter’s brush, (style of) painting), a diminutive of pēniculus (brush, sponge), a diminutive of pēnis (tail, penis), from the Proto-Italic *pesnis, from the Proto-Indo-European *pes-ni-s, from *pes- (penis) [source].

Words from the same roots include penicillin in English and other languages, pincel (paintbrush) in Spanish and Portuguese, pinceau (paintbrush) in French and Pinsel (paintbrush) in German [source]. Penicillin and penicillium are apparently so named because the spore of the fungi resemble brushes [source].

Incidentally, the French idiom s’emmêler les pinceaux means to get one’s wires crossed to get things all mixed up, to get in a muddle or to misstep. Literally it means “to get tangled in the paintbrushes” [source].

Sailing Away

While putting together a post on my Celtiadur blog about words for ships and boats in Celtic languages, I realised that words for boats, ships and other nautical things in English come from many different languages. So I thought I’d write a blog post about them.

Laxey / Laksaa

The word boat comes from Middle English bot (boat, the path or course of one’s life), from Old English bāt (boat), from Proto-West Germanic *bait, from Proto-Germanic *baitaz (boat, small ship), from Proto-Indo-European *bʰeyd- (to break, split) [source].

The French word bateau (ship, boat), the Dutch word boot (boat), and the German word Boot (boat) were all borrowed from Middle or Old English.

Words for boat in North Germanic languages, such as Swedish (båt), Danish (båd) and Icelandic (bátur), were borrowed from Old Norse bátr, which was borrowed from Old English bāt (boat) [source].

Some words for boat in Irish (bád), Scottish Gaelic (bàta), Manx (baatey) and Welsh (bad) were also borrowed from Old English or Old Norse [source].

ship-13

The word ship comes from Middle English schip (ship, boat), from Old English scip (ship), from Proto-West Germanic *ship (ship), from Proto-Germanic *skipą (ship), from unknown origins [source].

Ship can be used to refer to a water-borne vessel generally larger than a boat, while boat usually refers to vessels smaller than a ship but larger than a dinghy. Boat also refers to submarines of any size, and lakers (ships used in the Great Lakes trade in North America).

Sunday Sailing.

A dinghy is a small open boat, propelled by oars or paddles, carried as a tender, lifeboat, or pleasure craft on a ship; a sailing dinghy, or an inflatable rubber life raft. It comes from Bengali ডিঙি (ḍiṅi – canoe), probably from Sanskrit द्रोण (droṇa – wooden vessel, bucket, trough), Proto-Indo-Iranian *dráwnam (wooden object), from Proto-Indo-European *dréw-no-m, from *dóru (tree, wood) [source].

A yacht is a sailing boat larger than a dinghy but smaller than a sailing ship, often with a cabin. It can also be a motor-powered private boat. It comes from yeaghe (light, fast sailing ship) from Dutch jacht (yacht, hunt), from jaghtschip (light sailing vessel, fast pirate ship: lit. “pursuit ship”).

Apparently the original Dutch jaghtschip were built to chase pirates and smugglers from the coast. In 1660 the Dutch East India Company presented one to King Charles II, who used it as a pleasure boat. It was then copied by British shipbuilders as a pleasure craft for wealthy gentlemen [source].

Tall Ships 015 Gloriaa_C

Another type of boat is a barque, which is a sailing vessel with three or more masts, with all masts but the sternmost square-rigged. It comes from Middle English barke (boat), from Middle French barque, from Latin barca (baris – a type of flat-bottomed freighter used on the Nile in Ancient Egypt), from Ancient Greek βᾶρις (bâris – Egyptian boat), from Coptic ⲃⲁⲁⲣⲉ (baare – small boat), from Demotic br, from Ancient Egyptian bꜣjr (transport ship, type of fish) [source].

Barge

The word barge (A large flat-bottomed towed or self-propelled boat used mainly for river and canal transport of heavy goods or bulk cargo), comes from the same roots, as does the Spanish barco (boat), the Galician barco (ship, boat, barge) and the Portuguese barco (boat) [source].

Green Canoe

The word canoe (a small long and narrow boat, propelled by one or more people) comes from Spanish canoa (canoe), probably from Taino *kanowa (canoe), from Proto-Arawak *kanawa (caone) [source].

Inuit kayak

Canoes are generally open on top, while kayaks are covered over except for the cockpit where the paddler sits. Kayak comes from Inuktitut ᖃᔭᖅ (qayaq – kayak, man’s boat), from Proto-Eskimo *qayaʁ (kayak) [source].

Umiak

If kayaks are men’s boats, are there women’s boats as well? There are – they are the umiak (a large, open boat made of skins stretched over a wooden frame that is propelled by paddles), from Inuvialuktun ᐅᒥᐊᖅ (umiaq – women’s boat) [source].

Incidentally, navy (a country’s entire sea force, including ships and personnel) comes from Middle English nave (navy), navye, from Old French navie (navy), from Latin nāvigia, from nāvigium (vessel, ship boat, from nāvis (ship, boat, vessel), from Proto-Indo-European *néh₂us (boat). In Old English navy was sciphere (“ship army”) [source].

English words from the same roots include navigate, nave, nautical and astronaut (lit. “star sailor”) [source].

Gadding About

In this post we explore the various meanings and origins of the word gad.

Gadfly

As an exclamation, gad! is a euphemistic alteration of the word God, and is the roughly equivalent of by God!, goodness gracious! and similar exclamations. It also appears in such exclamations as egad!, egads!, gadzooks!, gadsbobs!, gadsbudlikins! and gadsnouns!.

As a verb, to gad means:

  • to move from one location to another in an apparently random and frivolous manner
  • (of cattle) to run with the tail in the air, bent over the back, usually in an attempt to escape the warble fly

This comes from Middle English gadden (to go quickly, hurry, rush about), possibly from gadde. Related words include gadabout (a person who restlessly moves from place to place, seeking amusement or the companionship of others) and gaddish (inclined to gad, or move from place to place frivolously).

As a noun, gad means one who roams about idly, or a gadabout. This version comes from Middle English gade (a fool, simpleton), from Old English gāda (comrade, companion), from Proto-West Germanic *gadō, from Proto-Germanic *gadô/*gagadô (companion, associate), from Proto-Indo-European *gʰedʰ- (to join, unite).

The obsolete English word gadling (a companion in arms, fellow, comrade, a roving vagabond) comes from the same roots, as does the Dutch word gade (spouse), and the German word Gatte (spouse).

In Northern England and Scotland, gad is apparently used to mean a greedy and/or stupid person.

Finally, gad can mean:

  • a goad, a sharp-pointed rod for driving cattle, horses, etc, or one with a whip or thong on the end for the same purpose
  • a rod or stick, such as a fishing rod or a measuring rod
  • a pointed metal tool for breaking or chiselling rock
  • a spike on a gauntlet.

This comes from Middle English gad(de), from Old Norse gaddr (goad, spike), from Proto-Germanic *gazdaz (spike, rod, stake).

Words from the same roots include yard (a unit of length equal to 3 feet, a spar on a sail) in English, and gadd (stinger, sting, tooth) in Swedish.

Also from the same root in the English word gadfly, which refers to certain types of flies that irritate animals by buzzing around them and biting them to suck their blood, and by extension, a person of thing that irritates or instigates, or a person who takes without giving back. It is also a synonym of gadabout.

Sources: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/gad#English
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/gadfly#English
https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/middle-english-dictionary/dictionary
https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=gad