Cats and Porridge

att gå som katten kring het gröt

What connection is there between cats and porridge?

Well in Swedish, att gå som katten kring het gröt (“to walk like the cat around hot porridge”) means that you are not getting to the point, beating around the bush, stalling, avoiding talking directly about something sensitive or unpleasant, approaching something indirectly and cautiously, walking on egg shells, pussyfooting around, or wasting time.

Some examples of how this phrase is used:

  • Låt oss inte gå som katten kring het gröt
    Let us not beat around the bush
  • Vi går som katten kring het gröt, både politiskt och diplomatiskt sett.
    We tread on eggshells, both politically and diplomatically.
  • Vi har tassat likt katten kring het gröt i den frågan alltför länge.
    We have pussyfooted on that issue for far too long.
  • Vi här har varit rädda och gått som katten kring het gröt.
    We here have been fearful and have beaten around the bush.

Source: bab.la

Similar idioms involving cats and porridge are found in a number of other languages:

  • Czech: chodit kolem horké kaše = to walk around hot porridge
  • German: wie die Katze um den heißen Brei herumschleichen = as the cat sneaks around the hot porridge
  • Finnish: kiertää kuin kissa kuumaa puuroa = to pace around hot porridge like a cat
  • Norwegian: å gå som katta rundt den varme grauten = to walk like a cat around hot porridge

These are all equivalents of to beat around the bush.

The English idiom to beat around the bush was first used in writing in 1572, and referred to the practise of beating bushes in order to flush out game animals [source].

Some other cat-related idioms

  • It’s rain cats and dogs = It’s raining heavily
  • To let the cat out of the bag = to reveal a secret
  • Curiosity killed the cat
  • When the cat’s away the mice will play
  • French: Avoir d’autres chats à fouetter = To have other cats to whip = To have other fish to fry / other things to do.
  • French: Avoir un chat dans la gorge = To have a cat in the throat = To have a frog in one’s throat
  • French: appeler un chat un chat = to call a cat a cat = to call a spade a spade = say it like it is
  • French: Chat échaudé craint l’eau froide = Scalded cat fears cold water = Once bitten, twice shy
  • Spanish: El gato escaldado del agua fria huye = The cat that has been scalded runs away from cold water = Once bitten, twice shy
  • German: meine Arbeit war für die Katz = my work was for the cat = my work was a waste of time
  • German: das hat die Katze gefressen = the cat ate it = the fairies took it
  • German: wenn die Katze aus dem Haus ist, tanzen die Mäuse (auf dem Tisch) = when the cat is out of the house, the mice dance (on the table) = when the cat’s away the mice will play

Sources: Idioms of the world, Reverso

Do you know other cat- or porridge-related idioms?

Language Learning Update

Just finished the Spanish course on Duolingo

This week I finally completed the Spanish course on Duolingo. I’ve been using it to improve and refresh my Spanish, as I have studied the language with various courses before. I can now understand, read, write and speak a lot more Spanish than before, though need to practise speaking and writing it more.

I first took a placement test on Duolingo to see how much Spanish I already knew, and didn’t start from the beginning. Then I skipped through each level using the tests, rather than working through each lesson individually. Had I done that, it would take a lot longer. For now, I’m not studying Spanish actively anymore, but will use it whenever I get the chance.

Over the past two and a half years or so, I’ve studied languages every day with Duolingo (current streak = 767 days). I’ve completed courses in Spanish, Russian, Swedish, Danish and Esperanto. I also completed the Romanian course, then they added lots of extra levels, and I haven’t gone back to work on those. At the moment I’m focussing on Czech, and will continue to do so, working through every lesson, so it’s going to take quite a while. I don’t plan to start any other languages until I’ve finished the Czech course.

In the meantime, I’ve also been studying Czech, and Russian, on Mondly – Czech for 226 days and Russian for 153 days. I really like their courses and am learning a lot from them.

On Memrise I’m studying Russian, Danish and Swedish. When I started using Memrise nearly two years ago, I already knew some Russian and Swedish. and started Swedish from level 2. I started Danish last year from scratch, although my knowledge of Swedish, and German and English, certainly helps. I’m currently doing level 6 courses in Swedish and Danish, and level 5 in Russian.

By the way, if you sign up to Memrise by 16th September, you will get a 50% discount, and I’ll get a small commission.

I find these apps with the streak counters really encourage me to study every day. It has become a habit to do so, and one I plan to continue for as long as possible.

Apart from these studies, I keep my French and Welsh ticking over by speaking them regularly, and other languages by using them occasionally.

How are your language studies going?

Do you prefer to focus on one language at a time, or to learn two or more simultaneously?

What courses, apps and other resources do you use?

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.