Hoary Hair

One of the words that came up in my Spanish lessons today was cana [ˈkana], which means white or grey hair. I hadn’t come across it before, so thought I’d find out more about it and where it comes from.

Many Shades Of Grey

Cana is related to, and possibly derived from, cano (ancient, old (person), hoary, white/grey-haired). Cano and cana come from the Latin word cānus (white, hoary, frothy, grey), from the Proto-Italic *kaznos (grey), from the Proto-Indo-European *ḱas- (blond, grey, white) [source].

Retaled words and expressions include:

  • canoso = grey/white-haired, grey, white
  • encanecer = to go grey, to go mouldy
  • tiene canas = He has grey/white hair
  • echar una cana al aire = to let one’s hair down, to whoop it up (“to throw a grey hair in the air”)
  • echar la última cana al aire = to have one’s last fling
  • faltar a las canas = to show a lack of respect for one’s elders
  • peinar canas = to be getting on

Some words from the same PIE root include:

  • Portuguese: = grey hair; cão = white-haired
  • Welsh: can = white, shining, brilliant; cannu = to bleach, blanch, whiten; cannydd = bleach; ceinach = hare
  • English: hare
  • Greek: ξανθός (xanthós) = blonde, fair, flaxen, tawny; golden

Cana is also a slang word for the police and prison in Argentina, Uruguay and Chile.

Cana should not be confused with caña, which means cane, reed, a slim type of glass, or a hangover. It comes from the Latin canna (reed), from the Ancient Greek κάννα (kánna – reed), from the Akkadian 𒄀 (qanû – reed), from the Sumerian 𒄀𒈾 (gi.na) [source].

Incidentally, the word hoary (white, whitish, greyish-white) comes from hoar (white/greyish colour, antiquity), from the Old English hār (hoar, hoary, grey, old), from the Proto-Germanic *hairaz (grey), from the Proto-Indo-European *(s)ḱeh₃- (grey, dark). [source].

Fragments

One of the Spanish words I learnt this week was pizarra [piˈθara / piˈsara], which means slate (rock), (roof) slate, blackboard, chalkboard, whiteboard, or in Cuba, a dashboard [source]. It comes from the Basque word pizar (fragment, blackboard, slate) [source].

When I first saw it I thought it had something to do with pizzas, but obviously not, unless a blackboard is used as a menu in a pizza restaurant.

Starters, red and white pizzas, dessert menu - SPQR Pizzeria, Melbourne - stitched

Some related words and expressions include:

  • pizarra blanca = whiteboard
  • pizarra de papel = flip chart
  • pizarral = slate quarry
  • pizarrín = slate pencil
  • pizarrón = blackboard
  • pizarroso = slaty (soil) / slate (roof)

Another word for blackboard or chalkboard, which is used in Spain, is encerado [enθeˈɾado / enseˈɾado], which also means waxed, polished, wax-coloured, oilcloth, tarpaulin or tarp. It comes from encerar (to wax, polish), from the Latin incērāre (to wax), from cēra (wax, beeswax, honeycomb, wax tablet, wax seal, wax image) [source], which is also the root of the Spanish word cera (wax, crayon).

Another name for a waxed writing tablet in Latin is tabula, and they have been used since at least the 14th century BC – the oldest known example was found in a shipwreak near the town of Kaş in the southwest of Turkey. They usually consist of a wooden frame with wax in the middle, and often two such frames were joined together. A stylus was used to write in the wax, with a sharp end for writing and a flat end for erasing. They were used in parts of Europe until the 19th century [source].

TABLILLA DE CERA Y STYLUS

The Latin expression tabula rasa, meaning a blank/clean slate (lit. “an erased slate”) originally referred to a tabula that has had the writing erased from it, and now refers to the idea that individuals are born without any innate mental content [source].

In some places where slate is readily available, people used to write on it with chalk, especially in schools. They were also used to write people’s debts in pubs, and when their debts were paid, they had a clean slate, or had had their slate wiped clean.

iSlate

I feel the beginnings of a new section for Omniglot on writing surfaces and tools.

Incidentally, the word pizza was borrowed from Neapolitan, and is thought to be related to the Byzantine Gree wordk πίτα (píta – cake, pie) [source].

Here’s an audio-visual version of this post I made with Doodly:

Thankfully Charismatic

What do the words thank you and charisma have in common?

Well, charisma (personal charm or magnetism) comes from the Ancient Greek χᾰ́ρῐσμᾰ (khárisma – grace, favour, gift), from χᾰρῐ́ζομαι (kharízomai – I show favor), from χᾰ́ρῐς (kháris – grace), from χαίρω (khaírō – I am happy) [source].

The Greek word for thank you, ευχαριστώ (efcharistó), comes from the same root, via εὐχαριστῶ (eukharistô), a contracted form of εὐχαριστέω (eukharistéō – to bestow a favour on, oblige; to be grateful, thankful; to thank, give thanks), from εὐχάριστος (eukháristos – grateful, thankful; pleasant, agreeable), from εὐ- (eu – good), χᾰ́ρῐς (kháris – grace) & -τος (-tos) [source].

The word Eucharist also comes from the same root, via the Middle English eukarist, from Old French, from the Ecclesiastical Latin eucharistia [source], as does the name Charis. In Greek mythology Charis was one of the Graces or Charites (Χάριτες), goddesses of charm, beauty, nature, human creativity and fertility, and wife of Hephaestus (Ἥφαιστος), the god of blacksmiths, metalworking, carpenters, craftsmen, artisans, sculptors, metallurgy, fire [source].

I decided to look into the origins of the charisma today because one of the YouTube channels I found recently is called The Charismatic Voice. Through this this channel I’ve discovered various singers and groups, including some who sing in languages other than English. As I enjoy listening to and singing songs in a variety of languages, this is great for me.

Here’s an example of a Mongolian song:

Language Puzzles

The Language Lover's Puzzle Book

Recently I was sent a copy of a new book by Alex Bellos – The Language Lover’s Puzzle Book: Lexical complexities and cracking conundrums from across the globe, and agreed to write a review of it.

According to the blurb:

Crossing continents and borders, bestselling puzzle author Alex Bellos has gathered more than one hundred of the world’s best conundrums that test your deduction, intuition and street smarts.

The first chapter focuses on computer-related puzzles, including a regex-based crossword, soundex codes and a bad translation puzzle. To find out what these things are, you could buy the book. I had to read the explanations several times to understand them.

Other chapters contain puzzles based various languages, writing systems and counting systems from around the world. Some give you some examples words or phrases in a particular language, and then challenge you to work out how to write other words or phrases, or to identify aspects of the grammar of that language. There are also number-based puzzles using a variety of number systems.

Ancient, modern and constructed languages and writing systems are included, such as Welsh, Irish, Esperanto, Toki Pona, Javanese, Inuktitut, Egyptian Hieroglyphs, Phoenician, Khipu, Ogham, Linear B, Old Norse, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Georgian, Greek and Cherokee.

Some of the puzzles look relatively easy to me as they involve languages and writing systems I’m familiar with. Others look quite difficult. Fortunately there are answers and explanations for all the puzzles at the back of the book. In fact the answer section takes up almost a third of the whole book.

I think I’ll have fun trying to solve them, and anybody reading this with an interesting in languages and writing might do as well.

You can also find a language quiz every Sunday on this blog, of course, and occasional writing-based puzzles on my Instgram.

Cozy Snuddles

You may have heard of the word/concept of hygge, which is “a Danish and Norwegian word for a mood of coziness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment”, according to Wikipedia.

I discovered this week that there is an equivalent in Swedish: mys [ˈmyːˌs], which means “trivsel som upp­står tack vare om­bonad miljö, trevlig aktivitet e.d.” (well-being that arises due to a cozy environment, pleasant activity, etc) [source] or cosiness [source].

Incidentally, the word hygge does exist in Swedish, but means a clearing in a forest made by felling trees. The Swedish translation of the Danish/Norwegian word hygge is danskt mys.

Lagom mysig.

It comes from the Danish/Norweigan myse (squint), and ultimately from the Greek μύειν (mýein – to close ones lips/eyes). The English word myopic and myopia come from the same root.

Related words include:

  • mysa = to smile, beam, cuddle, snuggle; to enjoy oneself; to be engaged in an activity that is comfortable or pleasurable; to be comfortable or content with something; to smile (with only slight movement of the mouth), particularly as a sign of contentedness or comfort (archaic)
  • mysig = snug, cosy, pleasant, comfortable, agreeable
  • mysigt = snugly
  • mysighet = coziness

Here are some examples from Duolingo of how mysa is used:

  • Jag myser på soffan med en kopp te = I snuggle on the sofa with a cup of tea
  • Jag gillar att mysa med min pojkvän = I like cuddling with my boyfriend

Are there similar words in other langauges?

Sources: Wiktionary, bab.la, The People’s Dictionary

Peaches, grapes and quinces

An interesting word that came up in my Spanish lessons this morning was durazno [duˈɾasno], which is a peach in Latin American. In Spain a peach is a melocotón [melokoˈton].

Yummy peach!

Durazno comes from the Latin dūracinus, which means ‘hard-berried’, from dūrus (hard) acinus (berry, grape). It originally referred to grapes used for eating rather than wine-making. Later is was also used for other fruits with a central stone, such as peaches [source].

Other words from the same root include:

  • Arabic: دُرَّاق‎‎ (durrāq) – peach
  • French: duracine – a variety of peach with firm flesh
  • Greek: ροδάκινο (rodákino) – peach
  • Italian: duracina – clingstone (peach), bigaroon (a type of cherry)
  • Quechua: turasnu – peach
  • San Juan Colorado Mixtec: durastun – peach
  • Tetelcingo Nahuatl: trösno – peach

A clingstone is a type of fruit with a stone that clings to the flesh, such as a peach [source]. The antonym is freestone, a type of fruit with a stone that doesn’t cling to the flesh (much).

The Quechua, Mixtec and Nahuatl words were borrowed from Spanish. The Arabic word came from the Ancient Greek δωράκινον (dōrákinon).

Melocotón comes from the Latin mālum cotōnium (quince – “apple of Cydonia”), from mālum (apple) and cotōnium (quince tree) [source].

The English word quince comes from the same root via the Old French cooing (quince), and the Late Latin cotōneum (quince) [source].

Cydonia or Kydonia (Κυδωνία) was a city in northwest Crete in the site of modern Chania (Χανιά) [source].

The English word peach comes from the Middle English peche (peach), borrowed from the Old French pesche (peach), from the Vulgar Latin *pessica (peach) from the Late Latin persica (peach), from the Classical Latin mālum persicum (peach, “Persian apple”), from the Ancient Greek μᾶλον περσικόν (mâlon persikón – peach, “Persian apple”) [source].

The scientific name for peach is Prunus persica (“Persian prune”), and comes from the old belief that peaches were native to Persian, and because peaches are related to plums. They are in fact native to the north west of China [source].

You Pancake!

If you said to someone “Je bent een pannenkoek!“, they’d probably have no idea what you were talking about, unless they spoke Dutch. This is a kind of mild / affectionate insult in Dutch meaning literally “You’re a pancake”.

It’s often used to refer to oneself – Oh, wat ben ik toch een pannenkoek! (Oh, what a pancake I am!) when you’ve done something stupid, dumb, foolish or clumsy.

pancakes!

Pannenkoek [ˈpɑnə(n)ˌkuk] means pancake, crêpe or flapjack. It comes from pan (pan, cooking pot) and koek (cake, cookie, biscuit, pie).

Pan comes from the Middle Dutch panne (pan), from the Old Dutch *panna (pan), from the Latin panna, a contraction of patina (a broad, shallow dish; a pan; stewpan; a kind of cake; a crib, manger), from the Ancient Greek πατάνη (patánē – a kind of flat dish) [source].

Koek comes from the Middle Dutch coeke (cake), from the Old Dutch *kuoko (cake), from the Proto-Germanic *kōkô (cake). The English words cake, cookie and quiche come from the same root – cake via Old Norse, cookie via Dutch, and quiche via French [source].

Words used in a similar way in Dutch include sufkop (“dull head”, numskull), dommerd (dummy), gekkie (weirdo, goof), oelewapper (ding-dong, dummy, monkey), druif (grape), oliebol (donut, dumpling), koekebakker (“cake bakker”), uilskuiken (“owlet”, nincompoop, birdbrain), flapdrol (fool, nincompoop), mafkees (weirdo, goofball), oen (“castrated donkey”, moron), sukkel (dummy, idiot, twerp) [Information from Anna Rutten and Wiktionary].

Some equivalents of pannenkoek I can think in English are muppet, idiot, wally, plonker and numpty. Others, from Reverso, include: knucklehead, slouch, douche and potato-head.

Can you think of more in English or other languages?

Coronavirus – what the heck does it mean?

Today we have a guest post by Manish Sharma

We have all heard this word a lot lately and some of us are probably getting quite sick of it. Hopefully, not by it though. Have you wondered what does it actually mean though?

Let’s do an etymological analysis of coronavirus and see what we come up with. Do what? I hear you say! Fret not, it’s just a fancy way of saying what the word means and how it came to be.

Well, let’s see what we have here then.

So we know it’s clearly made up of two words: corona + virus. Well done, Sherlock! Is that it? What are you going to tell us next? That it’s caused by drinking too much Corona beer? Sadly, no, because there would have been a rather easy cure for it if that was true!

Beer (excuse the pun) with me though while I break it down for you.

Corona comes from the Latin word corōna, meaning a ‘crown’ or ‘garland’, which in turn is borrowed from the Greek word κορώνη (korṓnē), which means a ‘garland’ or a ‘wreath’ [source]. I guess something to do with the similarities in shape. It’s used to describe this class of viruses because of their peculiar structure, as we have all seen in the photos everywhere, the virus looks like a spherical ball with spike-like projections on its surface giving it an appearance of a crown. Not unlike the way solar flares project from the surface of the sun hence called solar corona.

Coronavirus

The Greek word κορώνη (korṓnē) has its origin in a Proto Indo-European or PIE (a hypothesised common ancestor of most of the Indian and European languages) word *ker or *sker which is the origin of the Sanskrit word कृत्त (kṛttá) or the Hindi word कट (kat), both meaning to ‘cut’ something. Incidentally, English words like, curtailed, shears, scissors, short, skirt and share have all descended from this same root [source].

A note on the relation between the words *ker and *sker before we move on. The prefix ‘s’ (s-mobile) sometimes occurs in the variations of the same word in different languages. For instance, the English word snake and Hindi word नाग (nāg) also share a common root – the Proto-Indo-European *sneg- (to crawl, a creeping thing) [source].

The word virus comes from the Latin word vīrus meaning poison, venom or slime. Same indeed as the Greek word ἰός (iós – poison, venom), which itself has descended from the PIE word *wisós (fluidity, slime, poison). Anybody who knows the Hindi or Sanskrit translation of the word poison or venom would have probably figured out where this is going. The Hindi word विष (viṣ – poison, venom) and the Sanskrit विष (viṣá – poison, venom), come from the same root as the word virus [source]. Fascinating, eh?

When you put the two together, you get coronavirus, or poison cut in the shape of a crown!

So, there you have it. We may not know for sure where this wretched virus came from but at least we now have an idea how its name came about.

Hope you enjoyed reading.

Slimy Islands

For various reasons, I thought I would investigate a few disease-related words to find out where they come from.

Let’s start with virus, which comes from the Latin vīrus (poison, slime, venom), from the Proto-Italic *weisos, from Proto-Indo-European *wisós (fluidity, slime, poison). Virus used to mean venom as well, apparently [source].

Disease comes from the Anglo-Norman desese / disaise, from the Old French desaise (disease, deformity, melancholy), from des- (apart, reversal, removal) and aise (ease – lack of anxiety) [source].

In Middle English words for disease included adle, which comes from the Old English ādl (disease, sickness); and co(a)the, from the Old English coþu (disease). The latter continued to be used in some English dialects as coath (sickness, disease, pestilence) [source]

Pandemic comes from the Ancient Greek πάνδημος (pándēmos – of/belonging to all the people, public) and -ic (of/pertaining to) [source].

Epidemic comes from the French épidémique (epidemic), from the Latin epidemia (epidemic), from Ancient Greek ἐπιδήμιος (epidḗmios), from ἐπί (epí – upon) and δῆμος (dêmos – people) [source].

Isolation comes from the French isolation, from isolé (isolated, placed on an island) [source].

Hope you’re okay and coping with self-isolation, or whatever restrictions are in force / suggested where you are.

Forest Picnics

An interesting Danish word I learnt this week is skovtur, which means a picnic or outing, according to bab.la, or a “picnic (social gathering), not necessarily in a forest”, according to Wiktionary.

Grundlovs skovtur 2012

Wiktionary mentions a forest because this word is a portmanteau of skov (forest, woods), and tur (turn, trip, journey, walk, move, tour, stroll, outing). So it could be poetically translated at “forest trip/outing”. This gives me the idea that picnics in Denmark often take place in forests, or at least did in the past. Is this true? Er det sandt?

The word skov comes from the Old Norse skógr (wood, forest), from the Proto-Germanic *skōgaz (forest, wood), which is also the root of the word scaw / skaw (promontry) in some English dialects. The name of England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike (formerly Scawfell), includes it, for example.

The word tur comes from the French tour (to go, turn), from the Old French tor (tower), from the Latin turris, turrem (tower), from the Ancient Greek τύρρις (túrrhis – tower), possibly from the Proto-Indo-European *tauro (mountain, hill, tall structure).

The word picnic is also used in Danish. It comes, via English, from the French pique-nique, from piquer (to pick) and nique (small thing) [source].

Do other languages have interesting words for picnics?