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.

Just speirin

Last night I saw FARA, a brilliant group from Orkney, in our local arts centre. One of the songs they sang, Speir Thoo The Wast Wind, was in Orcadian dialect and based on a poem by Christina Costie from Orkney.

Orcadian dialect is a type of Insular Scots that combines elements of the extinct Norn language and Scots. There isn’t a lot of information available about Orcadian, but I will try to put together a page about it on Omniglot.

Each verse of the song and the poem finishes with the line “Speir thoo the wast wind, bit speir no me”, which means “Ask the west wind, and don’t ask me”, I think.

The word speir [spiːr], which is also written speer, means to enquire or ask, according to The Orkney Dictionary. When I heard it in the song, I thought I might be related to words for to ask in North Germanic languages, and it turns out that it is.

It comes from the Old English spyrian (to track, inquire, investigate, examine), from the Proto-Germanic *spurjaną (to search; to examine; to ask) [source], which is also the root of the Danish word spørge (to ask, inquire), Norwegian word spørre (to ask, inquire), and the word spyrja (to ask) in Icelandic and Faroese [source].

A few other words from Orkney dialect: hoodjiekapiv, hoodjiekapiffle, hoodjiekaboogle, which are all Orcadian equivalents of whatsit, thingy, doobry, thingamajig, whatjumacallit, thingamebob, etc [source]. What do you call something when you can’t remember it’s normal name?

You can hear the song here:

500 days of Duolingo

Duolingo screenshot

Today my streak on Duolingo reached 500 days. Before then I had a 96 day streak, but lost that one day when I didn’t quite get enough points. So for the past 596 days I have studied a bit of various languages every day. This is the longest continuous period of study I’ve managed, and I plan to maintain it for as long as possible.

Back in early 2017 I started studying Swedish and Russian on Duolingo. Later I added Romanian to the mix, and this year I added Danish and Esperanto. I’ve finished all the Swedish and Russian lessons, and am continuing to study them on Memrise. I decided to take a break from the Romanian last year, and am currently working on Danish and Esperanto. When I finish them I may add other languages I want to improve, such as Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and German.

I can’t say that I’ve become fluent in any of these languages, but my knowledge of them certainly has improved. I’ve made more progress with Swedish and Danish than with Russian or Romanian, which I find more challenging.

On Memrise I’m currently studying Swedish, Danish, Russian and Cornish, and have learnt bits of Icelandic, Slovak and Slovenian over the past year or so. I may start Slovak again in preparation for the Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava next year.

What’s your longest streak on Duolingo, or other language learning apps?

What do you think of this aspect of such apps?

Furtive ferrets

What do the words furtive and ferret have in common?

ferret

They come from the same root – the Latin word fūr (thief).

Furtive comes from the French furtif (stealthy), from the Latin fūrtīvus (stolen), from fūrtum (theft), from fūr (thief) [source].

Ferret (Mustela putorius furo) comes from the Middle English furet / ferret (ferret), from the Anglo-Norman firet / furet (ferret), a diminutive of the Old French fuiron (weasel, ferret), from the Late Latin furo (cat; robber), a diminutive of the Latin fūr (thief) [source].

Alternatively ferret comes from the Latin furittus (little thief) [source].

The Latin name of the ferret, mustela putorius furo, means something like “stinking robber weasel” [source].

Fūr comes from the Proto-Italic *fōr (thief), from the Proto-Indo-European *bʰṓr (thief), from *bʰer- (to carry) [source], which also the root of words for child in Germanic languages, such as bairn in Scots, barn in Danish, Faroese, Icelandic, Norwegian and Swedish, and barn/bern in West Frisian [source].

When is the sky not the sky?

Useful phrase in Danish

In Danish, Norwegian and Swedish the word sky means cloud, as does ský in Icelandic. The word for sky in these languages is himmel (himinn in Icelandic), and in Swedish sky also means sky or gravy.

I learnt the Danish word sky the other day from the sentence: Enhjørningen flyver på en sky (The unicorn is flying on a cloud) – are very useful thing to be able to say.

Sky comes from the Old Norse ský (cloud), from Proto-Germanic *skiwją (cloud, cloud cover), from Proto-Indo-European *(s)kew- (to cover, conceal), which is also the root of the English word sky [source].

The English word cloud comes from the Old English clūd (mass of stone, rock, boulder, hill), from Proto-Germanic *klūtaz / *klutaz (lump, mass, conglomeration), from Proto-Indo-European *gel- (to ball up, clench), which is also the root of the English words chill, cold, congeal, cool, gel, gelatin and jelly [source].

In Old English there were different words for sky and cloud:

  • heofon was the sky or heaven [source], which survives in such modern English expressions as ‘the heavens opened’ (it started to rain heavily).
  • wolcen was cloud, and the plural, wolcnu was the sky or the heavens [source]. This became welkin in modern English, an archaic and poetic word for the sky, the upper air; aether; the heavens.

A sunny day in Bangor / Dydd heulog ym Mangor

Goat trousers and hand shoes

Goat in trousers

The Swedish lessons I’ve been working through recently include clothing vocabulary, such as byxor (trousers), halsduk (scarf) handskar (gloves), vantar (mittens) and stövlar (boots).

I thought I’d look into the origins of these words to help me remember them.

Byxor (trousers (UK) pants (US)) is the plural of byxa, which comes from the Middle Low German buxe, from buck (buck, male goat) & hose (trousers), originally referring to goatskin trousers. It is related to the Icelandic buxur (trousers) [source].

Halsduk (scarf, muffler, shawl) comes from hals (neck) and duk (tablecloth) [source].

Handskar (gloves) is the plural of handske, which comes from the Old Norse hanzki (glove), from Middle Low German hantsche, a colloquial form of hantscho (glove, gauntlet) from Old Saxon handsko (gauntlet, glove), from hand (hand) and sko (shoe) [source].

Related expressions include:

– handskmakare = glove maker
– handskas med = to treat, deal with, handle

Vantar (mittens) is the plural of vante (mitten, glove), which comes from the Old Swedish wante, from Old Norse vǫttr (glove, mitten), from Proto-Germanic *wantuz (glove, mitten), from Proto-Indo-European *wondʰnú- (glove), from Proto-Indo-European *wendʰ- (to wind, wrap). [source].

The PIE *wendʰ- is also the root of the English words to wander, to wend, went and wand.

Stövlar (boots) is the plural of stövel, which comes from the Old Swedish støvel (boot), from the Old Norse styfill, from Middle Low German stevele / stovele, from Italian stivale (boot), from Medieval Latin aestivale (summerly), from the Latin aestās (summer) [source].

Another word for boot is känga, which can also refer to a heavy shoe or kick, and comes from the Finnish kenkä (boot, shoe), from Proto-Finnic *kenkä (shoe) [source].

You can see more Swedish words for clothes on IE Languages.

Photo from Flickr (with added trousers).

When is a moose not a moose?

Moose

In North America a moose is a large member of the deer family, also known by its Latin name alces alces. The word moose comes from Algonquian languages, such as the Naragansett moos or the Eastern Abenaki mos. These words are thought to come from moosu (“it strips”), from the Proto-Alonquian mo.swa.

The same animal is known as an elk in British English, and is called something similar in quite a few other European languages: elc in Welsh, Elch in German, elg in Icelandic, Danish and Norwegian, älg in Swedish, alce in Italian, Portuguese and Spanish, and alnis in Latvian [source].

Elk

The word elk refers to a different species of deer in North America, however, which is also known as the wapiti or cervus canadensis in Latin [source]. The name wapiti comes from the Cree or Shawnee waapiti (elk; white rump) [source].

In French a moose or elk is élan [eɪˈlɑːn], wapiti [wa.pi.ti] or orignal [ɔ.ʁi.ɲal]. Élan probably comes from Lativan [source]. Orignal refers to the Canadian moose and comes from the Basque word oreinak, plural of orein (deer) [source].

Moose is also a way to write mouse in Scots – it’s pronouned [mus], and features in the famous saying “there’s a moose loose aboot this hoose”, which comes from the song Hoots Mon by Harry Robinson [source].

So a moose is a moose, except when it’s an elk or a mouse.

Here’s a tune I wrote called The Loose Moose / Yr Elc Rhydd:

Photos by Faris Algosaibi and Andrew E. Russell. Found on Flickr.

Blundering about, eyes closed

Wink emoji

I learnt today that the Swedish word blunda means to shut one’s eyes, to keep one’s eyes shut, to refuse to see something; to pretend not to know about, or to ignore. It comes from the Old Norse word blunda (to shut the eyes, to doze) [source].

Related words include blund (good sleep, wink), blund for (to wink at, turn a blind eye to), and Jon/John Blund, a character from folklore who brings good sleep and dreams to children, known as the sandman in English.

In Icelandic blunda means to doze.

Wink is also linked to sleep in English – you might take forty winks, or not sleep a wink, which might make you blunder about.

The English word blunder comes from the same root, via the Middle English blunder, blonder (disturbance, strife), and blonden, blanden (to mix; mix up); and blunden (to stagger; stumble), from the Old Norse blunda [source].

Blunder is also a Swedish word meaning blooper, gaffe, trip, bloomer and blunder.

Morning food and early meals

Breakfast in Northern Germanic languages

Yesterday I learnt that the Danish word for breakfast is morgenmad [ˈmɒːɒnˌmað] (“morning food”), which makes sense [source].

Lunch is frokost (“early meal”), which made me think of the German word for breakfast Frühstück (“early piece”).

Frokost comes from the Middle Low German vrōkost (early meal), from vrō (early) and kost (meal, food) [source].

In Norwegian frokost is breakfast, and lunch is lunsj.

In Swedish breakfast is frukost and lunch is lunch.

In Danish dinner is aftensmad (“evening meal”), or middag (“midday”), which also means noon, banquet or lunch. In Norwegian and Swedish middag means dinner, noon or midday [source]. Somewhat confusing!

In Icelandic the meals are: morgunmatur (breakfast – “morning food”) hádegismatur (lunch – “noon food”) and kvöldmatur (dinner – “evening food”) [source].

In Faroese morgunmatur means breakfast, lunch or a snack [source]. Lunch is also miðmáli [source]. Dinner is døgurði [ˈtøːvʊɹɪ], which can also mean lunch [source], or nátturði [ˈnɔtːˌʊɹɪ] = dinner, supper (main) meal in the evening [source].

What do you call the different meals?

The first meal of the day is breakfast for me, whenever I have it. The meal in the middle of the day I used to call dinner, but now call lunch. The evening meal I call tea, or dinner if I eat out somewhere.

Honey eaters, brown ones and tramplers

A Eurasian brown bear

In many European languages the words for bear have their origins in taboo avoidance. It is thought that people who spoke Proto-Indo-European (PIE) believed that if you called a bear by its true name, it would hear you and may harm you. So instead they used different names when referring to bears [source].

The words for bear in Germanic languages can be traced back to the PIE *bʰer- (brown), via the Proto-Germanic berô (bear).

Examples include bear (English / West Frisian), beer (Dutch / Afrikaans), Bär (German), Bier (Luxembourgish), björn (Icelandic / Swedish), and bjørn (Norwegian / Danish / Faroese) [source].

In Slavic languages the words for bear can all be traced back to the Proto-Slavic word medvědь, from *medu-ēdis, from medъ (honey) &‎ *(j)ěsti (to eat), so could be translated as “honey eater”.

Examples are медведь (Russian), médved (Slovenian), medvěd (Czech), niedźwiedź (Polish). The Hungarian word for bear, medve, possibly comes from the same root [source].

In Baltic languages the words for bear from the Proto-Baltic *talk-, *tlāk-, from Proto-Indo-European *tel-k-, *tl-ek- (to push, to hit, to kick, to trample), and could be translated as “trampler”, “stomper”, “pounder”, [source]. In Latvian the word is lācis, and in Lithuanian it’s lokys.

The PIE word for bear was *h₂ŕ̥tḱos, which is possibly related to destroying or destruction – another taboo avoidance? This is the root of *artos in Proto-Celtic, άρκτος (árktos) in Greek, ursus in Latin and ari in Albanian, and related words in modern Celtic and Romance languages [source].