Small Trinkets

If you mislay your bijou bijous you could say that have a bijou problemette.

bijoux

The word bijou can mean small and elegant (of a residence – often ironic),
intricate or finely made, or a jewel, a piece of jewellry; a trinket or a small intricate piece of metalwork. In the above sentence bijou bijous means ‘finely made jewelery’, and a bijou problemette means ‘a little problem’, an example of British understatement.

Bijou, as jewellery, comes from the French bijou (a piece of jewellery), from the Breton bizoù (ring), from biz (finger), from the Proto-Celtic *bistis (finger) [source].

Bijou, as in small and elegant, etc, comes from the Mediterranean Lingua Franca (Sabir) bijou, from the Occitan pichon (small, little), from the Late Latin pitinnus, possibly from Proto-Celtic *kʷezdis (piece, portion) [source], which is also the root of peth (thing, object) in Welsh, cuid (part portion) in Irish, and related words in other Celtic languages.

Yulemonth

As today is the first day of December, I thought I’d look into the origins of the names for this month in various languages.

December comes from the Middle English December/Decembre, from the Old French decembre, from the Latin december, from decem (ten) and the adjectival suffix -ber. December was the tenth month in the Roman calendar, which started in March [source]. The days between December and March were not included in the calendar as part of any month. Later they became January and February and were added to the beginning of the calendar [source].

hoar frost

In the Old English December was known as Ġēolamonaþ/Gēolmōnaþ/Iūlmōnaþ (“Yule month”) or ǣrra ġēola (“before Yule”). The word Yulemonth apparently exists in modern English, although is rarely used [source]. December is associated with Yuletide / Christmas in a few other languages: mí na Nollag (“month of Christmas”) in Irish, Mee ny Nollick (“month of Christmas”) in Manx, and joulukuu (“yule month”) in Finnish and Võro.

In many languages the name of this month is a version of December, but there are some exceptions.

In Aragonese December is abiento, in Asturian it’s avientu, in Basque it’s abendu and in Occitan it’s abén. These all come from the Latin adventus (arrival, approach, advent), from adveniō (arrive) and the suffix -tus [source].

In Belarusian December is снежань (sniežań) [ˈsʲnʲeʐanʲ], which comes from снег (snjeh – snow) [source]. The Cherokee name for December is also related to snow: ᎥᏍᎩᎦ (vsgiga) or “snow moon” [source].

In Proto-Slavic the month after the Winter solitice was known as *prosinьcь. There are a number of possible roots for this word: *siňь (gray), *sijati (to shine, glow – referring to the winter solstice) or *prositi (to pray – referring to Christmas). Descendents in modern Slavic languages include prosinec (December) in Czech, просинац (December) in Serbian, and prosinec (January) in Slovenian.

In Welsh December is Rhagfyr [ˈr̥aɡvɨ̞r / ˈr̥aɡvɪr] (“foreshortening”), because it’s a time when days get shorter [source].

December is “twelve month” or “month twelve” in Chinese: 十二月 (shí’èryuè), Japanese: 十二月 (jūnigatsu), Korean: 십이월 (12월/十二月/12月 – sipiweol), and Vietnamese: tháng mười hai (𣎃𨑮𠄩).

Are there other interesting names for December in other languages?

You can find the names of months in many languages here.

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.

Cheesy Juice

Today’s etymological adventure starts with the word ost, which means cheese in Danish, Swedish and Norwegian. In Danish it’s pronounced [ɔsd̥], in Swedish and Norwegian it’s pronounced [ust] [source]. It also means east, but we’re focusing on the cheesy meaning today.

Ost

Ost comes from the Old Norse ostr (cheese), from Proto-Germanic *justaz (cheese), from Proto-Indo-European *yaus-/*yūs- (sap, juice, broth), from *yewH- (to blend, mix (food), knead).

The Old Norse ostr is also the root of words for cheese in Icelandic and Faroese (ostur), in the Sylt dialect of North Frisian (Aast), in Finnish (juusto), in Estonian (juust), in Northern Sami (vuostá), in Skolt Sami (vuâstt), and in other Finnic and Sami languages [source].

From the PIE root *yaus-/*yūs- we get the Latin: iūs (gravy, broth, soup, sauce, juice), from which we get the English word juice, which was borrowed into Faroese and Icelandic (djús), Swedish and Danish (juice), and other languages [source].

The Welsh word for porridge, uwd [ɨ̞u̯d/ɪu̯d], comes from the PIE root *yaus-/*yūs-, via the Proto-Celtic *yut-/*yot- [source]. The Russian word уха (ukha – a kind of fish soup) comes from the same PIE root [source].

From the Latin iūs, we also get (via French) the English word jus (the juices given off as meat is cooked). The Dutch word jus (gravy) comes from the same French root [source].

The English word cheese comes from the Middle English chese (cheese), from Old English ċīese (cheese), from the Proto-West Germanic *kāsī (cheese), from the Latin cāseus (cheese), from Proto-Indo-European *kwh₂et- (to ferment, become sour) [source].

Words for cheese in other West Germanic language come from the same Germanic root, including: kaas in Dutch and Afrikaans, Käse in German, Kjees in Low German and tsiis in West Frisian [source].

From the Latin cāseus we also get words for cheese in Spanish (queso), Galician (queixo), Portuguese (queijo), Welsh (caws), Irish (cáis), Manx (caashey), and other Celtic languages. The Swedish word keso (cottage cheese) was borrowed from Spanish [source].

Another word for cheese in Late/Vulgar Latin was fōrmāticum, from fōrma (form, mold). From this we get words for cheese in French (fromage), Italian (formaggio), and similarly cheesy words in various other languages [source].

Are you sitting comfortably?

One of the words that came up this week in the French Conversation Group I’m part of was chaire [ʃɛʁ], which means chair (a professorship), pulpit, rostrum or throne.

Here are some examples of how it’s used:

  • chaire épiscopale = bishop’s throne
  • chaire pontificale = papal throne
  • être titulaire d’une chaire = to have a personal chair / to be a professor
  • sans chaire = untenured

Source: Reverso

Chaire comes from the Middle French chaire (chair (item of furniture)), from the Old French chaiere, chaere, from the Latin cathedra (armchair, ceremonial chair, the office or rank of teacher or bishop), from Ancient Greek καθέδρα (kathédra – seat; chair; rower’s seat; posterior, bottom; base of a column; sitting posture; teacher’s / professor’s chair; imperial throne), from κατά (katá – down) and ἕδρα (hédra – seat) [source].

The English words chair and chaise come from the same root, via the Old French chaiere, chaere [source].

Cathedral comes from the the Late Latin ecclesia cathedralis (church of a bishop’s seat), from the Latin cathedra [source].

Cathedrale de Metz

Sit comes from the Old English sittan (to sit), from the Proto-Germanic *sitjaną (to sit), from the Proto-Indo-European *sed- (to sit), which is also the root of the Ancient Greek word ἕδρα (seat) [source].

Other words from the same root include:

  • Bengali: কেদারা [ˈke.d̪ä.ɾäˑ] = chair
  • Irish: cathaoir = chair; seat, throne; stool, stump (of tree)
  • Italian: cattedra = desk (of a teacher); teaching post; throne (of a bishop): chair, professorship, chair (archaic)
  • Portuguese: cadeira = chair, subject, stall, post, hip
  • Scottish Gaelic: cathair = chair, seat, bench throne; town, city
  • Spanish: cadera = hip
  • Welsh: cadair = chair, seat; (bishop’s) throne; cathedral; professorship

Source: Wiktionary

Orbiting Ruts

One of the expressions that came up in the French conversation group yesterday was (être) coincé dans une ornière, which means (to be) stuck in a rut.

Coincé [kwɛ̃.se] means stuck, jammed,wedged, stranded, uptight, stuck up or close-minded. It appears in expressions like:

  • etre coincé = to be stuck (fast), to get stuck
  • etre coincé dans = to be marooned in
  • etre coincé entre = to be wedged between
  • etre coincé avec qn = to be stuck with sb
  • etre coincé avec qch = to be stuck with sth
  • rester coincé = to get stuck
  • La clé est coincée dans la serrure = The key is stuck in the lock
  • La porte est coincée = The door’s jammed
  • Il est un peu coincé = He’s a bit uptight

It comes from coincer (to jam, catch (out), nab, stick), which comes from coin (wedge, cornerpiece, corner, area, part, place, spot), from the Old French coin, from the Latin cuneus (wedge, wedge shape, troops in a wedge formation, an army), from the Proto-Indo-European *h₂ḱū (sting), which is also the root of such words as the English coin and cuneiform, the Irish cúinne (angle, corner, nook), the Welsh cŷn (chisel) and the Albanian kunj (peg, spike).

Ornière [ɔʁ.njɛʁ] is a rut, habit, routine or cart track, and appears in such expressions as;

  • suivre l’ornière = to be in a rut
  • sortir de l’ornière = to get out of a rut / spot
  • dans l’ornière = in a rut
  • dans une ornière = cornered
  • avec ornière = potholed

It comes from the Old French ordiere, from the Vulgar Latin *orbitaria, from the Latin orbita (a track or rut made by a wheel, path, track, circuit, orbit, impression, mark), form orbis (rind, circle, orbit).

ruts

Another way to say you’re stuck in a rut in French is s’encroûter, to get into a rut, to get set in one’s ways, to become encrusted (“to encrust onself”).

Sources: Reverso, Wiktionary

Bed litter

What links litter and beds?

Well, back in about 1300 a litter was a bed. Later on it came to mean a bed-like vehicle carried on the shoulders. By the the 15th it also referred to straw used for bedding, particularly for animals, and then the offspring of an animal born at the same time.

By the 18th century litter could also be “scattered oddments” or “disorderly debris”, and by the 19th century litter was straw bedding for animals and the animal waste in it.

The verb to litter originally meant to provide with bedding, and later came to mean to give birth to, to strew with objects, and to scatter in a disorderly way.

Litter comes from the Anglo-Norman litere (portable bed), from the Old French litiere (litter, stretcher, bier, straw, bedding), from the Medieval Latin lectaria (litter), from the Latin lectus (bed, lounge, sofa, dining-couch), from the Proto-Indo-European *legh- (to lie down, lay).

From the same PIE root we also get such words as the English lie, lay, low, law and lair, the Irish luigh (to lie down) and luí (bed), and the Welsh gwely (bed) and lle (place, location).

Shetland dialect

Sources: Online Etymology Dictionary, Wiktionary

Flowing Pencils

Today while looking into the origins of the Dutch word for pencil – potlood [pɔt.loːt] – I found some interesting connections to words other languages.

Potlood also means crayon, and comes from pot (jar, pot) & lood (lead, plumb bob). Apparently it was originally a name for graphite, and was used for glazing pots, but was misidentified as a form of lead [source].

Other words featuring pot include:

  • potloodetui = pencil case
  • potloodslijper = pencil sharpener
  • bloempot = flower pot, planter
  • doofpot = cover-up (“deaf pot”)
  • potdoof = stone deaf, completely deaf
  • fooienpot = tip jar, stock pot
  • kookpot = cooking pot, saucepan, cauldron
  • stamppot= stew, mash, stamppot (a traditional Dutch dish made of potatoes mashed with one or several vegetables)

Lood comes from the Middle Dutch lôot (lead), from Old Dutch *lōt, from Proto-Germanic *laudą (lead), from the Proto-Celtic *loudom (lead), ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European *plewd- (to fly, flow, run) [source].

For the same Proto-Celtic root we get luaidhe, which is lead in Irish and Scottish Gaelic, leoaie (lead) in Manx, the English word lead, and related words in other Germanic languages [source].

Words for lead in Welsh (plwm), Cornish (plomm / plobm) and Breton (plom), come from the Latin plumbum (lead (metal), lead pipe, pencil), which is also the root of the English words plumb, plumber and plumbing [source].

A plumber in Dutch is a loodgieter [ˈloːtˌxi.tər] and plumbing is loodgieterswerk – a gieter [ˈɣi.tər] is a person who pours, e.g. a caster, or a watering can, so a loodgieter is someone who pours lead or a lead caster [source].

potlood

Dune Town Gardens

In Dutch a garden or yard is a tuin [tœy̯n]. When I learnt this yesterday I wondered whether it was related to the English word town.

Tuin comes from the Middle Dutch tuun (hedge), from the Old Dutch tūn (an enclosed piece of ground), from the Proto-Germanic *tūną (fence, enclosure), from the Proto-Celtic *dūnom (stronghold, rampart) [source].

Related words include:

  • achtertuin = backyard, back garden
  • betuinen = to enclose, fence, hedge
  • dierentuin = zoo
  • kindertuin = kindergarten
  • kruidentuin = herb garden
  • moestuin = vegetable / kitchen garden
  • speeltuin = children’s playground
  • tuinen = to practice agriculture or horticulture
  • tuinier = gardener
  • tuinieren = gardening
  • tuincentrum = garden centre
  • tuinslang = garden hose (“garden snake”)
  • voortuin = front yard

From the Proto-Germanic word *tūną we also get such words as town, the German Zaun (fence), the Icelandic tún (hayfield), the Faroese tún (forecourt, way between houses, street in a Faroese village), and the Norwegian tun (courtyard, front yard, farmstead) [source].

The Russian word тын (fence, especially one made of twigs) comes from the same root [source].

Words for dune in Germanic language possibly come from the same root as well [source].

Directly from the Proto-Celtic word *dūnom we get such words as the Irish dún (fort, fortress, haven), the Scottish Gaelic dùn (fortress, heap, hill), the Manx doon (fort, fortress, stronghold), the Welsh dyn (hill, height, fortification) and dinas (city, town), and the Cornish din (fort) [source]. More about this on Celtiadur

Botanische Tuinen, Utrecht, Netherlands - 4253

Good Calves

Yesterday while looking into Celtic words bear, I found some interesting ones in the Goidelic languages: mathúin [ˈmˠahuːnʲ] in Irish, mathan [ˈmahan] in Scottish Gaelic and maghouin in Manx. These come from the Old Irish mathgamain [ˈmaθɣəṽənʲ], from math (good) and gamuin (calf).

So bears were called “good calves” – this is possibly an example of taboo naming, that is using an alternative name for a dangerous animal rather than naming it directly, in the belief that this might it less likely to attack you.

In the Brythonic languages words for bear are arth (Welsh & Cornish) and arzh (Breton), which come from the Proto-Celtic *artos (bear), from the Proto-Indo-European h₂ŕ̥tḱos (bear). This is also the root of English word Arctic, and words for bear in Romance and other European languages.

There are no bears in the Anglo-Celtic Isles these days, except in zoos, but there were bears in Britain and Ireland until about 3,000 years ago. The Celtic languages were spoken back then.

I’ve written about words for bears in other European languages before here. In Slavic languages, for example, bears are “honey eaters” – медведь in Russian.

European Brown Bears