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).
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].
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
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.
The main theme of the Language Event I went to last weekend in Edinburgh was the languages of the Isles. The Isles in question include the islands of Great Britain, Ireland, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, and about 6,000 other islands. The Isles are also known as the British Isles, but at the event the term ‘The Isles’ was used to be more inclusive.
The term “British Isles” is controversial in Ireland, where some object to its usage. The Government of Ireland does not officially recognise the term, and its embassy in London discourages its use. Britain and Ireland is used as an alternative description, and Atlantic Archipelago is also used to some extent by academics [source].
Other suggested names for these isles include the Anglo-Celtic Isles, the British-Irish Isles, the Islands of the North Atlantic, the West European Isles, the Pretanic Isles, or these islands [source].
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK), made up of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, is one of the countries on these isles. The Republic of Ireland takes up most of the island of Ireland and some small offshore islands. The Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are self-governing British Crown dependencies, and not part of the UK.
The earliest mentions of the isles are found the writings of Diodorus Siculus (c.90-30 BC), a Greek historian living in Sicily. He referred to the isles as Prettanikē nēsos (the British Island), and to the inhabitants as Prettanoi (the Britons). Strabo (c.64 BC-24 AD), a Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian who lived in Asia Minor, referred to the isles as Βρεττανική (Brettanike), and Marcian of Heraclea called them αἱ Πρεττανικαί νῆσοι (the Prettanic Isles).
It is thought that the names used by Greek and Latin writers for these isles were based on the Celtic names for them
In Welsh these isles are known as Ynysoedd Prydain, or yr Ynysoedd Prydeinig (the British Isles). The name Prydain [ˈprədai̯n] (Britain) comes from the Middle Welsh Prydein, from early Proto-Brythonic *Pritanī, from the Old Irish Cruthin (Picts), perhaps from the Proto-Celtic *Kʷritanī / *Kʷritenī, from the Proto-Indo-European *kʷer- (to do).
The Welsh word Prydyn / Pryden, meaning (people of) Scotland, or (land of the) Picts, is related [source].
In Cornish these isles are knowns an Enesow Bretennek (the British Isles). In Scottish Gaelic they’re known as Eileanan Bhreatainn (British Isles). In Scots they’re known as Breetish Isles, and in Manx they’re known as Ellanyn Goaldagh (British Isles) [source].
In Irish these isles are known as Éire agus an Bhreatain Mhór (Ireland and Great Britain), Oileáin Iarthair na hEorpa (Islands of Western Europe) or Oileáin Bhriotanacha (British Isles), although the latter is not much used (see above) [source].
I had a great time at the Language Event, meeting old friends and making news ones, listening to some interesting talks, practising my languages, and exploring bits of Edinburgh. Similar events will be held in Auckland and Melbourne soon, but the next polyglot / language-related event I’m planning to go to is the Polyglot Gathering in Tersin in Poland at the end of May.
It seems that a new year, and indeed a new decade has started, so Happy New Year / Decade!
I’ve noticed that some people are looking back at what they’ve done / achieved, etc over the past decade, so I thought I’d do something similar.
Back in 2009 I was studying for an MA in Linguistics at Bangor University, while working on Omniglot in my spare time, and writing for a couple of other websites. I finished my course in September of that year, though didn’t officially graduate until the following year, and have been working full-time on Omniglot since then.
Over the past decade Omniglot has grown quite a bit – I add something new, or make improvements, almost every day. The site now contains:
Since 2009 Omniglot has been visited by 176 million people, who have made 234 milion visits and viewed 407 million pages. There have been visitors every single country and territory, even Antarctica and North Korea. The top ten countries vistors come from are USA, India, UK, Canada, Philippines, Australia, Germany, Malaysia, Singapore and South Africa. The most spoken languages of visitors are: English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese (Brazilian), Dutch, Russian, Chinese and Polish.
Over the past decade I’ve studied and dabbled with a few languages, including: Breton, BSL, Cornish, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Esperanto, Icelandic, Irish, Latin, Manx, Romanian, Russian, Scots, Scottish Gaelic, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish and Toki Pona. I also started creating my own language: Laala, and made some con-scripts such as Crymeddau and Curvetic.
I joined a French conversation group back in 2009, and have been going almost every week since then. This has really helped to improve my French and I feel a lot more confident about using it now. When I can, I also go to a Welsh conversation group, and for a while I tried to run a polyglot conversation group.
Every summer I’ve been to Ireland to do courses in Irish language, traditional Irish songs, harp and/or bodhrán playing. I’ve also been to Scotland quite a few times to do courses in Scottish Gaelic songs.
In 2012 I started writing songs and tunes, and have written quite a few since then, especially in 2019, when I wrote a new song almost every month and several new tunes. I also started to write out the music for my tunes and songs, and to make new arrangements of them.
The first song I wrote was The Elephant Song, which came to me after going to a poetry writing workshop.
In 2018 I started the Radio Omniglot Podcast, and have made 27 episodes so far. I try to make two episodes per month, but don’t always manage it.
In 2018 I also launched the Celtiadur, a collection of Celtic cognates, where I explore links between modern and ancient Celtic languages. This is an extension of the Celtic Cognates section on Omniglot.
Wow! Putting it together like this makes me realise that I haven’t been entirely idle.
Imagine you’re with a group of people who all share a common language, and some of the group may also speak another language. Is it rude for them to speak that language, knowing that some members of the group won’t understand them, and might feel excluded?
Let’s say the common language is English, and some of the group speak Spanish. If you were a monoglot English speaker, you might feel excluded / annoyed if some members of the group speak Spanish, a language you don’t understand.
Imagine if you worked in an office where everyone speaks Mandarin and English, but you only speak English. Would you tell them to speak exclusively in English all the time, or at least when you’re around?
If you were the boss, you might do so. This was in fact the situation where I worked in Taipei – the boss only spoke English, so we all spoke English with him, while we spoke a mixture of Mandarin, English and Taiwanese among ourselves.
How about if everybody in the group but you speaks a language like Catalan, Basque, Welsh or Irish, would you expect them all to switch to a more-widely spoken language, such as Spanish or English, so you can understand and/or feel included?
There have been cases of monoglot English-speaking managers in businesses in Wales and Ireland insisting that their staff speak to each other in English rather than Welsh or Irish. The managers want to understand what their staff are saying, and don’t want any non-Welsh or Irish-speaking customers to feel excluded.
At the Welsh music session I go to, we speak mainly Welsh and bits of English. For the native speakers of Welsh, it’s normal to speak their mother tongue, and for the fluent learners like me, it’s a great opportunity to practise the language. Some of the people who come to the session don’t speak Welsh, or are just starting to learn it. However, they don’t complain that they can’t understand, and don’t insist that we speak English.
When I hear someone speaking in a language I don’t know, my ears prick up and I try to guess what language it is and what they’re talking about. Sometimes I might even ask them what language they’re speaking. Other people might not react in this way, and may even feel intimidated / irritated if everyone around is speaking in foreign.
The word for garden in Russian, and also in Belarusian, Ukrainian and Serbian, is сад [sat], which also means orchard. It comes from the Proto-Slavic word *sadъ (plant, garden).
The word for garden in most other Slavic languages is the same: sad in Croatian, Slovenian, Polish, Slovak and Sorbian. There are also similar words in Latvian (sads) and Lithuanian (sõdas) [source].
The word sad also exists in Czech, but just means orchard. The Czech word for garden is zahrada [ˈzaɦrada], which comes from za (for, in, behind), and hrad (castle), from the Proto-Slavic *gȏrdъ* (settlement, enclosed place). So zahrada could be translated as “in/behind the castle” [source].
*The Proto-Slavic *gȏrdъ comes ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰórtos (enclosure), which is also the root of the Irish gort (wheatfield), the Welsh garth (hill, enclosure), the Latin hortus (garden), and the English horticulture, yard and garden, and related words in other languages.
When someone is talking in a way that doesn’t make sense to you, is using specialist jargon, is speaking a foreign language you don’t know, or is using made-up words, you might say they’re talking gibberish.
Other words for gibberish include gobbledygook, claptrap, jibber, jabber, jibber-jabber, folderol, twaddle, hogwash, bunkum, blabla, humbug, mumbo-jumbo, jargon, babble, double Dutch and nonsense [source].
Gibberish is possibly onomatopoeic in origin, imitating to the sound of chatter, or from the the Irish word gob (mouth) [source].
In French equivalents of gibberish include charabia, galimatias, amphigouri, blabla and foutaise. To talk gibberish is dire du charabia, baragouiner or bredouiller [source].
You can hear a bit of gobbledygook in the latest episode of the Radio Omniglot Podcast, which I recorded yesterday, and edited today. My friends and I sometimes talk in gobbledygook just for a laugh. Maybe I should add a page about it to Omniglot.
Do you know any other words of gibberish in English or other languages?
One of the things we discussed last week in Ireland was placenames, or in Irish, logainmneacha [ˈl̪ˠʌɡanʲəmʲəxə]. Most places in Ireland have Irish names and English names, which are either Anglicized versions of the Irish names, or in a few cases, completely different names.
For example, the capital of Ireland is known as Dublin in English, and as Baile Átha Cliatha [bʲlʲɑː ˈclʲiə / ˌbʲlʲæː ˈclʲiə] in Irish. Other places with very different Irish and English forms include Loch Garman / Wexford, Cill Mhantáin / Wicklow, Port Láirge / Waterford and Binn Éadair / Howth.
Dublin comes from the Irish Dubhlinn (black/dark pool), and refers to a dark tidal pool where the River Poddle enters the River Liffy. There are other placenames in Ireland that come from the same root, including Devlin, Divlin and Difflin.
Baile Átha Cliatha means “town of the ford of the hurdles”, and referred to a fording point of the River Liffey. Apparently the viking settlement in the Dublin area, founded in about 841 AD, was known as Dyflin, and the Gaelic town up the river was known as Átha Cliatha [source].
In some cases the English placenames are bad translations of the Irish originals. Examples include a suburb of Dublin known as Swords in English, but Sord (water source) in Irish – nothing to do with swords.
Vinegar Hill in County Wexford is Cnoc Fiodh na gCaor (Hill of the wood of the berries) in Irish – nothing to do with vinegar, but Fiodh na gCaor sounds like vinegar.
The word cnoc [kn̪ˠɔk / kɾˠʊk] (hill) appears in many placeanmes in Ireland, and is usually Anglicized as Knock. Examples include Knock (An Cnoc – ‘The Hill’), Knockaderry (Cnoc an Doire – ‘Hill of the Oak’), and Knockmealdown (Cnoc Mhaoldomhnaigh – ‘Hill of Maoldomhnach’).
Roundstone in Connemara is Cloch na Ron (Stone of the Seals) in Irish. Cloch does mean stone and ron does sound like round.
Many of the Anglicized forms of the names were coined by map makers who knew little or no Irish, and who wrote down names as they heard them.