Buckling Swashes

Have you a swashed any buckles or buckled any swashes recently? Do you known the differences between a pirate, a privateer and a buccaneer? What about a freebooter or a corsair?

Pirate Ship, Key West, Florida.

A swashbuckler is a swordsman or fencer who engages in showy or extravagant swordplay, a daring adventurer or a kind of period adventure story with flashy action and a lighthearted tone [source].

A swashbuckler likes to swashbuckle, that is, take part in exciting romantic adventures [source].

Swash as a noun has a variety of meanings, including:

  • The water that washes up on shore after an incoming wave has broken.
  • A narrow sound or channel of water lying within a sand bank, or between a sand bank and the shore, or a bar over which the sea washes.
  • A wet splashing sound.
  • A smooth stroke; a swish.
  • A swishing noise.
  • A long, protruding ornamental line or pen stroke found in some typefaces and styles of calligraphy.
  • A streak or patch.

As a verb, to swash means:

  • To swagger; to act with boldness or bluster (toward).
  • To dash or flow noisily; to splash.
  • To swirl through liquid; to swish.
  • To wade forcefully through liquid.
  • To swipe.
  • To fall violently or noisily.
  • To streak, to color in a swash. [source].

Swash also appears in swash letter (an italic capital letter with top and bottom flourishes, intended to fill an unsightly gap.) [source]; and swish-swash (a repeated swishing action or sound, going back and forth) [source].

Sword & Buckler

A buckler is “a kind of shield, of various shapes and sizes, held in the hand or worn on the arm (usually the left), for protecting the front of the body. In the Middle Ages in England, the buckler was a small shield, used not to cover the body but to stop or parry blows.” [source].

A pirate is “a criminal who plunders at sea; commonly attacking merchant vessels, though often pillaging port towns.” It comes from Old French pirate (pirate), from Latin pīrāta (pirate), from Ancient Greek πειρατής (peiratḗs – brigand, robber), from πεῖρα (peîra – trial, attempt, plot). It replaced the Old English word wīċing, which could refer to a pirate or a viking [source], although vikings were more commonly called Norþmenn (north people), hǣþene (pagans) or Dene (Danes) [source].

A privateer was historically a privately owned warship that acted under a letter of marque to attack enemy merchant ships and take possession of their cargo. An officer or any other member of the crew of such a ship, or in other words, a government-sanctioned pirate [source].

Buccaneer is another word for pirate, and specifically refers to pirates who preyed on the ships of other nations on the Spanish Main and in the Pacific in the 17th century. It comes from French boucanier (buccaneer), from boucaner (to smoke or broil meat and fish, to hunt wild beasts for their skins), from boucan ([Tupi-style] grill), from Old Tupi m(b)oka’ẽ (wooden grill) [source].

A freebooter refers to an adventurer who pillages, plunders or wages ad-hoc war on other nations. It comes from Dutch vrijbuiter (freebooter, pirate), from vrijbuit (plunder, spoils) [source]. The old word flibustier (a French pirate in the Americas) comes from the same roots [source], as does filibuster [source].

Incidentally, the Dutch word buit (spoil, booty, loot, prey, gains), and the English word booty, might ultimately come from the Proto-Celtic word *boudi (victory, booty, spoils), as does the name Boudica [source].

Saint-Malo corsair ship

A corsair refers specifically to French privateers, especially from the port of Saint-Malo, and the ships they sail. It can also refer to privateers and pirates in general.

It comes from French corsaire (privateer, corsair, pirate), from Italian corsaro (privateer, corsair, pirate), from Medieval Latin cursārius (pirate, sea-raider), from Latin cursus (course, running, race, way, passage, journey, voyage) [source].

Are there any other words for pirate that I’ve missed?

For more seafaring-related words, see this podcast, which inspired this post:

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Giving Up

I have some news – I’ve had enough of learning languages and am giving up, throwing in the towel, putting the fiddle in the roof, throwing a spoon, and throwing the axe in the lake.

Giving up

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. I like speaking other languages, at least sometimes, but the process of learning them can be a bit tedious. I already speak some languages reasonably well and don’t currently need to learn any more, so maybe my time would be better spent doing other things.

My other main passion is music – I like to sing, to play instruments, and to write songs and tunes. I’ll be spending more time doing this, and will maybe even focus on one instrument, at least for a while, and learn to play it better.

The question is, which instrument? I have a house full of them, including a piano, harps, guitars, ukuleles, recorders, whistles, ocarinas, harmonicas, melodicas, a mandolin, a bodhrán and a cavaquinho.

The instrument I play most often at the moment is the mandolin, so maybe I should focus on that.

If you’ve noticed the date, you may realise that this post is in fact an April Fool. I’m not giving up on learning languages, and actually do enjoy the process, most of the time, and while I do want to improve my mandolin playing, I also want to improve my playing of other instruments.

Incidentally, let’s look at some ways to say that you’re giving up.

In English you might say you quit, you’re calling it a day, you’re calling it quits you’re throwing in the towel or the sponge or the cards, or you’re throwing up your hands.

Equivalent phrases in other languages include:

  • hodit flintu do žita = to throw a flint into the rye (Czech)
  • jeter le manche après la cognée = to throw the handle after the axe (French)
  • leggja árar í bát = to put oars in a boat (Icelandic)
  • do hata a chaitheamh leis = to throw your hat in (Irish)
  • gettare le armi = to throw away your weapons (Italian)
  • 匙を投げる (saji o nageru) = to throw a spoon (Japanese)
  • подня́ть бе́лый флаг (podnjat’ belyj flag) = to raise the white flag (Russian)
  • leig an saoghal leis an t-sruth = to let the world flow (Scottish Gaelic)
  • baciti pušku u šaš = to throw a gun into the sedge (Serbian)
  • kasta yxan i sjön = to throw the axe into the lake (Swedish)
  • rhoi’r ffidl yn y to = to put the fiddle in the roof (Welsh)

More details of these phrases can be found on Wiktionary.

Do you have any others?

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Overflowing Vases

The French equivalent of the saying “the straw that broke the camel’s back” or “the last / final straw” is la goutte d’eau qui fait déborder le vase (the drop of water that makes the vase overflow). Which makes as much a sense, and no animals are harmed.

La goutte d'eau qui fait déborder le vase. it's the straw that breaks the camel's back

These sayings mean “The final additional small burden that makes the entirety of one’s difficulties unbearable.” The earliest known version in English appears in a debate between Thomas Hobbes and John Bramhall in 1677: ‘the last Feather may be said to break a Horses Back’.

It is thought to be based on the Arabic proverb: اَلْقَشَّة اَلَّتِي قَصَمَت ظَهْر اَلْبِعِير⁩ (al-qašša allatī qaṣamat ẓahr al-biʕīr), or “The straw that broke the camel’s back”.

Other versions in English include:

  • It is the last straw that overloads the camel (1799)
  • It was the last ounce that broke the back of the camel (1832)
  • The last straw will break the camel’s back (1836)
  • As the last straw breaks the laden camel’s back (1848)
  • This final feather broke the camel’s back (1876)
  • The straw that broke the donkey’s back
  • The last peppercorn breaks the camel’s back
  • The melon that broke the monkey’s back
  • The feather that broke the camel’s back
  • The straw that broke the horse’s back
  • The hair that broke the camel’s back
  • The last ounce broke the camel’s back

There is also “the last drop makes the cup run over”, and variations on that theme in English.

Versions in quite a few other languages also refer to overflowing cups or other vessels, for example:

  • German: der Tropfen, der das Fass zum Überlaufen bringt.
    the drop that makes the barrel overflow
  • Italian: la goccia che fa traboccare il vaso
    the drop of water that makes the glass overflow
  • Russian: ка́пля, перепо́лнившая ча́шу (káplja, perepólnivšaja čášu)
    the drop that made the bowl overflow
  • Turkish: bardağı taşıran son damla
    the last drop that makes the glass overflow

There are, however, quite different versions in some languages:

  • Scottish Gaelic: théid capall don choille ach brisidh aon uallach a chridhe
    the colt will go to the forest, but one burden will break his heart
  • Welsh: pennog gyda phwn dyrr asgwrn cefn ceffyl
    adding a herring to a load break’s a horse’s backbone (not sure of this translation)

Are there interesting equivalents of this saying in other languages?

Sources: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/the_straw_that_broke_the_camel%27s_back#English
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_that_broke_the_camel%27s_back
https://geiriaduracademi.org/
https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/the-last-straw.html

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Hiding in Caves

In this post we find out what links the word grotesque with caves and hiding.

Grotesque

Grotesque [ɡɹəʊˈtɛsk / ɡɹoʊˈtɛsk] as an adjective means:

  • Distorted and unnatural in shape or size; abnormal, especially in a hideous way
  • Disgusting or otherwise viscerally revolting
  • Sans serif (in typography)

As an noun it means:

  • A style of ornamentation characterized by fanciful combinations of intertwined forms
  • Anything grotesque
  • A sans serif typeface

It comes from Middle French grotesque (farcical, ridiculous; small cave, ornament), from Italian grottesco (grotesque) from grotta (cave, grotto) and -esco (relational suffix) [source]. Grotta comes from Vulgar Latin *grupta/*crupta, from Latin crypta (underground passage, tunnel, crypt, vault), from Ancient Greek κρυπτή (kruptḗ – crypt, vault) from κρύπτω (krúptō -hide), the origins of which are unknown [source].

Words from the same roots include grotto and crypt in English, grot (cave, cavern) in Dutch, and grotte (cave) in French [source].

The words grotty and gro(a)dy and clippings of grotesque: grotty is used in the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and means unpleasant, dirty, slovenly, offensive [source], shoddy, rundown, disgusting, gross, bad [source], while gro(a)dy is used in the USA and means nasty, dirty, disgusting, foul, revolting, yucky or grotesque [source].

Grody is shortened even further into gro (disgusting, unpleasant; gross), although that might come from gross [source].

Asunto

A Finnish word I learnt recently is asua [ˈɑsuɑ], which means to live, reside or dwell. I could say, for example, Asun Bangorissa Walesissa (I live in Bangor in Wales).

Julkisivu loppukesästä

It comes from the Proto-Finnic *asudak, from the Proto-Uralic *ëśew- (to camp, remain), from *ëśe- (to exist, be located) [source].

Related words in Finnish include:

  • asukas = resident, inhabitant
  • asumaton = uninhabited
  • asumus = dwelling
  • asunto = home, residence, housing unit, flat, apartment
  • asuttaa = to inhabit, people, populate, settle, colonize, (re)locate

So you could say, Asukas asuu asumattomassa asunnossa (The resident lives in an uninhabited flat/apartment), but that wouldn’t make much sense.

I actually learnt the word asunto first, and when I came across asua, I guessed it meant to live or something simliar. Although Finnish vocabulary is mostly unlike any other language I know, you can find plenty of internal connections like this.

Incidentally, house in Finnish is talo [ˈtɑlo], which comes from the Proto-Finnic *taloi (farm, house). It is cognate with the Estonian talu (farm) and the Northern Sami dállu (house, farm) [source].

The word asunto [aˈsunto] also exists in Spanish and Galician. In Spanish it means matter, issue, (romantic) affair, or business, [source] while in Galician it means matter, issue or business [source].

It comes from the Latin assūmptus (received, adopted, accepted), from assūmō (I take up, receive, adopt or accept), from ad- (to) and sūmō (I take, catch, assume) [source].

Words from the same roots include assume in English, assumer (to embrace, accept, own) in French, assumere (to take on, employ, consume) in Italian, asumir (to assume, take on) in Spanish [source].

Chez Nous

The French word chez [ʃe] is used to mean ‘to, at, in or into a home, office etc’. For example, chez moi means ‘at my house’, and chez le dentiste means ‘at the dentist’.

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port

It can also mean ‘to, at or in a country or other place’, e.g. une spécialité bien de chez nous = ‘a true specialty of our country’. In the title of this post I use chez nous to indicate we are in the world of Omniglot.

Other meanings include: ‘in or among a group of people or things of the same type’, e.g. chez les chiens = ‘among dogs’, or ‘in the work of an author or artisit’ – chez Baudelaire = ‘in Baudelaire’s work’ [source].

It has been borrowed into English and just means ‘at the home of’ [source].

Chez comes from the Middle French chez (in the house/home of), from the Old French chies (house), from the Latin casa (hut, cottage, cabin, small farm, dwelling, house), the origins of which are uncertain [source].

The French word case [kaz], which means a box or a square in a board game, and used to mean a hut, cabin or shack, comes from the same roots, as do words like casino in English (via Italian), and casa, which means house in most Romance languages [source].

Another word for house in Spanish is hogar [oˈɡaɾ], which appeared in my Spanish lessons today and inspired this post. It also means fireplace, hearth, fireside, furnace, home, home life, family life, housekeeping, homeland or household.

Is it used more in some Spanish-speaking countries than in others?

It comes from the Old Spanish fogar, from the Vulgar Latin focāris, from the Latin focus (fireplace, hearth, brazier, house, family), the origin of which is uncertain [source].

Related words in Spanish include hogareño (home, family, fireside; (of a person) home-loving, stay-at-home), hoguera (bonfire, blaze) and hogaraza (large loaf, cottage loaf).

Related words in other languages include focus and foyer in English, words for fire in Romance languages, such as fuego in Spanish and feu in French [source], and a Greek word for brazier, φουφού [fuˈfu], via Turkish and Italian [source].

Hooks

An interesting French I learnt yesterday was hameçonnage, which means phishing or a phishing scam – that is “The malicious act of keeping a false website or sending a false e-mail with the intent of masquerading as a trustworthy entity in order to acquire sensitive information, such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details.” or “The act of circumventing security with an alias.” [source].

rebar hook

It comes from hameçonner (to attract and seduce by a deceptive appearance, to phish), from hameçon (fishhook), from the Old French ameçon, from the Latin hāmus (hook, barb), possibly from the Proto-Germanic *hamô (clothes, skirt, fishnet, harness, collar) [source].

The word hameçon also appears in the expression mordre à l’hameçon, which means to take the bait or rise to the bait, or literally “to bite the hook” [source].

Another word for a scam, swindle or fraud in French is escroquerie, and a phishing scam is escroquerie par hameçonnage [source].

Escroquerie comes from escroquer (to swindle, cheat, defraud), from the Italian scroccare (to scrounge, sponge, cadge, blag) from scrocco (scrounging, sponging), from the Old High German *scurgo, from scurgen (to knock over, push aside), from or related to the Proto-Germanic *skeran (to cut, shear), from the Proto-Indo-European *(s)ker- (to cut) [source].

The English word shear comes from the same roots, as does the French word déchirer (to tear, rip up) [source].

Half a Story

A way to say excuse me in Irish is gabh mo leithscéal, which is pronounced [ˌɡɔ mə ˈlʲɪʃceːl̪ˠ] or something like that. If you’re talking to two or more people, you would say gabhaigí mo leithscéal. There are similar phrases in Scottish Gaelic – gabh mo leisgeul, and Manx – gow my leshtal. These mean literally “take my excuse”.

Gabh mo leithscéal (take my half story

The first word in these phrases comes from the Old Irish gaibid [ˈɡavʲiðʲ] (to grasp or receive), from the Proto-Celtic *gabyeti (to grab, seize, take or hold), from Proto-Indo-European *gʰeh₁bʰ- (to grab or take) [source].

Related words in other languages include gafael (to hold, grasp, grip) in Welsh, gavel (capacity, grasp) in Cornish, gable in English, and words for to have in Romance languages, such as avere in Italian and avoir in French [source].

The second word in these phrases means my, and the third one means excuse. The words for excuse come from the Old Irish leithscél / leithsgéal / leithsgéul (excuse), from leth (half, side, direction) and scél (story), so an excuse is a “half story” [source].

A related word in Irish is leithscéalach (fond of excuses, apologetic). There’s a similar word in Scottish Gaelic: leisgeulach (excusing, apologetic) and in Manx: leshtallagh (apologetic, apologist, excuser, extenuating).

Podiums

In Dutch the word podium [poː.di.(j)ʏm] means stage, and also podium or platform. It comes from Latin word podium (balcony, especially in an amphitheatre, parapet, podium), from the Ancient Greek πόδιον (pódion – base), a diminutive of πούς (poús – foot, leg), from the Proto-Indo-European pṓds (foot) [source].

AIAA NASA 60th Anniversary Reception (NHQ201809200009)

Some related words include:

  • hoofdpodium = main stage
  • podiumbeest = someone who enjoys being on stage and is often on stage (“stage beast”)
  • podiumkunsten = performing arts
  • poppodium = a venue where pop music is performed live

The English word podium (a platform on which to stand, as when conducting an orchestra or preaching at a pulpit; any low platform or dais) comes from the same root [source], as does the word pew, via the Middle English pewe, from the Middle French puie (balustrade), from the Latin podia, the plural of podium [source].

Other words from the same Latin root include poggio (hill) and podio (podium) in Italian, puig (hill, peak) in Catalan, and poyo (stone bench) in Spanish [source].

By the way, in English (and Dutch) the plural of podium can be either podiums or podia. Which do you prefer?

The diminutive of podium in Dutch is podiumpje, which means little or imaginary stage – I find Dutch diminutives like this very cute.

Charlatan Snake Oil

The term snake oil is used to refer to a scam, a fraudulent medicine or remedy, or deceptive marketing. It was first appeared in writing in 1858 in the USA. In Georgia, for example, snake oil was sold as a folk remedy for rheumatism and gout, and it was said to be a cure for deafness in parts of Pennsylvania.

Snake Oil

Some such remedies contained oil made from the fat of snakes, especially rattlesnakes, but many didn’t. In the early 20th century such products started to be condemned in professional pharmacy journals as they didn’t contain any snake oil at all. As a result the term snake oil became associated with phony remedies and quackery [source].

In French snake oil is known as remède de charlatan (charlatan medicine) or poudre de perlimpinpin (perlimpinpin powder).

The word charlatan (quack (doctor), charlatan), comes from the Italian ciarlatano (charlatan, quack), from ciarlatore (chatterer) and cerretano (hawker, quack). The latter term means literally a “native of Cerreto”, and is the root of this word because the Italian village of Cerreto di Spoleto in Umbria in the province of Perugia was once widely known for its quacks.

Arrived in Umbria. Some views from our rental in the hills of Cerreto di Spoleto in de Valnerina valley. Lovely nature, birds and cicadas as background music.

Perlimpinpin [pɛʁ.lɛ̃.pɛ̃.pɛ̃] is one of the French names for Rumpelstiltskin, a company that makes children’s clothes, a restaurant in Paris, and probably others things. The origins of the word are uncertain. According to one theory, it’s a combination of prêle (horsetail – Equisetum hyemale) and pimpin (Pandanus montanus – a type of tree from the island of Réunion), two plants that were used as in a herbal medicine in 17th century France [source].