Not seeing the wood for the trees

Recently a friend asked if there is an idiom in English like I cannot see the wood for the trees, which refers to hearing. We couldn’t think of any, but maybe you can.

This expression means that you “cannot see, understand, or focus on a situation in its entirety due to being preoccupied with minor details” [source]. Apparently in North America the equivalent is “I cannot see the forest for the trees”. The wood refers to a small forest, rather than the material that comes from trees.

Here be trees!

There is an equivalent idiom in Esperanto: Li en arbaro sidas kaj arbojn ne vidas (He sits in the forest and doesn’t see trees).

The equvalent in Italian is avere gli occhi foderati di prociutto (to have one’s eyes lined with ham).

Are there similar idioms in other languages?

In Russian the word for tree is дерево (derevo), which came up in my Russian lessons today. It is comes from the Proto-Slavic *dervo (tree), from Proto-Indo-European *dóru (tree), which is also the root of the English word tree, and of the Welsh derw and the Cornish derow (oak trees) [source].

The photo is one I took of Ashley Jones Field in Bangor.

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.

Multilingual Skye

Skye is quite a multilingual place with residents and visitors from around the world. During the past few days I’ve met people from a variety of countries, and have spoken quite few different languages, including Scottish Gaelic, Irish, French, German, Swedish, and a bit of English. There are also speakers of Scots, Italian, Finnish and Japanese here, and there are people in the song class who have studied Old Norse, Old English, and Ugaritic.

On Tuesday night I met a guy from New Mexico who is a native speaker of Navajo – his wife has Scottish roots and is studying Gaelic here while he has a holiday. I asked him if he could record a few things in Navajo for me, but he said he can’t read the language very well, so would find it difficult to read them from Omniglot.

Session in the Talla Mòr

Last night there was an epic music session in the bar with lots of tunes and songs – I sang a few of my own songs, which went down well, and others sang in Scottish Gaelic, Irish, Scots and English. When I left the bar at 2am the session was still going, and apparently carried on until at least 4am. So many of us are feeling rather tired today.

Session in the Talla Mòr

Today we recorded a few songs in the college’s recording studio for the people who are doing the sound engineering course. I’m looking foward to hearing the recording.

The end of course cèilidh takes place tonight, and each class will be doing their party piece. Most will be singing, and the song class will be doing five songs.

Exploring Copenhagen / Udforskning af København

Today I am in Copenhagen on the way to see a friend in Aarhus. I left Bangor at way-too-early o’clock this morning, and arrived in Copenhagen early this afternoon. I’m staying in an AirBnB in Sydhavn, not far from the centre of the city. One of my hosts is from Moldova, and the other is a Dane, who I haven’t met yet. I spoke a bit of Russian and Romanian with my Moldovan host, which she seemed pleased to hear.

This afternoon I explored the touristy part of Copenhagen, and saw some nice parks, a castle, lots of boats, including a tall ship, a little mermaid, and some interesting buildings. I heard quite a few different languages being spoken, including Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Mandarin, Cantonese and other flavours of Chinese, English, French and even a bit of Danish. My knowledge of Danish is limited – I can read Danish quite well, and speak and understand it a little.

Cycling seems to be a popular way to get around here, perhaps because Copenhagen is so flat. There are plenty of cycle paths, and even traffic lights for cyclists. There are also many cargo bikes – three-wheeled contraptions with a large container on the front for shopping, children, pets or other things. Some cyclists indicate they’re stopping by raising their arm, as if asking a question, which is practical, but looks quite funny to me.

Here are a few photos:

Copenhagen / København

Tomorrow I’m off to Aarhus to see a Czech friend who teaches Linguistics at the university there. We usually speak a mixture of Czech, English and Welsh, and now we can add some Danish to the mix.

Later addition – I’ve met both my hosts now – the guy is actually from the Faroe Islands, and we’ve just had a very interesting conversation about Faroese and other languages. He told me that they used to borrow a lot of words into Faroese, especially from Danish, but now tend to create new words from Faroese roots. He finds it hard to understand some of the new words, as he’s not used to using them. They speak English to each other, by the way, as he doesn’t speak Russian or Romanian, and she speaks only a little Danish, and no Faroese.

Polyglotting

My name tag for the 2018 Polyglot Gathering

Today is the second full day of the #PolyglotGathering. It’s been a lot of fun, with some very interesting talks, and I’ve met a lot of people I know from previous polyglot events, and many new people too.

So far I’ve had conversations in English, French, German, Spanish, Welsh, Irish, Mandarin, Swedish, Russian and Esperanto, and have spoken odd bits of Manx, Danish, Icelandic, Czech, Italian, Portuguese and Slovak. I’ve learnt about Warlpiri, Bengali and Ukrainian, and have sung songs in Spanish, Italian, Serbian and Maori.

This morning I’ll be giving my presentation on Deconstructing Language. My original plan was to talk mainly about how grammar works and how it develops, but What I’ll actually talk about is where words come from and how and why they change over time.

Cows, beef and shepherds

Cows among the heather in Cregneash, Isle of Man

Yesterday I learnt the Russian word for beef, говядина [ɡɐˈvʲædʲɪnə], and the promotely forgot it. So I thought I’d investigate its etymology to help me remember it.

говядина comes from говядо [ɡɐˈvʲadə] and old word for cattle. This comes from the Proto-Slavic *govędo (head of cattle, bull, ox), from the Proto-Indo-European *gʷew-n̥d-, from *gʷṓws (cattle) [source].

The usual Russian word for cow is корова [source], which comes from the Proto-Slavic *kőrva (cow), from the Proto-Indo-European *ḱerh₂- (horn) [source].

*gʷṓws is also the root of:

  • gak = boar (Albanian)
  • govs = cattle, cow (Latvian)
  • говядо = beef (Ukrainian)
  • говедо = cattle (Bulgarian, Macedonian & Serbian)
  • govedo = cattle (Croatian & Slovenian)
  • hovado = brute (Czech & Slovak)
  • gowjedo = cow (Lower Sorbian)
  • *kūz = cow (Proto-Germanic)
  • Kuh = cow (German)
  • koe = cow (Dutch)
  • ku = cow (Norwegian)
  • ko = cow (Swedish, Danish, North Frisian)
  • coo, kye = cow (Scots)
  • βοῦς = cow (Ancient Greek)
  • bōs = cow, bull, ox (Latin)
  • bou = ox (Catalan)
  • bue = ox, beef (Italian)
  • bife = steak (Portuguese)
  • bou= ox, idiot (Romanian)
  • buey= ox. steer (Spanish)
  • bœuf = cow, ox, beef, jam session (French)
  • *bāus = cow (Proto-Celtic)
  • *bōws = ox (Proto-Celtic)
  • bu, buw = cow, bullock, head of cattle (Middle Welsh)
  • buwch = cow (Welsh)
  • bugh = cow (Cornish)
  • bu, buoc’h = cow (Breton)
  • bó = cow (Irish)
  • booa = cow (Manx)
  • bò = cow (Scottish Gaelic)

The English words beef and bovine come ultimately from the same root. Beef comes from the Middle English beef, bef, beof, from the Anglo-Norman beof, from the Old French buef, boef (ox). from Latin bōs (“ox”)

The Proto-Indo-European word *gʷowkólos, from *gʷṓws (cow) & *kʷel- (to revolve, move around, sojourn) gives us the following words in the Celtic languages [Source].

  • *boukolyos = herdsman (Proto-Celtic)
  • *bʉgöl = herdsman (Proto-Brythonic
  • bugail = shepherd, pastor (Welsh)
  • bugel = child, shepherd (Cornish)
  • bugel = child (Breton)
  • búachaill = cowherd (Old Irish)
  • buachaill = boy, herdsman, servant, boyfriend (Irish)
  • bochilley = shepherd, herdsman (Manx)
  • buachaill, buachaille = cowherd, herdsman, shepherd, youth (Scottish Gaelic)

Horses, chariots and cars

Horses at Newborough on Anglesey - photo by Simon Ager

Today I saw a post on Facebook asking why words for horse are so different in languages like English and German, so I thought I’d investigate.

In English horse-related words include horse, stallion (male horse), mare (female horse), foal (young horse), filly (young female horse), colt (young male horse), pony (a small breed of horse), palfrey (a small horse with a smooth, ambling gait) and equine (a horse or horse-like animal; related to horses).

Horse comes from the Middle English horse / hors, from the Old English hors (horse), from the Proto-Germanic *hrussą (horse), from the Proto-Indo-European *ḱr̥sos (horse), from Proto-Indo-European *ḱers- (to run) [source]. This is also the root of the Proto-Celtic word *karros (wagon), from which we get the Latin currus (chariot, wagon), and the English words car, cart and chariot, and related words in other languages.

Stallion comes from the Middle English stalion, from the Middle French estalon and is of Germanic origin [source].

Mare comes from the Middle English mare / mere, from the Old English mere / miere (female horse, mare), from the Proto-Germanic *marhijō (female horse) [source].

Foal comes from the Middle English fole, from the Old English fola, from the Proto-Germanic *fulô, from the Proto-Indo-European *pōlH- (animal young) [source]

Filly comes from the Old Norse fylja [source].

Colt comes from the Old English colt (young donkey, young camel), from the Proto-Germanic *kultaz (plump; stump; thick shape, bulb), from the Proto-Indo-European *gelt- (something round, pregnant belly, child in the womb), from *gel- (to ball up, amass) [source].

Pony comes from the Scots powny, from the Middle French poulenet (little foal), from the Late Latin pullanus (young of an animal), from pullus (foal) [source].

Palfrey comes from the Anglo-Norman palefrei (steed), from the Old French palefroi, from the Late Latin paraverēdus (post horse, spare horse) [source].

Equine comes from the Latin equīnus (of or pertaining to horses), from equus (horse) [source].

The equivalent words in other European languages include:

Germanic languages

  German Dutch Danish Norwegian Swedish Icelandic
horse Pferd Paard hest hest häst hestur
stallion Hengst hengst hingst hingst hingst graðhestur
mare Stute merrie hoppe hoppe sto
märr
hryssa
foal Fohlen veulen føl føll
fole
föl folald

The German word Pferd and the Dutch paard come from the Middle High German phert / pherit / pferift (riding horse), from the Old High German pherit / pfarifrit / parafred, from the Late Latin paraverēdus (substitute post horse) [source], from para-, from the Ancient Greek παρά (from, by, near) & verēdus (a fast or light breed of horse), from the Proto-Celtic *uɸorēdos (horse) [source], *uɸo- (under) & *rēdo- (to ride; riding, chariot), from the Proto-Indo-European *(H)reydʰ- (to ride) [source].

The words hengst and hingst come from the Proto-Indo-European *ḱanḱest- / *kankest- (horse), which is also the root of the Welsh, Cornish and Breton words for mare, and of the Old English word for horse or stallion, hengest.

Romance / Italic languages

  French Italian Romanian Spanish Portuguese Latin
horse cheval cavallo cal caballo cavalo equus
stallion étalon stalone armăsar padrillo garanhão celo
mare jument giumenta
cavalla
iapă yegua égua equa
foal poulain puldero mânz potro potro equuleus
equulus
pullus
vitulus

In Latin there was another word for horse – caballus, which was only used in poetry in Classical Latin, and was the normal word for horse in Late and Vulgar Latin. It possibly comes from the Gaulish caballos [source]. This is also the root of the English words cavalry, cavalier, cavalcade and chivalry,

The word equus comes from the Proto-Italic *ekwos, from the Proto-Indo-European *h₁éḱwos (horse) [source].

Celtic languages

  Breton Cornish Welsh Irish Manx Scottish Gaelic
horse marc’h margh ceffyl capall cabbyl each
stallion marc’h margh march
stalwyn
stail collagh
grihder
greadhair
mare kazeg kasek caseg láir laair làir
foal ebeul ebel ebol searrach sharragh searrach

The Scottish Gaelic word for horse, each, comes from the
Old Irish ech (horse), from Proto-Celtic *ekʷos (horse), from the Proto-Indo-European *h₁éḱwos (horse), which is also the root of the Breton, Cornish and Welsh words for foal.

The Breton marc’h (horse), the Cornish margh (horse) and the Welsh march (stallion) come from the Proto-Brythonic *marx (horse), from Proto-Celtic *markos (horse), from the Proto-Indo-European *márkos (horse). [source]. This is also the root of the Irish marcaigh (to ride), the Scottish Gaelic marcaich (to ride), and the Manx markiagh (to ride).

You can find more about Celtic words for horse on my Celtiadur blog

Slavic languages

  Bulgarian Czech Polish Russian Serbian Slovak
horse кон kůň kón
konno
лошадь коњ kôň
stallion жребец hřebec ogier
rumak
конь
жеребец
жребец žrebec
mare кобила klisna klacz
kobyła
кобыла кобила kobyla
foal жребец hříbě źrebak жеребёнок фоал žriebä

The Russian word for horse, лошадь, is a borrowing from a Turkic language, probably Tatar [source].

The other Slavic words for horse come from the Proto-Slavic konjь (horse), of unceratin origin [source].

Other European languages

  Latvian Lithuanian Albanian Greek
horse zirgs arklys kalë άλογο
ίππος
stallion ērze erelis hamshor επιβήτορα
mare ķēve kumelė merak φοράδα
foal kumeļi kumeliukas pjellë πουλάρι

Sources: Reverso, Linguee, bab.la, Google Translate

Newborough beach

One language

Omnigot logo

Yesterday I say a post in the Silly Linguistics Community on Facebook challenging people to write a sentence in all the languages they speak. This is what I came up with:

Tha e duilich writing une phrase ym mhob språk atá agam, pero ich 試試 red ennagh symoil を書く, kaj nun я хочу říct že il mio tomo tawa supa está cheio de țipari.

This means “It is difficult writing a sentence in every language I speak, but I will try to write something interesting, and now I want to say my hovercraft is full of eels”.

The languages, in order, are Scottish Gaelic, English, French, Welsh, Swedish, Irish, Spanish, German, Chinese, Manx, Japanese, Esperanto, Russian, Czech, Italian, Toki Pona, Portuguese and Romanian.

It’s not the best sentence ever, perhaps, but I enjoyed the challenge of putting it together. It also got me thinking about how many languages and writing systems I could use in a version of my motto “one language is never enough“. This motto appears on some versions of my logo, such as the one above, and I usually try to write it in several difficult languages.

Here are some versions I came up with today. The first version incorporates some of the languages I speak and am learning, plus a few others.

Une singură 语言 är nikdy недостаточно – languages = French, Romanian, Chinese, Swedish, Czech / Slovak, Russian.

Ett seule 言語 ist nunca yn ddigon – languages = Norwegian / Swedish, French, Japanese, German, Portuguese / Galician / Spanish, Welsh.

Jeden lingua er niemals suficiente – languages = Czech / Polish / Slovak / Rusyn, Asturian / Chamorro / Corsican / Galician / Italian / Latin / Sicilian / Interlingua, Danish / Faroese / Icelandic / Norwegian, German, Spanish / Asturian.

Can you incorporate more languages and/or writing systems into this phrase?

Portugal oranges and Chinese apples

An orange

In Romanian the word for orange (the fruit) is portocală [portoˈkalə]. This comes from the Greek πορτοκάλι (portokáli – orange), from the Venetian portogallo (orange), from the Italian Portogallo (Portugal).

An number of other languages get their word for orange from the same root:

– Albanian: portokall
– Amharic: ብርቱካናማ (biritukanama)
– Arabic: برتقال (burtuqaal)
– Azerbaijani: portağal
– Bulgarian: портокал (portokal)
– Georgian: ფორთოხალი (p’ort’okhali)
– Macedonian: портокал (portokal)
– Persian (Farsi): پرتقال (porteghâl)
– Turkish: portakal

Portuguese merchants were probably the first to introduce oranges to Europe, hence the link between oranges and Portugal.

In some languages oranges are known as “Chinese apples”: Apfelsine (German), appelsien / sinaasappel (Dutch), apelsin (Swedish), etc. This makes sense as oranges were first cultivated in China in about 2,500 BC.

Words for oranges in some Slavic languages come from the Old French pomme d’orenge: pomeranč (Czech), pomaranča (Slovene), pomarańcza (Polish).

The word orange derives from नारङ्ग (nāraṅga) – “orange tree” in Sanskrit, which is probably of Dravidian origin. The word for orange in Portuguese, laranja, comes from this root.

The colour orange was named after the fruit. In Old English the colour orange was referred to as ġeolurēad (yellow-red), or ġeolucrog (yellow-saffron) [source].

Souces: Wiktionary, WordReference.com, Google Translate, Wikipedia, Flickr