Petty Things

In the French conversation group I take part in, the word petit, which means small or little, is often mispronunced [pɛti] rather than [pə.ti], which annoys the founder of group. This might seem a rather petty thing to worry about, but pronunciation is quite important – not so much within the group, but for when we talk to actual native speakers of French.

Petit fours

Petit means small, little, minor, slight, short, mean, child, little one, youngest, young (of an animal).

Some related words and expressions include:

  • mon petit = dear (used ironically), son
  • ma petite = dear, young lady, sweetheart
  • les petits (enfants) = small children
  • les tout-petits = the little ones, the tiny tots, the toddlers
  • pauvre petit = poor little thing
  • faire des petits = to have kittens / puppies
  • petit à petit = little by little, gradually
  • petit ami = boyfriend
  • petit déjeuner = breakfast
  • petit doigt = little finger, pinky
  • petit-fils = grandson
  • petite amie = girlfriend
  • petit caisse = petty cash
  • petite-fille = granddaughter
  • petite phrase = catch phrase
  • petite sortie = stroll

Petit comes from the Vulgar Latin *pitittus (small, little), from *pit- or *pittus/*piccus (small, little), possibly from the Proto-Celtic *pett- (part, bit, piece) or from *bikkos (small, little) [source]. When I noticed the possible Celtic connection I decided to write this post, as such connections interest me a lot. The Proto-Celtic word *bikkos is the root of words for small in all the modern Celtic languages, such as bach in Welsh and beag in Irish. [More details].

The word petit also exists in English and is pronounced [ˈpɛti] or [pəˈtiː] in the UK, and [ˈpɛdi], [pəˈti] or [pəˈtit] in the American English. It means small, petty or minor [source]. In it’s feminine form, petite, it usually refers to a woman who is short and small.

Both petit and petite come from the Old French word petit (small, little, worthless, poor (quality)). Petit was used in surnames from 1086, and as an adjective meaning small, little, minor, trifling or insignificant, from the 14th century. Petite was used from the 18th century, at first to mean little or small in size, usually when referring to a woman or girl, and from the early 20th century it came to refer to a size of women’s clothing.

Petit became petty in most cases, except in certain expressions, such as petit bourgeois (conventional middle-class), petit mal (a mild form of epilepsy), petit four (small, fancy cake – see above) [source].

Petty originally meant small, little or minor. By the early 16th century it was being used to mean “of small or minor importance, not serious” and by the 1580s it came to mean “small-minded” [source].

If you are a petty person, or one who is mean or ungenerous in small or trifling things, you might have petty grievances, which are of little importance or consequence, and maybe a petty mind, or narrow ideas and/or interests, and you might like to take petty revenge. Maybe you are in charge of the petty cash (a cash fund for paying small charges), and you might be a a petty officer (a minor officer on a merchant ship, or a noncommissioned officer in the US Navy) [source].

May Day

Beltane

Today is the first day of the month of May, or May Day, when spring festivals are traditionally held in many countries. It is also International Workers’ Day. Apparently the origins of the spring festivities go back at least to the Roman festival of Floralia, in honour of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers (and magarine*). This was held from 27 April – 3 May during the Roman Republic era [source].

*Flora is a brand of margarine found in the UK, other parts of Europe, and Australia and New Zealand.

The word May came from the Old French mai (May), from the Latin māius (May) which was named after Maia, a Roman earth goddess [source].

Incidentally, the emergency call mayday mayday mayday! has nothing to do with May or May Day, but was in fact thought up in the 1920s by Frederick Stanley Mockford, who was officer-in-charge of radio at Croydon Airport in London. It is based on the French phrase m’aidez (help me) [source].

May Day is known as Calan Mai (1st day of May) or Calan Haf (1st day of summer) in Welsh. Traditionally celebratations would begin on the eve of Calan Haf, or Nos Galan Haf with bonfires, and the gathering of hawthorn and flowers to decorate houses. Celebrations on May Day itself might include dancing and singing [source].

I can’t find any examples of May carols (carolau mai / carolau haf), but here’s the Welsh band Calan:

May Day is known as Lá Bealtaine in Irish, Là Bealltainn in Scottish Gaelic and Laa Boaldyn in Manx, and the month of May is known as Bealtaine or mí na Bealtaine in Irish and Boaldyn in Manx. These all refer to the old Celtic festival of Beltane/Beltain, which is held on the 1st May and marks the beginning of summer when cattle would be traditionally driven to their summer pastures. Celebrations include lighting large bonfires and leaping over them, and/or walking and driving cattle between them [source].

The word Beltane/Beltain possibly comes from the Proto-Celtic *belo-tanos / *belo-te(p)niâ (“bright fire”) [source].

Beltane

Cups of Comfort

An interesting expression that came up in my Dutch lessons recently is bakje troost [ˈbɑ.kjə troːst], which is slang for a cup of coffee, and a diminutive of bak troost. It could be translated literally as a “little cup of comfort” or a “little cup of solace”. It is also known as bakkie troost [source].

Department of Coffee and Social Affairs

Here are some examples of how it’s used (from Reverso):

  • Hoe kom je hier aan een bakje troost?
    What do I have to do to get some more coffee around here?
  • Bakje troost voor ons
    Cup of Joe for the guys
  • Kijk eens aan, een bakje troost
    Here you go. Cup of joe

Bak means a bin, box, crate, tray or tub; a cup or mug; a jail, slammer or prison (slang), or a car. It comes from the French word bac (ferry, vat), from the Old French bas/bac (flat boat), possibly from the Vulgar Latin *baccu (container), from the Latin bacar (kind of wine glass). Or from a Celtic or Germanic word [source].

Some related words include:

  • afvalbak = rubbish bin, trashcan, dustbin
  • bloembak = flower pot, planter, window box, flower tub
  • engelenbak = the highest box at a theatre (“angel box”)
  • glasbak = bottle bank
  • ragbak = a run-down car

Troost means comfort or consolation. It comes from the Middle Dutch troost, from the Old Dutch trōst, from the Proto-Germanic *traustą (shelter, help, aid, trust, confidence, alliance), from *traustaz (firm, strong), from thge Proto-Indo-European *deru-/*drew-/*drū- (to be firm, hard, solid, tree) [source].

The English words trust and tryst come from the same Germanic root, as do the German word Trost (consolation), the Swedish word tröst (comfort, consolation, dummy / pacifier), and related words in other languages [source].

This week some of the lockdown restrictions were lifted here in Wales, and cafés are open again, at least for takeaways. Yesterday I saw a long queue of people outside a café, probably waiting for their bakjes troost.

In the beforetimes I did go to cafés now and then for a cup of hot chocolate or herbal/fruit tea, maybe a pastry, and a change of scenery. This is something I miss a bit, but as I don’t drink coffee and rarely drink tea, I have no craving for caffeine, and won’t be queueing outside any cafés.

Are you missing cafés and coffee?

Fire Towers

If you have red or ginger hair in the Netherlands or Dutch-speaking parts of Belgium you might be called a vuurtoren [ˈvyːrˌtoː.rə(n)], or literally a “fire tower”. This is apparently a rather rude way to refer to redheads. Other ways include roodhaar (red-hair), roodharige (red-haired), rosse (red), or rossekop (red-head) [source].

Highland cows / Bò Ghàidhealach / Hielan coo

As well as meaning redhead, vuurtoren also means lighthouse or beacon, and was a nickname for the old 250 Guilder note, which had a lighthouse on it. Another name for a lighthouse is a lichttoren, and a lighthouse keeper is a vuurtorenwachter.

Vuurtoren, De Cocksdorp, Texel

Vuur (fire, heat, heater, lighter) comes from the Middle Dutch vuur (fire, bonfire, passion), from Old Dutch fuir (fire), from Proto-West Germanic *fuir (fire), from Proto-Germanic *fōr (fire), ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *péh₂wr̥ (fire) [source].

Toren (tower, rook (in chess)) comes the Middle Dutch torre (tower), from the Old Dutch turn (tower), from the Old French tur/tor (tower), from the Latin turris (tower, rook), from the Ancient Greek τύρρις (túrrhis – tower) [source].

A YouTube Channel I found recently is Linguriosa, which is run by a redheaded Spanish lass (una pelirroja) who makes interesting and funny videos about the Spanish language. She talks clearly and not too fast, so it’s great if you’re learning Spanish, as I am at the moment, or are a fluent speaker. Here’s an example:

Do you know of similar channels in other languages?

Hoary Hair

One of the words that came up in my Spanish lessons today was cana [ˈkana], which means white or grey hair. I hadn’t come across it before, so thought I’d find out more about it and where it comes from.

Many Shades Of Grey

Cana is related to, and possibly derived from, cano (ancient, old (person), hoary, white/grey-haired). Cano and cana come from the Latin word cānus (white, hoary, frothy, grey), from the Proto-Italic *kaznos (grey), from the Proto-Indo-European *ḱas- (blond, grey, white) [source].

Retaled words and expressions include:

  • canoso = grey/white-haired, grey, white
  • encanecer = to go grey, to go mouldy
  • tiene canas = He has grey/white hair
  • echar una cana al aire = to let one’s hair down, to whoop it up (“to throw a grey hair in the air”)
  • echar la última cana al aire = to have one’s last fling
  • faltar a las canas = to show a lack of respect for one’s elders
  • peinar canas = to be getting on

Some words from the same PIE root include:

  • Portuguese: = grey hair; cão = white-haired
  • Welsh: can = white, shining, brilliant; cannu = to bleach, blanch, whiten; cannydd = bleach; ceinach = hare
  • English: hare
  • Greek: ξανθός (xanthós) = blonde, fair, flaxen, tawny; golden

Cana is also a slang word for the police and prison in Argentina, Uruguay and Chile.

Cana should not be confused with caña, which means cane, reed, a slim type of glass, or a hangover. It comes from the Latin canna (reed), from the Ancient Greek κάννα (kánna – reed), from the Akkadian 𒄀 (qanû – reed), from the Sumerian 𒄀𒈾 (gi.na) [source].

Incidentally, the word hoary (white, whitish, greyish-white) comes from hoar (white/greyish colour, antiquity), from the Old English hār (hoar, hoary, grey, old), from the Proto-Germanic *hairaz (grey), from the Proto-Indo-European *(s)ḱeh₃- (grey, dark). [source].

Underdirecting

The Dutch word onderrichten [ˌɔn.dərˈrɪx.tə(n)] means to teach, instruct or educate. It comes from onder (under-, sub-, lower) and richten (to direct, aim) [source]. So you could say that education in Dutch involves supporting and directing students.

09-11-1949_06528A Max Euwe in de klas

Another Dutch word meaning to teach or educate is onderwijzen [ˌɔn.dərˈʋɛi̯.zə(n)], which comes from onder and wijzen (to point, indicate, direct) [source] – so it has a similiar sense to onderrichten.

An onderwijzer or onderwijzeres is a teacher in a primary / elementary school (lagere school / basisschool) and they provide onderwijs (education, teaching), or more specifically, basisonderwijs (primary / elementary education). A word for to teach is onderwijzen.

A teacher in a secondary school (middelbare school) is a leraar or lerares, they leren (teach) and they might be found in a leraarskamer / lerarenkamer (staffroom).

Other words for education are opleiding and opvoeding. Opleiding means education, training or a programme, and comes from opleiden (to lead up; to bring up, educate; to coach, train), from op (up) and leiden (to lead) [source].

Opvoeding means education (at home), upbringing, raising (children) and comes from opvoeden (to raise, to bring up (a child)), from op (up) and voeden (to feed) [source].

The English word education comes from the Middle French éducation (education, upbringing), from Latin ēducātiō (breeding, bringing up, rearing), from ēdūcō (I lead, draw, take out, raise up), from ex (out, away, up) and dūcō (I lead, guide, conduct) [source]. So it has a similar meaning to onderrichten and onderwijzen.

The English words teacher and teach come from the Old English tǣċan (to show, declare, demonstrate; teach, instruct, train), from the Proto-Germanic *taikijaną (to show), from the Proto-Indo-European *deyḱ- (to show) [source].

Thanks to Anna Rutten for inspiring this post

Timely Tempests

If you are in the eye of the storm you are in the center or most intense part of a tumultuous situation, or literally in the calm region at the centre of a storm, hurricane, cyclone or typhoon [source].

Super Typhoon Trami | Supertaifun Trami

In French equivalents of the eye of the storm include l’oeil du cyclone (the eye of the cyclone), l’œil de la tempête (the eye of the storm) and le cœur de la tempête (the heart of the storm) [source].

The French word tempête (storm, tempest), and the English word tempest both come from the Old French tempeste (storm, tempest), from the Latin tempesta (storm, tempest), from tempestās (storm, tempest, weather, season) from tempus (time, weather), from the Proto-Indo-European *tempos (stretch) [source].

The French word temps (time, weather), comes from the same root, as does the Spanish word tiempo (time, weather), Italian word tempo (time, weather) and related words in other languages.

The expression a tempest in a teapot, meaning ‘a small event that has been exaggerated out of proportion’, dates from 1818, and is apparently the American English equivalent of the British English storm in a teacup. Before then the equivalent was a storm in a creambowl, which dates from the 1670s [source]. Other versions of this phrase include a tempest/storm in a glass of water and a storm in a wash-hand basin [source].

In French you could talk about une tempête dans un verre d’eau (a storm in a glass of water)

Soul Deer

The Dutch word dier [diːr / diər] means animal and is cognate with the English word deer, which originally meant animal, but the meaning narrowed over time. They are also cognate with words for animal in other Germanic languages, such as Tier in German, dyr in Danish and Norwegian, dýr in Faroese and Icelandic, and djur in Swedish [source].

deer

Dier comes from the Middle Dutch dier (animal), from the Old Dutch dier (animal), from the Proto-West Germanic *deuʀ ((wild) animal, beast), from the Proto-Germanic *deuzą ((wild) animal, beast), from the Proto-Indo-European *dʰewsóm [source], from *dʰews- (to breathe, breath, spirit, soul, creature) [source].

Some related words include:

  • dierdicht = poem about anthropomorphised animals
  • dierenarts = vet (mainly one who treats pets)
  • dierenrijk = animal kingdom
  • dierentuin = zoo
  • dierkunde = zoology
  • dierlijk = animal, beastly, instinctive, primitive
  • huisdier = pet
  • landbouwhuisdier = farm animal
  • zoogdier = mammal

Deer comes from the same root, via the Middle English deere, dere, der, dier, deor (small animal, deer), from the Old English dēor (animal) [source].

From the PIE root *dʰews- we also get the Russian word душа [dʊˈʂa] (soul, spirit, darling), via the Old East Slavic доуша (duša – soul), and the Proto-Slavic *duša (soul, spirit), and related words in other slavic languages.

Another Dutch word for animal is beest [beːst] which is cognate with the English word beast. Both come from the same PIE root as dier/deer (*dʰews-): beest via the Middle Dutch beeste (animal), from the Old French beste (beast, animal), from the Latin bēstia (beast) [source], and beast via the Middle English beeste, beste (animal, creature, beast, merciless person) [source].

Some related words include:

  • feestbeest = party animal
  • knuffelbeest = stuffed toy animal (“cuddle-beast”)
  • podiumbeest = someone who enjoys being on stage and is often on stage
  • wildebeest = wildebeest, gnu

The English word animal is also related to souls and spirits as it comes via Middle English and Old French, from the Latin anima (soul, spirit, life, air, breeze, breath) [source].

The Dutch word for deer is hert [ɦɛrt], which comes from the Old Dutch hirot, from the Proto-Germanic *herutaz (deer, stag), from the Proto-Indo-European *ḱerh₂- (horn). The English word hart comes from the same root via the Old English heorot (stag), and means a male deer, especially a male red deer after his fifth year [source].

Here’s an audio version of this post.

Scribacious Library Mice

An interesting word I learnt the other day while listening to the Something Rhymes with Purple podcast was scribacious, which means “prone to excessive writing” [source], “having the tendency to write a lot or too much“ [source], or “addicted to writing, fond of writing” [source].

Scribacious comes from scribe (someone who writes), from the Middle English scribe, from the Old French scribe (scribe), from the Late Latin scriba (secretary), from scribere (to write, draw (up), draft, scratch).

Are there any other words that mean “fond of writing”?

Some related words include:

  • scribaciousnesss = the quality or state of being scribacious
  • scribal = relating to scribes and their work
  • scribely = of, relating to, or characteristic of a scribe; scribal
  • scribable = capable of being written upon
  • scribbleomania = obsession with scribbling
  • scripturient = having a violent desire to write

Bookworm / Library mouse

One who is fond of reading might be called bookish, a bookworm or a bibliophile. Do you know any other words for this?

In Dutch a bookworm is a boekenwurm [source], and similarly in German a bookworm is a Bücherwurm [source].

In Spanish a bookworm is a ratón de biblioteca (a library mouse), a ratón de archivo (an archive mouse), a gusano de libro (a bookworm) [source].

In French a bookworm is a rat de bibliothèque (a library rat) or a dévoreur de livres (a devourer of books) [source].

In Italian a bookworm is a topo di bibliteca (a library rat/mouse) [source].

What about in other languages?

Breakfasting

The Spanish word desayunar [d̪esaʝuˈnaɾ] means to have (for) breakfast, the reflexive version, desayunarse means to have breakfast or to breakfast, and desayuno means breakfast.

Desayuno

These words come from des- (negative suffix) and ayunar (to fast) – so when you have your desayuno you could be said to be “defasting” or “unfasting”, which are similar to the literal meaning of breakfast (“break one’s fast”).

Desayunar is possibly related to the Vulgar Latin *disieiunāre (to eat breakfast), from Late Latin ieiūnāre (to fast), from the Latin ieiūnus (fasting, abstinent, hungry) [source].

From the same root we get the English words (to) dine, diner, dinner and jejune (lacking matter, empty, devoid of substance), the French words déjeûner (lunch, to have lunch) and dîner (dinner, to have dinner), the Italian word digiunare (to fast), and related words in other languages [source].

Some related words and expressions include (from Reverso):

  • desayuno tarde/tardío, desayuno-almuerzo = brunch
  • desayunador = breakfast nook
  • Desayunaremos = We’ll get some breakfast
  • desayunar con café = to have coffee for breakfast
  • ahora me desayuno de ello = this is the first I’ve heard of it
  • desayunar con algo = to get the first news of sth
  • desayunar fuerte = to have a big/solid breakfast
  • hoy no podría desayunar = I can’t face breakfast this morning
  • Aquí podrá desayunar, almorzar y cenar = Here you can have breakfast, lunch and dinner

If you eat breakfast, what do you usually have, and when do you breakfast?

For me breakfast is always the first meal of the day, even if I get up late, as I’ve got into the habit of doing other the past year or so. This morning, for example, I woke up at about 9am, learnt some Danish, checked my emails, learnt some Swedish, watched some videos on YouTube, learnt some Dutch, watched more videos, then finally got up at about 11:30am. This is a fairly typical morning for me. For breakfast I usually have porridge with fruit, and some fruit juice. If I have any bread, I’ll have some toast as well.