Lost in the Geese

The French word oie means goose, but how do you pronounce it?


Last night at the French Conversation Group, we were talking about geese, as you do, and while I could remember how to write the word for goose in French, I wasn’t sure how to pronounce it. Then one of my friends suggested it was foie as in foie gras [fwa ɡʁa]. I knew this means “fat liver”, so foie must mean liver, and that oie probably sounds similar to foie.

My guess was right, oie is pronounced [wa] and rhymes with foie [fwa]. It comes from the Old French oie (goose), from Vulgar Latin auca (goose), a contraction of *avica, from Latin avis (bird), from Proto-Italic *awis (bird), from Proto-Indo-European *h₂éwis (bird). The Old French word was originally written oe or oue. The i was added by the end of the 12th century as analogy to oisel/oiseau (bird) [source].

Words from the same roots include հավ [hɑv] (hen, chicken) in Armenian, ave (bird) in Galician, Spanish and Portuguese, vista (chicken, hen) in Latvian, hwyad (duck) in Welsh, οἰωνός [i.oˈnos] (large bird, bird of prey, omen) in Greek [source].

The French word oiseau (bird) also comes from the same roots, via the Late Latin aucellus (little bird), as do uccello (bird) in Italian, and ocell (bird) in Catalan [source].

Incidentally, goose comes from Middle English go(o)s (goose, fool, idiot), from Old English gōs (goose), from Proto-West Germanic *gans (goose), from Proto-Germanic *gans (goose), from Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰh₂éns (goose), which is likely of imitative origin [source].

A French equivalent of to loose one’s marble (become crazy, loose one’s mind) is se perdre les oies (“to get lost in the geese”) [source].

Are there any interesting goose-related expressions in other languages?

Moon’s Ear

What do you call the symbol @?

at sign

I would call it at or at sign. Other names are available, and it’s used in various ways.

The oldest known appearence of @ in writing was in 1345 in a Bulgarian translation of a Greek chronicle by Constantinos Manasses. It was used as the first letter of the word Amen – @мин (@min) in the manuscript.

In Catalan, Spanish and Portuguese @ has long been used to refer to a unit of weight know as arroba, which is equal to 25 pounds. This name comes from the Arabic الربع (alrubue – quarter).

In Venitian @ was used to represent the word anfora (amphora), a unit of weight and volume equivalent to the standard amphora.

In accounting, @ means “at a rate of” or “at the price of”, for example, 5 widgets @ £5 = £25.

These days it most commonly appears in email addresses, a usage that dates back to 1971, when it was introduced by Ray Tomlinson of BBN Technologies. Online it may be omitted or replaced when listing email addresses to trip up spam programs trawling for email adresses. That’s why I give my email as feedback[at]omniglot[dot]com, or as an image. This practise is known as address munging. A better way to trip up the spam bots is apparently feedback@omniglot.com.

Some names for @ in English include: ampersat, asperand, at, atmark, at symbol, commercial at, amphora and strudel.

Ampersat comes from the phrase “and per se at”, which means “and by itself @”, and was how it was originally referred to in English.

Some interesting names for @ in other languages include:

  • Afrikaans: aapstert (monkey tail)
  • Armenian: շնիկ (shnik – puppy)
  • Belarusian: сьлімак (sʹlimak – helix, snail)
  • Chinese: 小老鼠 (xiǎo lǎoshǔ – little mouse)
  • Danish & Swedish: snabel-a (elephant’s trunk A)
  • Finnish: kissanhäntä (cat’s tail), miuku mauku (miaow-meow)
  • Greek: παπάκι (papáki – duckling)
  • Kazakh: айқұлақ (aıqulaq – moon’s ear)
  • Korean: 골뱅이 (golbaeng-i – whelk)
  • Polish: małpa (monkey, ape)
  • Welsh: malwoden (snail)

Do you know any other interesting names for this symbol?

Sources and further information:


I discovered the other day the the exclamation mark (!), which is apparently known as an exclamation point in American English, has a number of other names. When it was first introduced by printers in the 15th century, it was known as a sign of admiration or exclamation or the note of admiration in English.

In the early 20th century it was known as an ecphoneme [source]. A related word is eroteme, which is another name for the question mark (?), and comes from the Ancient Greek ἐρώτημα (erṓtēma – question), from ερωτώ (erotó – to ask) [source].

In 1950s American typesetting manuals it was referred to as a bang. Related punctuation marks are the interrobang (‽), a combination of an exclamation mark and question mark that was invented in 1962 by Martin K. Speckter, an American advertising executive [source], and the gnaborretni (⸘), an inverted interrobang [source].

Printers might call it a screamer, gasper, slammer or startler.

British hackers apparently call it, or called it, a shriek or pling, which is my favourite name for this punctuation mark.

In Welsh the exclamation mark is known as a ebychnod, from ebychu (to exclaim) and nod (mark), or rhyfeddnod, from rhyfedd (strange, odd) and nod.

In Armenian the equivalent of the exclamation mark (see below) is known as a Բացականչական նշան (Bats’akanch’akan nshan) or “exclamatory mark/sign” or “screamer”.

Here are some exclamation marks in other alphabets:

Exclamation marks in various alphabets

What is the exclamation mark called in other languages?

Here’s a video I made last week about the word exclamation: