Almost, Nearly, Not Quite

One of the words that came up in the French Conversation Group last night was faillir [fa.jiʁ], which means to almost do something or to fail.

Presque ...

Whether you almost do something or fail to do it is really a matter of perspective – the end result is the same. Yesterday, for example, I almost made another episode of the Radio Omniglot podcast. I recorded about 15-20 minutes of it several times, decided it wasn’t good enough, then got distracted with other things, as often happens. I can talk about language-related topics at the drop of a hat until the cows come home, but actually making my ramblings into a reasonably coherent podcast is a different kettle of fish. The editing always takes quite a while, and I usually find something else to do instead.

Today I told myself that I would make the podcast first thing, before checking emails, or getting distracted by other things. Several hours later I still haven’t produced the podcast, but I have learnt some more Swedish and Danish, answered some emails and written this.

Anyway, back to faillir – appears in expressions like:

  • faillir faire = to almost/nearly do
  • J’ai failli tomber = I almost/nearly fell
  • J’ai failli lui dire = I almost/nearly told him
  • J’ai failli l’oublier = I almost forgot about it
  • faillir à qch = to fall short of sth
  • faillir à sa tâche = to fall short of one’s tsak
  • faillir à son devoir = to fall short of one’s duty
  • Il ne faut pas faillir à notre devoir = We must not falter in our duty now
  • J’ai un plan astucieux qui ne peut faillir = I have a cunning plan that cannot fail
  • avoir failli faire qch = to narrowly miss doing sth

Related words include:

  • failli(e) = bankrupt, insolvent
  • la faillite = bankruptcy, collapse (political)
  • une entreprise en faillite = a bankrupt business
  • être en faillite = to be bankrupt
  • faire en faillite = to go bankrupt, fail, go broke, go bust
  • la ferme a failli faire en faillite = the farm almost went bankrupt
  • il faut qu’il faille faire en faillite = he must almost go bankrupt
  • faille = flaw, loophole, weak spot, fault
  • faille fiscale = tax loophole
  • faille spatio-temporelle = time warp

Faillir comes from the Middle French faillir (to fail), from the Old French falir, from the Vulgar Latin *fallīre, from the Latin fallere (to deceive, disappoint, cheat), from the Proto-Indo-European *bʰāl- (to lie, deceive). The English word fail comes from the same root, via the Middle English failen, and the Anglo-Norman faillir (to fail).

Another way to say that you almost did something is J’ai presque fait qch, for example, Il est presque tombé and Il a failli tomber both mean ‘He almost fell’. In the case of the latter, the impression I get is that he was expected to fall, but didn’t, while in the case of the former, there seems to be no expectation that he would fall. Is that right?

Sources: Reverso, Wiktionary, bab.la

Bread rolls

In the UK there are many different regional words for types of bread, particularly for bread rolls, and people tend to be quite attached to their version, believing it to be the one true name for such things. Not all of them refer to exactly the same type of bread product though.

Baps - Scottish Morning Rolls

Whatever you call them, they are small, usually round loaves of bread, and were apparently invented in the south east of England in 1581 [source], although similar small loaves were probably made in other places long before that.

Here are some of the words for bread rolls used in the UK:

  • Scotland: roll, bap, bun, morning roll, softie, buttery, rowie
  • North East England: bun, roll, muffin, batch, breadcake, stottie, oven bottom (bread), tufty bun, scuffler
  • Noth West England: barm, barm cake, bun, tea cake, muffin, nudger
  • Midlands: cob, bap, roll, bun, batch
  • Southern England: roll, bap, bun, cob
  • Wales: roll, bap, cob, batch
  • Northern Ireland: cob, roll, bun, bap

The word roll comes from the Middle English rolle (role), from the Old French rolle / role / roule (roll, scroll), from the Medieval Latin rotulus (a roll, list, catalogue, schedule, record, a paper or parchment rolled up) [source].

The word bun (a small bread roll, often sweetened or spiced), comes from the Middle English bunne (wheat cake, bun), from the Anglo-Norman bugne (bump on the head; fritter), from the Old French bugne, from Frankish *bungjo (little clump), a diminutive of *bungu (lump, clump) [source].

The origins of the word bap, as in a soft bread roll, originally from Scotland, are unknown [source].

A cob is a round, often crusty, roll or loaf of bread, especially in the Midlands of England, is of uncertain origin [source].

A barm (cake) is a small, flat, round individual loaf or roll of bread, and possibly comes from the Irish bairín breac (“speckled loaf” or barmbrack – yeasted bread with sultanas and raisins) [source]. The cake in barm cake was historically used to refer to small types of bread to distinguish them from larger loaves [source].

Barmcake!

A batch, or bread roll, comes from the Middle English ba(c)che, from the Old English bæċ(ċ)e (baking; something baked), from the Proto-Germanic *bakiz (baking), [source].

A stottie (cake) / stotty is a round flat loaf of bread, traditionally pan-fried and popular in Tyneside in the north east of England. The word comes from stot(t) (to bounce), from the Middle Dutch stoten (to push), from the Proto-Germanic *stautaną (to push, jolt, bump) [source].

Traditional Ham, Pease Pudding and Stotties

They are known as oven bottoms or oven bottom bread, as they used to be baked on the bottom of ovens, and typically eaten filled with ham, pease pudding, bacon, eggs and/or sausage. A smaller version, known as a tufty bun, can be found in bakeries in the North East of England [source]

A scuffler is a triangular bread cake originating in the Castleford region of Yorkshire, and the name is thought to come from a local dialect word [source].

A nudger is a long soft bread roll common in Liverpool [source].

A buttery is a type of bread roll from Aberdeen in Scotland, also known as a roll, rowie, rollie, cookie or Aberdeen roll [source].

A teacake is a type of round bread roll found mainly in parts of Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cumbria. Elsewhere a teacake is a light, sweet, yeast-based bun containing dried fruits, often eaten toasted [source].

In Welsh, bread rolls are known as rholyn bara, rhôl fara, rôl / rol / rowl, bab, wicsan, cwgen, cnap or cnepyn [source]. There may be other regional words as well.

Rhôl/rôl/rol were borrowed from English, and rholyn is a diminutive. Bara (bread) comes from the Proto-Celtic *bargos / *barginā (cake, bread) [source]. Cnap was borrowed from the Old Norse knappr (knob, lump) and cnepyn is a diminutive [source]. Cwgen is a diminutive of cwc, cŵc, cwg (cook), which was borrowed from English.

In Cornish, bread rolls are bara byghan (“small bread”) [source].

In Scottish Gaelic, a bread roll is a bonnach arainbonnach is a bannock or (savoury) cake, and comes from the French beignet (a fritter filled with fruit), from the Frankish *bungjo (lump, bump, swelling), from the Proto-Germanic *bungô / *bunkô (lump, heap, crowd), from the Proto-Indo-European bʰenǵʰ- (thick, dense, fat) [source], which is also the root of the English words bunch and bunion.

Aran (bread, loaf, livelihood, sustenance), comes from the Old Irish arán (bread, loaf), from Proto-Celtic *ar(-akno)- (bread) [source]

See a map showing where these words are used:
http://projects.alc.manchester.ac.uk/ukdialectmaps/lexical-variation/bread/

If you’re from the UK, what do you call a bread roll?

What are such baked goods called elsewhere?

Weaving Frocks

The Danish word frakke [ˈfʁɑgə] means coat or overcoat. It was borrowed from the German Frack [fʁak] (tails, tailcoat, dress coat), which came from the English frock, which generally means dress, but can also refer to a peasant’s smock, or a coarse wide-sleeved outer garment worn by members of some religious orders [source].

When the rights and authority are removed from a priest, government official or medical practioner, they are said to be defrocked, unfrocked or disfrocked [source]. Before being defrocked, you would have to be frocked (made into a cleric).

In a frock flick (costume drama), some of the characters might wear frock coats, while others might wear smock frocks, housefrocks or underfrocks or even go frockless, which might lead to them being defrocked [source].

Frock comes from the Middle English frok / frokke (habit, cope, cowl, coat), from Old French froc (frock, a monk’s gown or habit), perhaps from the Medieval Latin hrocus / roccus / rocus (a coat), from the Frankish *hroc / *hrok (skirt, dress, robe), from the Proto-Germanic *hrukkaz (robe, jacket, skirt, tunic), from the Proto-Indo-European *kreḱ- (to weave).

So these words have been weaving their way between the Germanic and Romance language families, and changing their meanings, pronunciations and spellings over time.

Other words from the same roots include:

  • Danish: rok [ˈʁʌg] = garment
  • Dutch: rok [rɔk] = skirt, petticoat
  • French: froc [fʁɔk] = frock (clerical garment), the clerical profession, trousers
  • German: Rock [ʁɔk] = skirt
  • Swedish: frack [fɹæk] = dress suit, tailcoat

A similar Danish word – jakke [ˈjɑgə] (jacket) – comes from the German Jacke (jacket), from the Old French jaque (a gambison – a type of tight-fitting shirt), which was either named after someone called Jaques (James), or from jaque de mailles (coat of arms) from the Arabic شـَكّ (šakk – breastplate). The English word jacket comes fromt the same root, via the Middle French jacquet.

The Danish word skjort [ˈsɡ̊joɐ̯d̥ə] sounds similar to skirt in English, but means shirt. It comes from the Old Norse skyrta (shirt), from the Proto-Germanic *skurtijǭ (skirt, apron). The English word skirt comes from the same root [source].

The English word shirt also comes from the same root, but via the Middle English sherte / shurte / schirte, from Old English sċyrte (a short garment; skirt; kirtle) [source].

The Danish word skørt [ˈsɡ̊ɶɐ̯d̥] (skirt, kilt) comes from the same root, via the Middle Low German schorte (armour) [source].

Another Danish word for skirt is nederdel (“lower part”).

coat hooks

Sources: Den Danske Ordbog, Wiktionary, Middle English Compendium, bab.la, Reverso

Clapping Dugs

Cats clapping

I learnt today, via the podcast Something Rhymes with Purple, that in Scots the word clap [klɑp] doesn’t mean quite the same as in English. The example they give is “Can A clap your dug?”, which isn’t asking if you applaud the pooch, but in fact means “Can I stroke/pet your dog?”.

As a noun, clap means a heavy blow or stroke, or an affectionate pat (more caressing than the English clap). For example, “My mither wad gie his bit headie a clap” (My mother would give his little head a pat/stroke). Then there’s in a clap, which means in a moment.

As a verb, clap means to pat affectionately, caressingly, approvingly; to press down, flatten; to flop, couch, lie down (of a hare); to adhere, cling, press (against).

Here are some examples of how it’s used:

  • And [he] clappit her on the shooder = And he patted her on the shoulder
  • He was sair clappit doun = He was very depressed
  • Wearying for a resting place, Doun on the steeple stairs I clappit = Tiring for a resting place, down the steep stairs I flopped

clap comes from the Old Norse klapp (to pat, stroke gently, chisel, hew).

The English words clap comes from the Middle English clappen (to make a loud noise; to pound, slap, strike, slam), from the Old English clæppan (to throb), from the Proto-Germanic *klappōną (to strike, pound, make loud noises, chatter), which is thought to be of onomatopoeic origin.

From the same root we get such words as:

  • German: klappen = to clap, fold, flip, bend, work out
  • Dutch: klappen = to clap, applaud, smack, crack, burst, fold, wag one’s lips, talk
  • Danish: klappe = to clap, applaud, pat
  • Swedish: klappa = to pat (sb on the shoulder), to pet (a cat), to clap
  • French: clapper = to click (the tongue)

Sources: Dictionary of the Scots Language / Dictionar o the Scots Leid, Wiktionary

Rare Words

There’s a rare word in Dutch – raar [raːr] – which is cognate with the English word rare, but means weird, strange, funny, odd or unusual.

It comes from the Middle Dutch rare (rare, unusual), from the Latin rārus (scattered, seldom, few, uncommon, thin, loose), from the Proto-Indo-European *h₁r̥h₁rós, from *h₁reh₁- (to separate) [source].

Here are some examples of how it’s used:

  • Ik heb een raar telefoontje gehad = I got a weird phone call
  • Want je doet een beetje raar = Because you’ve been acting a little weird
  • Dit is vast gewoon een raar misverstand = I’m sure it’s just a weird misunderstanding
  • M’n leven is nu nogal raar = My life is kind of, like, a little weird right now
  • Luister, dit gaat raar klinken … = Look, this is going to sound strange …

Source: Reverso Context

The Dutch words for rare include zeldzaam [ˈzɛlt.saːm] (rare, scarce), which is cognate with the Engish words seldom and seldsome (rare, uncommon), and schaars [sxaːrs] (scarce, rare, sparse), which is cognate with the Engish word scarce [source].

The English word rare comes from the same root, via the Middle English rare [ˈraːr(ə)/ˈrɛːr(ə)] (airy, vacuous, porous, breathable, sparsely spread, uncommon, scare, small, little), and the Old French rare/rere (rare, uncommon) [source].

Other descendants of the Latin word rārus include:

  • Albanian: rrallë [raːɫ] = sparse, infrequent, rare, outstanding
  • Catalan: rar [ˈrar] = rare, strange, odd, thin (of a gas)
  • Danish: rar [ʁɑːˀ] = pleasant, kind, nice
  • Dutch: raar [raːr] = weird, strange, funny, odd, unusual
  • French: rare [ʁɑʁ] = rare, sparse, scarce
  • German: rar [ʁaːʁ] = rare, scarce
  • Spanish: raro [ˈraɾo] = strange, odd, rare
  • Swedish: rar = cute, sweet, loveable, rare

So rare, and its relatives, are strangely funny, wiredly unusual, outstandingly odd, loveably cute, nicely sweet, sparsely scarce and oddly rare words, it seems.

Now here’s a rare bird, a little bittern or Ixobrychus minutus:

Little Bittern

Endearing Bids

An interesting French word I learnt yesterday was enchère [ɑ̃.ʃɛʁ], which means a bid in an auction or sale, or in bridge (the card game) [source].

Enchère comes from enchérir, which means to make more expensive, to bid; to outbid, to make a bid (at auction); to go up (in price), to become more expensive.

Enchérir comes from cher (dear, dearly) plus a couple of affixes [source].

Cher means dear both in the sense of expensive, and in the sense of beloved, and dearly, as in payer cher (to pay dearly). It is also used to start letters.

Related words and expressions include:

  • faire une enchère = to (make a) bid
  • mettre aux enchères = to put up for auction
  • vente aux enchères = auction
  • enchère publique = public auction
  • renchérir sur = to add something to, to become more expensive
  • surenchéir = to outbid, to bid higher, to raise one’s bid, to try and outbid each other
  • enchérisseur, enchérisseuse = bidder
  • enchérissement = rise in cost, price surcharge

Encheres Voxan 100505 188

If you translate enchérir literally into English, you get to endear, which means to attach, attract, bind, captivate, charm, engage, win. Back in the 16th century, however, it meant to make (something) more precious or valuable, and then it came to mean to make (something) more expensive; to increase the cost of, or to stress (something) as important; to exaggerate [source].

The English word bid comes from the Middle English bidden (to ask, beseech, demand, comand), from the Old English biddan (to ask, demand), from the Proto-Germanic *bidjaną (to ask), from the Proto-Indo-European *gʷʰedʰ- (to request, pray, ask for) [source], which is also the root of the Welsh words gwaedd (to shout, cry), gweiddi (prayer) and gweiddïo (to pray).

Auction comes from the Latin auctiō (an increase, auction), from augere (to increase) [source]

Slurping Snorkels

I learnt today that an elephant’s trunk in Dutch is a slurf [slʏrf], not to be confused with a smurf. As I like the sound of it, I thought I’d write about it.

Slurf also means proboscis, or jetbridge – the long, flexible tube thing through which you board a plane – also known as a vliegtuigslurf (“aeroplane trunk”). It has another slangy meaning, but I won’t go into that here [source].

It comes from slurven, a variant of slurpen (to slurp) from the Middle Dutch slorpen/slurpen (to slurp), from the Old Dutch *slurpen, from the Proto-Germanic *slarpaną (to sip, slurp), from the Proto-Indo-European *srebʰ-/*srobʰ- (to sip, slurp, gulp). The English word slurp comes from the same root, via the Middle Dutch [source], as does the word absorb, via the Latin absorbeō (swallow up) [source].

Elephants are good swimmers and use their trunks as snorkels, a word that comes from the German Schnorchel, which is related to schnarchen (to snore). It refers both to snorkels used by swimmers to breath under water, and exhaust tubes on diesel submarines. The Dutch word for snorkel is snorkel, and was borrowed from English [source].

The English words snort and snark come from the same root as the German schnarchen: the Proto-Germanic *snarkōną (to snore, snort), from the Proto-Indo-European *(s)nerg- (to sound, murmur, growl) [source].

However, snore comes from the Middle English snoren/fnoren (to snore loudly; snort), from snore/*fnore (snore; snort), from the Old English fnora (snort; sneezing), from the Proto-Germanic *fnuzô, from the Proto-Indo-European *pnew- (to breathe; snort; sneeze) [source]. Sneeze comes from the same root, as do pneumatic, pneumonia and related words [source].

Slurf

Grockles and Emmets

In Devon, and other parts of the UK, visitors, holidaymakers and recent migrants are sometimes referred to as grockles, and in Cornwall they’re known as emmets. These words tend to be mildly derogatory, and partly affectionate.

A friend asked me about the origins of these words, and whether there are equivalents in French, so I thought I’d look into it.

Grockle apparently comes from a cartoon strip about a boy called Jimmy and his pet grockle (a dragon-like creature), which first appeared as Jimmy Johnson’s Grockle in The Rover comic in the 1932, then as Jimmy and his Grockle in the The Dandy in 1937 then as My Grockle and Me in Sparky in 1966.

Jimmy and his Grockle

One story is that Arthur Rivers, who ran the boating-lake at Goodrington in the 1950s, started using the term, which he got from The Dandy. His assistant, Freddie Fly, told Peter Draper, the scriptwriter for The System about it while working at a bar in Torquay.

Another story is that a local man started using grockle to refer to an elderly lady who regularly swan at the swimming pool where he was working one summer. Then other summer workers began to refer to visitors as grockles.

It was popularised by its use in the 1964 film The System, which is set in Torquay in Devon. This is an example of how the word is used in the film:

Most holidaymakers are grockles. But the real ones you can spot a mile off. Usually they wear shorts, woollen socks and black leather shoes, with their shirt undone all the way down the front so you can see the full extent of their manly chests.

Related words include:

  • grockle art = pictures for selling to grockles
  • grockle bait = cheap arcades or souvenirs
  • grockle box / grockle shell = caravan
  • grockle coop = hotel
  • grockle can = a tourist bus
  • grockle catcher = an easy to reach beach or beauty spot which acts to stop tourists finding other local spots
  • grockle fodder = fish and chips
  • grockle nest = a holiday home, second home or campsite
  • grockle-ridden = full of grockles

In Cornwall the equivalent is emmet (tourist, ant), from the Middle English emete / ampte (ant), from the Old English word æmette (ant), from the Proto-Germanic ēmaitijǭ (ant), from *maitijǭ (cutter, slicer, biter) [source].

A favourite destination in Cornwall for emmets is apparently Porthemmet (which may or may not exist).

Possible equivalents in French include:

  • excursionniste = (day) tripper
  • estivant = summer visitor
  • Juillettiste = July visiter
  • aoûtien = August visiter
  • villégiateur = vacationer

Are any of these derogatory?

Are there similar words in other languages?

Weymouth Beach

Sources: Wiktionary, Lexico, Wiktionary, UK Comics Wiki, We Are South Devon

Springing into Action

I’m currently studying several languages from the same family – Danish, Swedish, Dutch and Faroese, and I’ve been noticing some interesting similarities and differences in their vocabulary.

In Dutch, for example, lopen [ˈloːpən] means to walk or run – apparently it usually means to walk in the Netherlands, and to run in Belgium, according to Wikitionary.

A cognate word in Danish is løbe [ˈløːb̥ə], which means to run, and the equivalent in Swedish, löpa [løːpa], means to hare, run or be in heat. Meanwhile in Faroese the equivalent word is leypa, which means to run or jump.

These words all come from the Proto-Germanic root hlaupaną [ˈxlɑu̯.pɑ.nɑ̃] (to jump forward, to leap) from the Proto-Indo-European *klewb- (to spring, stumble) [source].

The English words leap and lope (to travel at an easy pace with long strides) come from the same root, as does the German word laufen (to go, walk, run, work, move), and related words in other Germanic languages [source].

In Swedish one word for to run is springa, which is cognate with the English word spring, the Dutch springen [ˈsprɪŋə(n)] (to blow, jump, leap, burst), the German springen [ˈʃpʁɪŋən] (to go, bounce, skip, spring, leap), and the Danish springe [ˈsbʁɛŋə] (to jump, leap, spring).

These come from the Proto-Germanic root springaną [ˈspriŋ.ɡɑ.nɑ̃] (to spring, jump up, burst, explode) [source].

The word [ɡoː] means to go, walk or stoll in Swedish. In Danish the same word, pronounced [ɡɔː/ɡ̊ɔːˀ], means to go or walk, and in Norwegian, where it’s pronounced [ɡɒː/ɡoː], it means to walk, go work, function, or be alright. In Faroese the equivalent is ganga [ˈkɛŋka], which means to walk.

These come from the the Old Norse ganga [ˈɡɑ̃ŋɡɑ] (to go, walk), from the Proto-Germanic *ganganą [ˈɣɑŋ.ɡɑ.nɑ̃] (to go, walk, step), from the Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰengʰ- (to walk, step), which is also the root of the word gang (to go, walk) in northern dialects of English, and in Scots [source].

The English word go comes from the Middle English gon, goon (to go), from the Old English gān (to go), from the Proto-Germanic *gāną (to go), from the Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰeh₁- (to leave) [source]

Leap

Longitudinal Cohorts

50 years ago this week a longitudinal cohort study known as the 1970 British Cohort Study or BCS70 started. The aim was to follow the lives of as many as possible of the 17,287 people born in England, Wales and Scotland during that week (5-11 April). Similar studies were started before then, and have been started since.

BCS70 has collected information on health, physical, educational and social development, and economic circumstances, and so on. It has become a vital source of evidence on key policy areas such as social mobility, education, training and employment, and economic insecurity [source].

1970 British Cohort Study (BCS70) illustration

More information about BCS70:
https://cls.ucl.ac.uk/cls-studies/1970-british-cohort-study/
https://academic.oup.com/ije/article/35/4/836/686544
https://www.youtube.com/user/CLScohort/videos

See some of the participants in BCS70:

Why am I telling you this?

Well, I am one of those 17,287 people, and today is my 50th birthday.

Previously I knew only one other person who shared a birthday with me, and one with a birthday the day before. Recently the people at BCS70 set up a Facebook group for participants in the survery, and I found there are quite a few people with the same birthday as me.

It’s interesting to get to know them, and to share memories and stories. For example, it snowed on the day I was born, and quite a few other people in the group have said that there was snow on their birthdays as well. Today, by contrast, it started as a warm, sunny day, and is starting to cloud over as I write this.

Another interesting thing I’ve noticed in the group is that people are using their day of birth to refer to themselves. Today, for example, we 9ers are all wishing each other a happy birthday, yesterday it was the 8ers, and tomorrow will be the 10ers.

On this day in 1970 Paul McCartney apparently accounced the official break-up of the Beatles [source]. Other sources say it happened on 10th April. I had nothing to do with it.

The word cohort in this context means “A demographic grouping of people, especially those in a defined age group, or having a common characteristic” [source].

It comes from the Old French cohorte (cohort, a division of the Roman legion), from the Latin cohors (court; farmyard or enclosure; retinue; circle, crowd; tenth part of a legion; ship’s crew; bodyguard; military unit of 500 men), from co- (with) and hortus (garden) [source]

The word longitudinal in this context means “sampling data over time rather than merely once” [source]

It comes from the Latin longitūdō (length, longitude), from longus (far, long) and -tūdō (-ness: suffix for forming nouns) [source]