An interesting Dutch word I learnt the other day is hamsteren [ˈɦɑm.stə.rə(n)]. It means “to hoard (food, supplies), typically for emergencies”, and was borrowed from the German hamstern (to hoard). The same word is also found in Luxembourgish and Norwegian. It’s thought to be a reference to the way hamsters store food in their cheek pouches [source].
The verb to hamster also exists in English and means “to secrete or store privately” [source] – not quite the same as the Dutch meaning.
Then there’s to squirrel, meaning “to store in a secretive manner, to hide something for future use” [source], and to squirrel away (to stash or hide; to hoard, collect, save, or accumulate; to create a reserve, stash, or hoard of some supply) [source], which are closer to the meaning of hamsteren.
One of the Danish words I learnt recently is bruser, which means shower. It’s very different to words for shower in other Germanic languages I know, such as dusch in Swedish, and Dusche in German, so I thought I’d investigate it.
As well as meaning shower, bruser also means sprayer or rose (of a watering can). Another word for shower is brusebad (“shower-bath”). The verb bruse means to fizz, cascade, effervesce, rush, roar or murmur.
In Swedish there is a similar word: brusa, which means to make noise (like waves, wind, streaming water). While in Norwegian brusa means to fizz (emit bubbles, foam, make a fizzing or rushing sound), or to puff up ones feathers.
These words were borrowed from the Middle Low German brûsen (to roar, skim), which is thought to be of onomatopoeic origin.
The Swedish word dusch, the German Dusche, and the Norwegian dusj, come from the French douche (shower), from the Italian doccia (shower, drainpipe, plaster cast), from the Latin ductus (lead, guided), from dūcō (I lead, guide). This is also the root of the English words duct and duke.
One of the random Swedish words I learnt recently that I rather like is slumpmässig, which means random, arbitary or haphazard, and isn’t just en slumpmässig radda bokstäver (a random jumble of letters).
Some other examples of how it’s used include:
Jag skall nämna några saker i slumpmässig ordningsföljd I would like to list a few issues in no particular order
Denna utveckling är inte slumpmässig This has not happened by chance
The English word slump is possibly related to the Danish and Norwegian word slumpe (to happen on by chance), which comes from the Middle Low German slumpen, and may be onomatopoeic in origin [source].
Incidentally, the English word random comes from the Middle English randoun / raundon (force, magnitude, haste, intensity), from the Old French randon, from randir (to run, gallop), from the Frankish *rant / *rand (run), from the Proto-Germanic *randijō, from *rinnaną (to run), from the Proto-Indo-European *(H)r ̊-nw- (to flow, move, run) [source].
What connection is there between cats and porridge?
Well in Swedish, att gå som katten kring het gröt (“to walk like the cat around hot porridge”) means that you are not getting to the point, beating around the bush, stalling, avoiding talking directly about something sensitive or unpleasant, approaching something indirectly and cautiously, walking on egg shells, pussyfooting around, or wasting time.
Some examples of how this phrase is used:
Låt oss inte gå som katten kring het gröt Let us not beat around the bush
Vi går som katten kring het gröt, både politiskt och diplomatiskt sett. We tread on eggshells, both politically and diplomatically.
Vi har tassat likt katten kring het gröt i den frågan alltför länge. We have pussyfooted on that issue for far too long.
Vi här har varit rädda och gått som katten kring het gröt. We here have been fearful and have beaten around the bush.
In Danish the word for pencil is blyant [ˈblyːˌanˀd], which sort of sounds like blue ant. When I learnt this, I wondered where this word comes from, and I thought I’d share what I found with you.
The word blyant, which is also used in Norwegian, combines bly (lead) with the French suffix -ant. It is an abbreviation of blyertspen [source], which comes from blyert (black lead, graphite), from the German Bleiertz (lead ore – lit. “lead earth”) and pen [source].
Related words include:
blyantsholder = pencil holder
blyantspenge = financial allowance for members of the European Parliament (“pencil money”)
Last night I saw FARA, a brilliant group from Orkney, in our local arts centre. One of the songs they sang, Speir Thoo The Wast Wind, was in Orcadian dialect and based on a poem by Christina Costie from Orkney.
Orcadian dialect is a type of Insular Scots that combines elements of the extinct Norn language and Scots. There isn’t a lot of information available about Orcadian, but I will try to put together a page about it on Omniglot.
Each verse of the song and the poem finishes with the line “Speir thoo the wast wind, bit speir no me”, which means “Ask the west wind, and don’t ask me”, I think.
The word speir [spiːr], which is also written speer, means to enquire or ask, according to The Orkney Dictionary. When I heard it in the song, I thought I might be related to words for to ask in North Germanic languages, and it turns out that it is.
It comes from the Old English spyrian (to track, inquire, investigate, examine), from the Proto-Germanic *spurjaną (to search; to examine; to ask) [source], which is also the root of the Danish word spørge (to ask, inquire), Norwegian word spørre (to ask, inquire), and the word spyrja (to ask) in Icelandic and Faroese [source].
A few other words from Orkney dialect: hoodjiekapiv, hoodjiekapiffle, hoodjiekaboogle, which are all Orcadian equivalents of whatsit, thingy, doobry, thingamajig, whatjumacallit, thingamebob, etc [source]. What do you call something when you can’t remember it’s normal name?
What do the words furtive and ferret have in common?
They come from the same root – the Latin word fūr (thief).
Furtive comes from the French furtif (stealthy), from the Latin fūrtīvus (stolen), from fūrtum (theft), from fūr (thief) [source].
Ferret (Mustela putorius furo) comes from the Middle English furet / ferret (ferret), from the Anglo-Norman firet / furet (ferret), a diminutive of the Old French fuiron (weasel, ferret), from the Late Latin furo (cat; robber), a diminutive of the Latin fūr (thief) [source].
Alternatively ferret comes from the Latin furittus (little thief) [source].
The Latin name of the ferret, mustela putorius furo, means something like “stinking robber weasel” [source].
Fūr comes from the Proto-Italic *fōr (thief), from the Proto-Indo-European *bʰṓr (thief), from *bʰer- (to carry) [source], which also the root of words for child in Germanic languages, such as bairn in Scots, barn in Danish, Faroese, Icelandic, Norwegian and Swedish, and barn/bern in West Frisian [source].
Recently I learnt an interesting word in Swedish – glasögon, which means glasses or spectacles, and literally means “glass eyes”.
Glas means glass, and comes from the Proto-Germanic *glasą (glass), from the Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰel- (to shine, shimmer, glow) [source].
Ögon is the plural of öga (eye), and comes from the Old Swedish ø̄gha (eye), from Old Norse auga (eye), from Proto-Germanic *augô (eye), from Proto-Indo-European *h₃ekʷ- (eye; to see) [source].
The Swedish word glas reminds me of the Russian word for eye, глаз (glaz), which I remember by thinking of a glass eye. Глаз comes from the Old East Slavic глазъ (glazŭ – ball, eye), from the Proto-Slavic *glazъ (ball), from Proto-Indo-European *g(ʰ)el- (round, spherical, stone) [source].
The Russian word for glasses is очки (ochki), which comes from очи (ochi), the plural of око (oko), the old Russian word for eye, which comes from the same Proto-Indo-European root as öga and eye [source].
In Danish and Norwegian, the word for glasses is briller, which means ‘a person wearing glasses’ in Dutch, and to shine or sparkle in French [source]. The German word for glasses is simliar – Brille, and the Dutch is bril [source].
Briller, Brille and bril come from the Middle High German berillus (beryl), from the Latin beryllus (beryl), probably from the Ancient Greek βήρυλλος (bḗrullos – beryl), from Sanskrit वैडूर्य (vaidurya – a cat’s eye gem; a jewel), from Dravidian. Probably named after the city Velur (modern day Belur / ಬೇಲೂರು) in Karnataka in southern India. The first glasses, made in about 1300 in Italy, were made from beryl [source].
Beryl is a mineral which comes from three forms: morganite (orange), aquamarine (blue-green – pictured top right) and heliodor (green-yellow).
The French word for glass, lunettes, means “little moons” [source].
Are there interesting words for glasses, spectacles, specs, or eyes in other languages?
In Danish, Norwegian and Swedish the word sky means cloud, as does ský in Icelandic. The word for sky in these languages is himmel (himinn in Icelandic), and in Swedish sky also means sky or gravy.
I learnt the Danish word sky the other day from the sentence: Enhjørningen flyver på en sky (The unicorn is flying on a cloud) – are very useful thing to be able to say.
Sky comes from the Old Norse ský (cloud), from Proto-Germanic *skiwją (cloud, cloud cover), from Proto-Indo-European *(s)kew- (to cover, conceal), which is also the root of the English word sky [source].
The English word cloud comes from the Old English clūd (mass of stone, rock, boulder, hill), from Proto-Germanic *klūtaz / *klutaz (lump, mass, conglomeration), from Proto-Indo-European *gel- (to ball up, clench), which is also the root of the English words chill, cold, congeal, cool, gel, gelatin and jelly [source].
In Old English there were different words for sky and cloud:
heofon was the sky or heaven [source], which survives in such modern English expressions as ‘the heavens opened’ (it started to rain heavily).
wolcen was cloud, and the plural, wolcnu was the sky or the heavens [source]. This became welkin in modern English, an archaic and poetic word for the sky, the upper air; aether; the heavens.
It comes from the Old Swedish glaþer (glad, cheerful), from Old Norse glaðr (glad), from Proto-Germanic *gladaz (shiny, gleaming, radiant, happy, glossy, smooth, flat), from Proto-Indo-European *gʰladʰ-, derivation of *gʰel- (to shine). The English word glad comes from the same root, though via Old English.
This word comes from lycka (joy, happiness, luck, fortune, fate), which is related to the English word luck. These words are thought to come from the Middle High German lücke, gelücke, possibly from the Frankish *galukki [source].