Furtive ferrets

What do the words furtive and ferret have in common?

ferret

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].

Glass eyes

Glasögon

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?

When is the sky not the sky?

Useful phrase in Danish

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.

A sunny day in Bangor / Dydd heulog ym Mangor

Happy shining people

Smiley face

One of the Swedish lessons I did today was about words for emotions and related words. So I thought I’d find out more about some of them.

There are several words for happy in Swedish:

glad [ɡlɑːd] = delighted, glad, happy, pleased, jolly, lively, bright, bubbly, cheerful, elated, merry, pleasant, sprightly, vivid, gleeful, joyful, joyous, jubilant.

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.

nöjd [nøjd] = content, happy, pleased, satisfied, contented, sated.

lycklig [lʏkːlɪɡ] = happy, fortunate, lucky, blessed, bright, upbeat, blissful.

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].

belåten = content, contented, happy, satisfied

Some words for fun include:

kul [kʉːl] = fun, nice, enjoyable, amusing
roligt = fun
rolig = fun, amusing, diverting, droll, witty, hilarious

One ‘useful’ phrase that came up today was tjejer vill bara ha kul or girls just want to have fun.

In Norwegian rolig means calm, quiet, peaceful or leisurely, and in Danish it means calm or quiet [source]. It comes from the Old Swedish roliker (calm, quiet), from Old Norse róligr.

Other emotional words include:

le [leː] = to smile (related to the English word laugh)
småle = to smile
skratta = to laugh
entusiastisk = enthusiastic, cheerful
hoppingivande = hopeful
ledsen = sad
olycklig = unhappy
arg = angry
rädd = afraid
orolig = worried

Sources: bab.la, Wiktionary

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.

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)

Quarter of eight and half nine

Clock image

If someone told the time was quarter of eight, what would you understand by that?

As far as I can discover, quarter of eight is how some people in the USA refer to 7:45. Other ways to say the same thing include quarter to eight, quarter til(l) eight and seven forty-five. Does anybody in the English-speaking world say quarter before eight, or something else?

8:30 can be eight thirty, half past eight or half eight. I think the last one is only used in the UK. Does anybody say something different?

When learning other Germanic languages, such as Dutch and German, English speakers can get confused when hearing that the time is half eight – halb acht (German), half acht (Dutch) – we expect it to be 8:30, but it is in fact 7:30.

08:30 is half negen (Dutch), halb neun (German), halv ni (Danish / Norwegian), halv nio (Swedish), hálf níu (Icelandic), or half nine.

Is it as confusing for speakers of other Germanic languages learning English?

I’ve put together a page of ways to tell the time in English – comments and additions are very welcome.

Morning food and early meals

Breakfast in Northern Germanic languages

Yesterday I learnt that the Danish word for breakfast is morgenmad [ˈmɒːɒnˌmað] (“morning food”), which makes sense [source].

Lunch is frokost (“early meal”), which made me think of the German word for breakfast Frühstück (“early piece”).

Frokost comes from the Middle Low German vrōkost (early meal), from vrō (early) and kost (meal, food) [source].

In Norwegian frokost is breakfast, and lunch is lunsj.

In Swedish breakfast is frukost and lunch is lunch.

In Danish dinner is aftensmad (“evening meal”), or middag (“midday”), which also means noon, banquet or lunch. In Norwegian and Swedish middag means dinner, noon or midday [source]. Somewhat confusing!

In Icelandic the meals are: morgunmatur (breakfast – “morning food”) hádegismatur (lunch – “noon food”) and kvöldmatur (dinner – “evening food”) [source].

In Faroese morgunmatur means breakfast, lunch or a snack [source]. Lunch is also miðmáli [source]. Dinner is døgurði [ˈtøːvʊɹɪ], which can also mean lunch [source], or nátturði [ˈnɔtːˌʊɹɪ] = dinner, supper (main) meal in the evening [source].

What do you call the different meals?

The first meal of the day is breakfast for me, whenever I have it. The meal in the middle of the day I used to call dinner, but now call lunch. The evening meal I call tea, or dinner if I eat out somewhere.

Honey eaters, brown ones and tramplers

A Eurasian brown bear

In many European languages the words for bear have their origins in taboo avoidance. It is thought that people who spoke Proto-Indo-European (PIE) believed that if you called a bear by its true name, it would hear you and may harm you. So instead they used different names when referring to bears [source].

The words for bear in Germanic languages can be traced back to the PIE *bʰer- (brown), via the Proto-Germanic berô (bear).

Examples include bear (English / West Frisian), beer (Dutch / Afrikaans), Bär (German), Bier (Luxembourgish), björn (Icelandic / Swedish), and bjørn (Norwegian / Danish / Faroese) [source].

In Slavic languages the words for bear can all be traced back to the Proto-Slavic word medvědь, from *medu-ēdis, from medъ (honey) &‎ *(j)ěsti (to eat), so could be translated as “honey eater”.

Examples are медведь (Russian), médved (Slovenian), medvěd (Czech), niedźwiedź (Polish). The Hungarian word for bear, medve, possibly comes from the same root [source].

In Baltic languages the words for bear from the Proto-Baltic *talk-, *tlāk-, from Proto-Indo-European *tel-k-, *tl-ek- (to push, to hit, to kick, to trample), and could be translated as “trampler”, “stomper”, “pounder”, [source]. In Latvian the word is lācis, and in Lithuanian it’s lokys.

The PIE word for bear was *h₂ŕ̥tḱos, which is possibly related to destroying or destruction – another taboo avoidance? This is the root of *artos in Proto-Celtic, άρκτος (árktos) in Greek, ursus in Latin and ari in Albanian, and related words in modern Celtic and Romance languages [source].

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