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?

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?

Yulemonth

As today is the first day of December, I thought I’d look into the origins of the names for this month in various languages.

December comes from the Middle English December/Decembre, from the Old French decembre, from the Latin december, from decem (ten) and the adjectival suffix -ber. December was the tenth month in the Roman calendar, which started in March [source]. The days between December and March were not included in the calendar as part of any month. Later they became January and February and were added to the beginning of the calendar [source].

hoar frost

In the Old English December was known as Ġēolamonaþ/Gēolmōnaþ/Iūlmōnaþ (“Yule month”) or ǣrra ġēola (“before Yule”). The word Yulemonth apparently exists in modern English, although is rarely used [source]. December is associated with Yuletide / Christmas in a few other languages: mí na Nollag (“month of Christmas”) in Irish, Mee ny Nollick (“month of Christmas”) in Manx, and joulukuu (“yule month”) in Finnish and Võro.

In many languages the name of this month is a version of December, but there are some exceptions.

In Aragonese December is abiento, in Asturian it’s avientu, in Basque it’s abendu and in Occitan it’s abén. These all come from the Latin adventus (arrival, approach, advent), from adveniō (arrive) and the suffix -tus [source].

In Belarusian December is снежань (sniežań) [ˈsʲnʲeʐanʲ], which comes from снег (snjeh – snow) [source]. The Cherokee name for December is also related to snow: ᎥᏍᎩᎦ (vsgiga) or “snow moon” [source].

In Proto-Slavic the month after the Winter solitice was known as *prosinьcь. There are a number of possible roots for this word: *siňь (gray), *sijati (to shine, glow – referring to the winter solstice) or *prositi (to pray – referring to Christmas). Descendents in modern Slavic languages include prosinec (December) in Czech, просинац (December) in Serbian, and prosinec (January) in Slovenian.

In Welsh December is Rhagfyr [ˈr̥aɡvɨ̞r / ˈr̥aɡvɪr] (“foreshortening”), because it’s a time when days get shorter [source].

December is “twelve month” or “month twelve” in Chinese: 十二月 (shí’èryuè), Japanese: 十二月 (jūnigatsu), Korean: 십이월 (12월/十二月/12月 – sipiweol), and Vietnamese: tháng mười hai (𣎃𨑮𠄩).

Are there other interesting names for December in other languages?

You can find the names of months in many languages here.

Thankfully Charismatic

What do the words thank you and charisma have in common?

Well, charisma (personal charm or magnetism) comes from the Ancient Greek χᾰ́ρῐσμᾰ (khárisma – grace, favour, gift), from χᾰρῐ́ζομαι (kharízomai – I show favor), from χᾰ́ρῐς (kháris – grace), from χαίρω (khaírō – I am happy) [source].

The Greek word for thank you, ευχαριστώ (efcharistó), comes from the same root, via εὐχαριστῶ (eukharistô), a contracted form of εὐχαριστέω (eukharistéō – to bestow a favour on, oblige; to be grateful, thankful; to thank, give thanks), from εὐχάριστος (eukháristos – grateful, thankful; pleasant, agreeable), from εὐ- (eu – good), χᾰ́ρῐς (kháris – grace) & -τος (-tos) [source].

The word Eucharist also comes from the same root, via the Middle English eukarist, from Old French, from the Ecclesiastical Latin eucharistia [source], as does the name Charis. In Greek mythology Charis was one of the Graces or Charites (Χάριτες), goddesses of charm, beauty, nature, human creativity and fertility, and wife of Hephaestus (Ἥφαιστος), the god of blacksmiths, metalworking, carpenters, craftsmen, artisans, sculptors, metallurgy, fire [source].

I decided to look into the origins of the charisma today because one of the YouTube channels I found recently is called The Charismatic Voice. Through this this channel I’ve discovered various singers and groups, including some who sing in languages other than English. As I enjoy listening to and singing songs in a variety of languages, this is great for me.

Here’s an example of a Mongolian song:

Fairs and Carnivals

An interesting Dutch word I learnt recently is kermis [ˈkɛr.mɪs], which means a carnival, fair, fairground, funfair or amusement park [source]. I remember it by linking it to Kermit the Frog, and thinking of him going to a fair.

Opening Leuven kermis 2010

It comes from the Middle Dutch kermisse, a contraction of kerkmis, from kerk (church) and mis (mass) [source].

Some related expressions include:

  • kermisklant = funfair worker, carnival worker, carny, funfair customer
  • kermistent = an attraction at a carnival or a fair
  • kermisattractie = fairground attraction, fairground ride sideshow attraction
  • kermiskraam = fairground booth/stall
  • kermisterrein = fairground, midway, carnival
  • het is kermis in de hel = the devil’s beating his wife (“it is a funfair in hell”) – said when a sunshower* occurs

*sunshower = a rain shower which occurs while the sun is shining

Kermis is related to the German word Kirmes, which in parts of western and central Germany means a fair, funfair or fairground, but originally referred to a solemn mass held annually to celebrate the anniversary of the consecration of a village church – such masses are now known as Kirchweihfesten (parish celebrations). In time the Kirmessen became major village festivals [source].

Kirmes

The English word kirmiss was borrowed from Germany and/or Dutch, and in parts of the USA apparently refers to an indoor entertainment and fair combined [source].

This word was also borrowed from Dutch into French as kermesse (fête), and from French into Italian as kermesse (social event, gathering, meeting or gala) [source].

The English word fair, as in a funfair or (travelling) carnival, comes from the Middle English feire, from the Old French foire (celebration), from the Latin fēriae (holy day, festival, holiday, vacation) [source].

The English word carnival comes from the French carnaval (carnival), from the Italian carnevale (carnival), possibly from the Latin carnem levāmen (“meat dismissal”) or from carnuālia (meat-based country feast) [source].

Peaches, grapes and quinces

An interesting word that came up in my Spanish lessons this morning was durazno [duˈɾasno], which is a peach in Latin American. In Spain a peach is a melocotón [melokoˈton].

Yummy peach!

Durazno comes from the Latin dūracinus, which means ‘hard-berried’, from dūrus (hard) acinus (berry, grape). It originally referred to grapes used for eating rather than wine-making. Later is was also used for other fruits with a central stone, such as peaches [source].

Other words from the same root include:

  • Arabic: دُرَّاق‎‎ (durrāq) – peach
  • French: duracine – a variety of peach with firm flesh
  • Greek: ροδάκινο (rodákino) – peach
  • Italian: duracina – clingstone (peach), bigaroon (a type of cherry)
  • Quechua: turasnu – peach
  • San Juan Colorado Mixtec: durastun – peach
  • Tetelcingo Nahuatl: trösno – peach

A clingstone is a type of fruit with a stone that clings to the flesh, such as a peach [source]. The antonym is freestone, a type of fruit with a stone that doesn’t cling to the flesh (much).

The Quechua, Mixtec and Nahuatl words were borrowed from Spanish. The Arabic word came from the Ancient Greek δωράκινον (dōrákinon).

Melocotón comes from the Latin mālum cotōnium (quince – “apple of Cydonia”), from mālum (apple) and cotōnium (quince tree) [source].

The English word quince comes from the same root via the Old French cooing (quince), and the Late Latin cotōneum (quince) [source].

Cydonia or Kydonia (Κυδωνία) was a city in northwest Crete in the site of modern Chania (Χανιά) [source].

The English word peach comes from the Middle English peche (peach), borrowed from the Old French pesche (peach), from the Vulgar Latin *pessica (peach) from the Late Latin persica (peach), from the Classical Latin mālum persicum (peach, “Persian apple”), from the Ancient Greek μᾶλον περσικόν (mâlon persikón – peach, “Persian apple”) [source].

The scientific name for peach is Prunus persica (“Persian prune”), and comes from the old belief that peaches were native to Persian, and because peaches are related to plums. They are in fact native to the north west of China [source].

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

Procrastination Chariots

Do you tend to leave things to the last minute, and then scramble around frantically trying to get them done in time?

I certainly have been known to do this on occasion. For example, for nearly two years, I’ve been meeting with a few friends once a month to share songs we’re working on. During this time I’ve written a new song every month, and often do so in the few days before we meet. I may have various ideas for songs before then, but don’t usually do much with them until the last minute. In this case, I find that having the monthly deadline of our meetings helps.

Before this group started meeting, I wrote songs when I felt inspired – sometimes I’d write several in a month, and at other times I didn’t write anything for ages.

What I indulge in could be called a charet(te), or “a period of intense work, especially group work undertaken to meet a deadline” [source], a word that comes from the Old French charrete (chariot).

The sense of last-minute work apparently comes from the practice of students at the École de Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Arts) in Paris working together furiously at the last minute to finish their termly projects, which would be collected on a charette, a small wheeled chart. They were said to be working en charette (“in the chart”), and the night before the deadline was known as la nuit de charette (“charette night”). Any work not on the charette was not accepted for assessment. The word and concept was borrowed into English in the mid-19th century [source].

Vintage cart illustration

Do you find it helpful to have targets and deadlines, whether set by you or someone else?

I don’t usually set myself deadlines and targets when learning languages, unless I’m preparing for a particular trip, event or occasion.