Sample Monsters

In Dutch the word monster [ˈmɔnstər] means a sample, and also a monster. It was borrowed from the Old French word monstre (monster) in the 13th century and at first meant a monster or monstrosity, and later in the 14th century came to mean a sample, specimen or test piece as well. It is also used to describe something very large [source].

Tree monster

The Old French word monstre came from the Latin mōnstrāre (to show), from mōnstrum (a divine omen indicating misfortune, an evil omen, portent; monster), from monēre (to warn, admonish). From the same root we get such English words as monster, muster, monitor, admonish [source], and also money, which is named after the Roman goddess Juno Moneta, whose temple in Rome housed the mint [source].

Here are some examples of how monster is used (from Duolingo and Reverso):

  • We wegen het monster af = We weigh the sample (or monster)
  • Hij neemt een monster van onze koeien = He takes a sample from our cows
  • Een troebel monster moet worden gefiltreerd = When the sample is cloudy, it should be filtered
  • Hier kon ik het monster aanroepen = It’s where I was told I could summon the monster
  • Loch Ness is de perfecte bergplaats voor een prehistorisch monster = Loch Ness would be the perfect hiding place for a prehistoric monster
  • Een driekoppig monster en vliegende schotels = A three-headed sea monster and some flying saucers

Some related words include:

  • monsterlijk = monstrous(ly)
  • monstergolf = monster wave, giant breaker, rogue
  • monsterjacht = monster hunt(ing), monster yacht
  • monsterjager = monster hunter
  • monsterverbond = monstrous convenant, unholy alliance
  • monsterzege = landslide (victory), monster victory
  • zeemonster = sea monster
  • bloedmonster = blood sample

Is monster, or something similar, used to mean something very big in other languages?

Petty Things

In the French conversation group I take part in, the word petit, which means small or little, is often mispronunced [pɛti] rather than [pə.ti], which annoys the founder of group. This might seem a rather petty thing to worry about, but pronunciation is quite important – not so much within the group, but for when we talk to actual native speakers of French.

Petit fours

Petit means small, little, minor, slight, short, mean, child, little one, youngest, young (of an animal).

Some related words and expressions include:

  • mon petit = dear (used ironically), son
  • ma petite = dear, young lady, sweetheart
  • les petits (enfants) = small children
  • les tout-petits = the little ones, the tiny tots, the toddlers
  • pauvre petit = poor little thing
  • faire des petits = to have kittens / puppies
  • petit à petit = little by little, gradually
  • petit ami = boyfriend
  • petit déjeuner = breakfast
  • petit doigt = little finger, pinky
  • petit-fils = grandson
  • petite amie = girlfriend
  • petit caisse = petty cash
  • petite-fille = granddaughter
  • petite phrase = catch phrase
  • petite sortie = stroll

Petit comes from the Vulgar Latin *pitittus (small, little), from *pit- or *pittus/*piccus (small, little), possibly from the Proto-Celtic *pett- (part, bit, piece) or from *bikkos (small, little) [source]. When I noticed the possible Celtic connection I decided to write this post, as such connections interest me a lot. The Proto-Celtic word *bikkos is the root of words for small in all the modern Celtic languages, such as bach in Welsh and beag in Irish. [More details].

The word petit also exists in English and is pronounced [ˈpɛti] or [pəˈtiː] in the UK, and [ˈpɛdi], [pəˈti] or [pəˈtit] in the American English. It means small, petty or minor [source]. In it’s feminine form, petite, it usually refers to a woman who is short and small.

Both petit and petite come from the Old French word petit (small, little, worthless, poor (quality)). Petit was used in surnames from 1086, and as an adjective meaning small, little, minor, trifling or insignificant, from the 14th century. Petite was used from the 18th century, at first to mean little or small in size, usually when referring to a woman or girl, and from the early 20th century it came to refer to a size of women’s clothing.

Petit became petty in most cases, except in certain expressions, such as petit bourgeois (conventional middle-class), petit mal (a mild form of epilepsy), petit four (small, fancy cake – see above) [source].

Petty originally meant small, little or minor. By the early 16th century it was being used to mean “of small or minor importance, not serious” and by the 1580s it came to mean “small-minded” [source].

If you are a petty person, or one who is mean or ungenerous in small or trifling things, you might have petty grievances, which are of little importance or consequence, and maybe a petty mind, or narrow ideas and/or interests, and you might like to take petty revenge. Maybe you are in charge of the petty cash (a cash fund for paying small charges), and you might be a a petty officer (a minor officer on a merchant ship, or a noncommissioned officer in the US Navy) [source].

May Day

Beltane

Today is the first day of the month of May, or May Day, when spring festivals are traditionally held in many countries. It is also International Workers’ Day. Apparently the origins of the spring festivities go back at least to the Roman festival of Floralia, in honour of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers (and magarine*). This was held from 27 April – 3 May during the Roman Republic era [source].

*Flora is a brand of margarine found in the UK, other parts of Europe, and Australia and New Zealand.

The word May came from the Old French mai (May), from the Latin māius (May) which was named after Maia, a Roman earth goddess [source].

Incidentally, the emergency call mayday mayday mayday! has nothing to do with May or May Day, but was in fact thought up in the 1920s by Frederick Stanley Mockford, who was officer-in-charge of radio at Croydon Airport in London. It is based on the French phrase m’aidez (help me) [source].

May Day is known as Calan Mai (1st day of May) or Calan Haf (1st day of summer) in Welsh. Traditionally celebratations would begin on the eve of Calan Haf, or Nos Galan Haf with bonfires, and the gathering of hawthorn and flowers to decorate houses. Celebrations on May Day itself might include dancing and singing [source].

I can’t find any examples of May carols (carolau mai / carolau haf), but here’s the Welsh band Calan:

May Day is known as Lá Bealtaine in Irish, Là Bealltainn in Scottish Gaelic and Laa Boaldyn in Manx, and the month of May is known as Bealtaine or mí na Bealtaine in Irish and Boaldyn in Manx. These all refer to the old Celtic festival of Beltane/Beltain, which is held on the 1st May and marks the beginning of summer when cattle would be traditionally driven to their summer pastures. Celebrations include lighting large bonfires and leaping over them, and/or walking and driving cattle between them [source].

The word Beltane/Beltain possibly comes from the Proto-Celtic *belo-tanos / *belo-te(p)niâ (“bright fire”) [source].

Beltane

Roasting the Broom

A interesting French idiom I came across recently is rôtir le balai, which literally means “to roast the broom/brush”. Originally it meant to live in poverty – such poverty that your are reduced to burning your broom to keep warm. Later it came to mean “to lead a miserable life, or vegetate in mediocrity” and also “to live a life of debauchery” – usually when referring to a woman [source].

Broom

The word balai [ba.lɛ] means broom, broomstick, brush, or blade (of a windscreen wiper), and also is a slang term for years (of age) [source]. Some words and phrases it appears in include:

  • manche à balai = broomstick, joystick
  • balai-brosse = long-handled scrubbing brush
  • balai à franges = mop
  • balai éponge = squeezey mop
  • balai mécanique = carpet sweeper
  • coup de balai = sweep, shake-up
  • donner un coup de balai = to give the floor a sweep, to sweep up
  • fou comme un balai = very agitated, excited and/or anxious (“as crazy as a broom”)
  • du balai ! = hop it! shoo! push off!

Balai comes from the Old French balain (a bundle of broom twigs), from the Gaulish balatno (broom (shrub)) from the Proto-Celtic *banatlom (broom). Words from the same root include the Breton balan (broom), the Cornish banadhel (broom), the Welsh banadl (broom), the Spanish bálago (straw; Spanish broom (Spartium junceum) [source].

The broom shrub here is the common broom or Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius), a perennial leguminous shrub native to western and central Europe, which can be used to make brooms (for sweeping) [source].

Broom

Incidentally, the Chinese character 妇 [婦] (fù), which means married woman, woman or wife, developed from pictograms of a woman and a broom. Originally the woman was on the right and the broom on the left, but at some point they switched sides source].

Do you know any other broom-related idioms?

Cups of Comfort

An interesting expression that came up in my Dutch lessons recently is bakje troost [ˈbɑ.kjə troːst], which is slang for a cup of coffee, and a diminutive of bak troost. It could be translated literally as a “little cup of comfort” or a “little cup of solace”. It is also known as bakkie troost [source].

Department of Coffee and Social Affairs

Here are some examples of how it’s used (from Reverso):

  • Hoe kom je hier aan een bakje troost?
    What do I have to do to get some more coffee around here?
  • Bakje troost voor ons
    Cup of Joe for the guys
  • Kijk eens aan, een bakje troost
    Here you go. Cup of joe

Bak means a bin, box, crate, tray or tub; a cup or mug; a jail, slammer or prison (slang), or a car. It comes from the French word bac (ferry, vat), from the Old French bas/bac (flat boat), possibly from the Vulgar Latin *baccu (container), from the Latin bacar (kind of wine glass). Or from a Celtic or Germanic word [source].

Some related words include:

  • afvalbak = rubbish bin, trashcan, dustbin
  • bloembak = flower pot, planter, window box, flower tub
  • engelenbak = the highest box at a theatre (“angel box”)
  • glasbak = bottle bank
  • ragbak = a run-down car

Troost means comfort or consolation. It comes from the Middle Dutch troost, from the Old Dutch trōst, from the Proto-Germanic *traustą (shelter, help, aid, trust, confidence, alliance), from *traustaz (firm, strong), from thge Proto-Indo-European *deru-/*drew-/*drū- (to be firm, hard, solid, tree) [source].

The English words trust and tryst come from the same Germanic root, as do the German word Trost (consolation), the Swedish word tröst (comfort, consolation, dummy / pacifier), and related words in other languages [source].

This week some of the lockdown restrictions were lifted here in Wales, and cafés are open again, at least for takeaways. Yesterday I saw a long queue of people outside a café, probably waiting for their bakjes troost.

In the beforetimes I did go to cafés now and then for a cup of hot chocolate or herbal/fruit tea, maybe a pastry, and a change of scenery. This is something I miss a bit, but as I don’t drink coffee and rarely drink tea, I have no craving for caffeine, and won’t be queueing outside any cafés.

Are you missing cafés and coffee?

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.