Whirling Dustsuckers

One of the Dutch words I learnt recently is stofzuiger [stɔfsœyɣər], or literally “dustsucker”. In English you might call it a vacuum, vacuum cleaner, hoover or even a dyson.

Stofzuiger comes from stof (dust) and zuigen (to suck, hoover, be bad at).

When I first learnt this word, I thought that stof might be related to stuff in English, so a Dutch vacuum cleaner would be a “stuffsucker”. However, stof is in fact two words in Dutch that have different meanings and come from different roots.

Stof as in dust comes from the Proto-Germanic *stubą, *stubjuz (dust), from the Proto-Indo-European *dʰeubʰ- (to whisk, smoke, obscure), from *dʰew- (to whirl, waft, stink, shake; steam, haze, smoke) [source].

Related words include:

  • huisstof = household dust
  • stofdoek = duster, dust cloth
  • stoffen = to dust, to remove dust from
  • stoffig = dusty
  • stofvrij = dustfree
  • stofwolk = dust cloud
  • stofzuigen = to vacuum / hoover
  • stofzuigerslang = vacuum cleaner hose (“dust-sucker-snake”)

The other stof means matter, material, substance, fabric or curriculum. It comes from the Middle Dutch stoffe, from the Old French estophe / estoffe, from estoffer (to decorate, garnish), from Old High German stoffōn (to stop, halt, stuff, insert), from the Proto-West Germanic *stuppōn (to cram, plug, stuff). The English word stuff comes from the same root.

Related words include:

  • afvalstof = waste product (“waste-stuff”)
  • brandstof = fuel (“burning-stuff”)
  • delfstof = mineral (“excavated-stuff”)
  • kleurstof = dye, colourant (“colour-stuff”)
  • koolstof = coal (“coal stuff”)
  • stikstof = nitrogen (“suffocating-stuff”)
  • voedingstof = nutrient (“food-stuff”)
  • waterstof = hydrogen (“water-stuff”)
  • zuurstof = oxygen (“sour-stuff”)

Are there interesting names for vacuum cleaners in other languages?

Henri stofzuiger

Bed litter

What links litter and beds?

Well, back in about 1300 a litter was a bed. Later on it came to mean a bed-like vehicle carried on the shoulders. By the the 15th it also referred to straw used for bedding, particularly for animals, and then the offspring of an animal born at the same time.

By the 18th century litter could also be “scattered oddments” or “disorderly debris”, and by the 19th century litter was straw bedding for animals and the animal waste in it.

The verb to litter originally meant to provide with bedding, and later came to mean to give birth to, to strew with objects, and to scatter in a disorderly way.

Litter comes from the Anglo-Norman litere (portable bed), from the Old French litiere (litter, stretcher, bier, straw, bedding), from the Medieval Latin lectaria (litter), from the Latin lectus (bed, lounge, sofa, dining-couch), from the Proto-Indo-European *legh- (to lie down, lay).

From the same PIE root we also get such words as the English lie, lay, low, law and lair, the Irish luigh (to lie down) and luí (bed), and the Welsh gwely (bed) and lle (place, location).

Shetland dialect

Sources: Online Etymology Dictionary, Wiktionary

Artists’ Donkeys

Yesterday while preparing the latest episode of the Radio Omniglot podcast, which is about Dutch, I found that there are quite a few words of Dutch origin in English.

Some come directly from Dutch, some via other languages, such as French, and some come via Dutch from other languages.

  • avast – from the Dutch hou vast (hold tight)
  • bluff – probably from the Dutch bluffen (to brag)
  • booze – from the Middle Dutch busen (to drink to excess)
  • brandy – from the Dutch brandewijn (“burnt wine”).
  • cookie – from the Dutch koekje (little cake)
  • easel – from the Dutch (schilders)ezel (“painter’s donkey”)
  • iceburg – from the Dutch ijsberg (“ice mountain”)
  • knapsack – from the Middle Dutch knapzak (“snack bag”)
  • bamboo – from the Dutch bamboe, from the Portuguese bambu, from the Malay bambu, from the Kannada ಬಮ್ಬು (bambu)
  • cricket (the insect) – from the Middle English creket/crykett/crykette, from the Old French crequet/criquet (locust) from criquer (to make a cracking sound; creak), from the Middle Dutch kricken (to creak, crack)
  • cricket (the game) – perhaps from a Flemish dialect of Dutch met de krik ketsen (“to chase a ball with a curved stick”)

I particularly like schildersezel, or “painter’s donkey”, for an easel. It’s perhaps a relative of the clothes horse, which is also known as a drying horse or garment donkey, apparently.

The word ezel means donkey, ass, mule, fool, idiot, easel, (work)bench or trestle. Related words include:

  • ezelin = jenny, she-ass
  • ezelsveulen = foal of a donkey; utter idiot, hopeless fool
  • ezelachtig = asinine
  • ezeldrijver = donkey-driver
  • ezelsbruggetje = memory aid, mnemonic (“little donkey bridge”)
  • ezelsoor = dog-ear (turned down part of a page – “donkey’s ear”)

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Purple Fleas

une puce puce (a purple flea)

What do the words purple and flea have in common?

Well in French, there is one word – puce [pys] – that means both purple and flea. It also means (micro)chip or bullet point.

Here are a few expressions featuring puce:

  • marché aux puces = flea market
  • ma puce = my love, sweetie, honey, dear, sweetheart
  • puce électronique = microchip
  • puce d’ordinateur = computer chip
  • carte à puce = smart card
  • puce mémoire = memory card
  • puce d’eau = water flea
  • puce de sable/mer = sand flea
  • liste à puce = bulleted list
  • pucer = to chip, tag
  • aller faire téter les puces = to go to sleep
  • donner la botte aux puces = to go to bed
  • avoir la puce à l’oreille = to be vigiliant
  • mettre la puce à l’oreille = to suspect, worry

If you were so inclined, you could say: Ma puce, une puce puce puce une puce puce avec une puce puce, or “Sweetie, a puce flea is tagging a puce flea with a puce tag”, but that would be rather silly.

Puce comes from the Old French pu(l)ce (flea), from the Latin pūlicem, from pūlex (flea), from the Proto-Indo-Euopean plúsis (flea). This is also the root of the English word flea, via the Proto-Germanic *flauhaz.

The colour puce is a dark redish-brown or a brownish-purple. It was first used to refer to this colour in about the 17th century in French, and possibly a lot earlier, and in the 18th century in English. It refers to the colour of bloodstains on flea-ridden bedding which would appear as a result of the fleas biting people and leaving their droppings or being squashed.

Puce was apparently a favourite colour of Marie Antoinette, and became fashionable in 19th century Paris.

There are a couple of other words that sound simliar to puce: pouce (thumb, inch) and pousse (growth, shoot). Both are pronounced [pus] though, so there should be no confusion.

Sources: Reverso, Wiktionary, Wikipedia

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]

Sponge Mushrooms

In Swedish, I learned this week, there are two words for mushroom: svamp [svamp] (fungus, mushroom, toadstool, sponge) and champinjon [ɧampɪnˈjuːn] (mushroom) [source].

Svamp comes from the Old Swedish svamper (fungus, mushroom), from Old Norse svampr / svǫppr (sponge, mushroom, ball), from the Proto-Germanic *swammaz / swambaz (sponge, mushroom, fungus, swamp), which is also the root of the English word swamp [source].

The Old English word swamm (mushroom, fungus, sponge), and the Middle English swam (swamp, muddy pool, bog, marsh; fungus, mushroom), come from the same root as well [source].

Mushroom was borrowed from the Anglo-Norman musherum / moscheron (mushroom), from the Old French moisseron (mushroom), possibly from the Old French mosse / moise (moss), from the Frankish *mosa (moss) [source]

Champinjon was borrowed from the French champignon (mushroom, fungus, accelerator), from the Vulgar Latin *campāniolus (grows in the field), from the Late Latin campāneus (pertaining to fields), from Latin campānia (level country), which is also the root of the words campaign and champagne.

Apparently champinjon is used to refer to mushrooms used as food, and was borrowed into Swedish in 1690 [source], while svamp refers to mushrooms and fungi in general.

Svamp

Slimy Islands

For various reasons, I thought I would investigate a few disease-related words to find out where they come from.

Let’s start with virus, which comes from the Latin vīrus (poison, slime, venom), from the Proto-Italic *weisos, from Proto-Indo-European *wisós (fluidity, slime, poison). Virus used to mean venom as well, apparently [source].

Disease comes from the Anglo-Norman desese / disaise, from the Old French desaise (disease, deformity, melancholy), from des- (apart, reversal, removal) and aise (ease – lack of anxiety) [source].

In Middle English words for disease included adle, which comes from the Old English ādl (disease, sickness); and co(a)the, from the Old English coþu (disease). The latter continued to be used in some English dialects as coath (sickness, disease, pestilence) [source]

Pandemic comes from the Ancient Greek πάνδημος (pándēmos – of/belonging to all the people, public) and -ic (of/pertaining to) [source].

Epidemic comes from the French épidémique (epidemic), from the Latin epidemia (epidemic), from Ancient Greek ἐπιδήμιος (epidḗmios), from ἐπί (epí – upon) and δῆμος (dêmos – people) [source].

Isolation comes from the French isolation, from isolé (isolated, placed on an island) [source].

Hope you’re okay and coping with self-isolation, or whatever restrictions are in force / suggested where you are.

Forest Picnics

An interesting Danish word I learnt this week is skovtur, which means a picnic or outing, according to bab.la, or a “picnic (social gathering), not necessarily in a forest”, according to Wiktionary.

Grundlovs skovtur 2012

Wiktionary mentions a forest because this word is a portmanteau of skov (forest, woods), and tur (turn, trip, journey, walk, move, tour, stroll, outing). So it could be poetically translated at “forest trip/outing”. This gives me the idea that picnics in Denmark often take place in forests, or at least did in the past. Is this true? Er det sandt?

The word skov comes from the Old Norse skógr (wood, forest), from the Proto-Germanic *skōgaz (forest, wood), which is also the root of the word scaw / skaw (promontry) in some English dialects. The name of England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike (formerly Scawfell), includes it, for example.

The word tur comes from the French tour (to go, turn), from the Old French tor (tower), from the Latin turris, turrem (tower), from the Ancient Greek τύρρις (túrrhis – tower), possibly from the Proto-Indo-European *tauro (mountain, hill, tall structure).

The word picnic is also used in Danish. It comes, via English, from the French pique-nique, from piquer (to pick) and nique (small thing) [source].

Do other languages have interesting words for picnics?

Outlaws and Brigands

Here are a few words that might be relevant today, if you happen to be in the UK:

Election – the choice of a leader or representative by popular vote, comes from the Anglo-Norman eleccioun, from the Latin ēlectiō (choice, option), from ēligō (I pluck out, I choose).

Vote – a formalized choice on matters of administration or other democratic activities, comes from the Latin vōtum (prayer, votive offering, wish, longing), from voveō (to vow, promise solemnity, dedicate, wish), from Proto-Indo-European *h₁wegʷʰ- (to promise, vow, praise).

Ballot – originally, a small ball placed in a container to cast a vote; now, a piece of paper or card used for this purpose, or some other means used to signify a vote. It comes from Italian ballotta (ballot, shot, ball, boiled chestnut), a diminutive of balla (bale, bundle).

Poll – a collection of votes, from the Middle English pol(le) (scalp, pate), probably from the Middle Dutch pol / pōle / polle (top, summit; head), from Proto-Germanic *pullaz (round object, head, top), from Proto-Indo-European *bolno-, *bōwl- (orb, round object, bubble), from *bew- (to blow, swell). The meaning of a “collection of votes” was first recorded in 1625, and came from the notion of counting heads.

Labour – comes from the Middle English labouren, from Old French laborer (to work, labour), from Latin laborare (to labor, strive, exert oneself, suffer), from labor (labor, toil, work, exertion).

Liberal – comes from Old French liberal (appropriate for a free person, generous, giving), from the Latin līberālis (befitting a freeman), from līber (free).

Conservative – comes from the Middle French conservatif (conservative), from Latin cōnservō (to preserve, conserve), from con- (with) and servō (to save, rescue, preserve, retain, watch).

Tory – comes from the Middle Irish tóraidhe, (outlaw, robber or brigand), from tóir (pursuit) [More details].

Source: Wiktionary.

Random Flowing Slumps

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

Related words include:

  • slump = accident, chance, coincidence, happenstance, hazard
  • slumpa = to randomize
  • slumpartad = casual, coincidental, fortuitous, serendipitous
  • slumpartat möte = chance encounter
  • slumpmässigt = random, haphazardly

Source: bab.la dictionary

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].

Which is all a bit random, is it not?