Springing into Action

I’m currently studying several languages from the same family – Danish, Swedish, Dutch and Faroese, and I’ve been noticing some interesting similarities and differences in their vocabulary.

In Dutch, for example, lopen [ˈloːpən] means to walk or run – apparently it usually means to walk in the Netherlands, and to run in Belgium, according to Wikitionary.

A cognate word in Danish is løbe [ˈløːb̥ə], which means to run, and the equivalent in Swedish, löpa [løːpa], means to hare, run or be in heat. Meanwhile in Faroese the equivalent word is leypa, which means to run or jump.

These words all come from the Proto-Germanic root hlaupaną [ˈxlɑu̯.pɑ.nɑ̃] (to jump forward, to leap) from the Proto-Indo-European *klewb- (to spring, stumble) [source].

The English words leap and lope (to travel at an easy pace with long strides) come from the same root, as does the German word laufen (to go, walk, run, work, move), and related words in other Germanic languages [source].

In Swedish one word for to run is springa, which is cognate with the English word spring, the Dutch springen [ˈsprɪŋə(n)] (to blow, jump, leap, burst), the German springen [ˈʃpʁɪŋən] (to go, bounce, skip, spring, leap), and the Danish springe [ˈsbʁɛŋə] (to jump, leap, spring).

These come from the Proto-Germanic root springaną [ˈspriŋ.ɡɑ.nɑ̃] (to spring, jump up, burst, explode) [source].

The word [ɡoː] means to go, walk or stoll in Swedish. In Danish the same word, pronounced [ɡɔː/ɡ̊ɔːˀ], means to go or walk, and in Norwegian, where it’s pronounced [ɡɒː/ɡoː], it means to walk, go work, function, or be alright. In Faroese the equivalent is ganga [ˈkɛŋka], which means to walk.

These come from the the Old Norse ganga [ˈɡɑ̃ŋɡɑ] (to go, walk), from the Proto-Germanic *ganganą [ˈɣɑŋ.ɡɑ.nɑ̃] (to go, walk, step), from the Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰengʰ- (to walk, step), which is also the root of the word gang (to go, walk) in northern dialects of English, and in Scots [source].

The English word go comes from the Middle English gon, goon (to go), from the Old English gān (to go), from the Proto-Germanic *gāną (to go), from the Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰeh₁- (to leave) [source]

Leap

Blazing a trail

Have you ever wonder why we talk about ‘blazing trails’?

Well, according to Dent’s Modern Tribes – The Secret Languages of Britain by Susie Dent, one of the books I got for my birthday last week, one of the original meanings of the word blaze was a white spot on a horse’s or cow’s forehead. It came to mean any light coloured mark or spot.

In the 18th century in North America, trails, paths and boundaries could be indicated by stripping a piece of bark off a tree and making a white mark on it. Thus to blaze a trail meant to mark trees along the trail in this way.

The word blaze, in this context, is thought to have come via northern English dialects, from the Old Norse blesi (white spot on a horse’s face), from the Proto-Germanic *blas- (shining, white), from the Proto-Indo-European *bʰel- (to shine, flash, burn) [source], which is also the root of the English word flame, and related words in other languages.

If I hadn’t known this, I would have guessed that blazing a trail originally involved literally blazing a trail with fire.

Blazed Horse

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

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?

Knives and Cutlasses

Canif

Yesterday I discovered that the French word for penknife is canif [ka.nif], which was borrowed from the Middle English knif / knyf [kniːf] (knife, dagger) [source]. The English word knife comes from the same root.

Knif comes from the Old English cnīf [kniːf] (knife), which was possibly borrowed or influenced by the Old Norse knífr (knife), which comes from the Proto-Germanic *knībaz [ˈkniː.βɑz] (pincers, shears, knife), from the Proto-Indo-European *gneybʰ- (to pinch, nip), from *gen- (to pinch, squeeze, bend, press) [source].

Cnīf was first used in writing in the 11th century. Before then, seax [sæɑ̯ks] was the word for a knife or dagger, which is related to the word Saxon [source].

The French word for knife is couteau [ku.to], which comes from the Old French coutel, from the Latin cultellus (small knife, dagger), a diminutive of culter [ˈkul.ter] (knife, razor) [source], which is also the root of words for knife in Romance languages, the English words cutlass and cutlery, and the Welsh word cyllell [ˈkəɬɛɬ].

Cheese, Juice and Porridge

In North Germanic languages such as Swedish, the word for cheese is ost, or something similar. Since I learnt this, I’ve been wondering where it comes from, so I decided to investige.

Ost comes from the Old Norse ostr (cheese), from the Proto-Germanic *justaz (cheese), from the Proto-Indo-European *yewH-s- (sap, juice, broth), from *yewH- (to blend, mix (food), knead).

From the same root we get the Latin word iūs (gravy, broth, soup, sauce, juice), from which we get the English juice, the French jus (juice), and the Welsh uwd [ɨ̞u̯d / ɪu̯d] (porridge, oatmeal).

Words for cheese in Finnic and Samic languages are also related: juusto in Finnish, juust in Estonian, and vuostá in Northern Sami.

Brunost

Trolling Carols

One of the songs we started to learn last night at Bangor Community Choir is a version of the Christmas carol Deck the Halls (With Boughs of Holly). It contains the line “Troll the ancient Yule-tide carol”, which got me thinking that maybe the word troll had a different meaning when this carol was written.

The melody of Deck the Halls comes from a 16th century Welsh tune, Nos Galan (New Year’s Eve). The English words were written by Thomas Oliphant, and were first published in 1862 in Welsh Melodies (Volume 2) by John Thomas. The line in question was “Troul the ancient Christmas carol” in the original version.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, troll can mean:

  1. a dwarf or giant in Scandinavian folklore inhabiting caves or hills
  2. to antagonize (others) online by deliberately posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content
  3. to cause to move round and round
  4. to sing the parts of (something, such as a round or catch) in succession; to sing loudly; to celebrate in song
  5. to fish by trailing a lure or baited hook from a moving boat

According to Wiktionary, other meanings of troll include:

  • an ugly person
  • optical ejections from the top of the electrically active core regions of thunderstorms that are red in color that seem to occur after tendrils of vigorous sprites extend downward toward the cloud tops.
  • to saunter
  • to trundle, to roll from side to side
  • to draw someone or something out, to entice, to lure as if with trailing bait.

I think troll in the carol most likely refers to singing, rather any of the other definitions.

The noun troll comes from the Old Norse trǫll (witch, mage, conjurer), from the Proto-Germanic *truzlą (a supernatural being, demon, fiend, giant, monster), which is also the root of the English word droll (oddly humorous, whimsical), and the French drôle (funny, amusing, strange, wierd, bizarre), as well as words for troll in Germanic languages.

Trolling

The verb troll comes from the Middle English troll (to go about, stroll, roll from side to side), from the Old French troller (to quest, to wander), from the Proto-Germanic *truzlōną (to lumber).

Source: Wiktionary

To me a troll is a mythical beast that appears in folklore and stories like The Hobbit, and in Terry Practchett’s Discworld series, or an internet troll.

What do you think of when you hear or read the word troll?

Two Left Feet / Dwy Droed Chwith

Last night I wrote a song called Two Left Feet, about someone who believes he can’t dance because he has two left feet – not literally, but in the idiomatic sense of being clumsy and awkward, especally when trying to dance.

I used to feel like this, and still do a bit when I try to learn new dances, or different styles of dancing. I don’t let this stop me though, and dance anyway, which is what the song is all about. I’ll add a link to the song here when I’ve recorded it.

I like to translate the titles of my songs and tunes into Welsh, so I looked for Welsh equivalents of this idiom. These include:

  • bod â dwy droed chwith = to be with two left feet
  • bod yn drwstan eich traed = to be clumsy of foot
  • bod yn drwstan ar eich traed = to be clumsy on one’s feet
  • bod yn lloglog = to be clumsy / awkward

Drwstan [ˈtrʊstan] is a mutated form of trwstan which means clumsy, awkward, unsteady, bungling, unpolished, shoddy, unfortunate, unlucky, unhappy, sad or wretched.

Lloglog [ˈɬɔɡlɔɡ] means clumsy, awkward, untidy or baggy.

Trwstan and Lloglog might be good names for characters in a story or song – maybe I’ll use them in my next song.

Incidentally, trwstan is not related to the name Tristan, which comes, via Old French, from the Celtic name Drystan, from drest (riot, tumult).

Other Welsh words for clumsy and awkward include:

  • trwsgl, afrosgo, lletchwith, trwstan, ysgaprwth, clogyrnaidd, anfedrus, di-lun, annehau, anneheuig, ysgafnrwth
    annosbarthus, annechau, clemog, sgrongol, siagal

The word awkward comes from the awk, an old word meaning odd, wrong, clumsy or uncomfortable, and the adjectival suffix -ward.

Awk comes from the Old Norse ǫfugr / ǫfigr / afigr (turned backwards, unkind, harsh).

Sources: Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru (A Dictionary of the Welsh Language), Geiriadur yr Academi (The Welsh Academy English-Welsh Dictionary Online), Wiktionary

Logainmneacha

One of the things we discussed last week in Ireland was placenames, or in Irish, logainmneacha [ˈl̪ˠʌɡanʲəmʲəxə]. Most places in Ireland have Irish names and English names, which are either Anglicized versions of the Irish names, or in a few cases, completely different names.

For example, the capital of Ireland is known as Dublin in English, and as Baile Átha Cliatha [bʲlʲɑː ˈclʲiə / ˌbʲlʲæː ˈclʲiə] in Irish. Other places with very different Irish and English forms include Loch Garman / Wexford, Cill Mhantáin / Wicklow, Port Láirge / Waterford and Binn Éadair / Howth.

Dublin comes from the Irish Dubhlinn (black/dark pool), and refers to a dark tidal pool where the River Poddle enters the River Liffy. There are other placenames in Ireland that come from the same root, including Devlin, Divlin and Difflin.

Baile Átha Cliatha means “town of the ford of the hurdles”, and referred to a fording point of the River Liffey. Apparently the viking settlement in the Dublin area, founded in about 841 AD, was known as Dyflin, and the Gaelic town up the river was known as Átha Cliatha [source].

In some cases the English placenames are bad translations of the Irish originals. Examples include a suburb of Dublin known as Swords in English, but Sord (water source) in Irish – nothing to do with swords.

Vinegar Hill in County Wexford is Cnoc Fiodh na gCaor (Hill of the wood of the berries) in Irish – nothing to do with vinegar, but Fiodh na gCaor sounds like vinegar.

The word cnoc [kn̪ˠɔk / kɾˠʊk] (hill) appears in many placeanmes in Ireland, and is usually Anglicized as Knock. Examples include Knock (An Cnoc – ‘The Hill’), Knockaderry (Cnoc an Doire – ‘Hill of the Oak’), and Knockmealdown (Cnoc Mhaoldomhnaigh – ‘Hill of Maoldomhnach’).

Roundstone in Connemara is Cloch na Ron (Stone of the Seals) in Irish. Cloch does mean stone and ron does sound like round.

Many of the Anglicized forms of the names were coined by map makers who knew little or no Irish, and who wrote down names as they heard them.

More information about Irish placenames
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Place_names_in_Ireland
https://www.logainm.ie/
https://www.dochara.com/the-irish/place-names/irish-place-names/


Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll Station sign

In Wales / Cymru, most placenames are in Welsh. Some have Anglicized versions, including Caerdydd / Cardiff, Caerfyrddyn / Carmarthen and Dinbych / Denbigh.

Some have different English and Welsh versions, including Abertawe / Swansea, Abergwaun / Fishguard and Ynys Môn / Anglesey. In all these examples, the English name actually comes from Old Norse:

  • Swansea from Sveinsey (Sveinn’s island) [source]
  • Anglesey from Ongullsey (Hook island) or Onglisey (Ongli’s Island) [source]
  • Fishguard from Fiskigarðr (fish catching enclosure) [source].

More information about Irish placenames
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welsh_toponymy
http://www.thefullwiki.org/Welsh_placenames

Wise Clocks

city hall from Hantverkargatan Stockholm

The Swedish word klok [kluːk] means wise, sensible or intelligent. It doesn’t sound quite like the English word clock, but looks like it should. In fact it sounds more like cluck.

Some examples of how it’s used, and of related words:

  • klok gubbe = wise old man
  • klok gumma = wise woman
  • klok som en bok/pudel/uggla = as wise as a book/poodle/owl
  • En sådan politik skulle inte vara klok = Such a policy would be ill-advised
  • Detta är en klok rekommendation = This is a sensible recommendation
  • det verkar klokt = that seems wise
  • Är du inte klok? = Are you out of your mind?
  • Är du inte riktigt klok? = Are you crazy? Are you completely out of your mind?
  • Jag blev inte klok på det = I cannot make it out, It didn’t make sense to me
  • klokhet = wisdom, prudence, sense, wit
  • klokskap = cleverness
  • klokt = wisely, judiciously, sagely

Owls are also seen as wise in English, and although we don’t say ‘as wise as a book’, reading books can help on the road to wisdom. Poodles are not usually associated with wisdom in English, as far as I know, but it seems they are in Swedish.

In other languages, what is the equivalent of the phrase ‘as wise as an owl’?

Klok comes from the Old Norse klókr (arch, cunning, clever), from Middle Low German klôk.

The Swedish word for clock is klocka [klɔkːa], which comes from the Old Swedish klockæ, from Old Norse klokka (bell, clock), from Late Latin clocca (o’clock), probably from the Proto-Celtic *klokkos (bell), from the Proto-Indo-European *klēg-/*klōg- (onomatopoeia).

Sources: bab.la, Linguee, Ord.se, Svenska Akademiens Ordböcker, DinOrdbok, Wiktionary