Ave a butchers at er barnet

The title of this post is an example of Cockney, a form of speech you might hear in London, specifically in the Cheapside district of the City of London. It includes to bits of rhyming slang – butchers and barnet. Do you know, or can you guess what they mean?

To (h)ave a butchers (the initial h is not used in Cockney) means to have a look or just to look. It is used in informal English in much of the UK, and I didn’t realise it was rhyming slang until I discovered that it actually stands for butcher’s hook = look.

Barnet means hair, and until I read Vulgar Tongues: An Alternative History of English Slang by Max Décharné, which I just finished, I didn’t know that barnet is also rhyming slang: Barnet Fair = hair.

Barnet Fair is a fair that has been taking place since 1588 in Barnet, a part of north London also known as High Barnet or Chipping Barnet. The main focus of the fair was originally horses and other livestock, but these days it is a funfair, and takes place from 4-7 September each year.

So the title means ‘Have a look at her hair’.

Incidentally, in Swedish barnet means ‘the child’ from barn [bɑːrn] (child, infant, baby, offspring, family) [source].

Barn comes from the Old Norse barn (child), from the Proto-Germanic *barną (child), from the Proto-Indo-European *bʰer- (to bear, to carry), which is also the root of the Scots bairn (child), the Icelandic / Faroese / Norwegian / Danish barn (child), and related words in other Indo-European languages [source].

According to Wikipedia, rhyming slang was first recording in the East End of London in about 1840, and the earliest glossaries of this slang appeared in 1859 in the Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant, and Vulgar Words by John Camden Hotten. He included examples such as frog and toad (road), apples and pears (stairs), Battle of the Nile (a tile, a vulgar term for a hat), and Duke of York (take a walk).

It is unknown why this type of slang originally emerged. It was possibly a game, or a way to confuse outsiders, a way for criminals to confuse the police, and/or a way to maintain a sense of belonging.

More up-to-date examples of rhyming slang, from cockneyrhymingslang.co.uk include:

– Andy McNab = kebab / cab
– Angela Merkel = circle
– Barack Obama = pyjamas
– Calvin Klein = wine / fine (body)
– Captain Kirk = work / Turk
– Dudley Moore = score (£20)
– Mariah Carey = scary

Is there rhyming slang in other languages?

Wheels with teeth

An illustration of cog(wheels)

I discovered last night that in French a cog is a une dent, which also means a tooth, or une dent d’engrenage (“tooth gear”), and a cog wheel is une roue dentée (a toothed wheel), which is kind of a cog looks like.

The English word cog, meaning a tooth on a gear, or a gear or a cogwheel, comes from the Middle English cogge, from the Old Norse kugg (notch), from the Proto-Germanic *kuggō (cog, notch), from the Proto-Indo-European *gugā ‎(hump, ball), from *gēu- ‎(to bend, arch).

A cog can also refer to an unimportant individual in a greater system, e.g. He’s just a cog in the machine, which in French would be Il n’est pas qu’un rouage de la machinerouage is another word for cog or gearwheel, and also means part. Les rouages means machinery, as in les rouages de l’État (the machinery of state) or les rouages de l’administration (the wheels of government).

In German a cog is Zahn (tooth) and a cogwheel is Zahnrad (toothwheel). He is only a cog in a machine is Er ist nur ein Rädchen im Getriebe (“He is only a little wheel in the works/gears/gearbox”), or Er ist nur eine Nummer unter vielen (“He is only a number among many”).

Are there similar expressions in other languages about being a cog in a machine?

Sources: Reverso, Wiktionary, WordReference.com and giantbomb.com

Haps and Mishaps

A mishap is “an unlucky accident”, according to the Oxford Dictionaries, and is often accompanied by the word minor – e.g. we had a few minor mishaps in the kitchen, but at least we didn’t burn the chicken.

I happened upon the word mishap today and it got me wondering whether the word hap also exists. It does, though it rarely used these days, as far as I can tell.

Hap means:

– luck, fortune
– a chance occurrence, especially an event that is considered unlucky
– to come about by chance
– to have the fortune or luck to do something.

So it’s a contronym or auto-antonym in that it can mean good luck and the opposite, bad luck.

Here are some examples:

– If you have the good hap to come into their houses
– I entertained the Company with the many Haps and Disasters
– What can hap to him worthy to be deemed evil?
– Where’er I happ’d to roam

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

Hap, mishap, and happen and happy, all come from the Old Norse word happ (chance, good luck), from the Proto-Germanic *hap-/*hampą (convenience, happiness), from the Proto-Indo-European *kob- (to suit, fit, succeed), which is also the root of the Old Irish cob (victory) and the Russian кобь [kob’] (fate).

Source: Online Etymology Dictionary and Wiktionary

Voices and calls

After writing yesterday’s post I was thinking about the Czech word hlas [ɦɫas] (voice, vote) and realised that it is quite similar to the Welsh word for voice, llais [ɬais]. I wondered it they share the same root.

Hlas comes from the Proto-Slavic *golsъ (voice), from the Proto-Balto-Slavic *galsas (voice), from the Proto-Indo-European *golHsos, from *gels- (to call)

The words for voice in other Slavic languages come from the same root: Old East Slavic: голосъ (golosŭ); Belarusian: голас (hólas); Russian: голос (gólos) and глас (glas – archaic/poetic); Ukrainian: голос (hólos); Old Church Slavonic: гласъ (glasŭ); Bulgarian: глас (glas); Macedonian: глас (glas); Serbo-Croatian: гла̑с; Slovene: glas; Kashubian: głos; Polish: głos; Slovak: hlas; Lower Sorbian: głos; Upper Sorban: hłós.

Also from the same root are the Latin gallas (cockrel); Romani glaso (voice); Romanian glas (voice, vote); Old Norse kalla (to call); English call, Dutch kallen (to chat, talk); German kallen (to scream, talk loudly, talk too much); Lithuanian galsas (sound, echo); Welsh galw (to call) and llais (voice); and possibly the Irish and Scottish Gaelic glaodh (to cry, shout).

Sources: Wiktionary

Coal biter

kol-bitr in Elder Futhark and Younger Futhork

I learnt an interesting word in Old Norse recently: kol-bitr (“coal-biter”), which refers to an idle person who always sits by the fire. kol = coals, charcoal, and bitr = biting, snapping; cutting, sharp [source].

In Elder Futhark runes this is ᚲᛟᛚ᛫ᛒᛁᛏᚱ and in Younger Futhork runes it’s ᚴᚫᛚ᛫ᛓᛁᛐᚱ.

A visitor to Omnglot asked me about this expression and how to write it in Runes. I thought I’d post it here to show the kinds of questions that stream in to Omniglot HQ. I never know what I’ll be asked, and do my best to answer whatever questions come my way, and I’ve become pretty good at finding information, no matter how obscure.

English – a Scandinavian language?

According to an article I came across today, researchers at the University of Oslo believe that English is descended from Old Norse and not from Old English as it is closer in terms of grammar to the modern Scandinavian languages than to the West Germanic languages such as Dutch and German. They say that Old English or Anglo-Saxon is very different from modern English, and believe that Old English died out while Old Norse developed into modern English, with influence from Old English, which is the opposite to the standard model. English grammar and word order certainly has changed a lot over time.

I’m not sure how they came to these conclusions, but I am sceptical. There certainly was Old Norse influence on the dialects spoken in areas of Norse settlement, such as the north of England, and I’ve heard that north eastern varieties of English, such as Geordie, are phonologically similar to Danish.

Telling tales

Earlier this week I went to a Christmas show entitled Beasts and Beauties in Kendal. It wasn’t a traditional Christmas pantomime, though did include some pantomimesque elements, but rather a series of eight fairy/folk tales from around Europe, including:

The Emperor’s New Clothes or Kejserens nye Klæder by Hans Christian Andersen (Danish)
Bluebeard or La Barbe bleue by Charles Perrault (French)
The Juniper Tree or Von dem Machandelboom a story collected by the Brothers Grimm in Low German
The Girl and the North Wind (Norwegian). This one was originally The Lad who went to the North Wind or Gutten som gikk til nordavinden

It was all in English in various accents with occasional words in the other languages, and was well put together and acted.

It’s interesting to see the original texts of these tales and to discover the ways they start, which tend to be formulaic – the equivalents of the English ‘Once upon a time’. For example stories might start with ‘For mange Aar siden …’ in Danish, ‘Il était une fois …’ in French, ‘Dat is nu all lang heer …‘ in Low German, ‘Det var engang …‘ in Norwegian,

Such stories are usually referred to as fairy tales/stories or folk tales/stories. The word tale comes from the Old English talu (story, tale), from the Old Germanic *talō, from the Proto-Indo-European root *del- (to recount, count), which is also the root of talk, tell, tall and teller, which arrived via Old Norse, as well as the Dutch word taal (speech), the German word zahl (number) and the Danish tale (speech) [source].

Cnaipí & cripio

A story I heard when I was in Ireland featured two characters playing na cnaipí (tiddlywinks) /nə kripiː/ in a graveyard at night. A man who overheard them sharing out the tiddlywinks, saying over and over “one for me and one for you”, and thought they were the devil and god sharing out souls.

When I first heard the story I didn’t know what na cnaipí were, but later disovered that they are buttons or tiddlywinks. The singular of the word is cnaipe /kripə/ or /knapə/* and it means button, knob, key or dot, and can refer to buttons on clothes and to buttons (and keys and knobs) on keyboards and other electronic software and hardware.

* in some dialects of Irish, such as in Ulster and Connemara, cn is pronounced /kr/ while in others it’s pronounced /kn/

Today I discovered some similar-sounding Welsh words, cripio (to scratch) and cripiad (scratch), and wondered if they were related to the Irish cnaipe.

According to Dennis King, cnaipe comes from the Middle Irish cnap, from the Old Norse knappr (button, knob), from the Germanic *kn-a-pp-, from the Indo-European root *gen- (to compress into a ball), which is also the root of the English words knob and knoll, and the Scottish Gaelic word cnap (knob, lump, hillock).

As far as I can discover, there is no link between cnaipe and cripio – their resemblance is a chance one, something you find quite often when comparing languages.

Levees and ganseys

Last night the words levee and gansey came up in conversation and while I’d heard both of them before, I wasn’t entirely sure of the meaning of the former, or the origins of the latter. I did know that a levee had something to with flood prevention and was something you drive your chevy to, and that gansey sounded similar to the Irish word, geansaí (jersey, jumper), though I hadn’t heard it used in English before.

A levee, /lɪˈviː/ or /ˈlɛviː/, is a natural embankment along a river formed by sedimentation, or a man-made embankment along a river or around a field designed to prevent flooding. It is also a landing place or quay; a formal ceremony held when a sovereign gets up in the morning, or an afternoon reception for men at court [source].

Levee in the sense of a man-made flood-prevention embankment is apparently used mainly in American English (especially in the Midwest and Deep South), and was first used in English in New Orleans in around 1720. Other words for levee include levée, dike/dyke, embankment, floodbank and stopbank.

Etymology: the feminine form of the past participle of the French verb lever (to raise), from the Latin levare (to raise), from levis (light in weight), from the Proto-Indo-European root *le(n)gwh- (light, easy, agile, nimble) [source].

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, gansey, /ˈgænzɪ/, is a jersey or pullover and is a dialect variant of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands famous for its knitted sweaters. It is also written gansy, ganzee, ganzey, ganzie & ganzy. This dictionary also has a Guernsey coat, “a thick, knitted, closely-fitting vest or shirt, generally made of blue wool, worn by seamen”, which is also known as a Garnesie, Garnsey or Gernsey.

Another source claims that the word gansey comes from “a word of Scandinavian origin meaning ‘tunic'”. This sounds plausible as the Norwegian word for such a garment is genser [source], though it’s possible that the Norwegian word comes from Britain or Ireland.

The Art of the Fishing Communities website, “Ganseys (Guernseys), Jerseys, Aran and Fair Isle are names given to fishermen’s knitted pullovers that were universally popular in the 19th and early 20th century. Each fishing village had its own pattern and within the local pattern there were small variations, and sometimes names, that identified the family and individual.”

The Irish word for jersey or sweater, and also the island of Guernsey, is geansaí /gʲansiː/, sounds similar to gansey and possibly comes from the same source. The word is also found in Manx – gansee and in Scottish Gaelic – geansaidh.

What do you call a knitted woollen top?

Jumper, sweater, pullover and jersey, and indeed gansey, are all used in the UK, and I normally say jumper.

Bellies, bags and bellows

Yesterday a friend asked me whether bellyache was considered rude or vulgar, and whether tummy ache or stomach ache were preferable in formal conversation. I thought that the word belly might be seen as vulgar and/or informal by some; that stomach ache might be better in formal situations, and that tummy ache tends to be used by and with children. Would you agree?

Belly comes from the Old English belg (bag, purse, bellows, pod, husk), from the Proto-Germanic*balgiz (bag), from the PIE base *bhelgh- (to swell), which is also the root of the Old Norse belgr (bag, bellows) and bylgja (billow); the Gothic balgs (wineskin), the Welsh bol (belly, paunch), the Irish bolg (abdomen, bulge, belly, hold, bloat), and the Latin bulga (leather sack). The English words bellows, billow, bolster, budget and bulge also come from the same root [source].

In English belly came to refer to the body during the 13th century, and the abdomen during the 14th century. By the late 16th century its meaning had been extended to cover the bulging part or concave convex surface of anything. In the late 18th century some people in England decided that belly was vulgar and banished it from speech and writing – replacing it with stomach or abdomen. [source].