An interesting French I learnt yesterday was hameçonnage, which means phishing or a phishing scam – that is “The malicious act of keeping a false website or sending a false e-mail with the intent of masquerading as a trustworthy entity in order to acquire sensitive information, such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details.” or “The act of circumventing security with an alias.” [source].

rebar hook

It comes from hameçonner (to attract and seduce by a deceptive appearance, to phish), from hameçon (fishhook), from the Old French ameçon, from the Latin hāmus (hook, barb), possibly from the Proto-Germanic *hamô (clothes, skirt, fishnet, harness, collar) [source].

The word hameçon also appears in the expression mordre à l’hameçon, which means to take the bait or rise to the bait, or literally “to bite the hook” [source].

Another word for a scam, swindle or fraud in French is escroquerie, and a phishing scam is escroquerie par hameçonnage [source].

Escroquerie comes from escroquer (to swindle, cheat, defraud), from the Italian scroccare (to scrounge, sponge, cadge, blag) from scrocco (scrounging, sponging), from the Old High German *scurgo, from scurgen (to knock over, push aside), from or related to the Proto-Germanic *skeran (to cut, shear), from the Proto-Indo-European *(s)ker- (to cut) [source].

The English word shear comes from the same roots, as does the French word déchirer (to tear, rip up) [source].

Half a Story

A way to say excuse me in Irish is gabh mo leithscéal, which is pronounced [ˌɡɔ mə ˈlʲɪʃceːl̪ˠ] or something like that. If you’re talking to two or more people, you would say gabhaigí mo leithscéal. There are similar phrases in Scottish Gaelic – gabh mo leisgeul, and Manx – gow my leshtal. These mean literally “take my excuse”.

Gabh mo leithscéal (take my half story

The first word in these phrases comes from the Old Irish gaibid [ˈɡavʲiðʲ] (to grasp or receive), from the Proto-Celtic *gabyeti (to grab, seize, take or hold), from Proto-Indo-European *gʰeh₁bʰ- (to grab or take) [source].

Related words in other languages include gafael (to hold, grasp, grip) in Welsh, gavel (capacity, grasp) in Cornish, gable in English, and words for to have in Romance languages, such as avere in Italian and avoir in French [source].

The second word in these phrases means my, and the third one means excuse. The words for excuse come from the Old Irish leithscél / leithsgéal / leithsgéul (excuse), from leth (half, side, direction) and scél (story), so an excuse is a “half story” [source].

A related word in Irish is leithscéalach (fond of excuses, apologetic). There’s a similar word in Scottish Gaelic: leisgeulach (excusing, apologetic) and in Manx: leshtallagh (apologetic, apologist, excuser, extenuating).

Seeding Discord

Yesterday I learnt an interesting phrase in French – semer la zizanie, which means to stir up ill-feeling, to mess around/about, to drive a wedge (between) or to wreak/raise havoc [source].

J. Zizanie des marais P8100001 2

The word semer means to sow, spread, scatter, lose or shake off. You can also semer le doute (cast doubts), semer la panique (spread panic) or semer la discorde (sow/seed discord, foster division) [source].

It comes from the Latin sēmināre (to sow), from sēminō (I plant, sow), from sēmen (seed, graft, offspring, cause), from the Proto-Italic *sēmen (seed), from the Proto-Indo-European *séh₁mn̥ (seed), from seh₁- (to sow, plant). English words from the same roots include season, seed, seminar and sow [source].

Zizanie means discord or ill-feeling, and comes from the Latin zīzania (tares, cockle), from zizā̆nium (tares, cockle, darnel, jealousy, discord), from the Ancient Greek ζῐζᾰ́νῐον (zizánion – darnel, ryegrass), from the Aramaic זזניא‎, from the Sumerian 𒍣𒍝𒀭 (zizān – wheat) [source].

Words from the same roots include زِوَان‎ (ziwān – darnel, ryegrass) in Arabic, zizzania (darnel, tare, discord) in Italian, and cizaña (darnel, tare, dissension, enmity) [source].

Tare is a vetch or any of the tufted grasses of genus Lolium [source]. Darnel is a species of ryegrass of the genus Lolium temulentum [source], and cockle is another name for the same plant [source].

Incidentally, the word wreak, which only appears in the phrase to wreak havoc (to cause damage, disruption or destruction), and a few other phrases, means to cause harm, afflict, inflict, harm, injure; to chasten, chastise, punish, smite, and used to mean to inflict or take vengeance on, or to take vengeance for [source].

Short Shrift

The other day I heard the expression short shrift being used, and started wondering what a shrift might be, and why it’s a short one that’s usually given or received.

The expression to give short shrift means to ignore, disregard or exclude (sb/sth); to give (sb/sth) very little time or attention. For example “Despite its urgency, ministers are giving the issue short shrift in parliament.” [source].

The word shrift means the act of going to or hearing a religious confession; a confession to a priest, or forgiveness given by a priest after confession. It comes from the Middle English shrift (confession, penitence, repentance), from the Old English sċrift (penance, penalty, a judge), from sċrīfan (to prescribe absolution or penance; to pass judgment), from the Proto-Germanic *skrībaną (to write), from the Latin scrībō (I write), from the Proto-Indo-European *(s)kreybʰ- (to scratch, tear) [source].


Short shrift is a rushed sacrament of confession given to a prisoner who is to be executed very soon; a speedy execution, usually without any proper determination of guilt; a short interval of relief or time, or something dealt with or overcome quickly and without difficulty [source].

The word shrive (to hear or receive a confession; to prescribe penance or absolution) comes from the same roots [source]. So does shrove, an old word that means to join the fesitivities of Shrovetide or to make merry. It appears in the name Shrove Tuesday, the day before the beginning of Lent, also known as Pancake Day, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday [source] or Jif Lemon Day [source]. Other names are probably available.

So now we know.

Before the Deluge

The word antediluvian means:

  • Ancient or antiquated
  • Extremely dated
  • Pertaining or belonging to the time period prior to a great or destructive flood or deluge.
  • (biblical) Pertaining or belonging to the time prior to Noah’s Flood.

It comes from the Latin ante- (before) and dīluvium (flood), which comes from dīluō (I wash away) and -ium (a suffix used to form abstract nouns), from dis- (apart, reversal) and‎ lavō (I wash) [source].

Afon Dyfrdwy / River Dee

The English word deluge (a great flood or rain), comes from the same Latin roots, via the Old French deluge (a large flood), as does the word diluvium (an inundation of flood, deluge; a deposit of sand, gravel, etc made by oceanic flooding) [source].

Other words from the same Latin roots include déluge (The Flood, deluge) in French, diluvio (deluge, downpour) in Spanish, díle (flood, deluge, torrent) in Irish, and dilyw (flood, deluge, destruction, ruin) in Welsh [source].

In Scottish Gaelic dìle [dʲiːlə] can refer to a deluge or flood. The phrase an dìle bhàite means heavy downpour or pouring rain, and the equivalent of it’s raining cats and dogs is tha an dìle ‘s an deàrrsach ann or tha an dìle bhàite ann an ceartair. As an adjective it means endless, for example gu dìlinn means “until the end of time” [source].

Another word for flood is inundation, which comes from the Old from inundacion (flood), from the Latin inundātiō (inuncation, overflowing, flood, crowd of people), from inundō (I overflow, inundate, flood) from in- (in, within, inside) and undō (I surge, flow), from unda (wave, billow) [source].

Undulate and undulation come from the same root, as does und, an obsolete word meaning wave, or in heraldry, a billow- or wave-like marking [source].

The word flood comes from the Middle English flod (river, lake, ocean, flood, rising tide), from the Old English flōd (flowing of the tide, river, stream, water, flood, deluge), from the Proto-Germanic *flōduz (river, flood), from the PIE *pléh₃tus (overflow, deluge), from *pleh₃(w)- (to flow, run) [source].

Cognates in other languages include flod (river, flood, high tide) in Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, Flut (flow, flood, hight tide) in German, and vloed (flood, current) in Dutch [source].


If something is beyond your ken, it is beyond your knowledge or understanding. The word ken only really appears in this phrase, but in some dialects of English in northern England, and in Scots and Scottish English, ken is more commonly used.


In English ken means to know, perceive, understand; knowledge, perception or sight. It comes from the Middle English kennen (to make known, tell, teach, proclaim, annouce, reveal), from the Old English cennan (to make known, declare, acknowledge), from cunnan (to become acquainted with, to know), from the Proto-West Germanic *kannijan (to know, to be aware of), from the Proto-Germanic *kannijaną (to make known), from *kunnaną (to be able), from the Proto-Indo-European *ǵn̥néh₃ti (to know, recognize) from *ǵneh₃- (to know) [source].

Some related words include:

  • beken = to make known, reveal, deliver, commit
  • foreken = to perceive, realise ahead of time, foreknow, preconceive
  • kenning = sight, view, a distant view at sea; range r extent of vision (esp. at sea), a small portion, as little as one can discrimminate or recognize
  • misken = to mistake one for another, fail to know, misunderstand, ignore, disregard, neglect
  • outken = to surpass or exceed in knowledge

These are no longer used, rarely used, or only used in some dialects of English.

Kenning also means “A metaphorical compound or phrase, used especially in Germanic poetry (Old English or Old Norse) whereby a simple thing is described in an allusive way.” It was borrowed from Old Norse [source].

Some examples of kenning in Old Norse and Old English include:

  • báru fákr (wave’s horse) = ship
  • gjálfr-marr (sea-steed) = ship
  • heofon-candel (sky-candle) = sun
  • grennir gunn-más (feeder of ravens) = warrior
  • winter-ġewǣde (winter-raiment) = snow
  • hilde-leoma (battle light) = sword
  • seġl-rād (sail-road) = sea
  • hwæl-weġ (whale-way) = sea
  • heofon-candel (sky-candle) = sun
  • ban-hus (bone-house) = body

Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenning, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_kennings, https://projects.iq.harvard.edu/cb45/kennings

There are cognates in other Germanic languages, including:

  • ken = to know (a person, a thing), be acquainted with in Afrikaans
  • kende = to know (be acquainted or familiar with) in Danish
  • kjenne = to know (be acquainted or familiar with), to feel or sense in Norwegian
  • känna = to feel or sense, or to know (a person) in Swedish
  • kennen = to know (a thing), be acquainted with in Dutch
  • kennen = to know, be acquainted with, be familiar with in German

In Scots ken means “To know, be aware of, apprehend, learn (a fact)”, and comes from the same roots as the English word [source]. Some related words include:

  • ken(n)ing = imparting, teaching, recognition, indentification, knowing
  • kenable = obvious, easily recognisable
  • kenmark = a distinguishing mark, mark of owenership on an animal, brand
  • kennage = knowledge, information
  • kenspeckle = easily recognisable, conspicuous, of familiar appearance

Distreetly Discrete

The words discrete and discreet are both pronounced in the same way – [dɪsˈkɹiːt] – but have different meanings, or in other words, are homophones. Until yesterday, I didn’t realise that they were discrete words.

Discretely Discreet

discrete means

1. apart or detached from others; separate; distinct
2. consisting of or characterized by distinct or individual parts; discontinuous. [source]

It also has specific meanings in mathematics that I won’t go into here.

discreet means

1. judicious in one’s conduct or speech, especially with regard to respecting privacy or maintaining silence about something of a delicate nature; prudent; circumspect.
2. showing prudence and circumspection; decorous
3. modestly unobtrusive; unostentatious [source]

discrete comes from the Old French discret (different), from the Latin discrētus (separate, differentiated), from discernō (I separate, set apart, divide, part), from dis- (asunder, in pieces, apart, in two) and cernō (I distinguish, divide, separate), from the Proto-Italic *krinō, from the Proto-Indo-European *krey- (to sieve) [source].

discreet comes from the same source, via the Middle English word discrete, which meant wise, morally discerning, prudent, polite, and also separate or distinct [source]. The two words separated during the Middle English period and acquired discrete meanings [source].

The word discern (to detect with the senses, perceive, distinguish) comes from the same roots [source].

Indiscrete and indiscreet are also discrete words. The former means not divided into discrete parts, while the latter means lacking prudence, revealing secrets, or tactless [source].

They both come from the Latin indiscretus (unseparated, undivided, indistinguisable), from in- (un-, non-, not) and discrētus (see above) [source].

So let’s not be indiscreet about discreetly keeping these words discrete.


In Dutch the word podium [poː.di.(j)ʏm] means stage, and also podium or platform. It comes from Latin word podium (balcony, especially in an amphitheatre, parapet, podium), from the Ancient Greek πόδιον (pódion – base), a diminutive of πούς (poús – foot, leg), from the Proto-Indo-European pṓds (foot) [source].

AIAA NASA 60th Anniversary Reception (NHQ201809200009)

Some related words include:

  • hoofdpodium = main stage
  • podiumbeest = someone who enjoys being on stage and is often on stage (“stage beast”)
  • podiumkunsten = performing arts
  • poppodium = a venue where pop music is performed live

The English word podium (a platform on which to stand, as when conducting an orchestra or preaching at a pulpit; any low platform or dais) comes from the same root [source], as does the word pew, via the Middle English pewe, from the Middle French puie (balustrade), from the Latin podia, the plural of podium [source].

Other words from the same Latin root include poggio (hill) and podio (podium) in Italian, puig (hill, peak) in Catalan, and poyo (stone bench) in Spanish [source].

By the way, in English (and Dutch) the plural of podium can be either podiums or podia. Which do you prefer?

The diminutive of podium in Dutch is podiumpje, which means little or imaginary stage – I find Dutch diminutives like this very cute.

Good Pickaxes

In French when you make a good guess or choice, you are said to be making une bonne pioche or literally “a good pickaxe” [source].

Claes Oldenburg

The word pioche [pjɔʃ] means pickaxe, and also a stock or pile of undealt cards in a card game, and chance or luck. It comes from pic (woodpecker, pick), from the Vulgar Latin *piccus (sharp point, peak, spike, pike), from the Latin pīcus (woodpecker, griffin), from the Proto-Italic *pikos, from the Proto-Indo-European *(s)peyk- (woodpecker; magpie), or from the Vulgar Latin *pīcca (pickaxe, pike), possibly from the Frankish *pikkōn (to peck, strike), from the Proto-Germanic *pikkōną (to pick, peck) [source].

Here are some examples of how pioche and related words are used:

  • faire une mauvaise pioche = to pick the wrong card
  • manche de pioche = pickaxe handle
  • pioche de jardinage = garden hoe
  • piocher = to dig up, to take from the pile, to take a card
  • piocher dans = to dip into
  • piocher pour qch = to cram for sth

Are there any interesting equivalents of this phrase in other languages, or any pickaxe-related phrases?

Together Living

A Dutch word I learnt recently is samenleving [‘samənlevɪŋ], which means society or community. It comes from samenleven (to live together, co-exist), from samen (together) and leven (to live), and could be literally translated as “together-living” [source].

Wonder All Around

Some related words include:

  • anderhalvemetersamenleving = ‘one and a half meter society’, in which (almost) everyone keeps a distance of one and a half meters where possible to prevent the spread of an infectious disease (especially Covid-19)’ [source]
  • wegwerpsamenleving = ‘throw away society’, in which using things once then throwing them away is normal [source]

The English word society comes from the Middle French societé (society), from the Old French societé (association, council, group, society, club), from the Latin societās (fellowship, association, alliance, union, community), from socius (associated, allied, partner, companion, ally), from the Proto-Indo-European *sokʷ-yo- (companion), from *sekʷ- (to follow) [source].

English words from the same PIE root include associate, consequence, obsequious, persue and sequel [source].

The English word community comes from the Old French comunité (community), from the Latin commūnitās (community; public spirit), from commūnis (common, ordinary, universal, public, democratic) [source].

In Old English a community was a gemænscipe [ˈjeˌmæːnˌʃi.pe], which is cognate with the Dutch word gemeenschap (community, society, fellowship) and the German word Gemeinschaft (community, group, company, sense of community). These come from the Proto-West Germanic *gamainiskapi (community), from *gamainī (common, shared, communal) and *-skapi (forms nouns denoting state) [source].