Flowing Pencils

Today while looking into the origins of the Dutch word for pencil – potlood [pɔt.loːt] – I found some interesting connections to words other languages.

Potlood also means crayon, and comes from pot (jar, pot) & lood (lead, plumb bob). Apparently it was originally a name for graphite, and was used for glazing pots, but was misidentified as a form of lead [source].

Other words featuring pot include:

  • potloodetui = pencil case
  • potloodslijper = pencil sharpener
  • bloempot = flower pot, planter
  • doofpot = cover-up (“deaf pot”)
  • potdoof = stone deaf, completely deaf
  • fooienpot = tip jar, stock pot
  • kookpot = cooking pot, saucepan, cauldron
  • stamppot= stew, mash, stamppot (a traditional Dutch dish made of potatoes mashed with one or several vegetables)

Lood comes from the Middle Dutch lôot (lead), from Old Dutch *lōt, from Proto-Germanic *laudą (lead), from the Proto-Celtic *loudom (lead), ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European *plewd- (to fly, flow, run) [source].

For the same Proto-Celtic root we get luaidhe, which is lead in Irish and Scottish Gaelic, leoaie (lead) in Manx, the English word lead, and related words in other Germanic languages [source].

Words for lead in Welsh (plwm), Cornish (plomm / plobm) and Breton (plom), come from the Latin plumbum (lead (metal), lead pipe, pencil), which is also the root of the English words plumb, plumber and plumbing [source].

A plumber in Dutch is a loodgieter [ˈloːtˌxi.tər] and plumbing is loodgieterswerk – a gieter [ˈɣi.tər] is a person who pours, e.g. a caster, or a watering can, so a loodgieter is someone who pours lead or a lead caster [source].

potlood

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

Familie en Gezin

In the Dutch lessons I’ve been working on recently I’ve noticed that there appear to be two different words for family: familie and gezin. From the context I can’t work out if they have different meanings or uses, so I thought I’d investigate.

Familie [fɑˈmi.li] means extended family, i.e. parents, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, etc.

It comes from the French famille (family), from the Latin familia (family, household), from famulus (servant, slave)

Gezin [ɣəˈzɪn] means nucelear family, i.e. parents and children, home or household.

It comes from the Middle Dutch ghesinde (companion), from the Proto-Germanic *gasinþiją. from *senþ-/sinþ- (to go, travel; seek, aim), from the Proto-Indo-European *sent- (to head for, go). The German word Gesinde (servants, farmhands) comes from the same root, as does the Old English word ġesīþ (companion, comrade)

Related words inlcude:

  • familiebedrijf = family business
  • familielid = family member, relative
  • familienaam = family name
  • familietraditie = family tradition
  • taalfamilie = language family
  • familierecht / gezinsrecht = family law
  • gezinshereniging = family reunion
  • gezinshulp = homemaker
  • gezin stichten = to start a family
  • eenoudergezin = single parent family
  • pleeggezin = foster family

Bakfiets Extralong

Sources: Reverso, bab.la, Woorden.org, Wiktionary

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

Mind and Memory

In Russian the word for memory is память [ˈpamʲɪtʲ], which comes from the Proto-Slavic *pamętь (memory), from the prefix *pōˀ and *mintis (though, mind), from the Proto-Indo-European *méntis (thought) [source].

Related words include:

  • памятник [ˈpamʲɪtʲnʲɪk] = memorial, monument
  • памятный [ˈpamʲɪtnɨj] = commemorative, memorable, memorial
  • памятливый [ˈpamʲɪtlʲɪvɨj] = having a retentive memory, retentive
  • памятка [ˈpamʲɪtkə] = memo, memorandum
  • запамятовать [zɐˈpamʲɪtəvətʲ] = to forget (dated / colloquial)
  • злопамятный [zlɐˈpamʲɪtnɨj] = vindictive, rancorous, unforgiving, likely to hold a grudge
  • помнить [ˈpomnʲɪtʲ] = to remember

*méntis is also the root of such English words as dementia, mendacious, mental, mind, monitor and premonition.

Memory

Life Writing

In Russian, a painting or picture is a живопись [ʐɨvəpʲɪsʲ]. This comes from живой [ʐɨˈvoj] (alive, living, live, lively) and писать [pʲɪˈsatʲ] (to write). So you could say that a Russian painter is “writing life” and that their paintings are “life writing” [source].

An English word with a similar literal meaning, but a different actual meaning, is biography.

Another Russian word for picture, and also image or scene, is a картина [kɐrˈtʲinə], which comes from the Italian cartina (fine paper, map), from carta (paper, map, menu, card), from the Latin charta (papyrus, paper, poem), from the Ancient Greek χάρτης (khártēs – papyrus, paper), from χαράσσω (kharássō – I scratch, inscribe), from the Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰer- (to scratch) [source].

If languages were logical and consistant, you might expect that Russian words for art, artist, painter, picture and to paint might be related to живопись. Most of them aren’t:

Art is искусство [ɪˈskustvə], which also means skill, craftsmanship, craft. It comes from the Old Church Slavonic искусьство (iskusĭstvo), from искоусъ (iskusŭ – test, experiment), probably from the Proto-Germanic *kustiz (choice, trail), from the Proto-Indo-European *ǵews- (to taste, try), which is also the root of the English words choice, cost and gusto [source].

An artist or painter is a художник [xʊˈdoʐnʲɪk]. It comes from the Old East Slavic художьникъ (xudožĭnikŭ – artist, painter, master), from худогъ (xudogŭ – skillful, experienced, lucky), from the Proto-Slavic *xǫdogъ, from the Proto-Germanic *handugaz (handy, skilful, dextrous), which is also the root of the English word handy [source].

There are several Russian words for to paint:

  • рисовать [rʲɪsɐˈvatʲ] means to draw, paint, depict, and comes from the Polish rysować (to draw, sketch), from the Middle High German rīzen, from the Old High German rīzan (to scratch) [source].
  • красить [ˈkrasʲɪtʲ] means to paint, dye or adorn. It is related to the word краска (paint, dye, ink, colours), which comes from the Old Church Slavoic краса (krasa – decoration) [source].
  • писать [pʲɪˈsatʲ] means to write or paint (a painting). It comes from the Old East Slavic писати (pisati – to write, paint), from the Proto-Slavic *pisati (to draw depict, write), from the Proto-Indo-European *peyḱ- (to hew, cut out; stitch, embroider, sting; paint, mark, colour), which is also the root of the English words paint and picture [source].

mouse cat

An example of calligraphic art by Margaret Shepherd. More examples

Coronavirus – what the heck does it mean?

Today we have a guest post by Manish Sharma

We have all heard this word a lot lately and some of us are probably getting quite sick of it. Hopefully, not by it though. Have you wondered what does it actually mean though?

Let’s do an etymological analysis of coronavirus and see what we come up with. Do what? I hear you say! Fret not, it’s just a fancy way of saying what the word means and how it came to be.

Well, let’s see what we have here then.

So we know it’s clearly made up of two words: corona + virus. Well done, Sherlock! Is that it? What are you going to tell us next? That it’s caused by drinking too much Corona beer? Sadly, no, because there would have been a rather easy cure for it if that was true!

Beer (excuse the pun) with me though while I break it down for you.

Corona comes from the Latin word corōna, meaning a ‘crown’ or ‘garland’, which in turn is borrowed from the Greek word κορώνη (korṓnē), which means a ‘garland’ or a ‘wreath’ [source]. I guess something to do with the similarities in shape. It’s used to describe this class of viruses because of their peculiar structure, as we have all seen in the photos everywhere, the virus looks like a spherical ball with spike-like projections on its surface giving it an appearance of a crown. Not unlike the way solar flares project from the surface of the sun hence called solar corona.

Coronavirus

The Greek word κορώνη (korṓnē) has its origin in a Proto Indo-European or PIE (a hypothesised common ancestor of most of the Indian and European languages) word *ker or *sker which is the origin of the Sanskrit word कृत्त (kṛttá) or the Hindi word कट (kat), both meaning to ‘cut’ something. Incidentally, English words like, curtailed, shears, scissors, short, skirt and share have all descended from this same root [source].

A note on the relation between the words *ker and *sker before we move on. The prefix ‘s’ (s-mobile) sometimes occurs in the variations of the same word in different languages. For instance, the English word snake and Hindi word नाग (nāg) also share a common root – the Proto-Indo-European *sneg- (to crawl, a creeping thing) [source].

The word virus comes from the Latin word vīrus meaning poison, venom or slime. Same indeed as the Greek word ἰός (iós – poison, venom), which itself has descended from the PIE word *wisós (fluidity, slime, poison). Anybody who knows the Hindi or Sanskrit translation of the word poison or venom would have probably figured out where this is going. The Hindi word विष (viṣ – poison, venom) and the Sanskrit विष (viṣá – poison, venom), come from the same root as the word virus [source]. Fascinating, eh?

When you put the two together, you get coronavirus, or poison cut in the shape of a crown!

So, there you have it. We may not know for sure where this wretched virus came from but at least we now have an idea how its name came about.

Hope you enjoyed reading.

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?

The Isles

The main theme of the Language Event I went to last weekend in Edinburgh was the languages of the Isles. The Isles in question include the islands of Great Britain, Ireland, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, and about 6,000 other islands. The Isles are also known as the British Isles, but at the event the term ‘The Isles’ was used to be more inclusive.

British Isles, Like a Map 1

The term “British Isles” is controversial in Ireland, where some object to its usage. The Government of Ireland does not officially recognise the term, and its embassy in London discourages its use. Britain and Ireland is used as an alternative description, and Atlantic Archipelago is also used to some extent by academics [source].

Other suggested names for these isles include the Anglo-Celtic Isles, the British-Irish Isles, the Islands of the North Atlantic, the West European Isles, the Pretanic Isles, or these islands [source].

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK), made up of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, is one of the countries on these isles. The Republic of Ireland takes up most of the island of Ireland and some small offshore islands. The Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are self-governing British Crown dependencies, and not part of the UK.

The earliest mentions of the isles are found the writings of Diodorus Siculus (c.90-30 BC), a Greek historian living in Sicily. He referred to the isles as Prettanikē nēsos (the British Island), and to the inhabitants as Prettanoi (the Britons). Strabo (c.64 BC-24 AD), a Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian who lived in Asia Minor, referred to the isles as Βρεττανική (Brettanike), and Marcian of Heraclea called them αἱ Πρεττανικαί νῆσοι (the Prettanic Isles).

It is thought that the names used by Greek and Latin writers for these isles were based on the Celtic names for them

In Welsh these isles are known as Ynysoedd Prydain, or yr Ynysoedd Prydeinig (the British Isles). The name Prydain [ˈprədai̯n] (Britain) comes from the Middle Welsh Prydein, from early Proto-Brythonic *Pritanī, from the Old Irish Cruthin (Picts), perhaps from the Proto-Celtic *Kʷritanī / *Kʷritenī, from the Proto-Indo-European *kʷer- (to do).

The Welsh word Prydyn / Pryden, meaning (people of) Scotland, or (land of the) Picts, is related [source].

In Cornish these isles are knowns an Enesow Bretennek (the British Isles). In Scottish Gaelic they’re known as Eileanan Bhreatainn (British Isles). In Scots they’re known as Breetish Isles, and in Manx they’re known as Ellanyn Goaldagh (British Isles) [source].

In Irish these isles are known as Éire agus an Bhreatain Mhór (Ireland and Great Britain), Oileáin Iarthair na hEorpa (Islands of Western Europe) or Oileáin Bhriotanacha (British Isles), although the latter is not much used (see above) [source].

I had a great time at the Language Event, meeting old friends and making news ones, listening to some interesting talks, practising my languages, and exploring bits of Edinburgh. Similar events will be held in Auckland and Melbourne soon, but the next polyglot / language-related event I’m planning to go to is the Polyglot Gathering in Tersin in Poland at the end of May.