Today is the first day of the month of May, or May Day, when spring festivals are traditionally held in many countries. It is also International Workers’ Day. Apparently the origins of the spring festivities go back at least to the Roman festival of Floralia, in honour of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers (and magarine*). This was held from 27 April – 3 May during the Roman Republic era [source].
*Flora is a brand of margarine found in the UK, other parts of Europe, and Australia and New Zealand.
The word May came from the Old French mai (May), from the Latin māius (May) which was named after Maia, a Roman earth goddess [source].
Incidentally, the emergency call mayday mayday mayday! has nothing to do with May or May Day, but was in fact thought up in the 1920s by Frederick Stanley Mockford, who was officer-in-charge of radio at Croydon Airport in London. It is based on the French phrase m’aidez (help me) [source].
May Day is known as Calan Mai (1st day of May) or Calan Haf (1st day of summer) in Welsh. Traditionally celebratations would begin on the eve of Calan Haf, or Nos Galan Haf with bonfires, and the gathering of hawthorn and flowers to decorate houses. Celebrations on May Day itself might include dancing and singing [source].
I can’t find any examples of May carols (carolau mai / carolau haf), but here’s the Welsh band Calan:
May Day is known as Lá Bealtaine in Irish, Là Bealltainn in Scottish Gaelic and Laa Boaldyn in Manx, and the month of May is known as Bealtaine or mí na Bealtaine in Irish and Boaldyn in Manx. These all refer to the old Celtic festival of Beltane/Beltain, which is held on the 1st May and marks the beginning of summer when cattle would be traditionally driven to their summer pastures. Celebrations include lighting large bonfires and leaping over them, and/or walking and driving cattle between them [source].
The word Beltane/Beltain possibly comes from the Proto-Celtic *belo-tanos / *belo-te(p)niâ (“bright fire”) [source].
Yesterday I came across an interesting idiom in Scottish Gaelic: mil air do bheul, which means “that’s wonderful/excellent news” or literally, “honey on your mouth”. Perhaps this was coined when honey was difficult to obtain, so having honey on your mouth would be considered good thing.
Meanwhile, in Welsh if you have honey on your sandwich or bread, or mêl ar dy frechdan/fara, it is considered a source of pleasure, which makes sense to me. Also, having honey on your fingers, or mêl ar dy fysedd, is music to your ears, or taking pleasure in the misfortune of others, or in other words, indulging in schadenfreude.
In Irish if there is honey on your every word, or tá mil ar gach focal agat, then you are speaking sweetly, perhaps with honeyed words. If you really enjoy your food, you could say that there is honey on your food, or tá mil ar an mbia agat. If you cover someone with honey, or duine a chlúdach le mil, you are showering them with kindness, and if there is honey on your tall-stemmed grass, or tá mil ar chuiseogach agat, then you are having a delightful time.
Yesterday I added details of a language called Akawaio (Ka’pon) to Omniglot. It’s a Cariban language spoken mainly in northern Guyana, and also in northern Brazil and eastern Venezuela, by about 6,380 people.
You may be wondering why I mention this. What’s so special about this language? Well, it just happens to be the 1,500th language I’ve written about on Omniglot, and it feels like a significant milestone to me. There are many more languages out there: 7,139, according to Ethnologue – so only another 5,639 to go! That should keep me busy for a while.
It’s becoming increasingly challenging to find information about languages that don’t yet appear on Omniglot. About 4,065 of the world’s languages have a written form, although many are rarely written, and the remaining 3,074 are probably unwritten [source]. There is little or no documentation for many languages, and what documentation there is can be difficult to find. Inspite of this, I will continue to add new language profiles to Omniglot, and appreciate any help you can offer.
I’ve been working on Omniglot on my own since 1998 – there are no minions or other assistants to help me. However, many other people have contributed to Omniglot, by sending me corrections, new material, suggestions, donations and so on, and I am profoundly grateful to all of them.
This is the 3,414th post I’ve written on this blog since launching it in March 2006. At first I tried to write something every day, but soon realised that was too much. At the moment I aim to write two posts a week, plus the language quiz on Sundays.
In April 2007 I started uploading videos to YouTube. Some of the videos feature silly little conversations in languages I’m learning. Others involve music-related events I’ve taken part in, and tunes and songs I’ve written. In 2021 I started uploading videos more regularly, particularly videos about words and etymology, and some songs as well. As well as the Adventures in Etymology videos I upload on Sundays, I plan to make videos featuring alphabets, phrases, etc in a variety of languages. Here’s one I made of the Danish alphabet:
In September 2018 I launched the Celtiadur, a blog where I explore connections between Celtic languages. This is based the Celtic cognates part of Omniglot. So far I’ve written 227 posts, and add a new one every week.
Since 1998 I’ve become fluent in Welsh and Irish, regained my fluency in French, maintained my fluency in Mandarin Chinese, more or less, and have learned enough Esperanto, Scottish Gaelic, Manx, Spanish, Swedish, Danish and Dutch to have at least basic conversations. I’ve also learnt quite a bit of Russian and Czech, and some Romanian, Cantonese, Slovak, Slovenian, Serbian, Icelandic, Faroese, British Sign Language, Breton and Cornish.
I’m currently concentrating on Spanish, Swedish, Danish and Dutch, while trying to maintain my other languages, particularly French and Welsh. For the past 4 years or so I’ve studied languages every day on Duolingo – my current streak reached 1,369 today. I’ve also been using Mondly and Memrise. [More about my language learning adventures].
While not working on Omniglot or learning languages, I like to sing, play musical instruments and write songs and tunes. My musical adventures started long before Omniglot, but for many years after leaving school I only really listened to music. In 2005 I started going to Ireland every summer to learn Irish language, and also Irish songs, tunes and dances. This inspired me to take up music again. Since then I’ve learnt to play the guitar, mandolin, ukulele, cavaquinho and harp, and started playing the recorder, piano and tin whistle again. I’ve learnt songs in many different languages, and written quite a few songs and tunes.
Here’s a song I wrote in 33 different languages:
Enough of this shameless self-promotion. What about you? Have you reached any significant milestones recently?
In the UK there are many different regional words for types of bread, particularly for bread rolls, and people tend to be quite attached to their version, believing it to be the one true name for such things. Not all of them refer to exactly the same type of bread product though.
Whatever you call them, they are small, usually round loaves of bread, and were apparently invented in the south east of England in 1581 [source], although similar small loaves were probably made in other places long before that.
Here are some of the words for bread rolls used in the UK:
The word roll comes from the Middle English rolle (role), from the Old French rolle / role / roule (roll, scroll), from the Medieval Latin rotulus (a roll, list, catalogue, schedule, record, a paper or parchment rolled up) [source].
The word bun (a small bread roll, often sweetened or spiced), comes from the Middle English bunne (wheat cake, bun), from the Anglo-Norman bugne (bump on the head; fritter), from the Old French bugne, from Frankish *bungjo (little clump), a diminutive of *bungu (lump, clump) [source].
The origins of the word bap, as in a soft bread roll, originally from Scotland, are unknown [source].
A cob is a round, often crusty, roll or loaf of bread, especially in the Midlands of England, is of uncertain origin [source].
A barm (cake) is a small, flat, round individual loaf or roll of bread, and possibly comes from the Irish bairín breac (“speckled loaf” or barmbrack – yeasted bread with sultanas and raisins) [source]. The cake in barm cake was historically used to refer to small types of bread to distinguish them from larger loaves [source].
A batch, or bread roll, comes from the Middle English ba(c)che, from the Old English bæċ(ċ)e (baking; something baked), from the Proto-Germanic *bakiz (baking), [source].
A stottie (cake) / stotty is a round flat loaf of bread, traditionally pan-fried and popular in Tyneside in the north east of England. The word comes from stot(t) (to bounce), from the Middle Dutch stoten (to push), from the Proto-Germanic *stautaną (to push, jolt, bump) [source].
They are known as oven bottoms or oven bottom bread, as they used to be baked on the bottom of ovens, and typically eaten filled with ham, pease pudding, bacon, eggs and/or sausage. A smaller version, known as a tufty bun, can be found in bakeries in the North East of England [source]
A scuffler is a triangular bread cake originating in the Castleford region of Yorkshire, and the name is thought to come from a local dialect word [source].
A nudger is a long soft bread roll common in Liverpool [source].
A buttery is a type of bread roll from Aberdeen in Scotland, also known as a roll, rowie, rollie, cookie or Aberdeen roll [source].
A teacake is a type of round bread roll found mainly in parts of Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cumbria. Elsewhere a teacake is a light, sweet, yeast-based bun containing dried fruits, often eaten toasted [source].
In Welsh, bread rolls are known as rholyn bara, rhôl fara, rôl / rol / rowl, bab, wicsan, cwgen, cnap or cnepyn [source]. There may be other regional words as well.
Rhôl/rôl/rol were borrowed from English, and rholyn is a diminutive. Bara (bread) comes from the Proto-Celtic *bargos / *barginā (cake, bread) [source]. Cnap was borrowed from the Old Norse knappr (knob, lump) and cnepyn is a diminutive [source]. Cwgen is a diminutive of cwc, cŵc, cwg (cook), which was borrowed from English.
In Cornish, bread rolls are bara byghan (“small bread”) [source].
In Scottish Gaelic, a bread roll is a bonnach arain – bonnach is a bannock or (savoury) cake, and comes from the French beignet (a fritter filled with fruit), from the Frankish *bungjo (lump, bump, swelling), from the Proto-Germanic *bungô / *bunkô (lump, heap, crowd), from the Proto-Indo-European bʰenǵʰ- (thick, dense, fat) [source], which is also the root of the English words bunch and bunion.
Aran (bread, loaf, livelihood, sustenance), comes from the Old Irish arán (bread, loaf), from Proto-Celtic *ar(-akno)- (bread) [source]
Chaire comes from the Middle French chaire (chair (item of furniture)), from the Old French chaiere, chaere, from the Latin cathedra (armchair, ceremonial chair, the office or rank of teacher or bishop), from Ancient Greek καθέδρα (kathédra – seat; chair; rower’s seat; posterior, bottom; base of a column; sitting posture; teacher’s / professor’s chair; imperial throne), from κατά (katá – down) and ἕδρα (hédra – seat) [source].
The English words chair and chaise come from the same root, via the Old French chaiere, chaere [source].
Cathedral comes from the the Late Latin ecclesia cathedralis (church of a bishop’s seat), from the Latin cathedra [source].
Sit comes from the Old English sittan (to sit), from the Proto-Germanic *sitjaną (to sit), from the Proto-Indo-European *sed- (to sit), which is also the root of the Ancient Greek word ἕδρα (seat) [source].
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].
In Dutch a garden or yard is a tuin [tœy̯n]. When I learnt this yesterday I wondered whether it was related to the English word town.
Tuin comes from the Middle Dutch tuun (hedge), from the Old Dutch tūn (an enclosed piece of ground), from the Proto-Germanic *tūną (fence, enclosure), from the Proto-Celtic *dūnom (stronghold, rampart) [source].
Related words include:
achtertuin = backyard, back garden
betuinen = to enclose, fence, hedge
dierentuin = zoo
kindertuin = kindergarten
kruidentuin = herb garden
moestuin = vegetable / kitchen garden
speeltuin = children’s playground
tuinen = to practice agriculture or horticulture
tuinier = gardener
tuinieren = gardening
tuincentrum = garden centre
tuinslang = garden hose (“garden snake”)
voortuin = front yard
From the Proto-Germanic word *tūną we also get such words as town, the German Zaun (fence), the Icelandic tún (hayfield), the Faroese tún (forecourt, way between houses, street in a Faroese village), and the Norwegian tun (courtyard, front yard, farmstead) [source].
The Russian word тын (fence, especially one made of twigs) comes from the same root [source].
Words for dune in Germanic language possibly come from the same root as well [source].
Directly from the Proto-Celtic word *dūnom we get such words as the Irish dún (fort, fortress, haven), the Scottish Gaelic dùn (fortress, heap, hill), the Manx doon (fort, fortress, stronghold), the Welsh dyn (hill, height, fortification) and dinas (city, town), and the Cornish din (fort) [source]. More about this on Celtiadur
Yesterday while looking into Celtic words bear, I found some interesting ones in the Goidelic languages: mathúin [ˈmˠahuːnʲ] in Irish, mathan [ˈmahan] in Scottish Gaelic and maghouin in Manx. These come from the Old Irish mathgamain [ˈmaθɣəṽənʲ], from math (good) and gamuin (calf).
So bears were called “good calves” – this is possibly an example of taboo naming, that is using an alternative name for a dangerous animal rather than naming it directly, in the belief that this might it less likely to attack you.
In the Brythonic languages words for bear are arth (Welsh & Cornish) and arzh (Breton), which come from the Proto-Celtic *artos (bear), from the Proto-Indo-European h₂ŕ̥tḱos (bear). This is also the root of English word Arctic, and words for bear in Romance and other European languages.
There are no bears in the Anglo-Celtic Isles these days, except in zoos, but there were bears in Britain and Ireland until about 3,000 years ago. The Celtic languages were spoken back then.
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.
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.
It seems that a new year, and indeed a new decade has started, so Happy New Year / Decade!
I’ve noticed that some people are looking back at what they’ve done / achieved, etc over the past decade, so I thought I’d do something similar.
Back in 2009 I was studying for an MA in Linguistics at Bangor University, while working on Omniglot in my spare time, and writing for a couple of other websites. I finished my course in September of that year, though didn’t officially graduate until the following year, and have been working full-time on Omniglot since then.
Over the past decade Omniglot has grown quite a bit – I add something new, or make improvements, almost every day. The site now contains:
Since 2009 Omniglot has been visited by 176 million people, who have made 234 milion visits and viewed 407 million pages. There have been visitors every single country and territory, even Antarctica and North Korea. The top ten countries vistors come from are USA, India, UK, Canada, Philippines, Australia, Germany, Malaysia, Singapore and South Africa. The most spoken languages of visitors are: English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese (Brazilian), Dutch, Russian, Chinese and Polish.
Over the past decade I’ve studied and dabbled with a few languages, including: Breton, BSL, Cornish, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Esperanto, Icelandic, Irish, Latin, Manx, Romanian, Russian, Scots, Scottish Gaelic, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish and Toki Pona. I also started creating my own language: Laala, and made some con-scripts such as Crymeddau and Curvetic.
I joined a French conversation group back in 2009, and have been going almost every week since then. This has really helped to improve my French and I feel a lot more confident about using it now. When I can, I also go to a Welsh conversation group, and for a while I tried to run a polyglot conversation group.
Every summer I’ve been to Ireland to do courses in Irish language, traditional Irish songs, harp and/or bodhrán playing. I’ve also been to Scotland quite a few times to do courses in Scottish Gaelic songs.
In 2012 I started writing songs and tunes, and have written quite a few since then, especially in 2019, when I wrote a new song almost every month and several new tunes. I also started to write out the music for my tunes and songs, and to make new arrangements of them.
The first song I wrote was The Elephant Song, which came to me after going to a poetry writing workshop.
In 2018 I started the Radio Omniglot Podcast, and have made 27 episodes so far. I try to make two episodes per month, but don’t always manage it.
In 2018 I also launched the Celtiadur, a collection of Celtic cognates, where I explore links between modern and ancient Celtic languages. This is an extension of the Celtic Cognates section on Omniglot.
Wow! Putting it together like this makes me realise that I haven’t been entirely idle.