As today is the first day of December, I thought I’d look into the origins of the names for this month in various languages.

December comes from the Middle English December/Decembre, from the Old French decembre, from the Latin december, from decem (ten) and the adjectival suffix -ber. December was the tenth month in the Roman calendar, which started in March [source]. The days between December and March were not included in the calendar as part of any month. Later they became January and February and were added to the beginning of the calendar [source].

hoar frost

In the Old English December was known as Ġēolamonaþ/Gēolmōnaþ/Iūlmōnaþ (“Yule month”) or ǣrra ġēola (“before Yule”). The word Yulemonth apparently exists in modern English, although is rarely used [source]. December is associated with Yuletide / Christmas in a few other languages: mí na Nollag (“month of Christmas”) in Irish, Mee ny Nollick (“month of Christmas”) in Manx, and joulukuu (“yule month”) in Finnish and Võro.

In many languages the name of this month is a version of December, but there are some exceptions.

In Aragonese December is abiento, in Asturian it’s avientu, in Basque it’s abendu and in Occitan it’s abén. These all come from the Latin adventus (arrival, approach, advent), from adveniō (arrive) and the suffix -tus [source].

In Belarusian December is снежань (sniežań) [ˈsʲnʲeʐanʲ], which comes from снег (snjeh – snow) [source]. The Cherokee name for December is also related to snow: ᎥᏍᎩᎦ (vsgiga) or “snow moon” [source].

In Proto-Slavic the month after the Winter solitice was known as *prosinьcь. There are a number of possible roots for this word: *siňь (gray), *sijati (to shine, glow – referring to the winter solstice) or *prositi (to pray – referring to Christmas). Descendents in modern Slavic languages include prosinec (December) in Czech, просинац (December) in Serbian, and prosinec (January) in Slovenian.

In Welsh December is Rhagfyr [ˈr̥aɡvɨ̞r / ˈr̥aɡvɪr] (“foreshortening”), because it’s a time when days get shorter [source].

December is “twelve month” or “month twelve” in Chinese: 十二月 (shí’èryuè), Japanese: 十二月 (jūnigatsu), Korean: 십이월 (12월/十二月/12月 – sipiweol), and Vietnamese: tháng mười hai (𣎃𨑮𠄩).

Are there other interesting names for December in other languages?

You can find the names of months in many languages here.

Earth Apples & Ground Pears

One of the Dutch words I learnt recently is aardappel [ˈaːr.dɑ.pəl], which means potato, or literally “earthapple”. This is cognate with one of the German words for potato – Erdapfel [ˈeːɐ̯tˌʔa.p͡fl̩/], which is used mainly in southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Apparently earthapple also exists in English, although it’s rare, The Sinhala word අර්‍තාපල් [art̪aːpal] was apparently borrowed from Dutch [source].

One French word for potato, pomme de terre, means “apple of the earth”, though comes from different roots.


Related words include:

  • aardappelpuree = mashed potato(es)
  • aardappelschilmesje = potato peeler
  • aardappel in de schil = baked potato, jacket potato, potato skins
  • aardappelsoep = potato soup
  • aardappelknödel = potato dumplings
  • aardappelsalade = potato salad
  • aardappeloogst = potato harvest
  • De aardappeleters = The Potato Eaters (a painting by Van Gogh – see below)

In case you’re feeling hungry now, here are a few receipes for potato-based dishes (in Dutch). I might even try some of these myself. It would be a fun way to practise using my Dutch.

De aardappeleters

Another Dutch word for potato is patat [paːˈtɑt], borrowed from the French patate (potato), which is used mainly in Canada and Louisiana, and comes from the Spanish patata (potato), from the Taíno batata (sweet potato) and/or the the Quechua papa (potato). This is also the root of the English word potato, and similar words in other languages [source].

Another German word for potato is Grundbirne [ˈɡʁʊntˌbɪʁ.nə] (ground pear), which is used in Austria. It’s cognate with the Luxembourgish Gromper [ˈɡʀompeʀ] (potato), the Slovenian krompir [krɔmpìːr] (potato), the Macedonian компир (potato) [source].

The Dutch word aardpeer means “earthpear”, and refers to the Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus), a kind of sunflower native to North America [source].

The more common German word for potato, Kartoffel [kaʁˈtɔfəl], and related words in other languages, comes from the Italian tartufolo, a diminutive of tartufo (truffle), from the Medieval Latin *territūberum or the Latin terrae tūber (tuber of the earth) [source].

In Mandarin Chinese, a potato is a 土豆 (tǔdòu) or “earth bean”, at least in Mainland China. In Taiwan this means peanut [source] – a potato is a 馬鈴薯 (mǎlíngshǔ), or “horse bell potato / yam”, probably because potatoes look like the bells used on horses [source].

New Year

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:

… and much more.

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.

I haven’t made a good recording of my most recent song, but here’s one I wrote in November / December 2019:

Since 2014 I’ve been to a number of polyglot events, including the Polyglot Gathering and the Polyglot Conference. At most of these I’ve given talks or run workshops.


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.

Gardens and Castles

The word for garden in Russian, and also in Belarusian, Ukrainian and Serbian, is сад [sat], which also means orchard. It comes from the Proto-Slavic word *sadъ (plant, garden).

The word for garden in most other Slavic languages is the same: sad in Croatian, Slovenian, Polish, Slovak and Sorbian. There are also similar words in Latvian (sads) and Lithuanian (sõdas) [source].

The word sad also exists in Czech, but just means orchard. The Czech word for garden is zahrada [ˈzaɦrada], which comes from za (for, in, behind), and hrad (castle), from the Proto-Slavic *gȏrdъ* (settlement, enclosed place). So zahrada could be translated as “in/behind the castle” [source].

*The Proto-Slavic *gȏrdъ comes ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰórtos (enclosure), which is also the root of the Irish gort (wheatfield), the Welsh garth (hill, enclosure), the Latin hortus (garden), and the English horticulture, yard and garden, and related words in other languages.

Powis Castle

Elephants & Camels

Elephants and camels

What do elephants and camels have in common?

Well, words for camel in Slavic languages like Czech and Russian possibly come from an Ancient Greek word meaning elephant.

In Czech the word for camel is velbloud [ˈvɛlblou̯t], which comes from the Proto-Slavic *velьb(l)ǫdъ / vъlьb(l)ǫdъ (camel), from the Gothic 𐌿𐌻𐌱𐌰𐌽𐌳𐌿𐍃 (ulbandus – camel), from the Latin elephantus (elephant), from the Ancient Greek ἐλέφας (eléphas – elephant) [source].

Words from camel in other Slavic languages come from the same root: верблюд (verbljúd) in Russian and Ukrainian, вярблюд (vjarbljúd) in Belarusian, wielbłąd in Polish, and so on [source].

These all come from the Gothic 𐌿𐌻𐌱𐌰𐌽𐌳𐌿𐍃 (ulbandus), but from there the etmological trial gets a bit hazy, as they quite often do. Traditionally this word is thought to derive from the Greek ἐλέφας, via the Latin elephantus.

Another theory is that the Gothic word comes from the Proto-Germanic *elpanduz (elephant, camel), which possibly comes from the Hittite word hu(wa)lpant (humpback), or from another ancient language of Anatolian such as Luwian [source].

The word for elephant in Czech (and also in Slovak, Serbian, Croatian and Slovenian) is slon [slon], which comes from the Proto-Slavic *slonъ (elephant) [source], which comes either from the Turkish aslan (lion), or from *sloniti (to lean against), relating to the medieval story of an elephant sleeping leaning on a tree [source].

So now we know where the name of the lion in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe probably comes from.

Language Learning Update

Just finished the Spanish course on Duolingo

This week I finally completed the Spanish course on Duolingo. I’ve been using it to improve and refresh my Spanish, as I have studied the language with various courses before. I can now understand, read, write and speak a lot more Spanish than before, though need to practise speaking and writing it more.

I first took a placement test on Duolingo to see how much Spanish I already knew, and didn’t start from the beginning. Then I skipped through each level using the tests, rather than working through each lesson individually. Had I done that, it would take a lot longer. For now, I’m not studying Spanish actively anymore, but will use it whenever I get the chance.

Over the past two and a half years or so, I’ve studied languages every day with Duolingo (current streak = 767 days). I’ve completed courses in Spanish, Russian, Swedish, Danish and Esperanto. I also completed the Romanian course, then they added lots of extra levels, and I haven’t gone back to work on those. At the moment I’m focussing on Czech, and will continue to do so, working through every lesson, so it’s going to take quite a while. I don’t plan to start any other languages until I’ve finished the Czech course.

In the meantime, I’ve also been studying Czech, and Russian, on Mondly – Czech for 226 days and Russian for 153 days. I really like their courses and am learning a lot from them.

On Memrise I’m studying Russian, Danish and Swedish. When I started using Memrise nearly two years ago, I already knew some Russian and Swedish. and started Swedish from level 2. I started Danish last year from scratch, although my knowledge of Swedish, and German and English, certainly helps. I’m currently doing level 6 courses in Swedish and Danish, and level 5 in Russian.

By the way, if you sign up to Memrise by 16th September, you will get a 50% discount, and I’ll get a small commission.

I find these apps with the streak counters really encourage me to study every day. It has become a habit to do so, and one I plan to continue for as long as possible.

Apart from these studies, I keep my French and Welsh ticking over by speaking them regularly, and other languages by using them occasionally.

How are your language studies going?

Do you prefer to focus on one language at a time, or to learn two or more simultaneously?

What courses, apps and other resources do you use?

Bibbling bibblers


I came across a wonderful word yesterday – bibble – which means to eat and/or drink noisily, or to tipple. Or in Yiddish it means to worry.

It comes from the Middle English bibben (to drink), from the Latin bibō (I drink), from Proto-Indo-European *peh₃- (to drink) [source].

If you’re a bibbling bibbler, you may need a bib, which comes from the same root, and originally meant to drink heartily [source]. While bibbling, maybe you’ll engage in some bibble-babble (idle talk, babble), possibly in a bibbery (drinking house), which would be bibacious.

The words imbibe, potion and potable come from the same root, as do words for to drink in various languaages, including: ól (Irish), òl (Scottish Gaelic), yfed (Welsh), eva (Cornish), boire (French), and beber (Spanish, Portuguese, Galician, Asturian & Aragonese).

Words for beer Slavic languages come from the same root as well: pivo (Croatian, Czech, Slovak & Slovenian), piwo (Polish, Sorbian), and пиво (Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Macedonian & Serbian).

500 days of Duolingo

Duolingo screenshot

Today my streak on Duolingo reached 500 days. Before then I had a 96 day streak, but lost that one day when I didn’t quite get enough points. So for the past 596 days I have studied a bit of various languages every day. This is the longest continuous period of study I’ve managed, and I plan to maintain it for as long as possible.

Back in early 2017 I started studying Swedish and Russian on Duolingo. Later I added Romanian to the mix, and this year I added Danish and Esperanto. I’ve finished all the Swedish and Russian lessons, and am continuing to study them on Memrise. I decided to take a break from the Romanian last year, and am currently working on Danish and Esperanto. When I finish them I may add other languages I want to improve, such as Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and German.

I can’t say that I’ve become fluent in any of these languages, but my knowledge of them certainly has improved. I’ve made more progress with Swedish and Danish than with Russian or Romanian, which I find more challenging.

On Memrise I’m currently studying Swedish, Danish, Russian and Cornish, and have learnt bits of Icelandic, Slovak and Slovenian over the past year or so. I may start Slovak again in preparation for the Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava next year.

What’s your longest streak on Duolingo, or other language learning apps?

What do you think of this aspect of such apps?

Polyglot Conference – Day 1

The Polyglot Conference officially started today. There were talks and workshops all day on all sorts of interesting topics. I went to talks on Slovenian, linguistic relavtivity, Romani, the Cathars, and audiolinguistics. They were all interesting, especially the linguistic ones.

There was plenty of time between the talks to talk to other participants, and I managed to make some recordings in quite a variety of languages for the next episode of my podcast. I hope to make more recordings tomorrow.

I had conversations in English, Welsh, French, Irish, German, Russian, Mandarin, Japanese, and tried to speak a few other languages.

They are preparing Ljubljana for the Ljubljana Marathon tomorrow, and quite a few streets are being lined with barriers. I hope I’ll be able to get to the conference venue tomorrow.

Polyglotting in Ljubljana

After arriving in Ljubljana yesterday I found a bus into the city centre, then walked to the AirBnB I’m staying in, which is more or less in the centre of the old town. It doesn’t look like much from outside – the door is covered in graffiti, and the outside of the building is rather plain, but inside the flat I’m in is very nicely decorated.


Last night I had dinner at a restaurant by the Ljubljanica, the river that flows through Ljubljana. I saw quite a few people I know from previous polyglot events going past, and met some of them afterwards in a tapas restaurant.

So far I’ve spoken a little Slovenian, quite a bit of German, French and Welsh, and odd bits of other languages.

We spent today talking about the best ways to learn languages. This was interesting and there was some useful advice that I might try.

I haven’t had a lot of time to explore the city yet. The centre is quite compact and mostly pedestranised, with lots of interesting and colourful buildings.

This evening there was a concert with songs in many languages, then I went for dinner with quite a few other polyglots.