One of the Spanish words I learnt today was ¡guácala! [ˈɡwa.ka.la], which means yuck! ew! gross! it’s disgusting! and similar exclamations of disgust. It’s used in El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and the Dominican Republic to indicate dislike, disgust, or rejection [source].
It comes from guacal (wooden crate, tub, calabash tree), from the Classical Nahuatl huacalli [kwaˈkalːi] (wooden crate) [source]. Why a word for a wooden crate became an exclamation of disgust is not clear.
Here are some examples of how it’s used (from ReversoContext and Duolingo):
¡Guácala! ¡Sabe horrible! = Yuck! It tastes horrible!
¡Guácala, casi lo pisé! = Ew, I almost stepped in it.
¡No, guácala! = No, it’s disgusting!
¡Guácala, mal postre = Euhhh… bad pie
Related words include:
guácara = vomit
guacarear = to vomit
Both of which are used in Mexico.
Other Spanish words with a similar meaning include:
¡Qué asco! = Yuck! How revolting! How disgusting!
¡Puaj! = Ew! Yeech! Blecchh! Yuk! Phooey! Gross!
¡Uf! = Phew! Ugh!
¡Puf! = Yuck!
Are there other words in Spanish with a similar meaning?
What about equivalent words in other languages?
One of my favourite expressions in Welsh is ych a fi! [əx ə viː], which means yuck! [source].
The word ych, pronounced [ɨːχ/iːχ], also means ox.
In Spanish the word llama has several different meanings. As well as being a domesticated South American camelid of the genus Lama glama, it also a flame, and means “he/she/it calls”, or in other words the third person singular present tense form of the verb llamar (to summon, call, knock, ring). Each version of llama comes from a different root [source].
The animal llama [ˈʎama] comes from the the Quechua word llama. Other members of the genus lama include:
alpaca [alˈpaka] (Vicugna pacos) comes from the Aymara word allpaqa
guanaco [ɡwaˈnako] (Lama guanicoe) comes from the Quechua word wanaku
vicuña [biˈkuɲa] (Lama vicugna / Vicugna vicugna) comes from wik’uña
The flaming version of llama, which is pronounced [ˈʝama/ˈɟ͡ʝa.ma], is an alternative version of flama (flame), and comes from the Latin flamma (flame, fire), from the Proto-Italic *flagmā, from Proto-Indo-European *bʰlē- (to shimmer, gleam, shine) [source].
Some English words from the same root include flame, flambé and flagrant.
Llamar [ʝaˈmaɾ/ɟ͡ʝaˈmaɾ] (to summon, call, etc) comes from the Old Spanish lamar, from the Latin clāmāre, from clamō (cry out, clamer, yell, shout), from the Proto-Indo-European *kelh₁- (to shout) [source].
Words from the same root include acclaim, claim, clamour, council and haul [source].
When I see words beginning with a double l, which are quite common in Spanish, I have to stop myself giving them a Welsh pronounciation [ɬ]. There is in fact a Welsh word which resembles llama – llamu, which means to jump, leap, bound, spring. It comes from the Proto-Celtic word *lanxsman (jump), from the Proto-Indo-European *h₁lengʷʰ- (light; move lightly) [source]. The Welsh for llama is lama, by the way.
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?
If you have red or ginger hair in the Netherlands or Dutch-speaking parts of Belgium you might be called a vuurtoren [ˈvyːrˌtoː.rə(n)], or literally a “fire tower”. This is apparently a rather rude way to refer to redheads. Other ways include roodhaar (red-hair), roodharige (red-haired), rosse (red), or rossekop (red-head) [source].
As well as meaning redhead, vuurtoren also means lighthouse or beacon, and was a nickname for the old 250 Guilder note, which had a lighthouse on it. Another name for a lighthouse is a lichttoren, and a lighthouse keeper is a vuurtorenwachter.
Vuur (fire, heat, heater, lighter) comes from the Middle Dutch vuur (fire, bonfire, passion), from Old Dutch fuir (fire), from Proto-West Germanic *fuir (fire), from Proto-Germanic *fōr (fire), ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *péh₂wr̥ (fire) [source].
Toren (tower, rook (in chess)) comes the Middle Dutch torre (tower), from the Old Dutch turn (tower), from the Old French tur/tor (tower), from the Latin turris (tower, rook), from the Ancient Greek τύρρις (túrrhis – tower) [source].
A YouTube Channel I found recently is Linguriosa, which is run by a redheaded Spanish lass (una pelirroja) who makes interesting and funny videos about the Spanish language. She talks clearly and not too fast, so it’s great if you’re learning Spanish, as I am at the moment, or are a fluent speaker. Here’s an example:
Do you know of similar channels in other languages?
According to research carried out by Preply, the countries with the best language learning environments are Luxembourg, Sweden, Cyprus, Malta, Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, Slovenia, Spain and Estonia.
Their Worldwide Language Index was compiled from analyzing data from 30 European countries, plus the USA, on such factors as the number of official languages, the degree of multilingualism, language learning in schools, the level of competence in foreign languages, access to language learning technology, and whether TV and films are subtitled or dubbed.
Overall, Luxembourg scored hightest, so if you grew up in Luxembourg, you are more likely to be successful in learning several languages. Are there any Luxembourgers reading this? Would you agree with this?
Luxembourg has three official languages: Luxembourgish, German and French, and education is in all three languages. English is also taught in schools, and students can choose to learn Italian, Spanish, Portuguese or Chinese. In addition, some classes are taught in Portuguese or English for the children of immigrants [source].
In terms of individual factors, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Malta, Spain, Austria, Hungary, France, Latvia, Poland, Italy, Sweden and Croatia all score highly for language learning in school. The countries with the highest level of command of the best known foreign languages include Luxembourg, Sweden and Malta.
The UK only scores highly in the Subtitles, Dubbing and Voiceover category, and the USA scores highly in language diversity.
What this study didn’t look at, as far as I can tell, is whether these countries are also good places to learn languages if you’re from elsewhere. It would be interesting to see how well each country teaches their local language(s) to immigrants or visitors interested in learning them.
Note: this post is sponsored by Preply, an online learning platform, connecting a global network of tens of thousands of active learners and 15,000 verified tutors to study and teach over 50 languages.
If you are in the eye of the storm you are in the center or most intense part of a tumultuous situation, or literally in the calm region at the centre of a storm, hurricane, cyclone or typhoon [source].
In French equivalents of the eye of the storm include l’oeil du cyclone (the eye of the cyclone), l’œil de la tempête (the eye of the storm) and le cœur de la tempête (the heart of the storm) [source].
The French word tempête (storm, tempest), and the English word tempest both come from the Old French tempeste (storm, tempest), from the Latin tempesta (storm, tempest), from tempestās (storm, tempest, weather, season) from tempus (time, weather), from the Proto-Indo-European *tempos (stretch) [source].
The French word temps (time, weather), comes from the same root, as does the Spanish word tiempo (time, weather), Italian word tempo (time, weather) and related words in other languages.
The expression a tempest in a teapot, meaning ‘a small event that has been exaggerated out of proportion’, dates from 1818, and is apparently the American English equivalent of the British English storm in a teacup. Before then the equivalent was a storm in a creambowl, which dates from the 1670s [source]. Other versions of this phrase include a tempest/storm in a glass of water and a storm in a wash-hand basin [source].
In French you could talk about une tempête dans un verre d’eau (a storm in a glass of water)
In French if you don’t speak a langauge very well, you are said to speak it “like a Spanish cow”, or “comme une vache espagnole” [source]. For example:
Il parle anglais comme une vache espagnole He speaks English like a Spanish cow
Elle parle français comme une vache espagnole She speaks French like a Spanish cow
This expression was first used in writing in the 17th century, and possibly referred to vasces, that is Gascons or Basques, rather than vaches, or cows. At the time, Basque people from Spain probably didn’t speak French very well. Or it might come from basse (servant, maid), or from the use of comme une vache as an insult. Also, calling people and things espagnole (Spanish) was also an insult at the time [source].
In English you might say that someone speaks broken English or bad English, or that they butcher or murder English. Although, as the American author H. Jackson Brown Jr. says “Never make fun of someone who speaks broken English. It means they know another language” [source].
You could make up other ways to say you speak a language badly:
I speak Russian like a Pavlovian pig
I speak Czech like a Bohemian badger
I speak Romanian like a Ruritanian rabbit
Are there idioms in other languages to refer to people speaking them badly, or indeed well?
Over the past year, and before, we’ve often been told that we’re all “in the same boat”, at least in the UK. The intention is to suggest that we are all in a similar situation or predicament, and the expression is often used by those in positions of power, wealth and privilege.
The idea of being in the same boat meaning ‘having the same fate’ first appeared in writing in 1584 in Thomas Hudson’s translation of Du Bartas’ Historie of Judith:
haue ye paine ? so likewise paine haue we :
For in one bote we both imbarked be.
Vpon one tide, one tempest doeth vs tosse,
Your common ill, it is our common losse.
It appeared more or less in the current form in writing by Thomas Taylor, a British cleryman in 1629. He said:
He is in the same boate which is tossed and threatned with the tempest, and is someway interessed in the common cause, and quarrell.
In other languages, such as Dutch, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian and Japanese, you can talk about being in the same boat. Are there any languages in which this idea is referred to without mentioning boats?
An interesting word I learnt the other day while listening to the Something Rhymes with Purple podcast was scribacious, which means “prone to excessive writing” [source], “having the tendency to write a lot or too much“ [source], or “addicted to writing, fond of writing” [source].
Scribacious comes from scribe (someone who writes), from the Middle English scribe, from the Old French scribe (scribe), from the Late Latin scriba (secretary), from scribere (to write, draw (up), draft, scratch).
Are there any other words that mean “fond of writing”?
Some related words include:
scribaciousnesss = the quality or state of being scribacious
scribal = relating to scribes and their work
scribely = of, relating to, or characteristic of a scribe; scribal
scribable = capable of being written upon
scribbleomania = obsession with scribbling
scripturient = having a violent desire to write
One who is fond of reading might be called bookish, a bookworm or a bibliophile. Do you know any other words for this?
In Dutch a bookworm is a boekenwurm [source], and similarly in German a bookworm is a Bücherwurm [source].
In Spanish a bookworm is a ratón de biblioteca (a library mouse), a ratón de archivo (an archive mouse), a gusano de libro (a bookworm) [source].
In French a bookworm is a rat de bibliothèque (a library rat) or a dévoreur de livres (a devourer of books) [source].
In Italian a bookworm is a topo di bibliteca (a library rat/mouse) [source].
An interesting Danish word I learnt recently is småkage [ˈsmʌˌkʰæːjə], which means biscuit or cookie, or literally “small cake” [source].
The Dutch word koekje [ˈkuk.jə], meaning cookie, is a diminutive of koek (cake), so you could say the it means “small cake” as well. It was borrowed into English and became cookie. This was borrowed back into Dutch as cookie to refer to internet cookies [source].
The word kage [ˈkʰæː(j)ə] (cake) comes from the Old Danish kakæ, from Old Norse kaka (cake), from Proto-Germanic *kakǭ (cake), from the Proto-Indo-European *gag-/*gōg- (round, ball-shaped object; lump; clump). The Dutch word koek comes from the same Proto-Germanic root [source].
The English word cake comes from the same Old Norse root, and has been borrowed by a number of other languages [source], including Dutch, where it became kaak [kaːk] (ship biscuit) and cake [keːk] (pound cake).
In French the word cake [kɛk] refers to fruitcake (containing rum) or quick bread (a smallish loaf-shaped baked good). In Portuguese it became queque [ˈkɛ.kɨ], meaning a muffin or cupcake – the same word in Spanish, pronounced [ˈkeke], refers to a cake, cupcake or biscuit.
The plural form cakes was borrowed into Danish and became kiks [ˈkʰiɡs] – a cracker. In German it became Keks (biscuit / cookie), which was borrowed into Russian and became кекс [kʲeks], which means cake, fruitcake, cupcake, dude or guy. This sounds a bit like the word kecks, which in northern England and Scotland is a slang word for trousers and/or underpants, from kicks (breeches).