Rare Words

There’s a rare word in Dutch – raar [raːr] – which is cognate with the English word rare, but means weird, strange, funny, odd or unusual.

It comes from the Middle Dutch rare (rare, unusual), from the Latin rārus (scattered, seldom, few, uncommon, thin, loose), from the Proto-Indo-European *h₁r̥h₁rós, from *h₁reh₁- (to separate) [source].

Here are some examples of how it’s used:

  • Ik heb een raar telefoontje gehad = I got a weird phone call
  • Want je doet een beetje raar = Because you’ve been acting a little weird
  • Dit is vast gewoon een raar misverstand = I’m sure it’s just a weird misunderstanding
  • M’n leven is nu nogal raar = My life is kind of, like, a little weird right now
  • Luister, dit gaat raar klinken … = Look, this is going to sound strange …

Source: Reverso Context

The Dutch words for rare include zeldzaam [ˈzɛlt.saːm] (rare, scarce), which is cognate with the Engish words seldom and seldsome (rare, uncommon), and schaars [sxaːrs] (scarce, rare, sparse), which is cognate with the Engish word scarce [source].

The English word rare comes from the same root, via the Middle English rare [ˈraːr(ə)/ˈrɛːr(ə)] (airy, vacuous, porous, breathable, sparsely spread, uncommon, scare, small, little), and the Old French rare/rere (rare, uncommon) [source].

Other descendants of the Latin word rārus include:

  • Albanian: rrallë [raːɫ] = sparse, infrequent, rare, outstanding
  • Catalan: rar [ˈrar] = rare, strange, odd, thin (of a gas)
  • Danish: rar [ʁɑːˀ] = pleasant, kind, nice
  • Dutch: raar [raːr] = weird, strange, funny, odd, unusual
  • French: rare [ʁɑʁ] = rare, sparse, scarce
  • German: rar [ʁaːʁ] = rare, scarce
  • Spanish: raro [ˈraɾo] = strange, odd, rare
  • Swedish: rar = cute, sweet, loveable, rare

So rare, and its relatives, are strangely funny, wiredly unusual, outstandingly odd, loveably cute, nicely sweet, sparsely scarce and oddly rare words, it seems.

Now here’s a rare bird, a little bittern or Ixobrychus minutus:

Little Bittern

Boring Cloaks

The Dutch word saai [saːi] means boring, tedious or dull. It originally meant woven woollen cloth. By the 19th century it was being used to mean annoying, and also came to mean boring, because cloth was thought to be dull and uninteresting apparently [source].

Saai comes from the Middle Dutch saye / saey, from the Old French saie [sɛ] (a short garment worn by ancient Persians, Romans, and Gauls in combat), from the Latin sagum [ˈsa.ɡʊ̃ˑ/ˈsaː.ɡum] (a military cloak), from the Ancient Greek σάγος [ˈsa.ɣos] (cloak, coat, habit), [source] from the Gaulish *sagos [source], from the Proto-Celtic word *sago- (a coarse woollen blanket or mantle) [source] (PDF), from the Proto-Indo-European *sagom (mantle) [source]

The word sagum also exists in English, and refers to a cloak, worn in ancient times by the Gauls, early Germans, and Roman soldiers, made of a rectangular piece of (usually red) coarse cloth and fastened on the right shoulder (see the photo below).

Words that come from the Latin sagum include the Spanish saya [ˈsaʝa] (skirt, petticoat, dress, woman), the Portuguese saia [ˈsajɐ/ˈsaja] (skirt, woman), and the obsolete French word sayon [sɛ.jɔ̃] (cassock, jacket) [source].

Romans

Edinburgh

I am currently in Edinburgh for the Edinburgh Language Event, brought to you by the people behind the Polyglot Conference. It’s a smaller than other polyglot events I’ve been to, with only 100 or participants, and the main focus is languages of the Isles, or the British Isles and Ireland, if you prefer.

The Language Event, Edinburgh

I arrived earlier this evening, and eventually found the AirBnB I’m staying in after a few wrong turns. Then I discovered that my phone charger was no longer in my bag – it must have dropped out somewhere, probably on the train. So by the time I found my accommodation, it had only 3% charge. I hope to borrow someone’s charger tomorrow, or I might have to buy a new one.

I met up with some of the other participants at a large bar in the centre of Edinburgh. Some I know already from previous such events, and others I didn’t know before. Most of the conversations were in English, but I also spoke some Welsh, Russian, Swedish, Mandarin and Japanese.

The event starts tomorrow morning, and I’ll be giving a talk about connections between Celtic languages tomorrow afternoon. I know there are speakers of Welsh, Irish, Manx and Scottish Gaelic here, and there may even be some Cornish and Breton speakers.

More photos from Edinburgh:

Edinburgh / Dùn Èideann

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.

Polyglottery

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.

Inclusion & Exclusion

Imagine you’re with a group of people who all share a common language, and some of the group may also speak another language. Is it rude for them to speak that language, knowing that some members of the group won’t understand them, and might feel excluded?

Let’s say the common language is English, and some of the group speak Spanish. If you were a monoglot English speaker, you might feel excluded / annoyed if some members of the group speak Spanish, a language you don’t understand.

Imagine if you worked in an office where everyone speaks Mandarin and English, but you only speak English. Would you tell them to speak exclusively in English all the time, or at least when you’re around?

If you were the boss, you might do so. This was in fact the situation where I worked in Taipei – the boss only spoke English, so we all spoke English with him, while we spoke a mixture of Mandarin, English and Taiwanese among ourselves.

How about if everybody in the group but you speaks a language like Catalan, Basque, Welsh or Irish, would you expect them all to switch to a more-widely spoken language, such as Spanish or English, so you can understand and/or feel included?

There have been cases of monoglot English-speaking managers in businesses in Wales and Ireland insisting that their staff speak to each other in English rather than Welsh or Irish. The managers want to understand what their staff are saying, and don’t want any non-Welsh or Irish-speaking customers to feel excluded.

At the Welsh music session I go to, we speak mainly Welsh and bits of English. For the native speakers of Welsh, it’s normal to speak their mother tongue, and for the fluent learners like me, it’s a great opportunity to practise the language. Some of the people who come to the session don’t speak Welsh, or are just starting to learn it. However, they don’t complain that they can’t understand, and don’t insist that we speak English.

Noson werin / Welsh music session

When I hear someone speaking in a language I don’t know, my ears prick up and I try to guess what language it is and what they’re talking about. Sometimes I might even ask them what language they’re speaking. Other people might not react in this way, and may even feel intimidated / irritated if everyone around is speaking in foreign.

Atchoo!

Bless you!

When someone sneezes, you might say Bless you!, at least in English.

In Spanish, I discovered the other day, you say ¡Jesús!. A Welsh friend told me this, and another friend thought it sounded like the Welsh phrase Ga i sws? (May I have a kiss?).

In Welsh you might say Rhad arnat ti!/arnoch chi! (Bless you!), Bendith y Tad! (Blessing of the Father!) or Bendith y mamau! (Blessing of the mothers!).

In French you say À tes/vos souhaits ! (As you wish!).

In German you Gesundheit! (Health!)

What about in other languages?

Soft mitigation

The Russian word милый means dear, sweet (having a pleasing disposition); beloved, dear or darling. I learnt this while putting together a page of terms of endearment in Russian today.

It comes from the Proto-Slavic word *milъ (sweet, dear), from the Proto-Indo-European word *meh₁y- (mild, soft).

The Czech word milý (nice, kind, good, dear, pleasant, sweet; boyfriend) comes from the same root, as do similar words in other Slavic languages, such as the Belarusian мілы (sweet, nice), the Bulgarian мил (dear), and the Polish miły (nice, pleasant).

The Latin mītis (gentle, mild, ripe) comes from the same Proto-Indo-European root, as does the Italian word mite (mild, moderate, balmy), the Portuguese word mitigar (to mitigate), the Spanish word mitigar (to mitigate, alleviate, allay, assuage, quench, soothe), and the English word mitigate.

I’m would like to put together pages of terms of endearment / affection in other languages. Can you help with this?

Cats and Porridge

att gå som katten kring het gröt

What connection is there between cats and porridge?

Well in Swedish, att gå som katten kring het gröt (“to walk like the cat around hot porridge”) means that you are not getting to the point, beating around the bush, stalling, avoiding talking directly about something sensitive or unpleasant, approaching something indirectly and cautiously, walking on egg shells, pussyfooting around, or wasting time.

Some examples of how this phrase is used:

  • Låt oss inte gå som katten kring het gröt
    Let us not beat around the bush
  • Vi går som katten kring het gröt, både politiskt och diplomatiskt sett.
    We tread on eggshells, both politically and diplomatically.
  • Vi har tassat likt katten kring het gröt i den frågan alltför länge.
    We have pussyfooted on that issue for far too long.
  • Vi här har varit rädda och gått som katten kring het gröt.
    We here have been fearful and have beaten around the bush.

Source: bab.la

Similar idioms involving cats and porridge are found in a number of other languages:

  • Czech: chodit kolem horké kaše = to walk around hot porridge
  • German: wie die Katze um den heißen Brei herumschleichen = as the cat sneaks around the hot porridge
  • Finnish: kiertää kuin kissa kuumaa puuroa = to pace around hot porridge like a cat
  • Norwegian: å gå som katta rundt den varme grauten = to walk like a cat around hot porridge

These are all equivalents of to beat around the bush.

The English idiom to beat around the bush was first used in writing in 1572, and referred to the practise of beating bushes in order to flush out game animals [source].

Some other cat-related idioms

  • It’s rain cats and dogs = It’s raining heavily
  • To let the cat out of the bag = to reveal a secret
  • Curiosity killed the cat
  • When the cat’s away the mice will play
  • French: Avoir d’autres chats à fouetter = To have other cats to whip = To have other fish to fry / other things to do.
  • French: Avoir un chat dans la gorge = To have a cat in the throat = To have a frog in one’s throat
  • French: appeler un chat un chat = to call a cat a cat = to call a spade a spade = say it like it is
  • French: Chat échaudé craint l’eau froide = Scalded cat fears cold water = Once bitten, twice shy
  • Spanish: El gato escaldado del agua fria huye = The cat that has been scalded runs away from cold water = Once bitten, twice shy
  • German: meine Arbeit war für die Katz = my work was for the cat = my work was a waste of time
  • German: das hat die Katze gefressen = the cat ate it = the fairies took it
  • German: wenn die Katze aus dem Haus ist, tanzen die Mäuse (auf dem Tisch) = when the cat is out of the house, the mice dance (on the table) = when the cat’s away the mice will play

Sources: Idioms of the world, Reverso

Do you know other cat- or porridge-related idioms?

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?

Polyglot Cruise

Costa Pacifica

On 18th April 2020 the good ship Costa Pacifica will set sail from Barcelona with 100 polyglots on board. They will be taking part in the first Polyglot Cruise, which is organized by Kris Broholm of the Actual Fluency Podcast.

The cruise is open to anybody interested in languages, whether you consider yourself a polyglot or not. During the week-long event there will be presentations, discussions and workshops every day, and plenty of time to enjoy the ameneties of the ship, and to explore the places it visits, including Palma (Mallorca), La Valetta (Malta), Catania and Genoa (Italy).

For a shared cabin it costs US$897 (about €788 / £704) for the week, which includes participation in the polyglot activities, accommodation, meals, entertainment, and use of other facilities on the ship. It’s more if you want a single cabin, or a travelling as a couple or family.

This may sound like a lot, but I think it’s worth it, and I signed up yesterday. I’ll giving a short presentation on the old Mediterranean Lingua Franca (Sabir), a pidgin that was used by sailors and others around the Mediterranean from about the 11th century to the 19th century. It was based particuarly on Venetian, Genoese, Catalan and Occitan, and also contained words from French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Greek, Turkish, Arabic and Berber.

If you book within the next 5 days, you can enjoy early bird prices, and if you use the offer code OMNIGLOT, you can get a further US$50 discount.

More details of the cruise.

If this doesn’t appeal, maybe you’ll be interested in other polyglot events.

Note: as an affiliate, I will get a small commission if you register via a link in this post, or on my events page.