Stellar Stars

Stars

Here’s an interesting question that I was sent to me by email:
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I am curious as to why some of the languages that developed from Latin had to put an extra ‘e’ at the start of some of their words.

Here are some examples:

Latin Italian French Spanish English
stēlla stella étoile estrella star
status stato état estado state
spero speranza espère esperanza hope
spōnsa sposa épouse esposa wife

It looks as if the Gauls, and the people living in the Iberian peninsula, couldn’t cope with the st- and sp- beginnings, and had to stick an ‘e’ on the front. Is this because words in the Celtic languages they spoke didn’t have such beginnings? I can’t find any similar words in modern Welsh.
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Incidentally, the words for hope have a cognate in English – esperance, which is a old word for hope or expectation [source], and the ones for wife have a cognate in spouse (husband, wife).

Let’s look at the origins of some of these words to see how they have changed over time.

The Latin word stēlla (star), comes from the Proto-Italic *stērolā (star), from Proto-Indo-European *h₂stḗr (star). This became estoile/esteile/estelle in Old French, and estoile in Middle French. It was (e)strela in Old Portuguese and estrella in Old Spanish So the extra e has been there for a while [source].

In Proto-Celtic the word for star was *sterā, from the same PIE root as the Latin stēlla. This became *ster in Proto-Brythonic, Old Breton and Old Cornish, and ster in modern Breton and Cornish. So at least some speakers of Celtic languages could cope with the initial st-. In Old Welsh it was *ser, in Middle Welsh it was ser / syr, and in modern Welsh it’s sêr. It was also borrowed into Old Irish as ser [source].

The Latin word status means state, status, condition, position, place or rank. It became estat in Old French, from which we get the English word estate. Meanwhile in Old Spanish it was (e)strela, and in Old Portuguese it was estado [source].

It was borrowed into Old Irish as stad (stop, stay, delay), which is the same in modern Irish [source]. Proto-Brythonic borrowed it as *ɨstad from the Vulgar Latin *istatus, this became (y)stad / (y)stât in Middle Welsh and ystad (state, condition, situation) in modern Welsh [source].

Do any of you have any thoughts on this question?

Lillilu

This week I wrote a new song – a lullaby inspired by learning that a Scots word for lullaby is lillilu. This is also written lilly-loo or lilli-lu, and an extended version is lillila-baloo [source].

baby sleep

Here’s a recording of the song:

This got me wondering about whether there are interesting words meaning lullaby in other languages. Here are some I found:

  • French: berceuse – from bercer (to craddle, rock), from the Old French bercier (to rock), from Vulgar Latin *bertiāre, from Gaulish, from Proto-Celtic *berta- (to shake)
  • Irish: suantraí – from suan (sleep) and -traí (type of music)
  • Italian: ninnananna (onomatopoetic)
  • Portuguese: canção de ninar (sleep song) – ninar = to sing to sleep, canção de embalar (rocking song)
  • Spanish: canción de cuna (cradle song), nana (lullaby, wet nurse, nursemaid), arrurrú – from arrullo (cooing, murmur, lullaby)
  • Welsh: hun-gân (sleep song), (si-)lwli (onomatopoetic), su(o)-gân (lulling song), hwian-gân (murmur song)

Do you know of any other interesting ones?

Language Politics

Part of the process of learning a new language involves learning about the people who speak it, and about their culture(s), history and so on. You might also find yourself involved in the politics of when and how the language is used, especially if you’re learning a minority / endangered / revived language, or a non-standard version of a major language. This is certainly the case for the Celtic languages I’ve studied.

Sign on the walls of Conwy

You might be told that there’s no point in learning a Celtic language as everybody who speaks them also speaks English, or in the case of Breton, French. This is not in fact true – there are people in Patagonia in Argentina who speak Welsh and Spanish, but not English, and there are some people who have learnt a Celtic language who don’t speak English or French.

People may object to children being ‘forced’ to learn such ‘useless’ languages in school, or they may complain that they had to learn them in school. Well, education usually involves learning things that you might have little or no interest in, but you never know, maybe it will be useful to know them one day.

Critics of minority languages might come from the country or region where they are spoken, but not feel part of the local culture as they don’t speak the local language. In Wales, for example, non-Welsh-speaking people are sometimes told by Welsh speakers that they are less Welsh or basically English. Fortunately this is not a common view among Welsh speakers. Also, people who don’t speak such languages could learn them, and will find that most native speakers will be support their efforts.

Also, why are they spending our taxes to support those useless languages? That’s a comment that often crops up whenever there’s discussion of bilingual or minority language education, bilingual signage and other material, and any other initiatives to support minority languages. Speakers of minority languages also pay taxes, you know.

Have you encountered any such linguistic politics?

Here’s an example of an article that discusses some of these issues.

Britland

The word Britain is used to refer to the island of Great Britain, and is also to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or UK. As it’s the place I’ve lived most of my life, I thought I’d look into the origins of this word.

SS Great Britain

Britain comes from the Middle English Breteyn (Britain, Brittany), from the Old English Bryten/Breoton (Britain), from the Latin Britannia (the British Isles, Great Britain, the Roman province of Britain) – the land of the Britanni (Britons), from the Proto-Brythonic *Prɨdėn (Britain), from *Pritanī, which is possibly related to *Prɨdɨn (Picts), and the Ancient Greek Πρεττανική (Prettanikḗ – British Isles). The name Brittany comes from the same root [source].

Until the 1st century BC Britain was known as Albion in Latin, which comes from the Proto-Celtic *Albiū (luminous world, upper world, high mountain, alp, alpine pasture, Britain), from the Proto-Indo-European *albʰós (white) – possibly refering to the white chalk cliffs along the south coast of Britian [source].

After the Roman conquest of Britain in 43 AD, the name Britannia was used to refer to the Roman province of Britain, which consisted of what is now England and Wales and part of southern Scotland [source].

In Welsh, Britian is referred to as Ynys Prydain (The Island of Britain) or Prydain Fawr (Great Britian). These words, along with Prydyn (Scotland, (land of the) Picts), come from the same Proto-Brythonic root as Britain [source].

In Cornish, Britain is Breten and Great Britain is Breten Veur [source].

In Breton, Great Britain is Breizh-Veur and Brittany is Breizh.

The Irish name for Wales is An Bhreatain Bheag (“Little Britain”), while Great Britain is An Bhreatain Mhór, and Brittany is An Bhriotáin [source].

In Scottish Gaelic, A’ Bhreatainn Bheag is Brittany, Wales is a’ Chuimrigh, which comes from the Welsh name for Wales, Cymru and Great Britain is A’ Bhreatainn Mhór [source].

Oak Knowers

To me the word druid makes me think of Getafix, the druid in the Asterix comics – an old man with a long white beard who brews magic potions in a big cauldron. He has other names, such as Panoramix in many other European languages, and Kensawthetrix (“knows all the tricks”) in Scots [More details].

IMGR6414-ed

According to TheFreeDictionary, a druid is:

  1. a member of an ancient order of priests in Gaul, Britain, and Ireland in the pre-Christian era
  2. a member of any of several modern movements attempting to revive druidism

It comes from the French druide (druid), from the Old French druide (druid), from the Latin Druidae (the Druids), from the Gaulish *druwits (druid), from the Proto-Celtic *druwits (druid), from *daru (oak) amd *wid/*windeti (to know, to see), so a druid is an “oak knower/seer”, from the Proto-Indo-European *dóru (tree) and *weyd- (to see) [Source].

In Proto-Brythonic a druid or seer was a *drüw, which became dryw [drɨu̯/drɪu̯] (druid, seer) and derwydd (prophet, wise man, druid) in Welsh, drewydh (druid) in Cornish and drouiz (druid) in Breton [source]. It was also borrowed into Old English as drȳ (sorcerer, magician), which became drī(mann)/driʒ(mann) (sorcerer, magician) in Middle English [source]. A few modern druids use the word drymann, or something similiar, to refer to themselves.

Here’s a traditional Welsh folk tune called Y Derwydd (The Druid):

There is sheet music for several versions of this tune on The Session.

Playing Around

In English then word play has a variety of meanings. You can play a role in a play or drama, play a game or sport, play an instrument, play with toys or other things, or just play in general.

Playing

In Portuguese, however, there are several different words that can be translated as to play, such as:

  • jogar – to play (a game, a sport), gamble, throw, drop
  • brincar – to play (with toys), to joke
  • representar – to play (a role), to represent, put on, act, make a complaint
  • pregar (uma peça em alguém) – to play (a trick on sb)
  • bancar (o idiota) – to play (the fool)

According to Carlos Carrion, who sent me this information, these words are translated as to play or the equivalent in most of the languages in Google Translate.

There are several ways to translate to play in Welsh, including:

  • chwarae = to play (a game, sport, instrument), amuse oneself, compete, frolic
  • canu = to play (piano, harp, organ), to sing, intone, chant
  • seinio = to play (a musical instrument), make noise/sound, ring
  • piltran = to play at (doing something), potter about, fiddle
  • actio / perfformio = to play (a role), to act, perform

Are there different words for different kinds of play in other languages?

Sources: ReversoDictionary, Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, Geiriadur yr Academi

Hairy Cats and Little Dogs

When you see a caterpillar, does it make you think of a cat or a dog?

Caterpillar

Why do I ask? Well, the word caterpillar comes from the Late Latin words catta (cat) and pilōsa, a form of pilōsus (hairy, shaggy), via the Old Northern French word catepeluse (caterpillar). So a caterpillar is a “hairy cat” [source].

In French the word for caterpillar is chenille [ʃə.nij], which comes from the Latin canīcula (little dog) because apparently the head of a caterpillar looks like a dog [source].

In Welsh a caterpillar is a deilbryf (“insect/lava/maggot of leaves”), ymlusgyn (“little creeper”), teiliwr (blewog) (“(hairy) tailor”) or teiliwr cantroed (“tailor with hundred feet”) [source].

In Irish a caterpillar is a cruimh chabáiste (“cabbage maggot”) or a péist cháil (“cabbage/kale beast”) [source].

Are there interesting words for caterpillars in other languages?

Pocket Hedgehogs

If I described someone as “keeping a hedgehog in their pocket”, what do you think I meant?

hedgehog

Well, the Welsh idiom “Mae e’n cadw draenog yn ei boced”, which literally translates as “he keeps a hedgehog in his pocket”, means that he is stingy or tight with his money [source].

There are many ways to say that someone is averse to spending money in English, including: frugal, miserly, thrifty, cheap, close-fisted, economical, ironfisted, mean, parsimonious, pennywise, tightfisted [source] or to have deep pockets and short arms.

Other ways to say someone is careful with their money in Welsh include:

  • crintach = mean, tight-fisted, miserly
  • crintachlyd = miserly, mean
  • cybyddlyd = miserly, covetous
  • cynnil = thrifty, frugal, sparing, economical, parsimonious
  • darbodol = provident, thrifty, provisional
  • darbodus = provident, thrifty, careful; heedful, considerate; wary, cautious, prudent, sagacious
  • diwastraff = without waste or extravagance, without expending needlessly or carelessly, thrifty, economical, effective; concise, laconic
  • fforddiol = sparing, economical, thrifty; cunning, deceitful
  • llawgaead = close-fisted, parsimonious, stingy, niggardly, miserly, mean
  • rhadus = gracious; generous; cheap, good value, economical, useful, thrifty

Sources: Geiriadur yr Academi, Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru

In French a miserly person is said to “avoir des oursins dans le porte-monnaie / la poche” (to have sea urchins in the wallet / purse / pocket) [source].

Do you know any other interesting idioms with a similar meaning?

You could say that I usually keep a hedgehog in my pocket (idiomatically, not literally), as I do tend to be careful with my money. At the moment I’m spending quite a bit on the studio that’s being built in my garden, and I can do this because I have savings I can dip into. The walls are now more or less finished and the roof will be installed this weekend. Parts for the roof include planks up to 6m long, with were quite a challenge to get through the house into the garden.

Studio / Stwdio

Greener Grass

According to The Phrase Finder, the phrase the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence:

expresses the idea that other people’s situations always seem better than one’s own. The proverb carries an implied warning that, in reality, the grass is equally green on one’s own side and that you should be satisfied with what you have.

Sheep in Gleann Cholm Cille

It’s earliest known appearance in print was apparently on 24th February 1917 in the Kansas Farmer – The Farm Paper of Kansas:

First example of the phrase the grass is always greener from the Kanas Farmer

A song written in 1924 by Raymond B. Egan and Richard A. Whiting was titled The Grass is Alway Greener (In The Other Fellow’s Yard).

Other versions of the phrase appeared before then. For example, in The New York Times in June 1853:

It bewitched your correspondent with a desire to see greener grass and set foot on fresher fields.

However, according the English Language & Usage, the ideas expressed by the phrase are a lot older than that. For example, in Ovid’s poem Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love) Book I Part IX, which was written in 2 AD, he says:

Fertilior seges est alienis semper in agris,
Vicinumque pecus grandius uber habet.

Translations of this include:

  • The crop of corn is always more fertile in the fields of other people;
    and the herds of our neighbours have their udders more distended. [source]
  • The seed’s often more fertile in foreign fields,
    and a neighbour’s herd always has richer milk. [source]
  • A larger crop adorns our neighbour’s field,
    More milk his kine from swelling udders yield. [source]

Here are versions of the expression in other languages [source].

French:

  • l’herbe est plus verte ailleurs
    the grass is greener elsewhere
  • l’herbe est (toujours) plus verte de l’autre côté de la montagne
    the grass is (always) greener on the other side of the mountain
  • l’herbe est toujours plus verte dans le pré du voisin
    the grass is always greener in a neighbour’s field
  • l’herbe est toujours plus verte chez le voisin
    the grass is always greener at the neighbour’s

Spanish:

  • el pasto siempre es más verde del otro lado
    the grass is always greener on the other side
  • la hierba parece más verde al otro lado de la valla
    the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence
  • la gallina de mi vecina más huevos pone que la mía
    my neighbor’s hen lays more eggs than mine
  • la gallina de mi vecina siempre es más gorda que la mía
    my neighbor’s hen is always fatter than mine

Portuguese:

  • a grama é sempre mais verde do outro lado
    the grass is always greener on the other side
  • a galinha da minha vizinha põe mais ovos que a minha
    my neighbor’s chicken lays more eggs than mine
  • a cabra da minha vizinha dá mais leite que a minha
    my neighbor’s goat gives more milk than mine

Welsh:

  • mae’r glaswellt yn lasach ar yr ochr arall bob tro
    the grass is always greener on the other side
  • man gwyn man draw
    white spot over there

Irish:

  • Is glas iad na cnoic i bhfad uainn
    The far away hills are green
  • Is milse gcónaí arian na gcomharsan
    The neighbour’s money is always sweet

Scottish Gaelic:

  • ‘S e miann na lacha an loch air nach bi i
    The duck prefers the loch where it isn’t

Korean:

  • 남의 떡이 더 커 보인다 (nam-ui tteog-i deo keo boinda)
    someone else’s cake looks bigger

Are there interesting equivalents of this phrase in other languages?

Bark, Ruffles and Beehives

The English word ruche [ɹuʃ] means a gathered ruffle or pleat of fabric used for trimming or decorating garments [source], or to flute, pleat or bunch up (fabric) [source].

ruffles

It comes from the French word ruche [ʁyʃ], which means a (bee)hive, ruffle or flounce, and comes from the Middle French rusche (beehive), from the Medieval Latin rusca (bark), from the Gaulish *ruskā, from the Proto-Celtic *rūskos (bark, beehive) [source], from the Proto-Indo-European h₃rewk- (to dig (up), till) [source].

ruches

Words from the same Proto-Celtic root include:

  • rusk [rysk/ʁysk] = bark, zest, beehive, bread pan;
    ruskenn = (bee)hive, apiary, frill, ruche (Breton)
  • rusc [rusk] = (bee)hive (Catalan)
  • rusk [ɾyːsk] = bark, peel (Cornish)
  • Reuse [ˈʁɔʏ̯zə] = fish trap, cage, shrimping net (German)
  • rúsc [ɾˠuːsˠk] = bark (of a tree); vessel made of bark (Irish)
  • roost [ruːst] = peel, bark, rind (Manx)
  • ruse [ˈrʉːsə] = fish trap (Norwegian)
  • rùsg [r̪ˠuːsɡ] = (tree) bark, peel, rind, husk, crust, fleece (Scottish Gaelic)
  • ryssja [rʏɧːa] = fish trap (Swedish)
  • rhisgl [ˈr̥ɪsɡl/ˈr̥ɪsɡɪl] = bark, rind, peel, husk (Welsh)

Sources: Grand Terrier Edition Skol Vreizh, TERMOFIS, catalandictionary.org, gerlyver kernewek, ReversoDictionary, teanglann.ie, On-Line Manx Dictionary, Bokmålsordboka | Nynorskordboka, Am Faclair Beag, Svenska Akademiens Ordböcker, Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru