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.

Do you tartle?

An interesting word I heard the other day is tartle. It’s a Scots word that means “To hesitate, to be uncertain as in recognising a person or object; to boggle, “as a horse does”; to hesitate about clinching a bargain.” or “To recognise, esp. after some uncertainty, to discern”.

An example of how it is used is: “I tartled at him, I could not with certainty recognise him.”

The related adjective, tartlesome, means “disposed to start objections, captious*”.

*Captious [ˈkæpʃəs] = “apt to notice and make much of trivial faults or defects; faultfinding; difficult to please.” [source].

Source: Dictionary of the Scots Language / Dictionar o the Scots Leid.

I heard tartle on the Something Rhymes with Purple podcast, where it’s defined as “to hesitate when introducing someone because you’ve forgetten their name”.

To avoid tartling, I just don’t use people’s names, except when necessary. Although I find that if I repeat someone’s name several times after being introduced to them, I’m more likely to remember it.

Do you have any good ways to remember name, and to avoid tartling?

Grab it and run!

One of the Russian words I learnt this week is грабить [ˈɡrabʲɪtʲ], which sounds like ‘grab it’ and means to rob, burgle or pillage.

An example of how it’s used is: Нельзя же грабить банк в платье (You can’t rob a bank in a dress) – is this something that often comes up in Russian conversation? [source].

I wondered if this word is related to the English word grab, so decided to find out.

According to Wiktionary, грабить comes from the Proto-Slavic *gràbiti (to grab, seize). This comes either from the Proto-Balto-Slavic *grāˀb-, from Proto-Indo-European *gʰreb (to rake). Or from the Proto-Indo-European *gʰrebʰ- (to seize).

Grab comes from the Middle Dutch grabben (to grab), or from the Middle Low German grabben (to snap), from the Proto-Germanic *grab-, from Proto-Indo-European *gʰrebʰ-, which is one possible root of грабить, so they might be related [source].

Even if the two words are not related, their similar sound will help me remember the Russian one.

When is a gate not a gate?

In a Russian lesson I did yesterday, I learnt that a word for gate is ворота (vorota). Then it gave me a phrase using a different word for gate – Где гейт? (Gde gejt?), which means “Where is the gate?”, and refers to the kind of gate you get at an airport. Slightly confusing. So I wondered what kind of gate is a ворота.

Apparently a ворота is a (double) gate, gateway, portal, goal or sluicegate.

Other Russian words for gate include:

  • выход (vychod) = egress, exit, gate, orifice, outcome
  • вход (vchod) = embouchure, entrance, entry, gate, gateway, ingress, inlet
  • шлагбаум (shlagbaum) = gate (of lock, level crossing), tollbar
  • калитка (kalitka) = (single) gate, wicket
  • шлюз (shlyuz) = flood-gate, gate, lock, sluice
  • гейт (gejt) = gate (at an airport)

Below are some illustrations on different kinds of gates I found via Google:

Some different kinds of gates and the words for them in Russian

Searching for images of words like this seems is interesting, and may help me to remember them.

Sources: Reverso Dictionary & bab.la

Two Left Feet / Dwy Droed Chwith

Last night I wrote a song called Two Left Feet, about someone who believes he can’t dance because he has two left feet – not literally, but in the idiomatic sense of being clumsy and awkward, especally when trying to dance.

I used to feel like this, and still do a bit when I try to learn new dances, or different styles of dancing. I don’t let this stop me though, and dance anyway, which is what the song is all about. I’ll add a link to the song here when I’ve recorded it.

I like to translate the titles of my songs and tunes into Welsh, so I looked for Welsh equivalents of this idiom. These include:

  • bod â dwy droed chwith = to be with two left feet
  • bod yn drwstan eich traed = to be clumsy of foot
  • bod yn drwstan ar eich traed = to be clumsy on one’s feet
  • bod yn lloglog = to be clumsy / awkward

Drwstan [ˈtrʊstan] is a mutated form of trwstan which means clumsy, awkward, unsteady, bungling, unpolished, shoddy, unfortunate, unlucky, unhappy, sad or wretched.

Lloglog [ˈɬɔɡlɔɡ] means clumsy, awkward, untidy or baggy.

Trwstan and Lloglog might be good names for characters in a story or song – maybe I’ll use them in my next song.

Incidentally, trwstan is not related to the name Tristan, which comes, via Old French, from the Celtic name Drystan, from drest (riot, tumult).

Other Welsh words for clumsy and awkward include:

  • trwsgl, afrosgo, lletchwith, trwstan, ysgaprwth, clogyrnaidd, anfedrus, di-lun, annehau, anneheuig, ysgafnrwth
    annosbarthus, annechau, clemog, sgrongol, siagal

The word awkward comes from the awk, an old word meaning odd, wrong, clumsy or uncomfortable, and the adjectival suffix -ward.

Awk comes from the Old Norse ǫfugr / ǫfigr / afigr (turned backwards, unkind, harsh).

Sources: Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru (A Dictionary of the Welsh Language), Geiriadur yr Academi (The Welsh Academy English-Welsh Dictionary Online), Wiktionary

Aprosdoketons & Malaphors

I came across quite an interesting word on Twitter the other day – aprosdoketon [ˌæp.ɹəsˈdɑ.kɪˌtɑn], which is defined as “a figure of speech in which an expected word in an idiom is replaced with an unexpected one – e.g. ‘Rome wasn’t built in a teacup'”.

According to Wiktionary, it can also refer to “any surprising use or interpretation of language”, and comes from the Ancient Greek ἀπροσδόκητος (aprosdókētos – unexpected).

Theres a collection of unintentional blended idioms and phrases on the Malaphors blog – it seems that malaphor is another name for this blending of metaphors, idioms and other sayings. It was apparently coined by Lawrence Harrison in the Washington Post in 1976 [source].

So remember not to count your chickens before they’ve crossed the road, and there’s no point in closing the stable door after leading a gift horse to water. Make sure to get all your ducks in one basket, and don’t let the pig out of the poke.

Look before you leap from the frying pan to the fire, or you might find yourself in deep custard without a paddle. It’s not rocket surgery! In fact it’s as easy as falling off a piece of cake.

The early bird in the hand catches two worms in the can, unless it’s barking up the wrong end of the stick.

I’m sure you can come up with many more examples of aprosdoketons / malaphors.

Goats and Cabbages

ménager la chèvre et le chou

If you’re not sure about something, or don’t want to commit yourself to something, you’re said to be sitting on the fence.

In French you’re said to be ménager la chèvre et le chou (“to look after the goat and the cabbage”). Another translation of this phrase, according to Wiktionary, is to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. Has anyone heard this expression?

Are there other ways to refer to fence-sitting?

A related word is: chèvrechoutisme (“goat-cabbage-ism”), which is apparently an expression used in Belgium to mean “A policy of attempting to please everybody or reconcile conflicting options.” [source]. A person who persues such a policy is known as a chèvrechoutiste (“goat-cabbage-ist”) [source].

The word ménager means to handle carefully, to treat considerately, to use sparingly, to take care of, to look after, to arrange, to put in or to make. The reflexive version of the verb, se ménager, means “not to push oneself too hard”. As an adjective ménager means household, domestic, housewife or canteen, and ménage means housework or (married) couple, as in ménage à trois [source]

I’ll be with you in a jiffy

If someone said that they would be with you in a jiffy, or that they’d be back in a jiffy, how long would you expect to wait for them?

Normally you wouldn’t expect to wait too long, as a jiffy refers to a short, unspecified length of time.

According to The Accidental Dictionary by Paul Anthony Jones (2016), the origins of the word jiffy are uncertain. It was first used in print in Erich Raspe’s Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen in 1785 meaning a short length of time.

In the Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose (1796), the word jeffy was defined as meaning “a short space of time” or “an instant”.

In John S. Farmer’s Americanisms Old and New (1889), the word jeffy was defined as “A slang term amongst thieves for lightning. It is probable that ‘in a jiffy’, i.e. in a moment, may have originated in this connection, or vice versa.”

In the 1920s, Gilbert Newton Lewis, an American physicist gave jiffy the standard scientific definition of the time it takes light to travel one centimetre, or 33.3564 picoseconds / 33 trillionths of a second.

Medieval time keeping involved dividing the day into 24 hours – 12 from sunrise to sunset, and 12 from sunset to sunrise. The length of hours varied throughout the year, except at equinoxes, when they were the same length during the day and at night. Each hour was divided into four points, which were divided into ten moments, which were divided into 12 ounces, which were divided into 47 atoms. So a point was a quarter of an hour, a moment was one and a half points, and so on.

Only the word moment is still used, and now refers to a short length of time, a jiffy, a tick, a minute, a sec(ond), an instant, two shakes of a lambs tail, a flash, or the twinkling of an eye.

Can you think of other ways to refer to short lengths of time in English or other languages?

Tender fondness

A Swedish word I learnt this week is öm [œm], which sounds a bit like errm in English, or however you write it, and means gentle, tender, sore, sensitive or fond. I just like the sound of it, and it’s compactness.

Related words and expressions include:

  • öm punkt = a sore point or a raw nerve, as in Detta är en öm punkt för mig (That is a sore point for me).
  • ömhet = affection, gentleness, soreness or tenderness
  • ömhetsbetygelse = endearment, showing of endearment
  • ömka = to feel sorry for sb
  • ömkan = a pity party
  • ömkansvärd = pitiful
  • ömma = to ache
  • ömma för = to feel compassion for

Of course, öm should not be confused with om [ɔm], which means if, that, whether, about, for, on, by and a few other things. Accents are important.

Sources: bab.la and Wiktionary

Do you latibulate?

Do you ever feel like latibulating?

Perhaps you might do if you don’t feel very osculable.

These are words I learnt today from the Something Rhymes with Purple podcast.

Latibulate means “to hide oneself in a corner” and comes from the Latin latibulum (hiding place, refuge, den) [source].

Osculable means “capable of being kissed” or “kissable” and comes from the Latin ōsculāre (to kiss) [source].

Related words include to osculte (to kiss), osculation (the act of kissing), osculatrix (a lady who kisses), an oscularity (a kiss), and an osculary (anything that can and should be kissed).

So if you meet an osculary, maybe you could suggest to them that you latibulate in order to engage in some osculation. Perhaps not the most effective of chat-up lines, but it might work if you find another word nerd.