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

Jargon

When I come across an unfamiliar word, I usually find it interesting and intriguing, and try to find out what it means and where it comes from. I also do this when I hear words being used in ways that are unfamiliar to me.

For example, the builder who is currently working on the new studio in my garden often shares building jargon with me. I find this interesting as I can see examples of what he means. The latest term was snots, which refers to drops of cement that fall off while it’s being applied to walls. [More details].

Jargon image

Sometimes, though, I find new words annoying, especially when a lot of them appear together. For example, I often receive emails from companies who are keen to advertise on Omniglot, who want to managing the ads on my site, or who want to redesign the site. These emails include lots of specialist vocabulary and abbreviations that I only partially understand. If I think they have something to offer that might benefit the site, I will try to decipher the jargon. Otherwise I don’t bother.

According to Dictionary.com, jargon [ˈdʒɑː.ɡən/ˈdʒɑɹ.ɡən] is:

  • the language, especially the vocabulary, peculiar to a particular trade, profession, or group: medical jargon.
  • unintelligible or meaningless talk or writing; gibberish.
  • any talk or writing that one does not understand.
  • pidgin.
  • language that is characterized by uncommon or pretentious vocabulary and convoluted syntax and is often vague in meaning.

It comes from the Middle English jargo(u)n (the sound of conversation, talking), from the Old French jargon (talk, chatter, conversation, talking), a variant of gargon/gargun (chatter, talk, language) [source].

When people mention things like header bidding, operational yield management, proprietary stacks, display inventory, RPMs and CPMs (all from one email), I tend to switch off. Perhaps it would be useful and lucrative for me to know about such things, but I’d rather not. I might also find myself becoming a little initated with the people who use such terms, and wondering why they can’t just use more transparent language.

How do you feel about jargon and other unfamiliar forms of language?

Sea Swine

A porpoise is a small cetacean of the family Phocoenidae, and is related to dolphins and whales.

Eye Contact !

The word porpoise comes from the Middle English porpeys/purpeys, from the Anglo-Norman porpeis/purpeis, from the Old French po(u)rpois/pourpais (porpoise), from the Vulgar Latin *porcopiscis (porpoise), from the Latin porcus (pig) and piscis (fish) [source].

Other (archaic / poetic) English words for porpoises, and dolphins, include: sea hogs, sea pigs, seaswine, or mereswine, from the Old English mereswīn (porpoise).

In French a porpoise is a cochon de mer (“sea pig”), or a marsouin [maʁ.swɛ̃], which comes from the Old English mereswīn (porpoise), or from another Germanic language, such as *mariswīn (porpoise, dolphin) in Old Frankish, meerswijn (dolphin, porpoise) in Middle Dutch, or marsvín (dolphin) in Old Norse. These all come from the Proto-Germanic *mariswīną (dolphin, porpoise) from *mari (sea, ocean, lake) and *swīną (swine, pig) [source].

Related words in modern Germanic languages include:

  • Mereswyne/Merswine = porpoise or dolphin in Scots
  • Meerscheinchen = guinea pig in German
  • marsvín = guinea pig in Icelandic and Faroese
  • marsvin = guinea pig or porpoise in Danish and Norwegian
  • marsvin = guinea pig in Swedish
  • meerzwijn = porpoise in Dutch

Source: Wiktionary

Soapy Chairs

When is a chair not a chair?

Chairs

The Japanese kanji 椅子 (isu) means chair or stool, and also post, office or position. The word チェア (chea) is used for chair in words like オフィスチェア (ofisuchea), which means office/desk/computer chair.

There are other words pronounced isu or something similar which mean different things:

  • イス (isu) = swords (suit in playing cards)
  • 異数 (isū) = unusual, exceptional, phenomenal
  • 逸す (issu) = to lose, miss, overlook, omit
  • 伊豆 (izu) = Izu (place name)
  • 出ず (izu) = to leave, exit, go out

In Mandarin Chinese a chair is 椅子 (yǐzi). The character 椅 (yǐ) on its own also means chair.

There are other words with similar pronunciation which mean different things:

  • 胰子 (yízi) = soap, pancreas (of pigs, sheep, etc)
  • 义子 [義子] (yìzǐ) = an adopted son

There are some longer words that include some variation on yizi, such as

  • 一字(一)字 (yīzì(-yī)zì) = word by word
  • 一子儿 [一字兒] (yī ziér) = hank, small bundle; in a line, in a row
  • 易子而食 (yì zi ér shí) = exchange of children for food (during extreme famine)
  • 以资鼓励 [以資鼓勵] (yǐzīgǔlì) = to give an honors testimony for; as an encouragement

Sources: Jisho, LINE Chinese-English Dictionary, 汉英大词典 Chinese-English Comprehensive ABC Dictionary

This was inpsired by this post on Instagram:

So this post is sort of right – in Japanese if you mispronounce the word for chair it can mean something different, but not what whoever made this post thinks. I know it’s a joke, but it would be funnier if they had actually checked.

You can find more language-related nonsense like this on The Language Nerds website.

Humdudgeon

Humdudgeon is an interesting Scots word I came across the other day on TikTok.

Can you guess what it means?

Here are some possibilities:

  1. a species of duck
  2. a fuss or needless complaint
  3. a children’s game
  4. a tool for extracting stones from cows’ hooves

It is in fact a fuss or needless complaint, a big stupid person of an evil disposition, or a bungler. In the plural it means a fit of sulks. Here are some examples of how it’s used:

  • Dinnae ye be giein me ony ae yer humdudgeon
    Don’t give my any fuss
  • I would never be making a hum-dudgeon about a scart on the pow.
    I would never make a fuss about a cormorant on the pool
  • You’re a fearful humdurgeon
    You’re a fearful bungler

It is a combination of hum (a hoax or imposition, humbug) and dudgeon (feeling of anger or resentment) [source]. It can also refer to an imaginary illness [source].

Hum comes from the Middle English hummen (to hum, buzz, drone, make a murmuring sound to cover embarrassment), which is probably of imitative origin [source].

The origins of dudgeon are uncertain. It possibly comes from the English word dudgen (something worthless, trash, contemptible), or from the Italian word aduggiare (to overshadow) [source].

If you’re in high dudgeon you’re indignant and enraged or if you leave in high dudgeon you do so resentfully or furiously. Can you also be in low dudgeon (generally happy and content) or even in in mid dudgeon (more or less happy but somewhat angry as well)?

To me, High Dudgeon sounds like a quiant little village somewhere in the southwest of England where the residents are relentlessly indignant and enraged about everything. While in nearby Low Dudgeon people are much more chilled.

Cotswolds
A photo of Lower Slaughter, a real village in the Cotswolds in the southwest of England, not far from Upper Slaughter. The slaughter part of their names comes from the Old English word slothre (a muddy or miry place) [source], which probably comes from slóh (a slough, hollow place filed with mire, a pathless, miry place) [source]

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?

Lukewarm

If something is lukewarm [ˌluːkˈwɔːm / ˌlukˈwɔɹm], it is somewhere between warm and cool. Or you might be lukewarm (unenthusiastic) about an idea or proposal.

A word cloud based on the contents of this post

Something that is a bit cooler than lukewarm, or something that you’re less enthusiastic about is lukecold, a rare word that I hadn’t heard before.

The word luke comes from the Middle English lew (tepid), which is apparently still used in some dialects in northern England, and also in Scots, where it means lukewarm, tepid or slightly heated. That comes from the Old English hlēow (warm, sunny), from the Proto-Germanic *hliwjaz/*hlēwaz (lukewarm), from the Proto-Indo-European *ḱal(w)e-/*ḱlēw- (warm, hot).

Some words from the same Proto-Germanic root include:

  • Danish: ly = shelter
  • Dutch: lauw [lɑu̯] = lukewarm (temperature); cold, indifferent; nice, cool, chill, and flauw = boring, tasteless, uninspired; languid, weak, vague, hazy (via Old French)
  • French: flou [flu] = fuzzy, blurred, blurry, unclear
  • German: lau [laʊ̯] = lukewarm, tepid; mild; cushy, easy
  • Icelandic: hlýr [l̥iːr] = warm
  • Norwegian: ly [lyː] = lukewarm, mild; shelter
  • Swedish: ly = hangout

Sources: Wiktionary, Dictionaries of the Scots Language /
Dictionars o the Scots Leid

Misdirection

The words forward, backward, eastward and westward all share the suffix -ward, which indicates a course or direction to, or motion or tendency toward.

A word cloud using words from this post
Word cloud created with Free World Cloud Generator

-ward comes from the Old English -weard (in the direction of, toward), from Proto-Germanic *wardaz, from *warþaz (turned toward, in the direction of, facing), from the Proto-Indo-European *wert- (to turn, wind) [source].

Other directional words the feature this suffix include: inward, outward, northward, southward, leftward, rightward, homeward, seaward, landward and awkward [source].

Awkward?? What direction is that?

Awkward means:

  • Lacking dexterity in the use of the hands, or of instruments.
  • Not easily managed or effected; embarrassing.
  • Lacking social skills, or uncomfortable with social interaction.
  • Perverse; adverse; difficult to handle.

Originally it meant “in a backwards direction” [source].

Awk is an obsolete word that means:

  • Odd, out of order, perverse.
  • Wrong, not commonly used, clumsy, sinister.
  • Clumsy in performance or manners; not dexterous.
  • Uncomfortable, awkward.
  • Perversely; in the wrong way

Awk comes from the Old Norse ǫfugr (turned backwards), from the Proto-Germanic *abuhaz (turned the wrong way, inverted; wicked, bad) [source].

Words from the same root include öfugur (reversed, inverted, backwards, wrong) in Icelandic, and äbich (inside out) in German [source].

So being awkward means you’re going backwards or heading in the wrong direction. That’s fine with me – I am a bit awkward sometimes, particularly in social interactions and situations, or you could say that I just go in my own direction.

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?