Christmas Quiz


Here are a few Christmas-related questions for you:

  1. In which country do many people go to KFC on Christmas Day?
  2. In which country do people rollerskate to church on Christmas Day?
  3. In which country might you see straw goats used as Christmas ornaments?

Are there any interesting customs or traditions you have or know about that you’d like to share?

A Multilingual Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate it.


Do you make New Year’s resolutions?


If you have made any this year, are any of them related to languages?

I don’t tend to make New Year’s resolutions, and when I do, I rarely keep them. Sometimes I do manage to stick at things, at least for a while. Today, for example, my current streak on Duolingo reached 1,628 days. I’m learning Japanese and Spanish there, and keeping my Danish and Swedish ticking over. I’m also learning Dutch on Memrise, although I do miss occasional days. I don’t plan to learn any new languages for now, but who knows what could happen.

Meanwhile on Omniglot, I will carry on adding new material and improving the existing pages.

I’m taking a break from the monthly Radio Omniglot podcasts after reaching episode 50 in December, but will keep making the weekly Adventures in Etymology series and Omniglot News podcasts and videos. I also plan to add a new series – Celtic Routes – which will explore links within the Celtic language family, and between Celtic languages and other European languages. This will be based on my Celtiadur blog.

In other news, I’ve finally found a way to reduce some of the clutter of ads at the bottom of the pages on using a PHP script that displays a different banner each time you refresh the page. Ideally there wouldn’t be any banners or other ads, but I do sort of need to make a living, and the ads help with that.

1600 languages

Back in April 2021 I wrote a post about various milestones I’d reached, including adding the 1,500th language to Omniglot. Well, yesterday I added the 1,600th language, which seems to me like something to celebrate.

So what’s been happening since April?

Well, as well as continuing to add new material to Omniglot every day, and improving the existing content, I’ve been making Adventures in Etymology blog posts / podcasts / videos every week and posting them on YouTube, Instagram and Tiktok. They tend to get the most views on Tiktok, and I’m hoping that at least some of the people who see them there will visit other parts of the Omniglot Linguistic Universe (OLU).

In July I started making Omniglot News blog posts and podcasts which summarise all the lastest developments on Omniglot. They appear on Sundays on the Radio Omniglot site and on the Omniglot News page.

Lockdown restrictions have eased here in Wales, and we can now go to pubs, restaurants and cafés, and to concerts and other events. I go to a Welsh folk music session every other Tuesday where we speak and sing mainly in Welsh, and play Welsh tunes. There are usually people from many countries there, so I get chances to speak other languages as well. I’ve started going to a Welsh conversation group on Wednesday nights, and I regularly have opportunities to speak French and Mandarin, and often write emails in Dutch. So I’m able to practise using some of my languages.

I’ve been to a few concerts recently, include a great one this week featuring the Washboard Resonators:

The Washboard Resonators

In other news, the studio that’s being built in my garden is coming together. The roof should be finished in the next few days, and then they can start working other parts. I’m looking forward to using it to make recordings and videos and practise my music and singing. Hopefully the acoustics will be very good inside.

Studio / Stwdio

Cups of Comfort

An interesting expression that came up in my Dutch lessons recently is bakje troost [ˈbɑ.kjə troːst], which is slang for a cup of coffee, and a diminutive of bak troost. It could be translated literally as a “little cup of comfort” or a “little cup of solace”. It is also known as bakkie troost [source].

Department of Coffee and Social Affairs

Here are some examples of how it’s used (from Reverso):

  • Hoe kom je hier aan een bakje troost?
    What do I have to do to get some more coffee around here?
  • Bakje troost voor ons
    Cup of Joe for the guys
  • Kijk eens aan, een bakje troost
    Here you go. Cup of joe

Bak means a bin, box, crate, tray or tub; a cup or mug; a jail, slammer or prison (slang), or a car. It comes from the French word bac (ferry, vat), from the Old French bas/bac (flat boat), possibly from the Vulgar Latin *baccu (container), from the Latin bacar (kind of wine glass). Or from a Celtic or Germanic word [source].

Some related words include:

  • afvalbak = rubbish bin, trashcan, dustbin
  • bloembak = flower pot, planter, window box, flower tub
  • engelenbak = the highest box at a theatre (“angel box”)
  • glasbak = bottle bank
  • ragbak = a run-down car

Troost means comfort or consolation. It comes from the Middle Dutch troost, from the Old Dutch trōst, from the Proto-Germanic *traustą (shelter, help, aid, trust, confidence, alliance), from *traustaz (firm, strong), from thge Proto-Indo-European *deru-/*drew-/*drū- (to be firm, hard, solid, tree) [source].

The English words trust and tryst come from the same Germanic root, as do the German word Trost (consolation), the Swedish word tröst (comfort, consolation, dummy / pacifier), and related words in other languages [source].

This week some of the lockdown restrictions were lifted here in Wales, and cafés are open again, at least for takeaways. Yesterday I saw a long queue of people outside a café, probably waiting for their bakjes troost.

In the beforetimes I did go to cafés now and then for a cup of hot chocolate or herbal/fruit tea, maybe a pastry, and a change of scenery. This is something I miss a bit, but as I don’t drink coffee and rarely drink tea, I have no craving for caffeine, and won’t be queueing outside any cafés.

Are you missing cafés and coffee?

Language acquisition

Language quiz image

I spent Christmas at my brother’s house and had a nice time. It was interesting to see how the language skills of my niece (4) and my nephew (1) are developing.

My niece speaks a lot, mainly in English, and sometimes in Russian (her mum is Russian), and is learning to read and write in English. She can recognise the letters, and with help can read and write words. When she writes some letters are back-to-front or otherwise not quite right. She hasn’t started learning to read and write Russian yet, I don’t think.

My nephew is at the one-word stage. He can say quite a few individual words in English, and sometimes puts them together into short sentences. He also understands Russian, but I haven’t heard say any words in Russian.

Nature service

Yesterday I went to see the ankle specialist at the local hospital,. He said that my ankle has healed well and just needs a bit of physiotherapy. I can start to wean myself off the orthopedic boot, using it less and less each day, and crutches as well. I didn’t wear the boot yesterday afternoon, and tried to get around a bit without the crutches. This worked okay, but when I went out last night to a gig, I wore the boot and took the crutches.

Today I went back to the hospital for some physiotherapy, without the boot, but with the crutches. The physiotherapist gave me some exercises to do, and said that I should try to move my ankle as much as possible. Within a few weeks I probably won’t need to crutches anymore, and in a few months my ankle should be back to normal. I’ll do all the exercises dilligently, and devise others as well, as I want to be fully mobile as soon as possible.

The physiotherapist suggested that I sit with my ankle raised for 20 minutes each hour. I plan to use this time to study languages, practise music, or read. At the moment I’m studying Russian, Swedish and Romanian, mainly on Duolinguo, while keeping my other languages, especially the Celtic ones, ticking over.

The word physiotherapy comes from physio, from Ancient Greek φύσις (phúsis – nature) and therapy, from New Latin therapia (therapy), from Ancient Greek θεραπεία (therapeía – service, medical treatment), from θεραπεύω (therapeúō – I serve, treat medically).

Flutes and buckles

Six weeks ago today I had a slight mishap while ice skating in London, and managed to dislocate and fracture my ankle – both the tibia (shin bone) and fibula (calf bone).

The word tibia comes from the Latin tībia (shin bone, leg). It originally referred to a stalk, or reed pipe, and came to mean shin bone as flutes were originally made with shin bones. It is possibly connected to the Ancient Greek word σίφων (síphōn – siphon, tube) [source].

The word fibula comes from the Latin fībula (clasp, buckle, brooch), from fī(gō) (to fasten), and -bula (a suffix denoting instrument, vessel, place, or person) [source].

My bones should be healed by now – it usually takes about six weeks. I went to the local hospital a few weeks ago for a check-up. They x-rayed my ankle, took off the plaster cast, gave me a special orthopedic boot. They said that my ankle is healing well. I’ll be going back there in just over a week. In the meantime, I’ve started to experiment with putting more weight on my injured leg, using just one crutch, or walking without the crutches. I can does this quite well, though still need the crutches for stairs and steps.

I’ve adapted as best I can to having reduced mobility. It’s frustrating not being able to walk four or five miles a day, as I usually do, but I hope to be able to do that again soon. Some things, like grocery shopping, are difficult, so I order stuff online and had it delivered. I’ve noticed that many places are not very accessible, and that simple things like doors can be tricky to manage on crutches, especially if they have strong springs.

Improvements to Omniglot

A proofreader

Recently I’ve been making a lot of small improvements to Omniglot. An American gentleman from Michigan has very kindly been proofreading parts of my site, and sending me long lists of corrections and improvements. So far we’ve worked through the languages written with the Latin alphabet from A-J.

I’ve corrected errors, edited and improved language descriptions, re-done many alphabet charts, added links to the Excel spreadsheets I use to create the charts, and added sample texts and videos, if I can find them. The alphabet charts (and other images) scale to fit the size of the screen you’re using to view my site, and I try to make them legible even on small screens.

Many other people send me suggestions for corrections and improvements, and I welcome all your feedback. If you spot anything on Omniglot that needs correcting, changing or improving, do let me know.

By the way, the number of visitors to Omniglot has diminished somewhat recently. I don’t know why, but would be grateful if you could recommend to site to everyone you know who is interested in languages.

Back to Bangor

I finally returned to Bangor today after nearly 3 weeks away – I was only planning to be away for 3 days, but due to the slight mishap in London (a broken ankle), my plans changed a bit.

My mum has looked after me very well, and been doing the cooking, laundry, shopping, etc. I’ll have to find ways to do those things myself back in Bangor.

Last Friday I went to the hospital in Lancaster for a check up on my broken ankle. They put a new plaster cast on it and said that it’s healing well. I can even put a bit of weight on it.The plaster is due to come off at the end of May, and I’ve arranged for this to be done in Ysbyty Gwynedd (Bangor hospital).

I was planning to go to the Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava at the end of May, but have reluctantly decided to cancel that trip. I doubt I’ll be ready for such an adventure as soon as the cast comes off, as it’s likely to take a month or so before I’m fully mobile again.

My rather overgrown garden

It’s a beautiful day here in Bangor, my apple tree is in bloom, and my garden went a bit wild while I was away (see photo). I’ll need help to tame it, I think.

It was great to hear some Welsh on the train on the way back – I’ve missed it.

A postcard view

Last night I went to an interesting talk about postcards at the local history society. Various people, including my mum, have collections of postcards of Silverdale and/or sent from Silverdale, and there was a project at Lancaster University to scan, transcribe and study the cards. There is also a book entitled Old Silverdale: The Loveliest Spot on Morecambe Bay which features postcards from Silverdale.

A postcard of Silverdale Shore (1911)

The talk focused on postcards that were sent from Silverdale between about 1900 and the 1930s. Looking at the kind of things people wrote on them, their handwriting, style of writing, punctuation and so on. Apparently some of the cards in the collection were written backwards, upside down or in a spiral to make it more difficult for postmen to read them. Some even used rebuses*.

When the postcards were sent there were a lot more postal deliveries – several every day – so it was possible to send a card in the morning, and to receive a reply the same day. They were used somewhat like text messages and other social media are today, and just like text messages, there was no standard way of writing them, so people wrote however they wanted. Short, incomplete sentences. Minimal punctuation. Abbreviations and accronyms, and some rather exsentrik spellin.

Certain people at the time were apparently concerned that postcards could bring the end of formal written language, and that people would start writing any old how. Similar concerns have been expressed about text messages, online chat and so on. This TED talk explains why such fears are not justified.

The speaker also mentioned that when people write postcards they tend to use more elaborate, flowery and even poetic words than they might normally do. They talk about ‘wooded glades’ and ‘fragrant breezes’, ‘delightful weather’, ‘glorious sunshine’, and such like.

Do you still send postcards? If not, do you remember when you last did?

Do you have a particular way of writing them?

It’s a long time since I sent a postcard – at least 10 years, I think, maybe longer.

* A rebus is a puzzle in which words are represented by combinations of pictures and individual letters.