Yulemonth

As today is the first day of December, I thought I’d look into the origins of the names for this month in various languages.

December comes from the Middle English December/Decembre, from the Old French decembre, from the Latin december, from decem (ten) and the adjectival suffix -ber. December was the tenth month in the Roman calendar, which started in March [source]. The days between December and March were not included in the calendar as part of any month. Later they became January and February and were added to the beginning of the calendar [source].

hoar frost

In the Old English December was known as Ġēolamonaþ/Gēolmōnaþ/Iūlmōnaþ (“Yule month”) or ǣrra ġēola (“before Yule”). The word Yulemonth apparently exists in modern English, although is rarely used [source]. December is associated with Yuletide / Christmas in a few other languages: mí na Nollag (“month of Christmas”) in Irish, Mee ny Nollick (“month of Christmas”) in Manx, and joulukuu (“yule month”) in Finnish and Võro.

In many languages the name of this month is a version of December, but there are some exceptions.

In Aragonese December is abiento, in Asturian it’s avientu, in Basque it’s abendu and in Occitan it’s abén. These all come from the Latin adventus (arrival, approach, advent), from adveniō (arrive) and the suffix -tus [source].

In Belarusian December is снежань (sniežań) [ˈsʲnʲeʐanʲ], which comes from снег (snjeh – snow) [source]. The Cherokee name for December is also related to snow: ᎥᏍᎩᎦ (vsgiga) or “snow moon” [source].

In Proto-Slavic the month after the Winter solitice was known as *prosinьcь. There are a number of possible roots for this word: *siňь (gray), *sijati (to shine, glow – referring to the winter solstice) or *prositi (to pray – referring to Christmas). Descendents in modern Slavic languages include prosinec (December) in Czech, просинац (December) in Serbian, and prosinec (January) in Slovenian.

In Welsh December is Rhagfyr [ˈr̥aɡvɨ̞r / ˈr̥aɡvɪr] (“foreshortening”), because it’s a time when days get shorter [source].

December is “twelve month” or “month twelve” in Chinese: 十二月 (shí’èryuè), Japanese: 十二月 (jūnigatsu), Korean: 십이월 (12월/十二月/12月 – sipiweol), and Vietnamese: tháng mười hai (𣎃𨑮𠄩).

Are there other interesting names for December in other languages?

You can find the names of months in many languages here.

Earthskill

An interesting Dutch word I learnt this week was aardrijkskunde [ˈaːr.drɛi̯ksˌkʏn.də] which means geography. It comes from aardrijk (earth, world) and kunde (expertise, skill, ability), so could be translated literally as “earth-skill” or “world-expertise” [source].

Earth

The word geografie [ˌɣeː.oː.ɣraːˈfi] also exists in Dutch. It comes from the French géographie, from Latin geōgraphia, from Ancient Greek γεωγραφία (geōgraphía), which all mean geography, from γεω- (geō – earth) and γράφω (gráphō – to write) [source].

One of the things I like about Dutch is that there are lots of words like this that come from native roots, rather than being borrowed from Latin and/or Greek, as they tend to be in English. The meanings of such words may not be immediately obvious, but once I find out what their individual parts mean, I can usually remember them.

Other examples in Dutch include:

  • artsenijkunde = medicine (“medical-skill”)
  • dierkunde = zoology (“animal-skill”) – also zoölogie
  • geschiedkunde = history (“occurence-skill”)
  • natuurkunde = physics (“nature-skill”) – also fysica
  • oudheidkunde = archaeology (“antiquity/oldness-skill”) – also archeologie
  • sterrenkunde = astronomy (“star-skill”) – also astronomie
  • taalkunde = linguistics (“language-skill”) – also linguïstiek or taalwetenschap
  • wetenschap = science (“know-scape/ship”)

Source: Wiktionary

There’s a version of English known as Anglish in which words borrowed from other languages, especially Latin and Greek, have been replaced by words based on English roots. Geography, for example, is landlore, medicine is leechcraft, zoology is deerlore, history is stear or yorelore, astronomy is rodderlore, linguistics is speechlore and science is witship or wittenskip [source].

Other languages that tend to use their own wordhorde to make new words include Icelandic, Czech, Hungarian and Mandarin Chinese. They do borrow words for other languages, but not nearly as much as English and many other languages do.

Dangerous Nonsense

In the Czech lessons I’ve been working on this week, some interesting words have come that I thought I’d share with you.

One word is smsyl [smɪsl̩], which means sense, purpose, meaning, effect, intent, and I just like its sound. It is used in the following sentences:

Nemá smysl poslouchat jeho nesmysl
It makes no sense to listen to his nonsense

Jaký to má smysl?
What’s the point?

Related words and expressions include:

  • smysl bytí = raison d’etre, reason or justification for existence
  • smysl pro humor = sense of humour
  • smysl pro věc = flair
  • smyslnost = sensuality, lust, voluptuousness, sensuousness
  • smyslná = voluptuous
  • smyslná žádost = lust
  • smyslný = sexy, erotic, sensuous
  • smyslový = sensitive, sensory, sensual
  • smysluplnost = meaningfulness
  • smysluplný= meaningful
  • nesmsyl = nonsense
  • nesmyslný = stupid, absurd, pointless
  • nesmsylnost = absurdity, nonsense
  • nesmysly = nonsense, rubbish, mumbo-jumbo

Another word is nebezpečný [ˈnɛbɛspɛt͡ʃniː], which means dangerous, hazardous, unsafe, reckless. It is a compound of ne (not), bez (without), péče (care) and the suffix -ný, which is equivalent to -ly in English. So you could translate it as “not-without-care-ly”.

Related words and expressions include:

  • nebezpečnost = dangerousness, hazardousness
  • nebezpečí = danger, risk, peril
  • bezpečný = secure, sure, save
  • bezpečnost = safety, security
  • péče = care, attention

Sources: bab.la, Wiktionary and Wikislovník

Clustering Consonants!

Clusters of consonants are quite common in Czech. Some words have no vowels at all. A couple that I came across recently: brzd [ˈbr̩st] (break) and krb [kr̩p] (fireplace).

Brzd is the genitive plural of brzda (brake (in a vehicle)). Related words include: brzdit [ˈbr̩zɟɪt] (to break) and brzdný [ˈbr̩zdniː] (breaking).

Krb means fire, hearth, fireplace or ingle. Related words include: krbový (relating or pertaining to fireplaces), krbová deska (hearthstone) and krbové náčiní (fire irons).

Other vowelless words include:

  • blb [ˈbl̩p] = wally (stupid person)
  • chrp [ˈxr̩p] = of cornflowers
  • drhl [ˈdr̩ɦl̩]= he scrubbed, scoured, rubbed
  • hrkl [ˈɦr̩kl̩] = he rattled
  • krk [kr̩k] = neck
  • plch [pl̩x] = dormouse
  • scvrkl [ˈst͡svr̩kl̩] = he shrank
  • škrtl [ˈʃkr̩tl̩] = he cancelled, deleted, scratched
  • vlk [vl̩k] = wolf

Source: Wiktionary

There are several tongue twisters made up of words like this:

See and hear more of these.

In fact, the r and l in these words funtion as semi-vowels, so you could say that they’re not really vowelless. This doesn’t make them any easier to pronounce.

Sources: Wiktionary and bab.la

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.

Gardens and Castles

The word for garden in Russian, and also in Belarusian, Ukrainian and Serbian, is сад [sat], which also means orchard. It comes from the Proto-Slavic word *sadъ (plant, garden).

The word for garden in most other Slavic languages is the same: sad in Croatian, Slovenian, Polish, Slovak and Sorbian. There are also similar words in Latvian (sads) and Lithuanian (sõdas) [source].

The word sad also exists in Czech, but just means orchard. The Czech word for garden is zahrada [ˈzaɦrada], which comes from za (for, in, behind), and hrad (castle), from the Proto-Slavic *gȏrdъ* (settlement, enclosed place). So zahrada could be translated as “in/behind the castle” [source].

*The Proto-Slavic *gȏrdъ comes ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰórtos (enclosure), which is also the root of the Irish gort (wheatfield), the Welsh garth (hill, enclosure), the Latin hortus (garden), and the English horticulture, yard and garden, and related words in other languages.

Powis Castle

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.

Bilingual Kids

Many families raise their children to be bilingual. This might involve one parent speaking one language, and the other parent speaking a different one. Or maybe the family will speak one language at home, and the children will pick up another at school. The hope is that the children will end up speaking both languages fluently.

Recently I got talking to a Czech woman, who told me that she spoke Czech to her sons for the first year or so, while her husband spoke English to them – he doesn’t know much Czech. After that however, she switched to English, as she found it too hard to speak Czech to them all the time. This surprised me, as you’d think that speaking your mother tongue would be easier than speaking another language, but not in this case, it seems.

As they currently live in Wales, the main languages her boys encounter are English and Welsh. Maybe their mother is the only Czech speaker around – I certainly haven’t come across any others. Maybe she feels more comfortable speaking English than Czech after living here for many years.

She told me that they’re soon moving to Czechia, so her sons will have to learn Czech. They’re young (4 and 2), so will probably soon pick it up. Whether her husband learns it is another matter – it is quite a challenging language to learn as an adult.

Are any of you raising your children bilingually?

What challenges do you face, and how do you deal with them?

Have you become more comfortable speaking a foreign language than your mother tongue?

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?