Essuie-tout [e.sɥi.tu] is what you might call paper towels in French. It literally means “wipe-all”, and comes from essuyer (to wipe, wipe down, soak up) and tout (whole, entirely, total, all) [source].

kitchen roll

Essuyer comes from the Old French essuier (to wipe), from the Latin exsūcāre from exsūcō (I juice, I dry), from ex- (out, away) and sūcus (juice, moisture) [source].

Such towels are also known as sopalin [sɔ.pa.lɛ̃] in French, which is a genericized trademark that was first registered in 1948 by the Société du papier linge (Linen Paper Company) and comes from the first syllables of the company name [source].

In English they are also known as kitchen towels, kitchen roll or kitchen paper. There may be other names for them as well. What do you call them?

Essuie also appears in essuie-glace (windscreen wiper), and essuie-mains (hand towel). Related words include; essuyer (to wipe, rub away, swab, suffer, experience), s’essuyer (to dry o.s.), ressuyer (to dry, dry out) [source].

You can essuyer une défaite (suffer a defeat), essuyer une rebuffade (suffer a rebuff), essuyer le feu (come under a fire), essuyer un refus (get a refusal), essuyer un revers (suffer a setback) or even essuyer la vaisselle (dry the dishes) [source].


Last weekend I went to Aberystwyth to see a friend. I had a nice time, even though it was cloudy and rained a lot. This is one reason why I didn’t get round to making new episodes of the Celtic Pathways or Adventures in Etymology podcasts.


Unfortunately one souvenir I brought back was a dose of Covid. My friend wasn’t very well when I saw her, and later found out that she had the dreaded virus. I did a test today and found I have it too. It feels like a bad cold or maybe flu. I’ve been at times feverish, coughing, sneezing and lacking in energy and appetite. I hope I haven’t spread it to anyone else.

I hope you all are keeping well.


If something is beyond your ken, it is beyond your knowledge or understanding. The word ken only really appears in this phrase, but in some dialects of English in northern England, and in Scots and Scottish English, ken is more commonly used.


In English ken means to know, perceive, understand; knowledge, perception or sight. It comes from the Middle English kennen (to make known, tell, teach, proclaim, annouce, reveal), from the Old English cennan (to make known, declare, acknowledge), from cunnan (to become acquainted with, to know), from the Proto-West Germanic *kannijan (to know, to be aware of), from the Proto-Germanic *kannijaną (to make known), from *kunnaną (to be able), from the Proto-Indo-European *ǵn̥néh₃ti (to know, recognize) from *ǵneh₃- (to know) [source].

Some related words include:

  • beken = to make known, reveal, deliver, commit
  • foreken = to perceive, realise ahead of time, foreknow, preconceive
  • kenning = sight, view, a distant view at sea; range r extent of vision (esp. at sea), a small portion, as little as one can discrimminate or recognize
  • misken = to mistake one for another, fail to know, misunderstand, ignore, disregard, neglect
  • outken = to surpass or exceed in knowledge

These are no longer used, rarely used, or only used in some dialects of English.

Kenning also means “A metaphorical compound or phrase, used especially in Germanic poetry (Old English or Old Norse) whereby a simple thing is described in an allusive way.” It was borrowed from Old Norse [source].

Some examples of kenning in Old Norse and Old English include:

  • báru fákr (wave’s horse) = ship
  • gjálfr-marr (sea-steed) = ship
  • heofon-candel (sky-candle) = sun
  • grennir gunn-más (feeder of ravens) = warrior
  • winter-ġewǣde (winter-raiment) = snow
  • hilde-leoma (battle light) = sword
  • seġl-rād (sail-road) = sea
  • hwæl-weġ (whale-way) = sea
  • heofon-candel (sky-candle) = sun
  • ban-hus (bone-house) = body


There are cognates in other Germanic languages, including:

  • ken = to know (a person, a thing), be acquainted with in Afrikaans
  • kende = to know (be acquainted or familiar with) in Danish
  • kjenne = to know (be acquainted or familiar with), to feel or sense in Norwegian
  • känna = to feel or sense, or to know (a person) in Swedish
  • kennen = to know (a thing), be acquainted with in Dutch
  • kennen = to know, be acquainted with, be familiar with in German

In Scots ken means “To know, be aware of, apprehend, learn (a fact)”, and comes from the same roots as the English word [source]. Some related words include:

  • ken(n)ing = imparting, teaching, recognition, indentification, knowing
  • kenable = obvious, easily recognisable
  • kenmark = a distinguishing mark, mark of owenership on an animal, brand
  • kennage = knowledge, information
  • kenspeckle = easily recognisable, conspicuous, of familiar appearance

Tatami Swimming

If a Japanese person compared something to practising swimming on a tatmi mat, what would you think they meant?


The idiomatic expression 畳の上の水練 (tatami no ue no suiren) means literally “swimming practise on tatami”, and refers to “useless book learning; knowing the theory but being unable to put it into practice”. It is also written 畳水練 (tatami suiren) .

Other tatami-related idioms include:

  • 畳の上で死ぬ (tatmi no ue de shinu) = to die a natural death, to die in one’s own bed​ (“to die on tatami”)
  • 畳み掛ける (tatmi o kakeru) = to press for an answer, to shower questions on someone​ (“to hang up tatami”)

The character 畳 (tatami / jō) refers to the traditional Japanese straw floor coverings​, also known as tatami or tatami mats. The area of rooms in Japanese houses is measured by the number of tatami they contain or could contain. One tatami is 1.82 sqm or 1.54 sqm. An older version of the character is 疊. The same character means folding paper-case or kimono wrapping paper when pronounced tatō.

The verb 畳む (tatamu) means to fold (clothes, umbrellas, etc), to close (a shop or business) or to vacate. 畳み地図 (tatami chizu) is a folding map, 畳みじわ (tatamijiwa) is a crease, and 畳み椅子 (tatami isu) is a folding chair.


League of the Lexicon

League of the Lexicon

I’ve been asked to let you know about a new language-based quiz game that is being launched today on Kickstarter. It’s called the League of the Lexicon and has two thousand questions related to words and language in five categories, such as etymology, trivia, definitions and usage. There are also two levels of difficulty so younger players can join in.

Linguists and lexicographers around the world have contributed questions to the game, including myself. My question involves mythical beings and Celtic languages.

If you back the game on Kickstarter, you can get hold of two sets of extra questions, or expansion packs – one on slang, cant and all things pertaining to the vulgar tongue, and the other on the world of language, from ancient to modern, Aramaic to Zulu.

Find out more at and Kickstarter