Language Quiz

Language quiz image

Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

Can you identify the language, and do you know where it’s spoken?

I made this recording on the ferry from Dublin to Holyhead today – I’m now back in Bangor. I heard a couple behind me speaking in a language I didn’t recognise, and discretely recorded it. The quality of the recording is not great as I did it on my phone, and there was a lot of background noise. Later I found out what language it was.

Slán abhaile

My week in Gleann Cholm Cille comes to an end today and I’m off to Limerick. I’ll stay there tonight, then travel back to Bangor tomorrow via train and boat.

It’s been a very enjoyable week. I learnt some new songs, met some interesting people and caught up with old friends, and got to practise various languages, especially Irish, French and Swedish.

The weather has been very variable, as it usually is here, with blue skies and sunshine one minute, and heavy rain the next.

Last night there was a great concert with John Spillane, a singer-song writer from Cork. He sang songs that most of us know, and we all joined in. He also told some very interesting and funny stories about the songs – he calls himself a song detective, or bleachtaire amhrán in Irish.

After that I went to a singing circle / coircal amhránaíochta in Carrick / An Charraig, the nearest town, with some friends.

On Thursday we were treated to an evening of sean-nós, which involved music, singing, dancing and story telling. The sean-nós class took part, as did the set dancing class, and it was great fun.

You can see photos from this year and previous years in Gleann Cholm Cille on Flickr.

I haven’t managed to do much work on Omniglot while I’ve been here, but normal service will be resumed next week.

By the way, Omniglot now lives on a new, faster and more powerful server, so hopefully there won’t be any more problems like there have been over the past few weeks.

In case you’re wondering about the title of this post, slán abhaile means “safe home” in Irish. It’s what you say to people who are leaving a place.

Gleann Cholm Cille

I arrived safely in Glencolmbcille (Gleann Cholm Cille) on Saturday night. As we went further west the skies got darker, and when we arrived in Donegal the heavens opened, and it rained almost non-stop until this morning. I don’t come here for the fine weather, but this was a bit extreme, even for this part of the world. Today the sky cleared for a while, and the sun even put in a welcome appearance.

Irish language classes started yesterday afternoon, and the cultural workshops started this afternoon. I’m doing the sean-nós singing, as usual, and am enjoying it, and the Irish classes very much.

There are plenty of people here who I know from previous visits, and quite a few new faces as well. So far I spoken a lot of Irish, and bits of French, Breton, Swedish, German and Czech – people come here from all over the world, so it’s a great place to practise languages.

Last night we were treated to some excellent music and poetry from Bríd Harper and Diarmuid Johnson. Here they are playing some Welsh tunes. Tonight there is some more poetry, this time from Áine Ni Ghlinn.

Ar an bhealach (On the way)

Tá mé ag déanamh mo bhealach ag dhul bhealach na farraige ar an bhealach go Dún nan nGall in Éirinn, ca mbeidh mé ag déanamh cursa teanga agus cultur in Oideas Gael in nGleann Cholm Cille. Is fada an bealach é.

I’m finding my way, going by sea on my way to Donegal in Ireland, where I’ll be taking part in an Irish language and culture summer school at Oideas Gael in Glencolumbcille. It’s quite a long way.

I’m just playing with the word bealach here. It means way, road or track, and has various other meanings when used idiomatically.

I started writing this on the ferry from Holyhead to Dublin, but ran out of wifi. I’m now on the bus from Dublin to Donegal Town.

I’ve been to Glencolumbcille for a week or two every summer since 2005, and always have a great time. I get speak and sing lots of Irish there, and usually have opportunities to practise other languages as well.

Lagom är bäst

Lagom

One of the Swedish idioms I learnt recently is lagom är bäst, which is translated as “less is more”, “enough is as good as a feast” or “there is virtue in moderation”, and literally means something like “the right amount is best”.

Lagom [lɑːɡɔm] is a word that is supposedly untranslatable. It is variously defined as meaning “in moderation, in balance, perfect-simple, suitable, enough, sufficient, adequate, just right”.

The Svesnska Akademiens Ordbok defines lagom as:

som är som sig bör (för att passa för ett visst ändamål), lämplig, passande; medelmåttig, medelstor, medelbred, medelgod osv., av normal storlek, styrka osv., normal.

which is as it should (to suit a particular purpose), appropriate, appropriate; mediocre, medium, medium-width, average good, etc., of normal size,. strength, etc., normal

Lagom is apparently the basis of the Swedish national psyche, which emphasises consensus, equality, modesty and avoidance of extremes.

According to Mattias Persson, the word lagom itself actually means “for the law”, or “within the boundaries of the law”, that is, what is normal or according to normal customs. It is a dative case (indirect object) form from lag (law).

Is less more? Are you a minimalist?

Are there words in other languages that have similar meanings to lagom?

Scrupulous Scruples

Scruple

A scruple can be a doubt, hesitation or unwillingness to do something due to uncertainity about what is right, or to show reluctance on grounds of conscience [source].

When scruple first appeared in English in the 14th century [source], it referred to a unit equal to ¹/₂₄ of an apothecaries ounce, ⅟288 of a pound, twenty grains, one third of a dram or 1.3 grams. As a liquid measure it was ¹/₂₄ of a fluid ounce, ⅓ of a fluid dram, 20 minims, ¼ of a teaspoon, or 1.23mm [source]. It could also refer to a minute part or quantity of something.

The symbol for a scruple is ℈ (see top right), which was used by alchemists and apothecaries. Related symbols include ℥ = apothecary ounce and ℨ = dram or drachm [source]. More alchemical symbols.

By the 15th century a scruple was “an ethical consideration or principle that inhibits action” or a “mental reservation” [source]

Scruple comes from the Old French scruple (scruple, compunction, qualm), from the Latin scrūpulus (a small sharp or pointed stone; ¹/₂₄ of an ounce; uneasiness of mind, anxiety, doubt, trouble; scruple), a diminutive of scrūpus (a rough or sharp stone; anxiety, uneasiness).

Out of a clear blue left field

When something comes out of left field, it is comes from an unexpected place or direction, or is surprising or unexpected, and something that is left field is uncommon, unpopular or strange [source].

This phrase comes from baseball and refers to the left side of a baseball field, although why something coming from this part of the field is unexpected or surprising is uncertain, according to Know Your Phrase.

More about the possible origins of this phrase.

Lightening out of a blue sky

Another way to say that something is unexpected is that it came out of the blue, which apparently comes from the phrase a bolt out of / from the blue. This refers to the unlikelyhood of lightening coming out of a clear blue sky (another version of the idiom).

A bolt out of the blue was first used in writing in The Standard in 1863, and out of the blue first appeared in The Spectator in 1879 [source].

In French an equivalent of like a bolt out of the blue is comme un cheveu sur la soupe (like a hair on the soup) [source], although I don’t know why. A hair in your soup is more likely than lightening from a clear blue sky, I would think.

Are there interesting equivalents of these phrases in other languages?

Winning One’s Steak

An interesting French expression I learnt last night was gagner son bifteck, which means literally “to win/earn one’s steak”, and is the equivalent of “to bring home the bacon” [source].

The French word bifteck [bif.tɛk] comes from the English beefsteak, and means steak.

Related expressions in French include:

  • gagner sa vie = to earn one’s living
  • gagner de quoi vivre = to earn one’s keep
  • gagner sa croûte = to earn one’s crust
  • gagner une misère = to earn a pittance

Similar phrases in English include:

  • to keep the wolf from the door
  • to put food on the table
  • to keep clothes on your back
  • to keep a roof over your head

Do you know any others?

In Welsh equivalent expressions include:

  • ennill eich tamaid = to earn one’s living (“to achieve/win/earn one’s bite”)
  • ennill eich bara (menyn) = to earn one’s bread (and butter)

What about in other languages?

By the way, if you’ve been unable to access this blog, or other parts of Omniglot recently, this is because of my inept attempts to make it secure with SSL, etc. Fortunately the good people at Kualo, where this site is hosted, were able to sort things out quickly, and normal service has now been resumed, hopefully.

If you’re looking for somewhere to host your website, I would definitely recommend Kualo. Their service and technical support are excellent, and their prices are reasonable. They also use renewable energy as much as possible.