‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ is a traditional English carol from the south west of England that has been around is various guises at least since the 19th century. More details.
Here are a few other Christmasy songs I found recently on YouTube that I thought I’d share with you:
The Carol of the Bells has been popping up in my feed quite a bit. It is based on the Ukrainian song Щедрик (Shchedryk):
Here’s a rather different version:
This is not exactly a Christmas song, but does have a Christmasy theme, and is a lot of fun to watch and listen to. It is by Nanowar of Steel, an Italian band, and was inspired by the IKEA catalogue. How many languages can you spot in it?
A couple of other Christmasy songs that I quite like:
At this time of year various gift givers are preparing to deliver presents. They have different names in different countries and languages. Let’s look at a couple:
In England presents are traditionally delivered by Father Christmas, who has been around in various guises since at least the 17th century. Originally he wasn’t a present giver but rather the spirit of good cheer, and bringing of peace, joy, good food and wine and revelry. He was depicted as a large man wearing green or red fur-lined robes. The first mention of a personification of Christmas in English appears in Ben Jonson’s 1616 play, Christmas his Masque, in which he is known simply as ‘Christmas’. He also went by ‘Sir Christmas’, ‘Lord Christmas’ or ‘Old Father Christmas’ [source].
After the English Civil War, when the Christmas was banned by the Puritan government, the Royalists adopted Father Christmas as a symbol of the ‘good old days’. During the 19th century he became more associated with children, presents, chimneys and so on as the Victorians adopted more child-centric Christmas traditions [source].
During the 19th century Santa Claus, based on the Dutch Sinterklaas (Saint Nicolas), came to the UK from the USA and Canada. Eventually Father Christmas and Santa Claus became synonomous and the names are now used interchangebly.
Other names for Father Christmas in the UK include Father Chrimbo, Daddy Chrimbo, and according to this site, Tabitha the Christmas Hedgehog (in Cumbria), Odin (in Yorkshire), Big Johny Winter (in Northumbria), Joel Noel (in Devon) and Gef the Talking Mongoose (in the Isle of Man).
Meanwhile in Wales presents are delivered by Siôn Corn [ʃoːŋ kɔrn] or “John of the chimney”. I can’t find information about the origins of this name. Does anybody know?
One of the Spanish words I learnt this week was pizarra [piˈθara / piˈsara], which means slate (rock), (roof) slate, blackboard, chalkboard, whiteboard, or in Cuba, a dashboard [source]. It comes from the Basque word pizar (fragment, blackboard, slate) [source].
When I first saw it I thought it had something to do with pizzas, but obviously not, unless a blackboard is used as a menu in a pizza restaurant.
Some related words and expressions include:
pizarra blanca = whiteboard
pizarra de papel = flip chart
pizarral = slate quarry
pizarrín = slate pencil
pizarrón = blackboard
pizarroso = slaty (soil) / slate (roof)
Another word for blackboard or chalkboard, which is used in Spain, is encerado [enθeˈɾado / enseˈɾado], which also means waxed, polished, wax-coloured, oilcloth, tarpaulin or tarp. It comes from encerar (to wax, polish), from the Latin incērāre (to wax), from cēra (wax, beeswax, honeycomb, wax tablet, wax seal, wax image) [source], which is also the root of the Spanish word cera (wax, crayon).
Another name for a waxed writing tablet in Latin is tabula, and they have been used since at least the 14th century BC – the oldest known example was found in a shipwreak near the town of Kaş in the southwest of Turkey. They usually consist of a wooden frame with wax in the middle, and often two such frames were joined together. A stylus was used to write in the wax, with a sharp end for writing and a flat end for erasing. They were used in parts of Europe until the 19th century [source].
The Latin expression tabula rasa, meaning a blank/clean slate (lit. “an erased slate”) originally referred to a tabula that has had the writing erased from it, and now refers to the idea that individuals are born without any innate mental content [source].
In some places where slate is readily available, people used to write on it with chalk, especially in schools. They were also used to write people’s debts in pubs, and when their debts were paid, they had a clean slate, or had had their slate wiped clean.
I feel the beginnings of a new section for Omniglot on writing surfaces and tools.
Incidentally, the word pizza was borrowed from Neapolitan, and is thought to be related to the Byzantine Gree wordk πίτα (píta – cake, pie) [source].
Here’s an audio-visual version of this post I made with Doodly:
One of the interesting Dutch words I learnt recently is sloof [sloːf], which means an apron or drudge [source], or “a hard-working woman doing domestic work; e.g. a maid or housewife” [source].
Sloof meaning an apron comes from the Middle Dutch slove/sloof (an apron with short sleeves) [source].
Sloof meaning a drudge or toiling housewife comes from the verb sloven (to work hard, to drudge, to show off). For example, Hij haat me en ik sloof me uit = He hates me and I’m slaving for him [source].
A sloof (drudge) might wear a sloof (apron) and sloffen (slippers) as they slip (slip) around their sloffige (dusty) house seeking a sloop (pillowcase) and trying to avoid a slop (bad situation) and trying not to fall in slaap (asleep).
There are probably plenty of other words beginning with the pleasing combination sl in Dutch – there are certainly plenty in English – slip, slap, slop, sloop (from the Dutch sloep), slide, sleep, and so on.
The English word sloven [ˈslʌvən] means a habitually dirty or untidy man or boy; a low, base, lewd person, and used to mean an immoral woman. It comes from the Middle Flemish sloovin (a scold), from the Proto-Germanic *slup-. It’s related to Middle Dutch sloef (untidy, shabby) [source].
I’ve been studying various languages on Duolingo for nearly four years now. My current streak is at 1,238 days today, and I had a 96 day streak before then, so for the past 1,334 days I have been studying at least a little every single day. This year I’ve averaged about 1 hour a day, and at the moment I’m focusing on Dutch and Spanish. Last week I came top of the diamond league – the highest you can get.
So far I’ve completed courses in Swedish, Danish, Russian, Czech, Esperanto, Spanish and Romanian. The courses and the app have changed quite a bit – more for some languages than others. New lessons, tips and levels have been added, especially for Spanish, which has at least 3 or 4 times more lessons than the other languages I’ve studied. That makes sense, I suppose, as there are currently 28.6 million people learning Spanish on Duolingo – far more than any other language. Today I noticed that there are new grammar lessons in Spanish, which are useful, and there are also Spanish podcasts, which I haven’t listened to yet.
One aspect of Duolingo I’m not keen on is the hearts system. At the start of each day you have 5 hearts. Every time you make a mistake you loose one. If you run out of hearts, you can ‘buy’ more, refresh a topic you have already completed to gain more, or wait until the next day. Or you can subscribe and get unlimited hearts. Making mistakes is part of language learning, and not something you should have to worry about, as long as you learn from them. You sometimes get tips when you mistakes in Spanish, which are useful, but not in other languages.
If you’ve studied other languages on Duolingo, how do they compare to Spanish in terms of numbers and types of lessons?
I expect that there are more lessons, etc for French, German, Japanese, Italian, Korean and Chinese – the most popular languages after Spanish – than for less popular languages.
A desire path is “a path created as a consequence of erosion caused by human or animal foot traffic. The path usually represents the shortest or most easily navigated route between an origin and destination.” They tend to appear as shortcuts where constructed paths are not direct, have gaps, or don’t exist. Desire paths are also known as desire lines (in transport planning), game trails, social trails, fishermen trails, herd paths, cow paths, elephant paths, goat tracks, pig trails, use trails or bootleg trails [source].
An example of a desire path on Roman Camp in Bangor
In Dutch a desire path is olifantenpad [ˈoː.li.fɑn.tə(n)ˌpɑt] or olifantenpaadje (elephant path) because elephants tend to choose the shortest path to wherever they go, and make paths on the way. These terms became popular particularly in 2011 after the publication of the book Olifantenpaadjes by Jan-Dirk van der Burg and Maarten ‘t Hart, in which they document such paths [source].
When such paths are made by animals, they are known as wildpad, wildspoor or (wild)wissel [source].
Are there other names for them?
Another kind of path is the geitenpad or goat path, which is may be narrow, temporary and dangerous, and may not be recognizable as a path. They are kind of the opposite of olifantenpad.
Other types of Dutch paden (paths) include:
bergpad = mountain path/road
bospad = forest path
fietspad = cycle path
gangpad = aisle
ruiterpad = bridle path/way
voetpad = footpath, walkway
In French a desire path is known as a chemin de l’âne (donkey path) or ligne de désir (line of desire).
If you mislay your bijou bijous you could say that have a bijou problemette.
The word bijou can mean small and elegant (of a residence – often ironic),
intricate or finely made, or a jewel, a piece of jewellry; a trinket or a small intricate piece of metalwork. In the above sentence bijou bijous means ‘finely made jewelery’, and a bijou problemette means ‘a little problem’, an example of British understatement.
Bijou, as jewellery, comes from the French bijou (a piece of jewellery), from the Breton bizoù (ring), from biz (finger), from the Proto-Celtic *bistis (finger) [source].
Bijou, as in small and elegant, etc, comes from the Mediterranean Lingua Franca (Sabir)bijou, from the Occitan pichon (small, little), from the Late Latin pitinnus, possibly from Proto-Celtic *kʷezdis (piece, portion) [source], which is also the root of peth (thing, object) in Welsh, cuid (part portion) in Irish, and related words in other Celtic languages.