Tag Archives: Word

Another 10 Untranslatable Words (via Listverse)

25 Jun

A while ago, I posted on ‘Cool words from other languages that have no decent English equivalent‘ – and bizarrely, it’s turned out to be the most popular post on my site by a long way. So I was very excited to discover that Listverse, one of my favourite blogs, had done something similar. Check it out!

Another 10 Untranslatable Words I thoroughly enjoyed Jamie’s first list of “10 Words That Can’

Editt Be Translated Into English” and so I set about researching for a sequel. These words are unique in their own language, and this is incredibly fascinating, as it demonstrates how fragile and delicate each and every language is to the culture to which it pertains. So, here you go: another 10 words which quite simply can’t be translated into English. 10Toska Language: Russian Vladmir Na … Read More

via Listverse

Just what is a fangle? And why can it be only new?

14 Apr

I used the word ‘newfangled’ in conversation today.  It’s not a word I utter every day – but this headline from the Daily Telegraph caused the word to slip out my mouth.

Obviously for Telegraph readers, texting is relatively newfangled technology as the paper felt the need to make texting its headline today, in April 2011.   I did briefly wonder whether I’d travelled back in time to April 2001, when texting would have been sufficiently cutting-edge to make the front page of a national newspaper, but sadly my wrinkles and my waistline assured me it was indeed 2011.

But it got me thinking – why do we say ‘newfangled’?  We don’t ‘fangle’ anything.  We don’t even talk about ‘oldfangled’ (although as of today, I’m going to try and slip that into conversation).

The OED offers a wealth of fangles – newfangled (both adjective and noun), newfangled (verb), newfangled (adjective), newfangledness (noun), newfanglement (noun), newfangleness (noun), newfanglist (noun) and newfangly (adverb).

But it’s not just the sheer array of fangles that’s surprising – it’s the ages of them.  If you’d asked me where I thought ‘newfangled’ came from, I’d have said it sounded like the sort of word made up for an American Presidential election about 100 years ago.

I am completely wrong.  The OED records its first usage of newfangled in – get this – in 1300.

If þi loverd is neufangel, Ne be þou nout forþi outgangel Mid illore iwon.

In the 14th century, it also appears in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Gower’s Confession Amantis, which I was made to study for a whole term at university and still came out none the wiser!

The OED seems a little unclear on the etymology.  The ‘fang’ bit it gives as an obsolete meaning of ‘to grasp hold of’, and the ‘new’ bit tells you how modern the thing is of which you’re grasping hold.

The word is compared to the Middle Dutch – nieuvingel – or even more excitingly, the Faroese fangla, which means to catch hold of.  I can honestly say I’ve never come across a word in English that derives from Faroese,  and am quite sadly excited!

We used to use ‘newfangled’ to refer to the person who loved the latest fashion, but we now use it to mean ‘new’ or ‘the latest thing’.

I’ve also discovered that I’m not the first to coin ‘oldfangled’ – someone beat me to that by 214 years as it first appears in 1797!  The OED gives the delightful definition of ‘oldfangled’ as meaning: ‘characterized by adherence to what is old, old-fashioned.’

And fangle does also exist – although the dictionary suggests it is effectively a mistake.  Peoplewere used to ‘newfangled’ – so assumed there must be a ‘fangle’ to be new.  Fangled came to mean newly fashioned and a fangle a fad, although this mean seems to have died out of usage.  The latest usage is in 1881: “New fashions and fangles of dress, of manners, and of speech.”

For a word that’s 700 years young, ‘newfangled’ still speaks to human behaviour and the love of the latest.  But is the word sufficient on its own anymore?  Should we now be talking about ‘techfangled’ or even Applefangled?

No? Me either. Answers to the youth slang quiz.

17 Mar

Wa’gwan?  (question)    What’s happening?

Tonk (adjective)            Muscular

Choong (adjective)        Gorgeous

Brap (onomatopoeic word)        Celebratory noise

Brare (noun)                  Friend

Slippin (adjective)         Up to no good

Wack (adjective)            Rubbish

Blad (noun)                   Friend

Par (verb, I think)           Get one up on someone

Wasteman (noun)          Layabout

Allow it (verb)               Ignore it

Owned (verb)                Made a fool of

Merked (verb)               Merked

Beef (noun)                   Dispute

Giving me jokes (verb) Making me laugh

Airing (verb)                 Ignoring

Bedrin (noun)                Friends

Bless (verb)                  Honour something

Boi (noun)                     Young man

KMT (expression starting with a verb)     Kiss my teeth

Bustin (verb)                 To do something

Chirps (verb)                Chat up

Cotch (verb)                  Relax at home

Fam (noun)                   Close friend

Crunk (adjective)           Very drunk

Dark (adjective)             Bad but can mean good

Deep (adjective)            Good but can mean bad

Endz (noun)                  Where you live

I wonder if ‘airing‘ comes from the gesture of putting one’s nose in the air to ignore someone.  ‘Cotch‘ is also interesting as it’s very close to the Welsh ‘cwtch’, which means a ‘safe place’, but also to ‘cuddle up to someone’.  And ‘beef‘ to mean ‘complaint’ isn’t exactly new – according to the OED, people have been using ‘beef’ to mean complain since 1888 and to mean complaint since 1900.  So perhaps today’s teenagers wouldn’t be too impressed to learn they’re speaking the lingo of their great-grandparents!

Quick quiz: Can you speak like a teenager?

13 Mar

I thought I’d share some slang words I found in an interview with Grace Dent, a British author who specialises in novels for and about teenagers.

I have to be honest that I don’t really know any teenagers any more (I’m sure I’ll know loads in about 10 years when all the children I do know grow up a bit more) – but I like to think myself still young in mind, if not quite in body.

Sadly, this list of words brought me down with a bump!    The only word I did know (which I’ve censored from the list) was one I’d learned from Grey’s Anatomy!

See if you can guess what any of the following mean.  I’ve removed all the rude words, so you’re safe – and I’ve added what part of speech they are, just in case that helps.

Wa’gwan?  (question)

Tonk (adjective)

Choong (adjective)

Brap (onomatopoeic word)

Brare (noun)

Slippin (adjective)

Wack (adjective)

Blad (noun)

Par (verb, I think)

Wasteman (noun)

Allow it (verb)

Owned (verb)

Merked (verb)

Beef (noun)

Giving me jokes (verb)

Airing (verb)

Bedrin (noun)

Bless (verb)

Boi (noun)

KMT (expression starting with a verb)

Bustin (verb)

Chirps (verb)

Cotch (verb)

Fam (noun)

Crunk (adjective)

Dark (adjective)

Deep (adjective)

Endz (noun)

I’ll post the answers later this week.  Good luck!

On ‘The Hare with Amber Eyes’

9 Mar

I’m currently about a third through Edmund de Waal’s ‘The Hare with Amber Eyes’, which tells the story of the various family members who have at one time owned a collection of over 240 netsuke that have since passed into Edmund’s hands.

As I’m fascinated with all things Japanese (see my earlier post about ‘kudos’), I’m more interested in the netsuke than the family saga – and I wish upon wish that I could see pictures of all 246 netsuke.  About nine netsuke have been photographed for the book – and the best I could find on the web was this seven picture collection that appeared in The Guardian.

The reason I’ve chosen to write about de Waal’s book is he keeps dropping in words that I don’t understand, dagnabbit.

The word ‘netsuke’ itself – I know (sort of) what a netsuke is and common sense dictates the word is Japanese in origin.  The OED gives its origin as “to attach a root”, which makes sense as netsuke were a type of toggle, used to fasten.   Interestingly, the first recorded use of the word in English is 1876, in a Victoria and Albert catalogue.  So around 20 years after Japan opened its border to trade with the West, ‘netsuke’ had already become collectors’ items, worthy of being exhibited in the finest museums.

Another word of which de Waal is extremely fond is ‘flaneurial’.  This seems to be a unique coinage as I can’t find it in any other dictionary – and to be honest, the only thing Google throws up is another blogger also commenting on de Waal’s excessive usage.  The word ‘flaneur’ does appear in English, with its meaning  derived directly from the French,  flâneur, a ‘loafer’ or a ‘stroller’. This noun is in turn derived from the verb flâner – “to stroll”.  De Waal uses ‘flaneurial’ to describe one of his ancestors, the first to own the netsuke, who was very much a man about town, and was sufficiently wealthy to pursue a lifestyle as an art collector and critic.

A second head-scratcher I came across in the book was ‘lambent’.  I had no idea what this meant – but the dictionary suggests it’s an adjective that effectively conveys the sense of a flickering light.  It’s a pretty obscure word, and if you google it, you’ll find the first few pages are either dictionary listings or are things like design firms or war-gaming sites, where people often enjoy antiquated language.

So one third of the book down, and two new words.  I’m sure there will be many more to go before the end!

On ‘stakeholders’

1 Mar
The Vampire

Image via Wikipedia

I was writing something for work – and as with any corporate writing, the word ‘stakeholder’ crops up a lot.  This morning, as I was editing someone else’s writing, I instantly changed their ‘stake holder’ (two words) into ‘stakeholder’ (one word) – but then wondered to myself whether I was doing the right thing.

I also got to wondering just what the term means.  It brings up visions, to my mind at least, of vampire hunters, holding large stakes ready to slay a deadly foe.  But this doesn’t (or shouldn’t) make sense in a work context as a stakeholder is someone who is vital to the success of your work.

Are stakeholders instead something to do with a ‘stake’ in the ground?  i.e. people who hold up a stake of the tent you’re building, making them vital to your project as without them the tent would collapse?  This was my primary theory as of 11am this morning.

But no, it turns out that a stakeholder is a gambling term – an independent person who holds the ‘stakes’ or bets while the wager is underway.

And for those who think it’s a modern piece of jargon, perhaps derived from America, it’s actually a British English term that we’ve been using for an incredible 300 years!

The earliest usage is indeed linked directly to gambling: Which will oblige Your Humble Servant Stake Holderappears in 1708.

Another 100 years or so passes before the word is found in the written record with the modern business meaning – someone with an interest in the success of your project.  See this Times entry from 1821: We have ourselves the opinions of respectable men, with whom we have no interest in common, beyond that which belongs to all good subjects of the same Government, and stakeholders in one system of liberty, property, laws, morals, and national prosperity.”

The word has continued with this usage until the modern day – and was particularly loved of New Labour, as we see in the usage by Will Hutton, in The Guardian:  Instead of the winner-take-all economy and polity, the aim should be a *stakeholder economy and polity in which all have an interest.”

So I shall write the word with a lot more reverence in future – but sadly, also with fewer images of vampire hunters.

On going ‘gingerly’

28 Feb
Zingiber

Image via Wikipedia

One of the things I worry about unduly is opening toilet doors.  It’s not a germ phobia, more a fear there’ll be someone in there and we’ll both end up incredibly embarrassed.

It occurred to me that the word for how I open toilet doors is ‘gingerly’ – which is a strange thing as ‘ginger’ is normally associated with spiciness, impact, or if you’re a redhead like me, a fiery temper.  The last thing we’d normally associated ‘ginger’ with is a delicacy of movement – surely it should mean to burst into a room, rather than approach it with trepidation?

As it turns out, ‘ginger’ and ‘gingerly’ have absolutely nothing in common. Ginger has quite well established linguistic roots – with many scholars arguing its roots back beyond Sanskrit to earlier Dravidian forms.  If you look at the Latin name for ‘ginger’, Zingiber officinale, you can clearly see the root of the root.  *ahem*.

But by contrast, ‘gingerly’ is described as ‘of obscure origin’ (real meaning = ‘we don’t really know how it ended up in the language’.)

The OED suggests that ‘ginger-‘ (as the first part of ‘gingerly’) may be related to words for ‘gentle’ or ‘gentlemanliness’, deriving perhaps from the Old French ‘gensor’.

This etymology would fit with the earliest usage of ‘gingerly’, which relate to an elegant style of dancing – “And I can daunce it gingerly” first appears in c.1520.  The word then moves from meaning ‘elegantly’ to meaning something more akin to ‘effiminately’ – as in this usage from 1583: “Their dansing minions, that minse it ful gingerlie‥tripping like gotes that an egge wold not brek vnder their feet.”

The sense of moving cautiously is also pretty early, here seen in 1534: “We staye and prolonge our goinge with a nyce or tendre and softe, delicate, or gingerly pace [L. tenero ac molli passu].”  This definition of gingerly has continued to the modern day – although I particularly love this usage in Robert Louis Stevenson from 1885 as it’s truly the definition brought to life: “[He] gingerly transported the explosive to the far end of the apartment.”

So it’s not a brilliantly clear-cut etymology, but as the OED argues, there’s no better alternative.  There is a Swedish dialect word gingla, gängla that means to totter, but it’s discounted firstly on account of the sounds, and secondly as it doesn’t carry the meaning of ‘elegantly’ as does the earliest usage of ‘gingerly’.

At least now I can console myself that I’m actually opening the toilet doors ‘elegantly’ 🙂