Just a little linguistic amusement

This One Love armband.

Yes, obviously, we all get the point.

And yet within one subset of one sector of the LGBTQetc communities there’s the obvious point that sexuality is pretty much defined by not limiting those physical expressions of love to the one. Monkeypox wouldn’t be the problem it is if this were different.

Just amuses.


Any linguists or Yiddish experts out there? I would like some help settling a dispute with my wife, please. Early on in our relationship, she introduced me to a brilliant new word: beshwiggled. Ever put on a jacket over a bunch of layers and everything feels crumpled and you’re all hot and bothered? You’re beshwiggled. Ever tossed and turned at night and your bedsheets feel tangled and uncomfortable? Beshwiggled. Evocative with a satisfying mouthfeel: I reckon Lewis Carroll would have had a good chortle at the word. It sounds like something he might have conjured up in Jabberwocky.

Carroll didn’t invent it though. According to my Jewish-American wife, beshwiggled is a Yiddish word. Curious about the etymology, I spent a while Googling different spellings of beshwiggled (geshwhiggled, b’swiggled) and consulting online Yiddish dictionaries, but couldn’t find any information. I think your family made it up, I finally informed her. “No,” she insisted. “It’s a real word!” I don’t want to be a schmuck, but I’m not sure it is.

You’ve just discovered how language works. Each and every family – heck, any social grouping – has its own neologisms. Sometimes those take off and infect an entire language grouping. Mostly they don’t. Even those that do tend to do so on a regional basis. Which is how we get accents and dialects and over time those develop into new languages. There are centralising forces too – mass media being an obvious one. Print was an earlier example. Most European languages got nailed down to a single one of those regional variants with the publication of the first vernacular Bible (for some reason I know that there was considerable argument over which version of Slovak should be used).

Give it a couple of millennia and we’ve got Latin breaking up into Romanian, Spanish, Portugee and so on. Or the varied Italians. Yes, other influences too, but absolutely part of it is just families and groupings inventing a word and it takes off among a wider group but not all Romance language speakers. We have another example in the Bantu languages, again over a couple of millennia. Or, of course. Old Germanic into German and Scandi and the influence upon English (which is an oddity, being a blend across two major groups) or the varied forms of Slavic.

At some point some Lombard started using birra instead of cervisia and it spread, but not to the similarly Latin speaking Spanish or Portugee. Same with tavola instead of mensa.

That’s just how it all works. Languages are naturally fissiparous precisely because families always do invent their own new words.


*Greta Thunberg makes surprise appearance on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2022*

Saturday 25 June, 5.15pm

Announced 11am, Sat 25 June

So it’s not a surprise then, is it?


A spokesman for Ryanair added: “We require passengers travelling to the UK to fill out a simple questionnaire issued in Afrikaans. If they are unable to complete this questionnaire, they will be refused travel and issued with a full refund.”

If they’re flying on a South African passport that is.

Afrikaan is spoken by about 13pc of South Africa’s population, alongside the country’s 11 other official languages.

Not, actually, a very good test.

Actually, OK so what are the first two? English and Zulu? Anyone know?

Didn’t know that

Known for his diatribes against immigration and Islam, the TV polemist

About Zemmour. The bit I didn’t know being that you can say “polemist”. Yes, obviously, polemic, and polemicist. I didn’t know that polemist was a synonym for that second.

Not the most interesting thing to learn on a Sunday morning but still…..

So here’s a silly question

Hebrew – and Arabic maybe? – read right to left, not left to right.

OK, it’s only a convention after all. And yes, I have noted a bloke reading a Hebrew language book “back to front”, so it’s not just on the one page.

OK, only a convention.

So, what happens with numbers. Is it 001 $ for a Benjamin? 100 $? Umm, what? 5141.3 for Pi?

Spectrums and Sorites

One of my old favourites:

Spaniards easily understand the Asturias vernacular, but official recognition may further fracture Spain linguistically

In the tiny village of Martimporra (population 16), nestling among the lush green hills and valleys typical of Asturias, Orfelina Suárez, 58, runs a household goods shop.

“If I was only allowed to speak Spanish I’d struggle with some vocabulary because I’m used to speaking Asturian,” she says.

“Without Asturian, life around here would be impossible. It’s not about geography, it’s more of an emotional terrain. You can’t underestimate the importance of a language that you speak and live and feel.”

Martimporra is in Bimenes, a district where the Asturian language has officially enjoyed equal status with Spanish since 1998. Now the regional government proposes to extend this language parity throughout Asturias.

What, exactly, is a language? Sure, linguists have their definitions but they all boil down to, in the end, they know one when they see one.

For, from here in this very south west corner of Europe, you could go off walking, at donkey sorta pace, and not wholly note that the language had changed until you got to Slovenia. Or the Rhine.

Yes, OK, with modern nation states and national educational systems, printing and all, that’s not really true any more. But it’s still sorta and vaguely so. You could do about the same starting at Bratislava and going either north and or east. These “languages” change word and a construction a time, village by village – even family by family. Portuguese to Galician to Asturian to Catalan (Castillian is that exception, state power imposed that) to Balearic to Sardinian to certain of the southern Italians – Pozzuoli comes to mind. The seas and islands are less of a defining boundary than you might think, ports making them more permeable to language than mountain ranges and gorges in many cases.

It’s even true that there’s still not, really, an Italian language in the sense that it’s something spoken at home by all who live in Italy. There’s Florentine which is that national and public language and the reason so many Italians speak it so badly is that it’s a second language to them too.

When is a language a language? The end points are clear, but that’s just a Sorites, isn’t it?

Isn’t this terrible surprise

Traditional phrases sent to the knacker’s yard as most under-50s no longer use them

Like science, languages advance one death at a time…..

“It would seem that many of the phrases which were once commonplace in Britain are seldom used nowadays.”

Err yes:

Wepyng and waylyng, care and oother sorwe
I knowe ynogh, on even and a-morwe,’
Quod the Marchant, ‘and so doon oother mo
That wedded been.

Somewhere in the dim and distant past of this blog

There is a comment from one of you about – I think – a son. Who has a little stand up routine:

“Trousered” has become the latest latest synonym for “drunk” to be added to the dictionary, thanks to the verbal invention of Billy Connolly

The Oxford English Dictionary has added the adjective to its official website, with the definition given as “slang (chiefly British and Irish English). Drunk, intoxicated”.

Scottish comedian Connolly is credited with introducing the term for intoxication to the wider public, and the dictionary entry cites a quote of his from a 1977 newspaper interview in which he states that he can “get totally trousered along with the best of them”.

The point of which is that near anything can be a euphemism for drunk in English. I seem to recall “Got tractored” and “Totally lawnmowered” as part of it. But you can see how it works – entirely run over, lampposted and so on.

Everyone would actually understand which is what language is supposed to be about. It might fail when there’s already another meaning ascribed – say “wholly nutted” – but the principle stands.

Of course the distaff side is notg ignored here. Just about any plural can be used – baps, puppies, etc etc.


Don’t you want the one Army, the one military, to speak the one language?

The Ministry of Defence has appointed its first ‘Welsh Language Champion’ in bid to see more soldiers use the language.

The MoD has created the role to encourage the speaking of Welsh in the forces in a bid to strengthen engagement with rural communities across Wales.

Air Commodore Adrian Williams, the RAF’s most senior officer in Wales, has been appointed with the aim of helping the Armed Forces work bilingually when needed.

Yes, I get the point about it being easier to recruit in certain areas if a certain language is used/allowable. But on the other hand all pilots everywhere have to speak English don;t they, the working language of aviation?


Andrew Bailey’s reluctance to raise rates is getting more incredulous by the day

Can you say it that way?

I – or you – can be incredulous about something, but can the thing itself be? It’s umm, “amazing to believe” or even “impossible to believe” so it needs someone to be doing the not believing, doesn’t it?

Language progression – from sounds to words

This is how kids do it, isn’t it?

Burble, burble, broble, brother!

Right? Just sounds until they work out which are actually words?

Among the most successful songs that he has co-written in his career are “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”, “Da Doo Ron Ron”, “Then He Kissed Me”,

Takes some longer than others perhaps?

Concerns, eh?

One of those mealy mouthed Americanisms that grates:

The Duke of Sussex has revealed that he “expressed his concerns” about the motives of a Saudi billionaire donor at the centre of a cash for honours scandal.

How about “said he didn’t like it”?

Are MPs in office?

The first New Zealand MP to give birth while in office was in 1970, and another trail-blazed for breastfeeding at parliament house in 1983.

One of those linguistic things I’m not sure of. Ministers are in office, sure. MPs? Elected to a term, to the House, but office?