Our Mother Tongue (4)

Russia has Pushkin.

Germany has Brecht.

France has… I haven’t a clue…

England has Shakespeare.  Shakespeare invented lots of words, eg assassin, bump, even the word “elbow” (cf: German: “Elbogen”).

Take a look at these beauties!

And for a bonus, take a look at these Shakespearean insults, thou curmudgeonly apple-worm!

Have an inventive day, won’t you!



Our Mother Tongue (3)

To you they might seem like mild expletives.  To people in Elizabethan times, they were a lot stronger?

Which words?


  • Blimey – “God blind me!”
  • Crickey – 19th century euphemism for Christ.
  • Zounds – nowadays rhymes with “bounds”, but was originally “God’s wounds” (ie from the nails driven into his body on the cross).
  • Bloody – nothing to do with red (or blue if a royal) liquid: it’s a corruption of “by Our Lady” (ie, the Virgin Mary).

Back in those days of Elizabeth I, religious oaths were considered much stronger and profane than sexual “rude words.”

Have a rude day, won’t you!


Our mother tongue (2)

Australia.  Oz?  What about it?  A land down under.  Who were the Poms?  Some say it was to do with the early settlers being:

  • Prisoners
  • Of
  • Her
  • Majesty

One thing is for sure, they were all transported there by a kangaroo court, one where you were definitely going to be found guilty.  Why “kangaroo”?  Guess what you’ll find in Australia when you arrive in Botany Bay…

Have a g’day, won’t you!

Our mother tongue (1)

So, our beloved mother tongue, post-Norman demotic Anglo-Saxon.  Modern-day British English.  Where do some of the words come from?

Let’s head round about town.  When a village  became a certain size, the residents built a fence round it, to create a town.  What’s the German word for “fence”?

Der Zaun

Do you think that is beyond the pale?

The pale were the city walls (of Dublin, Ireland), somewhat strong than a fence, to protect the citizens from the ruffians outside of it.   Anything that was beyond the pale, out the control of the English, was unacceptable.

Have an acceptable day, won’t you!

Don’t be naughty

I’m a linguist.  I love learning about things like:

  • The Great Vowel Shift
  • Why is English spelling so hard?
    • Bough, cough, dough, rough, tough etc
    • Why is there an “h” in “ghost?  Blame the migrant workers!
  • Does the Queen speak less posh(ly?) than when she was younger?
  • etc. etc…

So, the word for today is “naughty.”

Let’s give some context.  Yesterday I was sitting in a rather intense meeting, discussing some quite weightly matters.  The chaplain then read out a passage from the Ordering of Priests:

…to seek for Christ’s sheep that are dispersed abroad, and for his children who are in the midst of this naughty world, that they may be saved through Christ for ever.

For those who are German-speakers, “naughty” would nowadays translate into “unartig.”  (Think of that classic scene from Life of Brian: “He’s not the Messiah.  He’s a very naughty boy.”)

When the chaplain read out that passage (and a bit more beforehand), this caused a ripple of smirks and laughing out loud.  It was then explained to us that at the time of the Book of Common Prayer, hundreds of years ago, “naughty” had a much stronger meaning, more along the lines of “evil”, than nowadays.

We live.  We learn.

Have a naughty day, won’t you!


Birthday Nostalgia

So, last week was my birthday: 21 again, and more.

Where was I on that day of the year…?

  • 10 years ago: Doing pgce teacher training in Middlesbrough.  Not my cup of tea.  Ler’s just leave it at that.
  • 20 years ago: Started my first ever permanent job, working in the International Programme Liaison team at Mercury Communications Ltd.  I did a lot of telecoms courses in that year.
  • 30 years ago: At sixth form college in Middesbrough, re-sitting my O-levels.  That was where I started studying Russian.
  • 40 years ago: At Wolfenbüttel Primary School, near the East-West German border, being sent to the headmaster’s office to take a phone call from my Dad, then stationed at HMP Maze, Northern Ireland, to wish me happy birthday.

Have a nostalgic day, won’t you!