It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these posts. As anyone who has been following this blog or my socials for any length of time will know, I’m a bit of a dabbler when it comes to language learning. That’s why my blog is called the language magpie, I flit between shiny objects like the bird. While it’s detrimental to reaching any level of fluency by anybody’s definition, it does mean that I’ve got a very broad pool of knowledge. Sometimes, I come across words and phrases that I find particularly interesting – recently, I’ve gotten into the habit of collating these into a document, which covers everything from Ancient Greek to Yiddish. I thought it might be fun this month to share a few of them with you – so, let’s get this show on the road!
When I think about interesting words, the example that leaps straight to the forefront of my mind is the Thai phrase ชิงช้าสวรรค์ (ching-cháa-sà-wǎn), a compound of ชิงช้า (ching-cháa, meaning ‘swing’ or ‘hanging seat’) and สวรรค์ (sà-wǎn, meaning ‘sky’ or ‘heaven’). It literally means a swing to heaven, or as . I just think it’s a wonderful image, although still something I’d avoid in real life because I am terribly afraid of heights. Similarly pleasing is the Hindi phrase घोड़े बेचकर सोना (ghoṛe becke sonā) means to sleep without a care, peacefully and deeply. Literally, though, it means ‘to sleep having sold horses’. I’ll admit I have no idea where this phrase arose, but it’s just… lovely, isn’t it?
Next, we’re turning to our old friend English – even as a native speaker, of course I don’t know every word and phrase in the language, and occasionally I stumble across something like this that makes me smile. Now, go with me with his one, because it takes some explaining. The acronym CGSM stands for a Consignment of Geriatric Shoe Manufacturers; or, put into other words, a load of old cobblers. Now, if you know what that means, congratulations – you can skip the rest of this paragraph. For those of you who require a bit more explanation, strap in, because we’ve got some ground to cover. Cobblers, in this case, is Cockney rhyming slang – shortened over time from cobbler’s awls. Now, I had to Google this, but an awl is (or at least was) a tool shoemakers used for making small holes in leather. So cobbler’s awls is a rhyme for balls, literally meaning testicles, or figuratively meaning nonsense. This particular euphemistic way of saying someone is talking a load of rubbish apparently has its origins in the political satire Yes, Minister, which ran on the BBC between 1980 and 1984. In the show, it was suggested that civil servants would leave this acronym as a note in the margin of political speeches to suggest that a statement was, perhaps, less than true. Marvellous.
Next, we’re off to Finland. As you probably know, there are times in the summer when the sun doesn’t completely set in Finland – in English, we call this the midnight sun. In Finnish, there are quite a few names given to this particular phenomenon; my favourite of which is yötön yö, literally meaning nightless night. This has the advantage of being fun to say, as well as an attractive concept! On the subject of times of day, I’d like to give a mention to the Japanese word たそがれる (tasogareru, sometimes spelled 黄昏れる or 黄昏る), a verb meaning to fade into dusk, but also euphemistically, to pass one’s prime. I wish I knew enough about Japanese in terms of historical linguistics to be able to decipher its etymology, but it seems to be a derivation of the noun 黄昏 (tasogare), meaning dusk or twilight.
Lastly, and somewhat depressingly, I’d like to introduce you to a fun little compound word (as a speaker of Germanic languages, I do love a nice long compound!) that arose over the past couple of years. I won’t say why, but I think you’ll probably be able to guess. This word comes to us from Dutch, and it is anderhalvemetersamenleving. It means ‘a society in which citizens are able to keep a distance of one and a half metres from each other’. It’s funny to think that this word is so understandable to those of us living now, but in the future, lexicographers will leaf through dictionaries and think, ‘what on Earth was that all about?’ …well, at least I hope so.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little wander through a small selection of the world’s words. If I happen to come across any more, I’ll keep them and do another of these blog posts in the future. As I’m going through quite a productive period focusing on Korean, this was just a nice little easy post – I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it! If you’ve come across any interesting or otherwise pleasing words in your language learning journey, I’d love to hear them! You can get in touch by leaving a comment, or finding me on Twitter or Instagram (I’m @sprakskatan on both). As always, I want to thank you for reading, and I’ll see you all next month. Take care!