5 Articles on How Languages Work

Apple etymology Reddit

1. These maps of European etymologies are big on Reddit and for good reason. It’s fun to see how many different words there are for apple — manzana, jabluko, mela, omena, pumu and so on — while the great majority of Europeans would agree that a pineapple is in fact an ananas.

2. An intrepid illustrator, James Chapman, has done us all a great service and made wonderful illustrations of animal sounds in different languages. Lovely how Korean dogs say Meong and Korean cats go with Yaong.

3. More illustrations, this time for untranslatable words, including the inuit Iktsuarpok: “The feeling of anticipation that leads you to go outside and check if anyone is coming.” By Ella Frances Sanders.

4. Back to etymologies, The Hairpin has a list of the etymological origins of insults which, appropriately enough, includes the word nice: 

Eight centuries ago the word had such a broad negative connotation that it was an all-purpose insult for anyone who was perceived to be careless, weak, needy, or stupid. (The French took it from the Latin nescius, meaning ignorant, literally “not-knowing.”) 

5. And, to end on a more lovey-dovey note, the BBC looks at unusual (for some) terms of endearment in different languages. My favorite is the Chinese Chen yu luo yan:

There is a story surrounding the greatest beauty in Chinese history, a woman named Xi Shi. It’s said that she was so beautiful that when she looked at fish in a pond, the fish were so dazzled by her beauty that they forgot to swim and gradually dived to the bottom. Likewise, it was said that when geese flew over a woman called Wang Zhaojun, they were so struck by her beauty that they would forget to flap their wings and would end up swooping to the ground. Because of this, to this day, when a young Chinese man is in love with a Chinese woman, he may indicate that, to him, she is as beautiful as Xi Shi or Wang Zhaojun. To do this, he will say just four words: “Diving fish, swooping geese”.

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