Another Scottish show that's hard to understand

I mentioned a while ago a Scottish TV show (Star Trek featuring Scottish English) that was hard for me, a native English speaker, to understand. Now a commenter on this blog suggested another show with Scottish that's hard to understand as well. Luckily, the clip below contains both Scottish that's really hard to understand and more standard Scottish because the main character (who seems like a total loser) has to adjust his speech to communicate more clearly with one of his fellow Scotsmen.


Interesting discussion going on

I'm going to do a more decent post tomorrow, but for now, I'd just like to point out the interesting discussion that's going on at my friend Silas' [guest] post Foreign terms as convenient euphemisms. Feel free to join in.


New phrase as seen on TV

Rod Blagojevich, my former governor and neighbor, was on the Today Show, and used a new phrase: "super sensationalization".

Around the 5:55 mark in this video, he says:

"And the super sensationalization that the media gets involved in, just because someone's been accused of things that aren't true..."


Foreign terms as convenient euphemisms

Supposedly delicate topics, especially those relating to bathroom functions, death, disease, sex or "taboo" parts of the human body, have often been difficult to express in language. One fairly clever way to solve this problem has been for cultures to adopt foreign equivalents of daring native words as 'euphemisms'.

In Japanese, the language of choice is English. A New York Times article entitled "Japan's Favorite Import From America: English" states that "English words are particularly useful as euphemisms, serving the Japanese preference for approaching delicate topics indirectly...the Japanese use sekkusu when discussing sex, and if they have trouble achieving sekkusu tashi (sex ecstasy), they can consult a sekkusu pato (sex expert. A young woman who wears daringly tight clothes is described as bodi-kon garu (body-conscious gal)." (See article about Japanese and English here.)

In traditional Jewish languages such as Yiddish, Judeo-Italian, and Ladino, words of Hebrew-Aramaic origin, with connotations of high culture and refinement, are often used as euphemisms when referring to such taboo subjects as death, certain body parts, and bathroom functions. For example, "Hebrew-Aramaic words for bathroom functions in Jewish languages are typically quite euphemistic. mashtin zayn 'urinate', nekovim gedoylim and nekovim ketanim 'big holes and 'little holes', geyn af gedoylim and geyn af ketanim "to defecate' and 'to urinate' are indirect and learned ways to avoid saying kakn or shaysn and pishn." (Read essay about Yiddish here.)

A Serbian user of the online language resource www.reference.com remarks that Greek may serve the purpose of a "cleaner language" for some South Slavs. The user posts that "Generally, in spite of having rich assortment for different nuances of "dirt", seems that Slavs are inclined to adopt foreign words as euphemisms. For example, in "children language" of Balkan countries we mostly use Greek word "kaka" (bad, unpure, like in "cacophony") for excrement, with derived verb "kakiti" or "kakati", but the adjective "kakan/a/o" means "dirty, not good for touching." (See discussion about Slavic and Greek here.)

English is not immune to this phenomenon, and we English speakers tend to use French or Latin when we wish to mention the unmentionable. French seems especially useful when discussing sex or taboo body parts, Ménage à trois, derrière, and au naturel seem, to some users of English, more acceptable and "classier" than "threesome," "butt," and "naked." Latin and Latin-based words appears to be helpful when discussing sex, having lent such terms as copulate and coitus interruptus, as well as certain awkward medical conditions, such as carcinoma (instead of the harsher-sounding "cancer"). Similarly, a woman who was inspecting was, in the past, often described as enceinte (directly from French) instead of "pregnant" (curiously, also of French origin). Interestingly, I was once told that the Spanish cognate encinta is a more delicate alternative to "embarazada" ("pregnant)."

(posted by language fan and friend Silas McCracken)


Deciphering the Scottish accent

A lot of people are talking about Susan Boyle, the Scottish singer who surprised the superficial crowd and judges on one of those star-manufacturing TV shows.

Well I noticed in the media-frenzied aftermath that there were a number of interviews that were done in Scotland that also display the variety of their accents. I found two videos that really show how hard it is to understand what they're saying, though I did notice that their news readers and TV talent are much clearer, probably because they have to communicate with a nation and beyond.

Unfortunately, the folks who posted the videos won't let us embed them on our own blogs, so I've provided a couple of links:

This Scottish TV interview is really hard to understand--it's as if the interviewer and Susan Boyle were so comfortable with each other, they just spoke naturally enough so that those of us outside their country would really have to strain to grasp what they're saying.

These TV interviews (the poster combined them in one video) contain Scottish accents that are clear, though at times they lapse into a thicker accent and slang that is definitely not American.

It just goes to show that English isn't a language that even us native speakers can understand :D


Yeoman blog

Recently, I've been reading American history because our country is currently going through economic problems (though they're not as bad as most countries on earth). For some reason, I'm fascinated with yeoman farmers because sometimes I wonder where the people in the more isolated parts of the country came from (their ancestors, actually).

So I ended up reading about yeoman farmers, but because they didn't record much of their lives, it's hard to find good historical information about them. So I did a search online, and found a blog by a modern-day yeoman farmer.

He doesn't come from that background, and actually had no idea about farming, but apparently he's quite successful at it now. Also check out his about page where he describes how he arrived at such a lifestyle.


More whilst usage with globalisation

A translation company asked me if they could submit something to my blog, and what I received seemed to be a self-serving piece which essentially was advertising the importance of their company. So I decided not to post the whole "article" here, but I did notice their use of "whilst", which Americans never use.

They started their promotional piece with: "Whilst there may be around 7,000 distinct languages in the world today, many of them descend from the same roots and therefore have many similar characteristics."

They used the word "whilst" later on, then concluded their ad with the word "globalisation." Note the spelling: Americans often use "z" instead of "s" in such words. Even now, my computer is telling me that "globalisation" is spelled wrong.

So an attempt to advertise a company has become an opportunity for me to point out the differences between British and American English :D


Good online Arabic sites?

A friend of mine (who is a German translator) has been studying Arabic, but the book they've been using in the class is absolutely horrible (I forgot the name of it). He asked me if I know of any good sites to learn Arabic, and I had no idea, so he had the bright idea of posting the question here.

So if you're reading this blog, and you know of good sites to learn Arabic, where there are word lists and good exercises, then let me know! He really wants to find some good resources, but they're very hard to find.


Food for thought

We obviously spend a good deal of time eating in order to survive, yet I would bet that few of us actually give much thought to where the words describing what we eat originate. The word "food" itself, of Germanic origin, is related to the word "fodder" ("food for animals") and possibly to "fat," suggesting a linguistic link that may be disturbing to dieters.

The fact that modern English is somewhat of a hybrid of Anglo-Saxon and Norman French elements is illustrated very clearly by the names of many meats in English. The words "sheep," "cow," "chicken," "calf," "deer," and "swine" are of solid Anglo-Saxon (Germanic) stock, whereas their edible counterparts ("mutton," "beef," "poultry," "veal," "venison," and "pork") are of French origin. Of course, since the Battle of Hastings English has borrowed extensively from other languages around the world, explaining how our language has been enriched with such words as "enchilada" (from Spanish for "added chile pepper"), "cookie" (an Anglicization of the Dutch word for "little cake"), "falafel" (from the plural of the Arabic word for "pepper"), and vermicelli (Italian for "little worms") to name just a few.

Our meals also have interesting origins. "Breakfast" logically means to break a fast, and the Spanish word for breakfast "desayuno," has exactly the same meaning. The French cognate "déjeuner" originally meant "breakfast," as well, but due to semantic shift has come to mean "lunch." As for "breakfast," in French it is now called a "petit déjeuner," literally "a little breaking of the fast" (perhaps a stealth nibble before the actual fast is broken!). "Supper" is closely related to the word "soup," both of French origin, and "dessert," also with Gallic roots, stems from the verb "disservir," meaning "to clear the table."

The word "restaurant," which is the French word for "restorative," originally meant a "restorative broth" for those who were unable to eat a solid meal in the evening. In the 18th century, however, the meaning shifted, and the word began to refer to places where restorative foods, including this broth, were sold and, over time, has come to mean most establishments where food is sold and eaten.

Bon appétit (or, literally, "Good appetite" in French, if you prefer)!

(posted by language fan and friend Silas McCracken)


Chicago media site

If you're wondering what kind of drama exists in the Chicago media, then check out Chicagolandradioandmedia.com. I didn't start reading it until media columnist Robert Feder left the Sun-Times (which has just declared bankruptcy), and I didn't take it very seriously until I heard my co-workers talking about it and often saw the site on their computer screens.

It's a place for information but it's also a message board, and I wouldn't be surprised if I knew some of the people posting there (under pseudonyms, of course).