Blog Archives - Dreams and Dialects
I don't like autumn. Everyone acts like it's the most beautiful time of the year, but it really is not. It's cold, wet and depressing. Maybe in some parts of the world it's pretty and photogenic for a day or so, but I refuse to believe that anybody genuinely enjoys autumn. You are all kidding yourselves. 

My Seasonal Affective Disorder-induced bitterness aside, I have decided to share some nice autumnal words from various languages with you. At least autumn is inspiring for art and poetry and has some pretty words, even if the longer nights and the abundance of puddles makes me wish it were socially acceptable to hibernate. 

листопáд (listopád, lystopád)

листопáд is a word in Russian and Ukranian for the falling of autumn leaves. 


Ruska is the Finnish name for the colours of autumn leaves. Similar words in other languages include: 
  • efterårsfarver - Danish
  • 단풍 (danpung) - Korean
  • 紅葉 (momiji or kōyō) - Japanese 

and on that note...

紅葉狩 (momijigari)

Literally 'red leaf hunting', momijigari is the Japanese tradition of going to scenic areas in autumn to view the changing colours of the trees. 

Hydref, *sido-bremo-

The Welsh name for autumn, 'Hydref' (which is also the name for October), apparently comes from Proto-Celtic *sido-bremo-, which means 'the bellowing of stags', since autumn is the mating / rutting season for deer. 


Mareel is a Shetlandic Scots term referring to the sparkling lights seen on the sea (marine phosphorescence) particularly during autumn nights. 


Dagwaagishi is an Ojibwe word meaning 'he/she spends the autumn somewhere'. 


Avar is a Hungarian word for the layer of dead, fallen leaves on the ground in autumn. 

秋老虎 (qiū lǎohǔ) 

A brief period of intense heat in the middle of autumn - in English it's known as an 'Indian Summer', but in Chinese it's called qiū lǎohǔ, literally meaning 'autumn tiger'. 

Do you have any favourites? Any more to add from other languages? Drop me a comment! 
So I know it's been quite a while since people started whinging about the definition of the word 'literally', but I am kinda really fed up of how often this still comes up in polite conversation so I just had to address the issue. 

So the definition of 'literally' has now officially changed to mean 'word for word' and 'figuratively/virtually', which essentially means 'not word for word'. And this has made many people very angry. 

I suppose I can see why this enrages people so much.
  1. A word they use has changed meaning
  2. That word is being used to mean the opposite of what it actually means
  3. The dictionary has accepted both definitions now!!!11

Yeah, so I'm going to address each of these points, which are essentially: semantic shift, auto-antonyms and lexicography. 

1. Semantic Shift

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin. 

Once upon a time there was a little word. Now this little word got used a lot, by many people, in many contexts. The little word got used in exaggerations, in metaphors, as slang, just to name a few. Eventually, it was barely used for its original meaning at all! And so people began to forget the original meaning of the little word. Subsequently, much to everyone's surprise, the world did not end and the English language did not collapse in on itself and the Anglosphere did not resolve to neanderthal-like grunting. 

The end.  

Here is a very short list of words that have undergone semantic shift (Spoiler: near enough any word you look up has changed meaning over the years)

Basically, if you're going to complain about the word 'literally' not meaning just 'word for word' anymore, then go ahead and start complaining about these too. Or else you'll be a hypocrite. And nobody likes a hypocrite. Unless you're going to go by the original meaning of hypocrite, because in that case, I think we all rather like hypocrites. 

2. Auto-antonyms

Okay, so maybe I've convinced you that semantic shift isn't so bad. It's a natural part of language development. But now your problem is that 'literally' is used to mean 'word for word' AND 'figuratively'. AND THEY'RE ANTONYMS. THIS IS LINGUISTIC SACRILEGE. 

Yeah, no. 

Words that can also be used to mean their own antonym (i.e. opposite) are known as auto-antonyms, and they are in fact super-cool. 

Sorry? What was that? You'd like another list? Oh, okay. 

  • Left means both 'gone' and 'remaining' (He left the room / He's the only one left)
  • Off means both 'no longer operating' and 'starting to operate' (The light's off / The alarm went off)
  • Either means both 'one or the other' and 'both' (You can either have it or leave it / There are trees on either side of the road)
  • Fine means both 'acceptable/satisfactory' and 'above average' (Yes, I suppose this essay is fine / This is a fine specimen)
  • Overlook means both 'to watch' and 'to fail to notice' (The children will be overlooked by a supervisor / I can't believe you overlooked all these spelling mistakes)
  • To put out means both 'to generate/produce' and 'to extinguish' (I put out a new album last year / I'll just put out this fire)
  • All over means both 'everywhere' and 'no more' (You have spaghetti sauce all over you... / I'm so sad that the summer is all over)
  • Trim means both 'to add' and 'to remove' (We trimmed the Christmas tree with tinsel / the shears)

And there are many more here and here and here. They're all over (ha) the place. And quite frankly they are lots of fun. So please, let's move on. 

3. Finally: Lexicography

And for those who complain about which words make the dictionary: The dictionary is descriptive, not prescriptive. That is, the dictionary describes the words that people use in a language, it is not a guidebook for which words people 'should' be using. The way we speak to each other affects the dictionary, not the other way around. Language changes. All the time. Every language changes. If you find yourself disgusted by how young people use language remember that your parents probably thought the same of you. As did their parents. And theirs. And theirs. You see where I'm going with this. 

But if you're still really upset about it, well...