All Categories - 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...

Today I am stuck in bed with the worst cold I've had in years. So naturally I am cheering myself up by reading up on Chinese logogram etymologies. Yep - this is how I spend my sick days. What of it.

It's really interesting how some of these characters came to be. For example, 令, originally meaning an order or command, is made up of the symbol for a mouth (亼) above a kneeling person (卩). Pretty cool, right?

Also, let's look at the character for bird: 鳥. Looks nothing like a bird, right? Check out the development of the character and you'll totally see it.
PictureLeft to right: Bird who dropped his keys; Bird running away from the police; Meth addict bird

So some of these are really quite obvious and make a lot of sense. Those obviously look like birds, right? But then there are some that are just so strange and interesting, and one cannot help but see other pictures in these symbols. So today I present to you the daft imagination that my cold has granted me and I will guide you through the secret hidden etymologies of Chinese characters that nobody ever told you about because they're silly and were made up by me.

WARNING: Silliness imminent.

1. is a cat being tickled

In reality, this is a tripod or a three-legged couldron, also known as a ding. But just take a quick peek at the history of the character and damn well look me in the eye and tell me that's not a cat being tickled.
How many tickled kitties does it take to fill a ding? Can honestly say I never saw myself producing that sentence in my entire life.
That is blatantly a picture of two arms reaching up and tickling a cat whose legs are wriggling around in joy. Don't try to pretend it isn't. Also, I think the cat may be blindfolded. Should we be worried? What kind of cat-tickling practices did the ancient Chinese partake in?

2. ...I'll let it speak for itself

Now I'm not really the type to be immature, bu-- okay yes I'm immature. Just thought I'd get this one out of the way.
Yeah... sorry
Let's move on.

3. is a Wugballoon

If you haven't been anywhere near an Intro to Linguistics lecture then this may take some explaining. The Wug is a fictional creature invented for use in the Wug test. Essentially, the Wug tests how first language English-speaking children understand and pick up inflections, and in the Wug's case in particular, it's testing plurals. Here is an example of the Wug test. Isn't he cute?
This is a Wugballoon. Now there are 99 of them. There are 99 ________________.
Wait a minute. What the hell is a Wug doing in some ancient Chinese scripts? This symbol means moon or month, and it developed from a pictogram of a crescent moon. So how on earth did it even turn into a Wugballoon? Jean Berko Gleason has some explaining to do.

4. is a baby dragon that is totally pleased to see you

Some people would have you believe that this character means leader or chief. Some say it developed as a pictogram of a head with lots of hair. Ya know, like this guy. Yeah? Do you see it? Well you're wrong, and I have too much respect for you to not tell you what it really is. Because It's a happy baby dragon that is totally pleased to see you.
"Hey, buddy! Wanna get some take-out?"
Isn't he just an adorably little happy baby dragon? He's so happy to see you! But he's not happy about the fact that he has been forgotted in the mists of etymology. This guy is the rightful heir to the throne of the 首-symbol and he refuses to be forgotten.

5.  is two cats arguing over a garden fence

Don't see it? Are you sure? This character actually means dance, and is compromised of  + . Historically, the character is made up of a picture of a dancer holding two animal skins. was originally compromised of two feet facing each other, i.e. steps. Look at this Bone Oracle script version, it's so obvious now. It's a person dancing, right? It's a dancer.

Yeah, no it isn't.

Look at other forms of this character and it becomes obvious that the secret hidden etymology of this symbol is that of two cats shrugging at opposite sides of a fence.
"Srsly I has no idea who poopt in ur flowrs"

Yeah, now I'm just going to roll around in a bath full of Vicks Vapour Rub and wait for death. Thanks for reading.
If you've ever been job-searching in Wales, you are bound to have come across this at some point. There it is: the perfect job for you, and you are the perfect candidate! A match made in heaven! Finally! Where do I sign up? I-- uh, oh, great, "Welsh speaker essential". Nevermind.

And no doubt, anyone who has been politely shown the door because of their lack of linguistic ability has probably been left wondering why they are being discriminated against, or why positive discrimination is still acceptable, especially for the Welsh language. "Isn't having the language forced on us in school enough? Now I actually have to be able to speak it?!". I wouldn't really blame you for being angry. 

That is, until I did some reading. A few months ago I would have argued that jobs requiring Welsh speakers are actually pretty discriminatory, but I have now seen the light. So today, I want to give you a summary of why I think it's perfectly justifiable to have jobs that are 'Welsh speaker essential', and why non-Welsh speakers have very little to no reason to complain about them.  

Note: These are the very basics of what I wrote in a recent essay assignment. I have left a lot out for blogability reasons. 

Everyone speaks English anyway, so why do we need Welsh speakers specifically?

I think it's important to get this mentioned before I get started on the discrimination aspect: bilingualism isn't what the majority of monolinguals think it is. Very few people are perfectly balanced in both of their languages; it is completely normal for bilinguals to feel more confident in one language than the other. So, say if you're in hospital and you need to explain to your doctor exactly what's wrong with you, would you rather: 

a) Use your second language, which you have trouble expressing yourself in and have a very restricted vocabulary

b) Use your first language, which you feel comfortable using and feel able to express yourself far more fluently in

This is something that many minority language speakers experience daily, and this is just one of many situations where being able to express yourself accurately and confidently is essential to your well-being. This is why it's important to have these jobs, to help make people feel confident and comfortable in a situation where they are already feeling vulnerable or are at risk. Now, is that really so bad?

Okay, but aren't these jobs just for Welsh speakers a form of racism?

First off, having a job advertised as 'Welsh speakers only plz' is not racist. Why? Because not a single one of these job advertisements have stated a need to actually be Welsh. You could be Welsh, English, Danish, Estonian, Japanese, whatever, it doesn't matter, you just have to be able to speak Welsh. The reason why people think that it's an issue of race is because, being a minority language, the majority of people who speak Welsh just happen to be Welsh

By this logic, you are also claiming that there is an ethnic difference between Welsh-speaking Welsh people and non-Welsh-speaking Welsh people. And to be fair, I'm pretty sure my mother and I aren't two completely different ethnicities. 

But it's discriminating against non-Welsh speakers who apply for that job!

Prioritising a Welsh-speaker over someone who doesn't speak Welsh for a particular job certainly does look discriminatory, and I don't blame anybody for believing so. But seriously consider this for a moment: aren't all jobs discriminatory

Hiring: Personal Assistant. Must have excellent people skills. 
Great, I'm socially inept and have zero people skills. This job is discriminating against introverts!

Hiring: Cleaner. Must have valid driver's licence as job will require travelling to various locations. 
I'm a great cleaner but I don't drive! I'm being discriminated against for being environmentally conscious!

Hiring: Nurse. Must have competent knowledge of Welsh as will be working in the Welsh language heartlands. 
I'm a fantastic nurse but I can't get this job because I don't speak the local language? This is discrimination!

Do you see what I mean?

What about positive discrimination/affirmative action?

I don't know where you stand on the whole 'positive discrimination' front, but it is a tricky topic. Is giving some people an advantage for being in a particular ethnic group really 'equality'? This isn't something I want to get into in this blog post, but I'm just going to argue why giving a Welsh speaker a job over a non-Welsh speaker isn't positive discrimination. 

Positive discrimination is the promotion and inclusion of a certain group in a particular occupation because they have been discriminated against in the past. 

This is precisely what is not happening in Wales with Welsh speakers. Why? Nobody has never been denied a job simply for being a Welsh speaker. The government is not trying to promote the visibility of Welsh speakers in the workplace because of past discrimination, rather they are trying to promote the visibility of the Welsh language so that Welsh speakers in the wider community can live their lives through the medium of Welsh. It's about ensuring that Wales is a truly bilingual country, not about getting Welsh speakers better jobs. 

But prioritising a Welsh speaker for a job undermines the whole idea of equal opportunity. 

No it doesn't. 

Equality of opportunity does not mean that anyone has the right to have whatever job they want. You have to be qualified. Giving a Welsh speaker a job over a non-Welsh speaker in a hospital in Gwynedd is no different to giving a job to a tractor driver over a non-tractor driver on a big farm. 

Being able to speak Welsh in the job market is a skill. It's being advertised in schools as an employable skill. It's not nationalistic or racist. It goes without saying that knowledge of English is necessary for the majority of jobs in Britain, why is it such a big problem when we ask for the same thing in a community of minority language speakers? 
Last week I came across a meme on the increasingly bad Welsh Memes Facebook page and I admit, it was nice to see a meme that was actually being used correctly and wasn't about bestiality, but I ended up having to correct a couple of angry Welshmen who refused to believe that Welsh isn't one of the oldest languages in Europe. I admit this is something I used to believe myself, when I was maybe, oh I don't know, 13, but there are so many myths going around about the Welsh language that I feel need to be addressed, for Welsh speakers and non-Welsh speakers alike. 

This is absolutely in no way whatsoever an attack on the Welsh language, nor is it an attack on its speakers or those who believe in these myths. I just want to get this off my chest more than anything. People need to stop saying this stuff because it's ridiculous and starting to really, really annoy me

1. Welsh is not one of the oldest languages in Europe, nor is it any older than English

This is such a common myth and this is precisely why I'm writing this blog post. Within the past few months I have heard so many people argue that Welsh is older than English, and it truly is ridiculous. The idea that Welsh is older than English is incredibly outdated and goes back to the early days of Linguistics when people took the story of the Tower of Babel literally. By today we know that Welsh and English share the same root and have both been around for the same amount of time. 

True, Welsh (and Cornish and Breton) come from the Brythonic language, which existed in Britain before Anglo-Saxon arrived, but that doesn't make Welsh older than English. No, English didn't 'come from German'. No, English didn't 'come from Latin'. And, goddamnit, no, English isn't a younger language than Welsh. 

English as we know it today has changed a lot from Old English, which was a super cool language with lots of extra letters and is completely unrecognisable as the ancestor of today's language. It can be argued that Welsh hasn't changed quite as drastically as English over the centuries, but that doesn't make it any older either. 

Maybe people think that Welsh is older because it existed in Britain before English did, maybe they think it's older because minority languages are generally linked with tradition, maybe it's the aftermath of decades of being told that English is the language of modernity and Welsh is the language of the olden days, but none of these things matter because, and this is the last time I will be saying this, so read it slowly and carefully now, please: the Welsh language is not older than the English language

2. Welsh is not a dead language

This is aimed at those who don't speak Welsh or feel like they were forced to learn Welsh in school: so often have you gone out of your way to let me know that the language I hear on a daily basis is dead. Just because you don't use it, it doesn't mean that it's dead. 

Let's put it this way: I don't personally know anybody with an iPad, I've never used an iPad despite all the adverts I ever saw and I never will buy such a thing. But I don't claim that it doesn't exist just because I haven't personally encountered one or found use for one. 

Me claiming that iPads don't exist is exactly how daft you sound when you say Welsh is a dead language, especially since it has 562,000 speakers in Wales alone. 

3. Welsh is not a dying language

And this is for those of you who exaggerate the state of the Welsh language for the opposite reason. Now, I am by no means whatsoever saying that there is no need to preserve the Welsh language, or that no action needs to be taken to help the Welsh language survive. I wouldn't be dedicating my life to the cause if I didn't think so. The point is, I understand that Welsh is a vulnerable language but it is nowhere near dying. We have radio, TV, websites, education systems, newspapers, magazines, popular music, films, all sorts of amazing Welsh-medium stuff that most dying language activists would only dream of having. You can use Welsh daily if you choose to, speakers of real dying languages can't do this.

If you look at Fishman's Graded Inter-generational Disruption Scale, Welsh is most definitely at stage 1 or 2. That means, for a minority language, we're doing pretty damn well. I think more of us need to be grateful for that. Go and read about languages with less than 5 speakers and then see if you still want to complain about how we have English adverts on S4C. 

4. Welsh spelling is not stupid

We've all either said it or heard it at some point: Welsh looks like a cat walked across a keyboard. Trust me, it gets funnier every time, folks. But what a lot of these people don't realise is that Welsh spelling is far more uniform and easy to learn than English spelling is. 

I can understand why words like anghydweddogrwydd  might look like a mess to non-Welsh speakers, but while our spelling system may seem strange to outsiders, it is at least more or less, what we call, transparent. What this means is that a letter of the alphabet represents a particular sound and will represent that sound in all contexts. This seems basic enough, but there are plenty of languages that aren't transparent; English being one of them. Orthographical transparency is almost entirely true for Welsh however, with only a few exceptions that have simple rules that can be learned. 

For example

Most people can't get their head around the fact that <dd> is used in Welsh to represent [ð] (i.e. the 'th' sound at the beginning of the words 'the' and 'this'). It might seem weird to have <dd> for this sound but whether it is at the beginning, middle or end of a word, it will always be pronounced the same way. 

What about English? Well, just then I had to clarify the fact that <dd> in Welsh is the 'th' sound of 'the' and 'this' rather than 'thin' and 'through'. In English, <th> represents both sounds [ð] and [θ] and it isn't immediately obvious which is used in what context. Essentially, with English you generally have to learn how to pronounce a lot of words individually, whereas a Welsh speaker will be able to pronounce almost any new or unfamiliar Welsh word when it is presented to them. If you need more proof, you need only try to list as many words as you can that end in -ough and hopefully you will never need to think that Welsh spelling is stupid ever again. 

In fact, I'm not quite done just yet, because this is the one myth that bothers me above all others. I am going to give one final example before I leave you all alone. So let's look at a nice made up word:
If I were to show this to 50 Welsh speakers and tell them 'this is a brand new Welsh word, how do you think it's pronounced?' I would say that almost all of them would pronounce it something like [aˈbamɛ]. Tell the same amount of English speakers that it is a new English word and you would get all sorts of different answers ([ə'beɪm, 'abeɪm, ə'bɑːmeɪ, ə'bɑːmiː] etc etc). 

The point is that Welsh spelling is far more regular than English so please stop complaining about it, thank you. 

5. Welsh has no vowels

We get this one a lot, and you have no idea how stupid you sound when you say that Welsh has no vowels. In all fairness, unless you have some knowledge of Linguistics you probably don't know that spellings and sounds are not the same thing, so even in English, 'the word rhythm has no vowels' is about the dumbest thing you can say because <y> is being used as a vowel in this context.

As far as phonemes go, standard RP English and Welsh have pretty much the same amount of vowels, with Welsh winning by one extra. When it comes to the alphabet, English vowels are taught as a e i o u (y), Welsh vowels are taught as a e i o u w y. So as far as the alphabet goes, Welsh has more. 

So the reason why people think that Welsh has no vowels is because <y> is used to represent a vowel sound in Welsh, and <w> is used as both a vowel and a consonant (just like how <y> is used in English, e.g. yes vs happy). In fact, <w> is used to represent vowels in English, too (crowd, crown, news), so it's not that weird that we use it as a vowel (words like cwrw are a lot of fun for non-Welsh speakers). In fact, ever stop to think that the English name for <w> is called DOUBLE-U and the Welsh use it as a long [u:] sound? Logic'd. 

6. Welsh is not just "a cheap copy of English"

Welsh is full of English loanwords and apparently this is a source of much hilarity. There's no point in me lying though, I've found myself scoffing at an ashtray marked stwmps sigarets in Welsh, and I think everyone in Wales is familiar with bin brown, the Welsh translation of 'brown bin' found on our food waste bins. To be honest, this is a lesson I need to learn myself; I am always the first to laugh at 'stupidly bad' Welsh borrowings but I'm also the first to point out that there is nothing wrong with loanwords, no matter how stupid they seem. 
Wait... what language was I learning, again?

Lexical borrowing happens in all language contact situations, and the language with less influence is the one that ends up borrowing lots of words from the language with more influence. This happens all over the world and it's not just the Welsh 'being lazy'. The people who criticise the amount of English loanwords in Welsh tend to either be monolinguals who don't understand how bilingualism and language contact works, or language purists who won't accept the reality of how bilingualism and language contact works. But for those of you who scoff at our words like tacsi, ciwb, pyramid, ambiwlans and coffi, let me just remind you: 

Taxi comes from French (from German, from Latin)
Cube comes from French (from Latin, from Greek) 
Pyramid comes from French (from Latin, from Greek)
Ambulance comes from French (from Latin) 
Coffee comes from Italian (from Turkish, from Arabic).