July 5th, 2010


worn under

What do the words for "undergarments" mean literally or etymologically in various languages?
E.g. in English and Japanese (下着)it means "clothes worn under other clothes" or "lower clothes". In Russian (бельё) and Ukrainiian (білизна) it is "white things", which may seem to sound paradoxal in "black underwear" (lit. "black white things") :) Although they may also be called "нижнее бельё/нижня білизна" ("lower white things") to distinguish them from bedding that also goes by that name.

Other languages?

Telephone mazes

When you ring a large organisation (e.g. a telephone company), you often get what Australians call a "telephone maze". That is, a recorded voice saying "If you are calling about your mobile phone service, press one. If you are calling about your internet service, press two. If you are calling about purchasing an iPhone, press three. (etc.)"

Keeping track of which options are associated with which numbers and figuring out which is the one you need is tricky even for native speakers of the language in question, and very hard indeed for non-native speakers unless they're very proficient.

I'm hoping to illustrate this in a presentation on cross-cultural communication I'm giving in a couple of weeks by playing a recording of a telephone maze to my Australian English speaking audience in a language some of them will know some of (probably French, but German, Japanese or Italian might do at a pinch). My query is this: any thoughts on where I might be able to find such a recording? Youtube?

Failing that, I speak passable French, and can find a native speaker. What I don't know is the exact wording a telephone maze in France might use. Could someone fill me in or suggest a link? Thanks!
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Holmes pipe 2

'Toward' 10 o'clock; an idiom in English and Dutch etc.

This use of 'toward' in connection with specifications of time (toward 10 o'clock, toward noon, toward nightfall) is not so very common in English; according to a couple of dictionaries that I have consulted it means 'near' that time, and to me it has a somewhat different meaning from 'about', being a somewhat less definite way of saying 'approaching' or 'coming up to'. If one says 'about', it could equally well be not long after or not long before that time, but if one says toward, there is a suggestion that one thinks it to be likely that it was before. Would others agree on that? Now I have been reading an old Dutch narrative (early C19) in which 'tegen' is placed before just about time mentioned, and I have noticed that the expression is generally quite common in Dutch writings (at least older ones). Am I right to conclude that 'tegen' here would be pretty much equivalent to 'about' in English? And in modern conversational usage? (And how about 'gegen' in German, and indeed similar idioms in other languages?)


I was talking to a friend recently who is Scottish, and noticed when she said "our Steve" for her brother. I'm used to hearing the "our Steve", "our Kell", "our Dad" etc. in Northern-England-English - my family doesn't use it, but lots of people at school did, so I understand it - and we were trying to work out the differences between how it's used in Northern England and Scotland.

I think that in most of Northern England, it's used for your family of one or two degrees (usually children, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents), but it's can also be used to include people who aren't necessarily a blood relative in the family. I remember a friend at school coming in very excited one day, because her boyfriend's mum had referred to her as "our Kelly", which meant that she was being accepted as a semi-permanent fixture. Similarly, if you had a family where Daughter A's husband is "our Jack" or similar, but Daughter B's husband is only "Michael", that's giving you a fair idea of how Jack and Michael are viewed respectively.

We were also trying to work out whether you can use it vocatively: as in, can you address someone directly as "our Steve" or whatever. I reckon you can, but I'm not sure. You can use "our kid" vocatively (example!) and to anyone, and this suggests that you can use "our Mam" vocatively, but I can't work out if that's only certain parts of the North or everywhere.

My friend thinks you can't use it vocatively in Scotland, and also that you can't use it to include non-blood relatives: it is just "oor Stuart", "oor Mam", etc. for your parents, siblings and other close blood relatives.

So I'm just interested in any other comments about how it's used in Northern England or Scotland, and whether there are more regional variations or other dialects where it's used. Also, I know there are enormous numbers of ways of marking kinship in languages: do any other languages or dialects have the facility of optionally being able to include people in the family - to mark eg. that one son-in-law is part of the family, but the other one isn't really? I would also LOVE to know how it's used by Northern England bi- or multi-lingual families, and whether there's any kind of cross-fertilisation between the kin markers in Urdu or Punjabi and the "our" thing.

Maori Resources

It's not always easy to find resources for learning Maori so I thought it would be good to post my whole list :) Hope it helps someone!!!

Must see!
TOKU REO!! This is a great show teaching the language, it was offline for ages and I was sad, I just realised it's back! YAY!
Kotahi Mano Kaika - Awesome website about reviving Maori in the home. Has very cool resources to help the self learner get started, such as printable signs to put in your kitchen, free phrase books with audio and much more:)
Spongebob in Maori
Maori TV online videos
Te Whaneke main site - Videos, dictionary, iphone app, podcasts

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Help with Estonian text

Could you please help me if you know any Estonian? One boy wrote this to my notebook year or something ago and I still have no idea what it says in it. Though I would like to know because it's kind of bothering when I don't. I have tried to translate it by my self with a dictionary but I found it quite difficult because of the handwriting. 

(Click for a bigger pic)

Thank you!
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