In marketing, deciding product's name is the first big step to letting the world know why it needs that particular item. Unfortunately, the language barrier sometimes presents its own obstacles and sends an unintended message to the rest of the world. Consider some of the following products, whose names do not lend themselves well to... Continue Reading →
Have you ever been at a loss for words because of the bad driving skills of another motorist? The Germans have come to the rescue with deppenfahrerbeaugung. It literally translates as "moron driver eyeballing" and refers to the look you want to give to the bad driver you have just encountered.
English fairy tales traditionally start with the words "Once upon a time," but Korean stories start with, "Back when tigers used to smoke." source
The Siamese cat originated in Siam -- modern day Thailand. In the Thai language, that most-easily recognizable breed is known by another name: Wichien Maat. It translates as "Moon Diamond."
Readers of Commonplace will not be surprised to learn that one little mistranslation from one language to another can be embarrassing. Whether it is one misplaced letter when cheering General Douglas MacArthur, an incompetent interpreter for a US President, or slip of a tongue during an word of encouragement from a member of the royal family, one... Continue Reading →
We've all seen them. They tend to show up at supermarkets, airports, and movie theaters, and they make life miserable for everyone else. I'm speaking, of course, of the parents who do absolutely nothing to supervise the little terrors who are their children. In Sweden there is a word that beautifully describes this sort of... Continue Reading →
It is commonly said that no word in the English language rhymes with orange. This amuses the people in Wales who live near the hill named Blorenge.
Have you ever been at a loss to describe your feelings when you see an utterly adorable kitten or a supremely-cuddly puppy? If you lived in the Philippines, you wouldn't struggle. In the Tagalog language gigil describes a trembling or gritting of the teeth in response to a situation that overwhelms your self-control. It’s been... Continue Reading →
If you were accused of being a macroverbumsciolist, how would you plead? If you answered without knowing what the word means, you probably should have pleaded guilty. A macroverbumsciolist is a person who only pretends to know the meaning of a word and later secretly looks up the definition.
English is a language of exceptions, with few concrete rules. When it comes to adjectives, however, there is a very specific hierarchy most English speakers know, instinctively, must be followed to avoid utter confusion. Those rules may be broken only at great risk -- including the risk of derailing one of the greatest literary geniuses in history.... Continue Reading →
Although English is not the hardest language to master (see this post for ten languages that are even harder), it frequently presents problems, even for its native speakers. Consider the problem with writing the sentence, "I never said she stole my money." What meaning are you attempting to convey? There are seven different meanings the... Continue Reading →
The Vatican Bank (officially known as the Institute for the Works of Religion) is the only bank in the world that allows the user to select "Latin" as the language of choice. Dominus providebit -- the Lord will provide.
The next time you are in Denmark and see a traffic sign that says, "Fartkontrol", don't be so quick to hold your nose and snicker. It actually is warning you that the speed limit is highly enforced.
Queen Victoria (1819-1901) took her responsibilities as Empress of India quite seriously. On her 70th birthday she undertook lessons in Hindustani and got to the point where she wrote in Hindustani in her diaries.
Aristophanes (427 BC – 386 BC) was groundbreaking with his plays. His skills as a satirist and as a keen observer of everyday life led him to give us one of the most revealing pictures of what life was like in ancient Athens. He was not afraid to tackle controversial topics. Plato pointed to his play The... Continue Reading →