Random facts about language

I’m a big fan of obscure facts and language is a great source. These snippets of information are essentially useless for daily life, but do give a deeper insight into a country and its culture than meets the eye. So here are a few of my favourites in no particular order.

English is the official language in 58 countries, but not in England, Australia or the USA. Incidentally, the UN has 6 official languages; South Africa has 11.

Iceland has about 50 words to describe snow – powdery snow, icy snow, heavy snow, wet snow, drifting snow, plain old snow… A clear sign that visitors should pack their thermals before heading up there.

The Japanese use the same word sumimasen for sorry, excuse me, thank you and please. I’m sure this says something about the culture, but I’m not impartial enough to carry out a full analysis.

There are more than 10 ways to spell the ‘o’ sound in French: o, ot, ots, os, ocs, au, aux, aud, auds, eau, eaux, ho. No wonder the language has confounded me all these years.

The most mathematically inclined insult is from Argentina, which literally translates to something like: your mother, who gave birth to you twice, was a whore two thousand times over, squared – in other words, your mother is a whore sixteen million times over. If you would like a transcreation of this phrase in your language, Supertext will be happy to oblige.

Mortgage combines the words ‘death’ and ‘pledge’ – in other words, you’re entering a death contract (it actually means the pledge ends or dies when it is fulfilled). Will definitely think twice about getting one of those, then.

There are no words for blue in ancient languages; the Greeks thought of blue as a shade, rather than a colour. The Japanese also have their blues confused – the traffic lights may look green, but you go on blue. And what is the colour of water? It’s in the eye of the beholder… read more here.

Guugu Yimithirr, an Australian Aboriginal language that gave us the word ‘kangaroo’, doesn’t have words for left and right. Instead, they refer to geographical directions, east and west. Which assumes that everyone knows which way is north at all times – an invaluable skill.

There are nearly 10,000 Welsh speakers in pockets of Argentina. In fact, this isn’t a rare occurrence: some languages survive in unlikely parts of the world after a flux of immigration followed by an era of isolation.

The bird turkey in Turkey is called a hindi. A turkey in India, incidentally, is called a peru.

Cover image via Pexels (CC0)

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Ein Kommentar zu “Random facts about language”

  • A. Auernhammer am 3. September 2014 10:23 Uhr

    Lovely! I love such facts, too!

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