Saturday, January 28, 2012

No laughing matter

Words can express their meaning not only by an arbitrary process of defining them, but also in the sounds and facial expressions they produce.  The first is known as onomatopoeia while the second has no name of which I am aware. 
Some classic examples in English for the former are to meow and squeak, the sounds that cats and rusty wheels make, respectively.   If you wish to see a full chart of animal sounds, I recommend the following site:  I have to note that Hungarian cats make strange noises!
Smiling requires many facial muscles as anybody who has waited for a baby to make his/her first smile would know.  In English, the mi in “smile” widens the mouth perfectly while the rire in the French “sourire” does the same.  The Hebrew חיוך [hi’ukh] and Russian улыбка [ulibka] create their smile from the last syllable also.  Similarly, laughing is a generally a happy matter.  Ignoring the difficulty of spelling it, the final f sound in “laugh” forces the lips to open as does the long e sound in the French “rire”.  The Hebrew צחוק [tzhok] ends a mouth-opening long o and k sound.  Of course, nothing beats the Russian words for laugh and laughter хахатать (hahatatz] and смех [smyeoch], which provides examples of both onomatopoeia and face forming words. 
So, next time you learn now to say something as important as laughing or smiling, remember that the choice of words is a serious affair.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Expressionist Fruits and Vegetables

The food we eat is not only concrete, but also abstract, not referring to the state of its ripeness.  Since fruit and vegetables are such a part of our daily life, they have entered our language also.
In a loving family, a person can refer to his/her significant other as a sweet pumpkin and child as the apple of his eye.  By contrast, being a couch potato is bad while being a vegetable is tragic.  A Georgia Peach is one of the special pretty girls from the American South, with bright red cheeks (at least in my imagination).  It is obvious that one should not buy a lemon because it is a very bad car.  Someone who lets out a raspberry in public is embarrassed by the smell and can drive people bananas or crazy.  It will definitely get you into a pickle, a difficult situation.
French also has its green-based expressions.  Mon chou-chou is a wonderful endearment which literally means my little cabbage. I suppose that it is no more illogical than calling someone a pumpkin.  A woman referred to as a pruneau, a plum, is not flattered as it means that she has many wrinkles.  A bad movie is a navet, a turnip, while raconter les salades means telling lies, literally telling lettuces.  If you don’t have any radis, radishes, you are broke.  (My appreciation to for some of the French terms.)
I would be interested in hearing about other imaginative uses of fruits and vegetables.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Haves and Haves Not

The verb to have seems like a such basic thing.  Every language must have one, of course?  Actually, while the Latin-based languages do, other languages have invented others ways to signal possession.
While the English to have and the French avoir are possessive verbs in themselves, Russian and Hebrew used somewhat complex structures: у меня есть [u menya yest] and יש לי [yesh li], literally meaning there is to me.  Somehow the existential verb to be gets involved, with the possessor being marked as an object, not a subject of the sentence.
The situation becomes much hotter (or colder) when viewing how people feel. The straightforward English I am cold become J’ai froid [I have cold] in French, мне холодно [mene holodno] or קר לי [kar li] cold to me in Russian and Hebrew, respectively.
As for eating, in English, one has breakfast, lunch, and dinner whereas, in French and Hebrew, people more logically eat those meals.  Russian is the most efficient by having specific verbs:  завтракать [zavtrakatz] and обедать [obedatz].
An unsuspecting American or Brit risks ridicule by saying Je suis plein(e) after a meal, literally translating I am full, unless it is a woman, who may be congratulated.  The French phrase means I am pregnant.
I’ll leave on that note and hope that you have a good day.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Cooking up words in English

As cooking shows have become such a major part of television, at least in Israel on Friday, cooking vocabulary has become more widely used and required.  For those who would like to understand what the fat man with the spoon is saying, here is a list of terms:
Cooking is using heat to prepare the main part of the meal while baking is using the oven to prepare desserts and breads, although there are some baked main courses.
A low flame on the gas is called sauté while an even lower one is called to simmer; frying is cooking over a flame with a decent amount of oil; deep frying has enough oil to cover the item, as in French fries or chips; wokking refers to cooking with a semi-cylinder shaped iron pan with little oil, but at a high temperature (as compared to walking the dog, of course, which can be done every day).  
Seering means either using the broiler or gas to cook the outside of a meat to seal its flavor.  Roasting is cooking in the oven.  Broiling is using the top burner only, convenient when it is too cold or rainy to barbeque. 
A pot roast is placing meat in a pot with some juice and cooking over the gas.  Poaching is cooking fish in a pan filled with water.  (Poached salmon is not by definition illegal unless you poach poached salmon.)
Flambé involves lighting alcohol with sugar to create a caramel sauce over a dessert. 
If you are hungry, go prepare some food!