Sibling Rivalry

Sibling is an interesting word. It’s quite useful for the lazy among us. If you don’t want to say I have 2 brother and 1 sister, you can simply say I have 3 siblings. Easy! It’s understandable why we have separate words for brothers and sisters, as they’re obviously fairly distinct from each other. But it also makes a lot of sense that we have the word sibling, as it’s a quite distinct concept in its own right, and it’s not hard to see what a brother and sister share in common.

Curiously though, sibling is a difficult word to translate into other languages. Continue reading

Gorilla Warfare

I’m probably not alone in having been intensely curious as a child about what I assumed was called gorilla warfare on the news in the 80s. I think I was always sensible enough to know that it wasn’t war waged by great apes, as much I wished that were something that existed. I think at some point I thought it might have involved the massacre of gorillas, possibly around the release of Gorillas in the Mist. But I think it realised pretty soon that it was very human warfare, especially as they always showed human soldiers or jungles on the news (I imagine that gorilla warfare would be quite visible and thus provide some great footage). I still never knew quite what it was though, and never considered that the word I was hearing wasn’t actually gorilla. Continue reading

I Go to the Stadium of Football in the Car of My Friend

Another brief thought about gin and tonic. Yesterday evening, it occurred to me that another factor in the drink being called gin tonic in so many languages might be a knowledge of the English language’s fondness for forming compound nouns. People might hear what sounds like gin tonic or perhaps ginnentonic, and just assume that we’d just pressed the two words together, as we’re wont to do.

As I’ve said before, compound nouns are often tricky for learners of English, particularly speakers of Latin languages, who often use a noun+of (the)+noun construction in their native tongue, when we English speakers form a compound noun. It might seem then that forming a compound noun should be easy to learn: instead of saying something of the something, just put the two words together. Done! Except of course, it’s not quite so simple. Continue reading

G & T Please!

Ordering food and drink in another country can be a harrowing experience. What if I don’t know what anything means? What if they don’t understand me? What if I order it ok, but then they ask me a question I don’t understand!? Luckily, there are usually a few things that are easy to order, in some countries. One example is a gin & tonic. In many languages, including French, Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch, and Japanese, the drink is known as a gin tonic. Pretty convenient, if you’re abroad and want to order a drink without embarrassing yourself with any of that funny foreign pronunciation. But why don’t they go the whole hog, and say gin and tonic? Continue reading