I’ll be driving to Cologne in the morning, so I may not get much writing done over the weekend.

Cologne of course, is a city in western Germany.

Cologne though, as in cologne with a lower-case C when it’s not at the start of a sentence, is something a man sprays on himself to smell nice.

The reason we use the name for both is pretty straightforward.

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“Boy, those Germans have a word for everything!”

I’ve often written about how modern English owes so much to old Germanic languages. These connections aren’t always evident though. Words evolve over time and drift away from their origins. Plus, a lot of what English gained from these languages and proto-languages is not easy to see on the surface. Syntax, grammar, and compound-noun formation are not as easy to recognise as individual words. Which is why Latin-based languages can seem superficially more similar to English, with many words sharing similar etymologies to English ones (though the English ones tend to be more formal).

The result of this is that there don’t appear to be too many words shared between modern German and English. There are a few however, and in honour of English’s origins in Germanic languages, I’m going to look at the German words that we use in English: Continue reading


While mentioning Luxembourg yesterday, I was struck by its name: we usually associate the suffix -bourg/burg with towns and cities, and in American English, burg is used as an informal word for town. So why would a country (albeit a tiny one) have a name like a town? I decided to investigate… Continue reading

Motherland or Fatherland?

Why do the inhabitants of some nations refer to the country as Motherland, and some Fatherland? The answer is a little complicated, unsurprisingly.

The use of both terms became most common in works of propaganda during World War II. This is particularly evident in the cases of The Soviet Union and Germany. Many Soviet propaganda posters of the time feature the phrase za rodinu! (For the Motherland!). Rodina, the Russian word for homeland, is a feminine noun, and many related words with the stem rod are associated with motherhood, fertility and procreation, so it perhaps makes sense that Russians would conceive of Mother Russia. Continue reading