Anglo-Foreign Words.

This wonderful quiz, originally from Walter Penney in the August 1969 issue of Word Ways: The Journal of Recreational Linguistics and now presented online by Futility Closet, is as simple as can be: “Below are five groups of English words. Each group appears also in a foreign language. What are the languages?” I got 3 and 5 instantly, 1 and 4 after some thought, and was stumped by 2. I suspect there will be spoilers in the comments [Update: there are definitely spoilers], so if you want to try, you should do so before clicking through to the thread. Thanks, John and Breffni!

Clarification (since some people misunderstood the way it worked): the words are not etymologically connected, they are words that happen to be spelled the same way in English and another language; e.g. (to take a language that isn’t in the quiz), more and my are Russian words (for ‘sea’ and ‘we’ respectively) as well as English ones.

Comments

  1. Rodger C says:

    Fun. My experience was essentially the same as yours.

  2. 5 was somewhat spoilerated by a recent LH posting anent undetectable typos.

  3. Really? Am I not remembering even my recent posts now? Which one was it?

  4. My experience was the same, though not so successful. I thought at first it was some kind of etymology thing, until I realized that all (e.g.) words with Greek etymologies were found on just about all the lists, but that none were all-Greek. Once I figured out what they wanted, I got 5 and then 3, had near-misses on 1 and 4, and had no idea on 2. Without giving any spoilers, I’ll just say that I got the right language-family for 1, and for 4 I guessed the country immediately to the west of the correct one.

  5. P.S. By language-family, I meant branch: I couldn’t decide between two of a group 8-10 closely-related languages, but the correct answer turned out to be the brother of one of my guesses and first cousin of the other. (It’s hard not to give spoilers.)

  6. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I guess I’m the dumbest of those who’ve answered so far. I got 3, and might have got 5 if I’d tried a bit harder. The others would have been hopeles. Maybe a wild guess would have got me to 4.

  7. One of the words in 4 is a historically famous geographical name in the country whose language I picked, right next to the correct country – though whether the languages belong to the same family is still in dispute, I believe.

    Hmmm. It would be easier if the post said ‘spoilers in the comments’ so we could spoil away here and be specific about what made us pick our right and wrong answers.

  8. Trond Engen says:

    It does say “spoilers in the comments”, actually.

    I too thought this was about weird etymological connections.

  9. marie-lucie says:

    I only got 5 (first) and 3, but could not guess any of the others. It is hard to recognize even your own language in that kind of test!

  10. One of the words in 4 is a historically famous geographical name in the country whose language I picked, right next to the correct country

    Yes, I had the same problem (Chosen)! I was pretty sure some of the others weren’t Korean, though, so I guessed right. And feel free to spoil; I did include a warning in the post, after all.

  11. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Yes, “Chosen” was the one word that might have encouraged me to make a correct guess. With hindsight, of course, once I had guessed “Chosen” I should have noticed that the other words in that list followed the sound pattern of the language in question.

  12. Hmm, I had no idea what they were asking, I took it to mean that the relevant languages had borrowed the English word <alas> in the meaning “alas” and the English word <atlas> in the meaning “atlas”, however they might write it, it didn’t occur to me that the written form would be primary. E.g. according to this schema an example that Turkish has taken would be grapefruit, which has the wonderful spelling “greyfurt” in .tr. I appear to have paid some attention to sci.lang and to linguistics theory generally over the years about the pre-eminence of spoken language!

  13. My bad, it wasn’t so recent: “A Tough Typo” from last August.

  14. I got no farther than 3, 5 and a guess at 1 – because the items in 1 have structural resemblances to ones in a language I know. What is more, I know what room and hark mean in the language I guessed.

    However, looking at the answers I balked at angel being translated as English “sting”. Is “sting” supposed to be a verb, or sensation, or something bees have ? “(fish)hook” would have said enough.

  15. My bad, it wasn’t so recent: “A Tough Typo” from last August.

    Last August? Might as well be a previous life!

  16. Any interest in extending the puzzle? Here’s another list:

    Batman, filler, pasta, meme, deli, pars, sure, jest, mama, son, bile, gaga, tip, biz, ad, on.

  17. I know that one! But isn’t Batman a place name rather than a common noun? I’m not sure they’re legal.

  18. True, regarding Batman, but I thought it was too good to pass up. (Actually, I think it’s also an obscure basic noun.) It was tough to find long examples; I subsequently thought of “deride”. Also, technically, “sure” is a slight cheat because it’s sometimes spelled “sûre” in the original language. But I think it’s worth leaving in since it’s arguably the only hint. (Hint: in the original language it’s a religious term, from the most common religion of the language’s speakers.)

  19. OK, here’s another one:
    air, dada, gala, iris, lama, lulu, pencil, ranting, tuba, until.

  20. Because Wiktionary places all identically spelled words into the same article, whatever language they belong to, it’s a good crib for these things. (Its coverage of transliterations isn’t all that great, though; it’s focused on native scripts). Using this method, I thought for sure “air, dada, gala, …” was going to be Dutch, but I fell down on pencil.

    Batman is a place name in three countries. See also Batman bin Suparman.

  21. marie-lucie says:

    Ryan: Also, technically, “sure” is a slight cheat because it’s sometimes spelled “sûre” in the original language. But I think it’s worth leaving in since it’s arguably the only hint. (Hint: in the original language it’s a religious term, from the most common religion of the language’s speakers.)

    The first sentence made me think that the original language must be #3 on the list, but the “Hint” does not make sense in that context.

  22. Treesong says:

    I got 3-5 quickly (5 from the second word), guessed a related language in 1, had nothing for 2. I did the quiz back in 1969 but that didn’t help.

    I got Ryan’s, having done some work on that myself. The longest such word I know is ‘ampullar’. And I got yours, after ruling out its next-door neighbor, based on ‘ranting’.

    Oulipo once had a project, ‘L’Egal Francais’, to create sentences that made sense in both English and French. I don’t know if they ever managed a single one of nontrivial length.

    Speaking of which, what language is this? ‘Harold is swift. His hand is strong and his word is grim. Late in life he went to his wife in Rome.’

  23. I quickly guessed #1, #3, and #4 (#1 being a hunch due to the ‘oo’, #3 because I know the language, #4 because of the syllable structure). I guessed totally wrong for #5, which I feel stupid about: as soon as I saw the right answer, I remembered your post about limes (which John Cowan mentions).

    I’m glad I gave up without trying to guess #2; I would never have gotten it. I knew that the language in question lacked voiced fricatives, so the v’s would have deterred me even if it had occurred to me. (Turns out the v’s denote an approximant. Who knew?)

  24. Reminds me of an English-Hebrew chestnut: ‘me’ (/mi/), is ‘who’; /hu/ is ‘he’; /hi/ is ‘she’.

  25. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I’m pretty sure I guessed Batman etc. correctly, and Google Translate seemed to agree for most of the words I tried: “filler” was the giveaway.

  26. This one’s for Stu, David and maybe AJP:

    Aqui est una mesa.

  27. Bathrobe says:

    I know what it meant but I didn’t get any.

    I didn’t like no. 4 because it’s a romanisation, and a crappy one at that (no macrons). I suspect you’d only get it if you didn’t actually know the language in question.

  28. There’s a typo in the answer to #3, “teller” for “taller”. I’ve sent Greg an email.

  29. marie-lucie says:

    PO: Aqui est una mesa.

    I believe the language is not Spanish but spoken in the Iberian peninsula.

  30. m-l: It’s a European language.

  31. marie-lucie says:

    PO, yes indeed.

  32. marie-lucie says:

    It is not only European, but Indo-European.

  33. But not spoken in the Iberian Peninsula.

  34. marie-lucie says:

    In that case, it could be a dialect spoken next to it, or straddling a border.

  35. Note that I said it was for Stu.

  36. I suppose you could say it straddles a border. You’d be more correct to say it straddles two borders — or even more.

  37. marie-lucie says:

    PO: Yes, you said it was for Stu or AJP, but nothing I know about them suggests that they would be able to identify the language/dialect (of course, I don’t know them that well). David though would be most likely to know. And Etienne of course, if he is around.

  38. marie-lucie says:

    But I have a pretty good idea of where the language is spoken.

  39. Jeremy Wheeler says:

    May I add a group of words to the quiz? What language finds these words with different meanings: ember, here, hat, nap and, to give a clue because they have diacritics, sugár and visít?

  40. Ha, got that from ember and nap!

  41. But I have a pretty good idea of where the language is spoken.

    It’s as easy as ABC: Alimentation, bovine and cutlery.

  42. Ha, got that from ember and nap!

    Ember was the giveaway for me, even without knowing its meaning, though the others helped.

  43. I’m a native speaker of language #2, so I got it immediately… As well as the other four! :-) But there are some inaccuracies there: yes, “atlas” is a word but I’ve never heard of it being used to mean “satin”… It’s normal meaning is “atlas,” as in a cartographic one. Also, “valve” could mean “the state of being awake,” but it’s a somewhat obscure word and the only use of it that comes to my mind is in a certain fixed phrase (“between sleep and awake”). But otherwise this puzzle was pretty nifty!

  44. Here’s another one:

    are, ashe, bale, emu, lice, lie, mice, pen, rise, shale

    Most of these words, though, are pretty obscure, to say the least.

  45. Paul: Note that I said it was for Stu.

    Doubt not ! I am still fretting over “Aqui est una mesa”. The only clue I have is that you said it was for David, me and maybe AJP. I take this to be a hint that something Germanic is involved. But I’m damned if I can see what.

    It’s like the clues in those Times Crossword Puzzles – they are conceived by people whose obscure sense of humor is obviously quite different from my obscure sense of humor.

  46. OK, two more clues: “I suppose you could say it straddles a border. You’d be more correct to say it straddles two borders — or even more” and “It’s as easy as ABC: Alimentation, bovine and cutlery.”

    Is this some German dialect ? aqui = a Kuh, est = ißt, mesa = Messer. “A cow eats a knife”. Could be Mannemerisch, I’ll ask down the hall …

  47. Ha, found it in the internet ! It’s Yiddish: “a key est un a messser” = “a cow eats without a knife”.

  48. I just knew that the “kee” pronunciation of Kuh was familiar, but couldn’t pin it down.

  49. marie-lucie says:

    Bravo, Stu! I missed the “ABC” hint (which would have meant nothing to me), and I was led astray (as was intended) by the Romance-like word segmentation. That took me all over Wikipedia searching for lists of Romance varieties and looking at chapters written in such varieties – I learned a lot meanwhile, so my time was not entirely wasted. Thanks, PO!

  50. Thanks, PO!

    My pleasure, and congrats to Stu for teasing out the answer. This one’s in fact so old it was probably first recorded in cuneiform . . .

    Yes, it’s Yiddish, but it’s close to good German too. It may even be a perfect match for, say, the Swiss dialect, but that’s hard to determine online. When I ran “A cow eats without a knife” through Google Translate I got “”Eine Kuh frisst ohne Messer”, but I also knew that German “essen” is English “to eat.”

    Anybody recall the name of the ship sent to save the starving children? S.S. Mein Kind!

  51. “Iß, Iß, mein Kind !” = “Eat, eat, my child !”. That’s giggly, Paul, I hadn’t heard it before. Yet it has a sheen of crockware antiquity that may date from before cuneiform. Perhaps it acquired its glaze under the Burning Bush – Moses was up there long enough to fire a few pots for the lady-wife, was he not ?

  52. PO: Standard German has two verbs meaning ‘eat’, essen and fressen; the former is applied to humans, the latter to animals (or to humans when they eat, stereotypically, like animals). In Pennsylvania ‘Dutch’, the former has been lost, which probably makes for comedy now and again.

    “Mij pa fok dieren.”

  53. JC: Cute story. FYI, Yiddish has both essen and fressen, but I know these verbs only as applied to human activity.

  54. I may be the only one here not to get 5 (I guessed its descendant) but I got all the other ones. Hmm…

  55. marie-lucie says:

    F : Perhaps you are among the younger ones here? The language is not as popular as it once was.

Speak Your Mind

*