Romain Seignovert, an editor from the south of France, has created the website EuropeIsNotDead, with the tagline “The world’s smallest continent hosts the greatest abundance of cultural expressions, artistic creations and linguistic inventions. Sadly, these hidden treasures rarely make it beyond their national frontiers and so remain unknown to the majority of European inhabitants. EuropeIsNotDead intends precisely to explore this European heritage.” It is, of course, those “linguistic inventions” that are of LH interest, so without further ado, here are some posts.


Did you know that fillers in Spanish are called muletillas? It means either a pet word, a walking stick or a crutch. The most common mulettilla in spanish is just “e…” [e]. But Spanish people love fillers, and they use words such as “o sea” (which roughly means “I mean” and literally means “it means”), “¿Vale?” (“right?”) or “¿no?”.


Why do Norwegian placeholders remind us so much of Mary Poppins’ songs? Whenever you can’t remember how to say some noun in Norwegian, just throw the words “dings”, “dingseboms” or “greie” and you’ll make your interlocutor happy! They all mean ‘thingy’, ‘gadget’ and can be really helpful. Norwegians also use the word “duppeditt” to depict a small and sometimes useless object. “Snurrepipperi” (almost always plural) are similar to “duppeditt“, usually something slight weird and fancy. Last, Norwegians also have a placeholder inspired by Germans, the word “Krimskrams” (almost always plural) to designate a random heap of small and cheap items. Mary Poppins, we said…

Swear Words:

Kut in Dutch is the slang word for vagina. It is often used in the Netherlands and Flanders as an equivalent in English to “damn!”. The swear word “kut” is also used to describe something that is not entertaining, such as in the sentence “Nou, dat was kut” (“Well, that sucked”). Dutch people also use another word when they are angry, surprised or when they fail to do something which is “Kanker!“. It means “cancer” and can be used as an imperative form “kanker op, dikzak!” (“fuck off, fatass” or literally “cancer off, fatsack”). It is also used as a superlative such as in “je haar is kankerlekker!” (“your hair is suppa fly!”). Interesting, isnt’it ?


The French use the delightful acronym “mdr” when chatting online. It’s an initialism for “mort de rire” which literally means ‘dead of laughter’. When the conversation is worth more than a basic “mdr“, the French do not hesitate to upgrade their laughter with the acronym “ptdr“, the initials of “pété de rire” which means ‘broken with laughter’. It’s approximately equivalent to English ‘PMSL’ (‘pissing myself laughing’). And of course, let’s not forget the evil “mouhaha

There’s also Surnames, Untranslatable Words (sigh), and much else. No guarantee of accuracy, of course, but it’s fun stuff. (Via MetaFilter.)


  1. The Spanish hesitation noise I learned long ago was este … este.

  2. The world’s smallest continent hosts the greatest abundance of cultural expressions, artistic creations and linguistic inventions.

    “EuropeIsNotDead” is kind a weird name for a Web site about Australia.

  3. Heh.

  4. Curious that it claims that the Spanish “o sea” literally means “it means”. Because it doesn’t. “O” is “or”, and “sea” is a form of the verb to be. And, without context, I’d translate “o sea” to “that is”. Quoting this webpage:

    The phrase is formed out of the disjunctive conjunction o (“or”) and the word sea (“would be”), the third person present subjunctive form of the verb ser (“to be”). Let’s see some examples.

  5. Yeah, like I say, don’t have too much expectation of accuracy.

  6. There’s the Dutch placeholder dingetje, “thingy” in English …

  7. And now, Architecture a bit. I was interested to see in his biographical piece: Mes études en sciences politiques m’ont emmené à explorer l’Europe sur le terrain, depuis les amphithéâtres de l’Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Rennes en France, sur le campus de l’Université de Salamanque en Espagne
    [My studies in political science led me to explore Europe on the ground, from the amphitheatres of the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Rennes in France to the campus of the University of Salamanca in Spain]

    At first I looked to see if they were Greek and built into the hillside or Roman and carried on brick vaults & arches but it turns out the French use l’amphithéâtre for those wooden constructions we’d be more likely to call an anatomy theatre, or a semicircular version of that, and either it’s typical in French grandes écoles or the French are just calling a lecture theatre or an auditorium with a raised audience an ‘amphitheatre’.

  8. David Marjanović says

    There’s the Dutch placeholder dingetje, “thingy” in English …

    German, in order of decreasing frequency and geographic distribution: Dings, Dingsbums, Dingstibumsti.


    The natural-history museum in Paris has one; it’s a free-standing almost circular lecture theatre (not wooden).

  9. PlasticPaddy says

    Did you notice snurrepipperi above? I am reminded of piepe(schnurz).

  10. PlasticPaddy says

    Salle d’une faculté de médecine garnie de gradins et réservée aux cours et travaux pratiques d’anatomie :…

    − Salle similaire où les professeurs des autres facultés donnent leurs cours (abrév. familier amphi) :

    So as you suspected.

  11. The tooth fairy part of the website was curious. When I was a little Croatian, a mouse would bring me money for my lost milk teeth. According to the website, Croatia is now a territory ruled by a tooth fairy. I wonder when this changed.

  12. Thanks, David & Pad. abrév. familier amphi they have this abbreviation in Norway too for an exterior space at say a concert hall, though I expect they use an F.

  13. David Eddyshaw says

    world’s smallest continent

    Obviously time it was reclassified as a “dwarf continent”, or “continentoid”, along with Borneo, Madagascar and other Kuiper Belt objects.

  14. Squiffy-Marie von Bladet says

    Europe is a peninsula with entirely too much attitude (to say nothing of its armies and navies).

    Meanwhile much of the delight of Dutch “kut” is in compounding. I have complained perhaps too often lately of “kutweer”. And while I yield to German’s geographically-distributed thingumijigs and whatjemacallits, I will remark that Dutch also has “Dinges” for “What’s-his-name”.

    (I say these things cheerfully and openly because I am confident of not thereby enriching anyone’s store of knowledge worth having and thank goodness for that.)

  15. I think any performance space with seats (almost) all around may be justly called an amphitheater, though if it only has one or two rows the term would be grandiose.

  16. Trond Engen says

    The next-to-local elementary school has an amfi which is essentially just a big open room with a rounded platform along three walls and a seat-level at half-height. I think it was conceived as an elegant solution to different floor levels when a new wing was built between two previously separate buildings.

  17. David Marjanović says

    Did you notice snurrepipperi above? I am reminded of piepe(schnurz).

    I didn’t. I know schnurz and combinations of schnurz-, -piep- and -egal only as ways of saying “doesn’t matter”, “I don’t care”, and then only from reading.

    (Scheißegal is the one that seems to be used everywhere.)

  18. I know schnurz and combinations of schnurz-, -piep- and -egal only as ways of saying “doesn’t matter”, “I don’t care”,
    Yes, I my experience that’s always the meaning, never “thingamajig”. I have heard piepegal in the wild, as a sanitised version used around and by children, the other combinations I also only know from books.

  19. Wow – does the cultural arrogance of the europeans know no bounds? there is as much “abundance of cultural expressions, artistic creations and linguistic inventions” in India alone which is not even a continent – let alone in Africa or Asia in their entireties.

  20. Yes, of course that’s a silly formulation, but that sort of thing is by no means limited to Europeans. Every people thinks its language is the oldest, its culture the most abundant, etc. etc.

  21. Trond Engen says

    Taken at face value “the greatest abundance” is indeed a silly formulation, but I read right past it without catching that sense at all. I think I took it as one of those superlatives that don’t compare to anything else but the expectations of the audience: “even the simplest task”, “with the greatest pleasure”, “the closest of friendships”

    As it is, many of the differences described are too superficial to be really interesting. I would love to see a page like that for a truly abundant cultural region.

  22. David Eddyshaw says

    Shankar is absolutely right, of course. Nigeria alone probably has more distinct indigenous languages than all of Europe and India combined. From (at a minimum) three quite unrelated families, at that.

    Even tiny Togo has 44.

    In fact, Europe must be by some margin the least linguistically diverse continent. Dwarf continent. Peninsula with attitude. Whatever.

  23. Of course there are more linguistically diverse regions of the world than Europe. Eg Papua New Guinea. They should be studied and lauded in their own right. But this website is more than just about language. It looks at various aspects of culture. Europe has punched above its weight in that regard (for better or for worse) over the course of history. And it would fair to say that more people are interested in Europe, including trying to migrate there, than in eg. PNG, India, Nigeria or Togo.

    In my view, a worthwhile website.

  24. David Eddyshaw says

    It looks at various aspects of culture. Europe has punched above its weight in that regard (for better or for worse) over the course of history.

    I see what you mean; however, I think (to be provocative) I’d say

    (a) punching above your weight need not mean as much as all that, if your weight is light to begin with
    (b) the concept of “culture” involved is Eurocentric enough that the argument risks becoming circular.
    (c) Europeans in general (i.e. not you) are woefully ignorant about non-European cultures

    I was very struck when I lived in Ghana at how from that perspective “Europe” seemed remarkably homogeneous. I could walk a mile into town and cross from one linguistic realm to another, where people spoke an utterly unrelated language from that of my neighbours and were predominantly Muslim; I could go to church and be surrounded by fellow-worshippers from the south of Ghana whose languages were as different from that of my co-workers as Persian from English; and at work, the great majority of the people I encountered were animists with no particular desire to become either Muslim or Christian and worldviews radically different from either. All this without even getting into my car. None of this is unusual in West Africa.

    Kusaasi culture is, in point of fact, both complex and fascinating. The area would be paradise for an anthropologist (or linguist.) You could spend your whole life there and just be scratching the surface.

    I was up in Burkina Faso on one occasion, in an area which is part of the same general (animist) culture, and was awakened in the night by drumbeats in patterns of four. Showing off to my hosts in the morning, I said that there had evidently been a woman’s funeral during the night (which is the time for a funeral); four is the number of a woman, just as three is the number of a man. (There is a reason for this.) My hosts put me right: in fact there had been an eclipse of the moon. The moon is a woman, and gets a woman’s funeral rites …

  25. I remember reading on LL some substantial number of years ago a couple of very informed posts (most of their content flew under radar and over my head) from an actual Indo-Europeanist claiming and explaining that, accounting for it’s size and geography, Europe is surprisingly linguistically homogeneous, and that it means that it was settled in it’s current form relatively recently (on a language family scale, I suppose) by a rather narrow group of people.

  26. Bruvver was the form of address used for fellow members of a trade union in England

    Brother/sister is in use in the U.S. also, particularly on formal occasions. When Gale worked as the superintendent in our building, she joined the union and got sent the union newspaper, which were full of the doings and sayings of “brother Bevona”, then the president of the local.

  27. David Marjanović says

    from an actual Indo-Europeanist

    Donald Ringe back in 2009.

  28. An actual Indo-Europeanist from my own department, though a bit later than me.

  29. There is a reason for this.

    Spill, spill!

    IE of course is all about trinities: maiden-mother-crone, youth-warrior-elder, etc. I once wrote about a post-American culture that had switched to hunting and gathering in their extensive second-growth forest, perhaps 1000 years from now. The Elders sat in a square or circle on the Council Floor, with the Hunters standing behind them and the children excluded altogether. I’m sure there were woman’s meetings too, but my character, exiled at the end of childhood by no fault of his own, doesn’t know anything about them. Or perhaps there were women there, and he doesn’t consider it worth mentioning particularly. He’s in deep culture shock anyway, though fortunately the place he’s going is well familiar with such outsiders and has a tradition of consciously training and integrating them.

    there had been an eclipse of the moon

    I wonder if they foresaw this, and if so, by what methods? (Listening to the radio comes to mind.)

  30. David Marjanović says

    IE of course is all about trinities:

    That is very easy to exaggerate, of course. Once you expect to find trinities, you’ll see them everywhere. Same for dualities (yin/yang). The same works with four and even five (the quinarian system of zoological classification from the mid-19th century comes to mind).

  31. David Eddyshaw says

    There is a reason for this

    A person’s siig “life force” consists of three (for a man) or four (for a woman) tutelary kikiris, usually rendered in local English as “fairies.” Women have one more than men because they need additional protection from the perils of childbirth. However, the three = man vs four = woman symbolism is quite pervasive, so this might be a rationalisation rather than a real “reason”, I guess.

    There are wild kikiris in the bush, which are hostile and try to lead travellers astray. Their feet are attached backwards to confuse trackers. There’s a proverb:

    Kikirig ya’a mɔr bʋʋdɛ, fʋn tis o ka o lɛbig o mɔɔgin.
    “When a kikirig is in the right, agree with it so it will go back to the bush.” i.e. “Give the devil his due.”

    Kikiris are what witches steal from you. Your kikiris don’t all have the same role, so the effects of losing one are variable. You won’t survive the loss of all of them, though.

    I don’t know if the eclipse was predicted. The local culture does seem to have fairly sophisticated astronomical knowledge (there are indigenous names for the planets and constellations, which are not borrowed from Arabic, nor calqued, as far as I can tell.) The radio is perfectly possible. We move with the times.

  32. Stu Clayton says

    Predicting eclipses is good for what ? They last only a few minutes at most. When one starts, you can just drop everything and dance a few times around the old oak tree. It doesn’t need a huge amount of advance organization as for a Trump rally.

  33. You’re thinking of solar eclipses. Lunar eclipses last for up to two hours and are visible across the entire world (provided the sky is dark and the Moon is up at that location). There are 2-5 of them per year.

  34. Stu Clayton says

    Then they are almost as frequent as bank holidays. The main difference is that their dates must be determined by consulting the stars or the radio, instead of statute laws. So there is certainly room for enterprising party organizers to operate.

  35. Lars Mathiesen says

    Note the caveat: Moon up in the nighttime. This is not a niggling special condition, it will cut the occurrences you can see by a factor of roughly four. Then adjust for cloud cover: You may be far enough from city lights to tell that the moon is shining above the clouds, but most lunar eclipses are partial or umbral and if you can’t see the shape of the moon you may not be able to tell that it’s dimmed a bit. (There are no umbral solar eclipses, and even the partial ones will reduce light enough notice in the daytime).

    Of course you can organize a party to travel to where the lunar eclipse is visible, as people do for the solar ones. But maybe that marked is saturated already; “Airborne Astronomy Tourism” is a thing, it seems, go above the clouds and maybe bring champagne…

  36. Forthcoming lunar eclipses with their coverage areas (hover over the date). The next total lunar eclipse is on 2021-05-26, and will be visible from much of eastern Asia and almost the whole New World, but not in Europe, Africa, or western Asia.

  37. There tends to be about one or two lunar eclipses per year that are readily viewable from wherever you live. The Earth is so much bigger than the moon that they are often total or nearly so (unlike solar eclipses, where it is pure coincidence that the moon is just big enough to fully occlude the sub). However, in my view, the best part of a lunar eclipse is not the totality, but seeing the interesting colors that can appear in the penumbra.

    Measuring the size (or radius of curvature) of the Earth’s shadow on the moon was, at one point, a critical step in establishing the size of the solar system. It tells you the relative sizes of the Earth and the moon in absolute terms. Once you know the radius of the moon, everything else becomes a matter or trigonometry (although not necessarily easy trigonometry; when this way of establishing the first rungs of the cosmic distance ladder was first proposed in ancient Greece, they did know the lengths of the lunar quarters precisely enough to take the next step).

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