Word of the Day

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sets of items in Slavic

This is another grammatical feature where Slovak differs from Czech and approaches Polish and Russian when using numbers expressing sets of items, known as skupinové číslovky in Slovak and souborové číslovky in Czech. Such numerals are found with plural nouns (pluralia tantum) for single items.

Czech: čtvery nůžky - nůžky is in the nominative plural
Slovak: štvoro nožníc - nožníc is in the genitive plural
Polish: czworo nożyczek - nożyczek is in the genitive plural
Russian: четворо ножнц (četvoro nožnic) - nožnic is in the genitive plural
Meaning: four pairs of scissors.

I wonder if this is so because in Slovak, Polish and Russian these numbers end in o, whereas in Czech it has a regular y ending for plural nouns.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Office boy

Office boy is an Anglicism widely used in Brazil. Merriam-Webster Learner's Dictionary calls it old-fashioned. Google NGram shows it achieved its highest popularity in the 1920s and from the 1940s it started dropping. Interestingly, office boy, along with moto, a shortening of motocicleta, motorcycle, has produced offspring in Brazil, such as motoboy, not entirely Portuguese and not exactly English either. A motoboy is a motorcycle messenger or a motorcycle taxi driver. Funny enough, most of these motoboys are no boys at all, since the required minimum age for riding motorcycles in Brazil is 18. I have even ridden with 50-odd-year-old men.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Yesterday I heard a Czech man say jogurt instead of yogurt while speaking English. I thought, "How odd! This is usually how some Spanish speakers say it when speaking English!" Much later it occurred to me that he probably thinks the Czech spelling jogurt is international as yogurt is such an international word, and since English j sounds the way it does, unlike Czech, where it is pronounced y, it should start with the same sound as in jogging!

For the various spellings of yogurt in English, see here.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

How many lives does a cat have?

Obviously one, but the saying goes that it has nine. Not in all languages, though. According to my research, with the caveat that a lot of speakers of these languages are not sure, languages that assign the animal nine lives are English, French (les chats ont neuf vies), Polish (koty mają dziewięć żyć), Slovak (mačky majú deväť životov), Hungarian (a macskáknak kilenc élete van), Romanian (pisicile au nouă vieți), Russian (у кошек дeвять жизней, u košek devjať žiznej), Dutch (katten hebben negen levens), Macedonian (мачките имаат девет животи, mačkite imaat devet životi), Bulgarian (котките имат девет живота, kotkite imat devet života), and Swedish (katter har nio liv), among others. Cats are short of two lives if they speak Portuguese (os gatos têm sete vidas), Spanish (los gatos tienen siete vidas), Italian (i gatti hanno sette vite), German (Katzen haben sieben Leben), and Czech (kočky mají sedm životů), among others.

Funny that their life span varies in neighboring countries. It would suffice for a Czech cat to cross the Polish or Slovak border to get two more lives, an Italian or Spanish feline could go live in France, a German Tom could relocate to France, Poland or the Netherlands.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Latino cap

Among the several train-related items on sale in a Czech restaurant I know, there are brigadýrkas, which they translate into English as latino cap (with a lower-case L), which I had never seen before. Knowing what a brigadýrka looks like, I can say the word they were looking for was engineer hat. One is bound to see funny “English” words on Czech menus every once in a while.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


There is a Russian hip-hop group called Ассаи, transliterated as Assai, which sounds a lot like Portuguese açaí. I wonder if there is any connection.

Friday, May 11, 2012


Não me ocorre nenhum outro híbrido registrado terminado em fobia. Pelo menos existe também melissofobia, inteiramente grego.Também é interessante notar que o híbrido aparece noutros idiomas, como em inglês: apiphobia.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Nesta frase, a maioria dos leitores ainda percecionam o erro e intuem, pelo contexto, o sentido correto, ajudados também por algum desuso em que caiu a palavra ventura. Mas outras há, por desventura, em que isso não acontece. Veja-se, por exemplo, este caso: 

Não vejo o motivo para se usar percecionar (no Brasil percepcionar, já que pronunciamos o p) em vez de um simples perceber, muito mais claro, simples, e na minha opinião, muito mais bonito. Sei que percepcionar está dicionarizado, mas o que tem ele que perceber não tem? Não sei. Perceber e percepção vêm do latim percipere e perceptio, e percepcionar ter-se-á formado a partir de percepção, mas por que formar um verbo novo de um substantivo uma vez que foi o próprio verbo que deu origem ao substantivo?