Word of the Day

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Constructions with relative pronoun whose

Romanian is the only language I know that has crossed agreement when it comes to the whose construction. Other languages either make the pronoun agree with the possessed (Portuguese, Spanish, Italian...) or with the antecedent (Slavic and Germanic languages):

Some Romance languages:
Portuguese: O homem cuja filha trabalha com meu pai é estrangeiro.
Spanish: El hombre cuya hija trabaja con mi padre es extranjero.

Some Slavic languages:
Czech: Muž, jehož dcera pracuje s mým otcem, je cizinec.
Slovak: Muž, ktorého dcéra pracuje s mojím otcom, je cudzinec.
Polish: Mężczyzna, którego córka pracuje z moim ojcem, jest obcokrajowcem.

Some Germanic languages:
English: The man whose daughter works with my father is a foreigner.
German: Der Mann, dessen Tochter mit meinem Vater arbeitet, ist ein Ausländer.
Dutch: De man wiens dochter met mijn vader werkt, is een vreemdeling.
Swedish: Mannen vars dotter arbetar med min far är en utlänning.

But in Romanian:
Bărbatul a cărui fată lucrează cu tatăl meu este străin.
Where a agrees with a term not immediately after it, fată, a feminine noun, and cărui agrees with bărbatul, a masculine noun, also not immediately before it.

It is somewhat akin to Italian
Italian: L'uomo la cui figlia lavora con mio padre è straniero. 
where the relative pronoun cui must be preceded by an article that agrees with the noun that comes later.

French has it easier:
L'homme dont la fille travaille avec mon père est étranger.
Where dont is invariable.

Monday, June 20, 2016


I have just learned that a poecilonym is the same thing as synonym. Unfortunately I haven't found a cognate in any Romance language, pecilonimo?, pecilónimo?, maybe because the word doesn't come to us directly from Ancient Greek (its first documented use is from 1890, as the source states) and it was probably coined by an English speaker.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Empinar matéria

e isso não passa por empinar matéria mas por garantir que seguem o caminho correto e são capazes de procurar as ferramentas necessárias para obter os melhores resultados. 

Empinar matéria, em Portugal, pelo que entendi desta explicação, significa decorar, memorizar, saber de cor e salteado. No meu tempo de escola dizíamos, no interior de São Paulo, rachar de estudar.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


Ten orloj je teda pěkně divný nanuk. - (Wow.) This clock is a pretty funny/weird popsicle.

It is an advertisement seen at Brno streetcar/tram stops. They are probably referring to this. What caught my attention is the use of pěkně, "pretty", adverb form of pěkný. It works the same way as pretty before an adjective in (American) English. I can't think of any other language that allows this adverbial use of pretty.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Já jedím

I really enjoy talking to the neighbors' children, whose ages range from 3 to 6, one of the reasons being I like to pay attention to their use of Czech to see how their language proficiency is faring and what mistakes they make. Czech kids have a much better command of language than their Brazilian peers, many (most?) of whom talk funny until they start school (and some of them even after that). Yesterday, talking to a 3-year-old neighbor kid, I said oni jedí (they eat) and a few seconds later she came up with já jedím (I eat, correctly: já jím). It makes sense: if oni mluví (they speak) and já mluvím (I speak), oni zdobí (they decorate) and já zdobím (i decorate, then oni jedí, já jedím) My wife thinks I threw her off because she may be more accustomed to nonstandard oni jí.

Friday, June 10, 2016

São precisos esperar

"Os tratamentos duram três a seis meses e são precisos esperar mais três [após o fim da medicação] para ter o resultado final. 

Não, três (meses) não é o sujeito da oração, é objeto do verbo esperar, que, por sua vez, é o sujeito, portanto: Os tratamentos duram três a seis meses e é preciso esperar mais três...

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The dead die, and unnecessarily

Seen in a Czech weekly magazine:

V Česku každoročně umírá zbytečně 40 procent zemřelých - tedy více než 18 tisíc lidí.

In the Czech Republic 40% of dead people die unnecessarily every year, that is, more than 18,000 people.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

MHD in English

Seen in the town of Olomouc: I MHD, and you? MHD makes no sense to someone who doesn't speak Czech. MHD is an acronym for městská hromadná doprava, literally urban mass transit.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

English made in Finland

My wife and I have recently returned from Finland. Most Finns speak excellent English, but there was somebody, our 50-odd year old guide around the fortress of Suomenlinna, carrying a name tag with the flags of England, Sweden and Finland, who sometimes left a little to be desired. It was easy to understand her and she was knowledgeable about Finnish history and the surroundings of the castle, but she made up a lot of words, like old-fashionable. For her ships can swim. Her pronunciation was also off sometimes: she repeatedly pronounced area as uh-REE-uh and archipelago as Ahr-kuh-puh-LAH-go. She produced They usually never fought in winter. An example of a messup with verb tenses: In the 19th century this fortress has been.... But the most interesting things were the nonexistent English words. If I didn't speak other languages, I might have not understood her. She mentioned Helsinkians pendling between the city and the island. She meant commuting. German has pendeln, Swedish has pendla, and Czech has pendlovat for that meaning. Once, describing, I suppose, some sort of rod, stick or stake, she called it a slag (I know, this is a word, but it is not what she meant). I associated it with German schlagen and Swedish slå, "to strike, to pound, to hit". There were also rooting (at least it sounded like this) soldiers. I think she meant some sort of amateur soldiers, islanders who defended the fortress even though they had never been trained to bear arms.