I have enjoyed very much dipping in and out of Mark Forsyth’s (of The Inky Fool) excellent book “The Horologicon” if you have an interest in obscure and dead terms I advise you to pick up a copy. Over the course of this week it has taught me many new and I must say fascinating words, which although I may not drop into normal conversations it is a pleasure to learn something new. I also have one class of students who like it when I give them three unusual words each week, this book has been kind enough to furnish me with several of them.
As I was cooking a nice piece of salmon this week it massively splattered oil over my trousers as I turned it over, leaving a rather unsightly grease stain just above the knee, which in spite of several washing attempts it stubbornly refused to be removed, it just wouldn’t wash away. It was unwashawayable or to take a term from page 26 of this book, it was illutible. It is really surprising that more words exist to cover situations than perhaps we even knew existed.
As I have mentioned before I live and work in the Czech Republic. One of the biggest challenges of living here is the Czech language, which after four years I am still very far from competency. Many Czech words look completely alien to me and very unpronounceable however some words are the same or almost the same as they are in English, either letter for letter or just adapted to fit with Czech pronunciation.
One such word is víkend which as you probably guessed means weekend. I started to wonder why this word appears to come from English and why there wasn’t a Czech word for weekend. Like so many questions I have with this most challenging of languages I ask my students to see what they know. No one I asked could tell me a Czech alternative to víkend (weekend). However a couple of them point out that historically of course there was no weekend most people would have worked on Saturday with only Sunday off for religious reasons. This is nicely illustrated in the Czech word for Sunday, Neděle which I believe literally means ‘to do nothing’.
So was the concept of weekend an Anglo centric idea? I have to say I do not know but it certainly appears that way. Many other languages also seem to adopt the English word. Even French which does have its own phrase fin de semaine seems at times to prefer le weekend.
I can only deduce that Czechs only started taking weekends sometime after the establishment of the first republic and after the phrase had been coined in English speaking countries.
It is funny the things we sometimes ponder, absolutely useless information but I am glad I know a little bit more than I did before I asked the question.
I ply my trade as an English teacher in rural Czech Republic. From time to time my students point things out to me that I had never considered before and more often than not it interests and/or amuses me. This week I was doing an exercise with one student when we came across the word wasps. My student struggled with the pronunciation so of course I demonstrated how I would say it then, she started laughing. I asked her why she found it so funny and she said that the sound was amusing. I didn’t think too much of it until after the lesson I said to myself wasps, wasps, wasps and the more I said it the more ridiculous it did indeed sound to me. I found this quite interesting as if I am honest I never really gave this word or the sound it makes much though before now, but try it yourself, repeat wasps, wasps, wasps, wasps, wasps and you will begin to doubt whether you say it correctly and find the pronunciation humourous, if like me you are easily amused.
When I was looking around for a photo of wasps for this post I came across the following picture:
This is a photograph of Vespula germanica or what is termed a social wasp. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself as depending on your point of view of course this seemed a contradiction in terms. I personally dislike wasps and have no compunction about dispatching them from this life, to me these creatures are extremely anti-social, as they strive to ruin my summers and early autumns by interrupting my outdoor coffees or evening barbecues. Still next time I see them I will say their name over and over a few times in order give myself a smile and take the sting out of any encounter.