The wonders of language

Dear reader,

a few days ago I came across this wonderful line on a box of bananas:


Immediately I wondered how someone would know what nothing tastes like. After all, if nothing tastes like a chiquita then logically a chiquita tastes like nothing. So when you taste nothing you know what a chiquita tastes like.

I assume something got lost in translation here…

Senn. A language and a film.


Senn poster


Dear reader,

This time I’m not writing about books but about a film and language. I’m fascinated by languages. All kinds of languages including constructed ones (the so called conlangs). I also like science fiction a lot, in writing and in films. That is why I had to see Senn.The film is something you need to experience for yourself. Next to the film itself I also saw the makers’ documentary on the Language of Senn. As you see in the top image there’s not much English in the images. That for me was intriguing already, and to learn that the one of the creators of the film had gone through a lot of work to create the language (in speaking and in writing) was fascinating. Do you remember Tolkien’s Elfish? The Klingon language as made for Star Trek? The Na’vi language for the film Avatar? Britton Watkins did that for Senn. He created the characters, the speech and the grammar. All the signs in the film were adjusted in that language. It was amazing to see how much work had been put into all the details.

Senn is more than just a science fiction film. It shows the observant viewer a lot of what is going on in the world today as well.

Senn 02

If you are interested in Senn (be it for the film or the language or even both), you can either click the image to the left or follow this link to have a more indepth look at Senn. The site behind the link offers you the option to purchase a Bluray disc of the film, a digital download or select one of the other options. You can see a trailer of Senn there as well.

More about Senn (who created it and more) is available at

If you like science fiction that has something to show and say (in English and in Senn’s local language) then you will like Senn. Still not convinced? Then take the quiz!

How odd language is

Dear reader,

You may not know more than one language. Usually that’s enough. Since I use more than one language I sometimes run into word combinations that make me wonder, smile and… wonder again.


Today I was writing about people who had been seeking silver. I first thought they were silver seekers, but no, this would or could mean they were seekers made of silver while they’re very much human. In Dutch (my native tongue) or in German we’d simply glue the words together: silverseeker. But that’s not proper English. Hooray for the hyphen which allows me to make them silver-seekers.

Merry Christmas!

Weird wordification. You’ll want.

Dear reader,

Today’s wordification talks about the gentle care that many users of the English language display when addressing something that you want. Most of the time you don’t even know that you want it, but they’ll point you to it. It’s a mode of expressing that I have mostly encountered in North America.

The word in this case is: you’ll want. When you drive somewhere and someone is next to you, pointing where to go, it is common to hear “you’ll want to go left here”. (Unless you’ll want to go right, or straight on, depending on the situation of course.) There is no question about it, you will want to go that way, even if you don’t want to (but no one bothers to ask about that).

The point that the speaker wants (!) to make of course is that you need tomust, should or have to go in that direction. Otherwise you won’t reach your destination. I keep being surprised by the carefulness that so many people feel they have to (or will want to?) display when directing something. What’s wrong with saying you ‘have to’, or ‘need to’ do something? Why ‘will you want’ something? Is this a form of deranged political correctness? (Excuse me for this error, political correctness is already deranged.)

I sincerely hope that this way of expressing oneself doesn’t get any worse than what we’ll want, because if we ‘might consider the option to agree with the idea of maybe wanting to turn into this or that direction, unless you desire to discuss this option and weigh it against potential alternatives‘, we’ll shoot past our goals more and more…

Weird wordification. Old skool.


Dear reader,

Welcome to another post in Weird wordification. This time I want to talk about something real that’s really not so real as it might look.

old skool

Probably everyone has heard the expression Old Skool. A reference to days gone by where walkmans (MP3-players with cassettes) ruled the street view. When there only were dumb phones with smart users (which doesn’t mean that smart phones nowadays have dumb users – have you ever tried to use one of those? Smart phones, I mean, not their users).

I am from that era. Actually I am from before that era, so one might call me ancient skool. Were it not… that I object to both these expressions. And why do I, you wonder?

In old and certainly ancient schools people learnt how to spell correctly. Old skool would have been properly named Old School back then.

Of course, my objections are overruled by the rest of the world, and I understand that. Old Skool is a modern expression, it bears no relation to the spelling taught in old schools. Is this something that casts shadows over ‘our’ language? It seems to happen.

A while ago I had an interesting discussion with someone from America who claimed that ‘b4′ is exactly the same thing as ‘before’. I tried to convince him that this is not an absolute truth, because I (being Dutch) first interpret this ‘b4′ as ‘bay veer’. French people may interpret it as “bay kah-tr”. Trust me: “bay veer” and “bay kah-tr” in either language has nothing to do with ‘before’. It’s all fine for everyone whose native language is English. Or people who’ve been subjected to this kind of acronym or shorthand long enough…

Weird wordification – Ranch Dressing.

Dear reader,

You may know my habit of doing odd things with words. Today I had an encounter with an expression that probably every American citizen has encountered (and many more people around the world as well).


Ranch dressing.

These words appeared with someone holding a bowl. Immediately I wondered if that one bowl would be large enough to contain enough fabric to dress an entire ranch in it!

I delight in little things like that. My mind makes strange turns and finds the strangest paths behind words, thus finding hidden meanings behind them.

The next thing I thought of was: how would one go about to dress as a ranch? Unfortunately the interwebz did not have an answer for that, so I just assume it will involve a lot of wood that one fashions into a portable version of a ranch. That, sandpaper and a good lick of paint on the inside to prevent splinters. And suspenders. One needs suspenders to move about while dressed as a ranch.

Book review – An Irishman’s Difficulties with the Dutch Language

Title: An Irishman’s Difficulties with the Dutch Language
Author: N.A Cuey-na-Gael
Genre: Language, humour

This book had me in tears and stitches more than once. I acquired it through the Gutenberg Project and was curious about it as it was written in the beginning of the 20th century. Let me first say that this book won’t make any sense if you don’t have a decent grasp of the English and the Dutch language (preferable also older Dutch as the book is quite old).

The story of Mr. Brown and his doubtful successes in speaking Dutch, without going through proper training and refusing guidance for it, is absolutely wonderful. The story shows enthusiasm about foreign languages and how thin basically the support of only an old dictionary is. His final letter to the gentleman of the Bevolkings bureau, regarding the umbrella, is a brilliant piece of writing, but also his conversation with the man working on the tram on his trip out to “Simplex” is something to be enjoyed without food or drink near.

It’s a short book, freely available, so if you feel adequate in English and Dutch, you are in for a laughing treat with this story.

The bilingual story of Sebastian

Dear reader,

As I mentioned before in this post, I have started writing a story in two languages simultaneously. Time has progressed, and so has the story. Both stories are on chapter 35 so far and have grown to over 81,000 words each. To my unrelenting surprise the difference in word-counts is still something to neglect: the difference between the two has not been over 150 words!



The story is progressing well. I refer to it in singular on purpose as it is the same story, whichever the language. I even managed to keep most names identical, be it that some are the English counterpart of the Dutch one (for example Sebastian and Sebastiaan.) The characters are very much alive now, the environment gets more colour and shape, and the dangers that are around are getting worse and more depressing as well. I am very happy that I found people who want to check the Dutch writing as well. I know my Dutch isn’t awful (I have some 50 years practice in it), but typos happen, especially in the parts where writing takes off as I try to keep up with characters and events. It’s fascinating to do this. It also hurts a lot at times.

Hurts? Yes. I already killed several characters and with one in particular that hurt more than usual, as I had to kill that person twice, in each language. Luckily this is balanced by the fun facts that also happen twice then.

Pitfalls and things to think of

Something I had to fix was that I had no Dutch spell checker on my writer’s software, so I had to go after that. Luckily that proved to be a very simple operation, thanks to the brilliant support and website for Writer’s Café. That hurdle taken, I noticed that I had to straighten out my texts. At times I had added Dutch paragraphs to the English file and vice versa. Not very clever, I know, but things happen. They still do, so I shall rely on my test-readers to catch blunders like that.

Another thing to remember is changes. When I adjust something in one version, I have to remember to immediately change that in the other one as well, otherwise things go very wrong. This is something I have to keep in my own hands, as the test-readers for both languages only read that particular language. It’s something I had not realised at first, and it accidentally came to me when I was tracing something back in the Dutch story, knowing I had changed something – after which I discovered that I had only made the change in English!

The Slang Dictionary from 1874

Dear Reader,

As you may know by now I am fond of language and languages. On Ebook-Friendly I have discovered this little gem I really want to share with you:

The Slang Dictionary from 1874 is hilarious (and you can download it for free)

Do you know what “pin” is according to slang dictionary from 1874? Used in an expression “to put in the pin,” it means “to refrain from drinking.”

Written 140 years ago by John Camden Hotten, The Slang Dictionary: Etymological, Historical and Anecdotal, is a tremendous catalog of mostly forgotten slang words and phrases, that are cool enough to bring them back to our technology, hashtag-driven world. Interestingly, some of these words, like “twitter”, “button”, “poll”, or the above-mentioned “pin”, are being used widely, but their meaning from the past is rarely decoded.

The book was first issued in 1859, and republished by London’s Chatto & Windus in 1874 and later in 1913. It was digitized by Google Books and has just been added to Project Gutenberg online ebook catalog. It’s available for free in many ebook formats, including epub (for Nook, iBooks, and Kobo) and mobi (Kindle).

In a review of the dictionary H.T. Buckle said: “Many of these words and phrases are but serving their apprenticeship, and will eventually become the active strength of our language.” Indeed, the slang from the past can be a great refreshment to how the contemporary language is being shaped by social media or user-generated word catalogs like the Urban Dictionary.

The words from the past might not always carry the original meaning, but they may be recreated to describe what’s new in our life. Let’s take the word “e-fink”. In 1874 it meant “a knife”. The word, however, might be a great description for high-resolution e-ink display (that is still to come). And this is just a drop in the sea of possibilities!

Once again, one the most tremendous benefits of ebooks speaks very loudly. We wouldn’t be able to access many great publications from the past, if they weren’t digitized and became available online on sites like Project Gutenberg or Internet Archive.

Project Gutenberg

The Slang Dictionary (1874) – selected words & phrases

article derisive term for a weak or insignificant specimen of humanity

cool to look

devil’s books a pack of playing-cards; a phrase of Presbyterian origin

pin “to put in the pin,” to refrain from drinking. From the ancient peg tankard, which was furnished with a row of pins, or pegs, to regulate the amount which each person was to drink. Drunken people are often requested to “put in the pin,” from some remote connexion between their unsteadiness and that of a carriage wheel which has lost its linch-pin. The popular cry, “put in the pin,” can have no connexion with the drinking pin or peg now, whatever it may originally have had. A merry pin, a roysterer

elephant’s trunk drunk

shif fish

gentleman of three ins –that is, in debt, in danger, and in poverty

poll a female of unsteady character; “polled up,” means living with a woman in a state of unmarried impropriety. Also, if a costermonger sees one of his friends walking with a strange woman, he will say to him on the earliest opportunity, “I saw yer when yer was polled up”

zeb best

tattoo a pony

button a decoy, sham purchaser, &c. At any mock or sham auction seedy specimens may be seen. Probably from the connexion of buttons with Brummagem, which is often used as a synonym for a sham

four-eyes a man or woman who habitually wears spectacles

commission [mish], a shirt

school a knot of men or boys; generally a body of idlers or street gamblers. Also, two or more “patterers” working together in the streets

St. Martin’s-le-Grand the hand

twitter ”all in a twitter”, in a fright or fidgety state

Thank you, Ebook-Friendly!

15 most unbelievable words

Dear reader,

Do you sometimes wonder about words? Yes? Welcome to the club. No? Prepare to enter the club. once prepared a list with 15 unbelievable words in English. Here is the list:

(n.) A lack of the signs of old ages; a youthful old age
“The agerasia of that fellow is amazing; look at him darting around on those skates!”

(n.) A person armed with the self-confidence of ignorance
“Only a bayard would walk past that bull.”

(n.) An unfaithful spouse
“Phil refused to believe his wife was a bed-swerver.”

(v.) To paint the face with cosmetics, so as to hide blemishes
“My wife’s tendency to fard in the bathroom for an hour made us late.”

(n.) One who believes anything, no matter how absurd
“That guy is a gobemouche–I told him that bull would not chase him, and he believed me.”

(v.) To show that a person has previously espoused opinions differing from the ones he or she now holds
“Tom hansardized Phil by showing us a letter Phil had written to him.”

(n.) One who persistently fails to take notice of things
“I am an inadvertist when it comes to driving. I run over about 3 things a month.”

(n.) A brat who never ceases to be hungry, and was popularly thought to be a fairy that was substituted for the child
“Once upon a time, wicked faeries kidnapped a child and replaced it with an evil killcrop.”

(n.) Excessive or undue affection on the part of a wife for her husband
“Marge’s maritality was driving Burt insane, so he went out with his buddies.”

(adj.) Buttock-shaped
“The children giggled when they saw the natiform pumpkin.”

(n.) The state or condition of obstinately or willfully refusing to speak
“The sullen boy glared at his mother in obmutescence.”

(n.) A statement or account of dubious correctness or accuracy, such as some found in the Naturalis Historia of Pliny the Elder
“Saying that the moon is made of cheese is pure plinyism.”

(adj.) Said of a meal, having the qualities of food served during Lent; austere, skimpy
“We only had a few pieces of chicken, and after our quaresimal meal, we were still hungry.”

(v.) To inconvenience or discomfort a person by pressing against him or her or by standing too close
“I was standing in the elevator when six other people got in, and one in particular scrouged me into a corner.”

(n.) The amount that can be held in two hands cupped together also, the two cupped hands themselves
“The pond was nearly dry; barely more than a yepsen of water was left.”

Do you now feel ready to join the club?