A delicious research

First of all, sorry for the long absence. A lot of work entails a lack of time, but also a lot of experience from which some blog posts can be born at some point. Hopefully.

Today I want to talk about the curious case of the terms used by several languages to refer to a delicious fruit, the peach. In one of my lessons my student and I realized that this term was very similar in all the languages we knew, except in Spanish. This led me to make a little research and I discovered some interesting issues that I wanted to share here. Of course, there are many more languages in which the term is also different, but at that moment we did not know more than just a few, even if from different language families.

Peach

So, where does “peach” come from? It comes from the Latin name of the fruit, persica, through the Old French peach and the Middle English peche. Persica comes from the Greek persikē, meaning “Persian”, since people in the Classical times used to believe that this fruit came from Persia. We also find the Latin name malum Persicum, meaning “Persian apple”. This term is the ancestor of the English peach, but also of the French pêche, the Catalan préssec, the Galician pexego, the Portuguese pêssego, the German Pfirsich, the Finnish persikka, the Gaelic péitseog, the Italian pesco, the Lithuanian persikas, the Latvian persiks, the Dutch perzik, the Romanian piersic, the Russian персик, or the Swedish persika, among others. As we can see, quite a big group.

However, in Spanish this fruit is called melocotón. This term also comes from Latin, but not from the Latin name of the fruit, but from malus cotonus, which meant “Coton apple”which was the Latin name for the quince tree. And why did the name of this tree end up being adapted as the name of another tree? Apparently, Romans used to graft peaches near the roots of the quince trees, believing that this technique would be beneficial for the tree. In some Spanish-speaking countries peaches can also be called duraznos, coming from the Latin “durus acinus”, which means “of hard skin”.

quinces

Quinces

There are other languages in which the term comes also from persica, but there were some modifications. Three Scandinavian languages received the term from German, where we can find the letters “Pf”. In Norwegian, Danish, and Icelandic, the “p” was lost and the “f” remained. Therefore, we have fersken, ferskentræ, and ferskja respectively.

So, as we can see, the Latin term for “peach” had a big influence in many present-day languages, and Latin also brought as the Spanish term, even if through a different tree. I hope that you enjoyed this little anecdote and that we do not need to wait 4 more months until the next entry! : )

Days and weeks

Have you ever wondered what do the names of the days mean and how this differs in different languages? If so, this post is for you. We could say that many of the names they get in several languages come from astronomical objects or deities from the past.

In Latin, Monday was the day of the Moon: dies Lunae. Tuesday was dies Martis, the day of Mars. Then there was dies Mercurii (Mercury), dies Iovis (Jupiter), dies Veneris (Venus), dies Saturni (Saturn), and dies Solis (day of the Sun). Later on, with the arrival of Christianity, dies Solis was called dies Dominicus, the day of the Lord; and with Judaism dies Saturni changed to the Hebrew shabbath. The names of these planets were also the names of the Roman gods, so here we have both astronomical objects and deities. Romanic languages have very similar terms because they all come from Latin. Therefore, we have the Spanish names: Lunes, martes, miércoles, jueves, viernes, sábado and domingo; the French: lundi, mardi, mercredi, jeudi, vendredi, samedi and dimanche; the Italian: lunedì, martedì, mercoledì, giovedì, venerdì, sabato and Domenica. Portuguese is an exception for this rule, since its terms have no relation to the Latin names and follow a different structure. They start with Sunday, which is Domingo, following the other Romanic languages, but then Tuesday is segunda-feira (second day), and following this structure: terça-feira, quarta-feira, quinta-feira, sexta-feira, to finish the week with Sabado.

Germanic languages use variations of Proto-Germanic and Old Norse terms. The English Monday comes from mondæg, or monandæg, day of the moon. Tuesday, Tiwesdæg, was the day of Tiwaz, or Týr, a god of the Germanic pantheon which, curiously enough, is similar to Mars, the Roman god after which Tuesday is named. Wednesday, Wodnesdæg, was the day of Woden, who is better known as Odin. Thursday comes from Old Norse Þorsdagr, which was the day of Thor. Friday was also named after the goddess of love, like Venus, but in this case it was the Germanic version: Frig, and the Old English name was Frigedæg. Saturday and Sunday come from the same root that the Latin counterparts, Sæterdæg and Sunnandæg, meaning day of Saturn and day of the Sun respectively.

The Germanic god Woden

The Germanic god Woden

However, the North-Germanic languages do not call Saturday the day of Saturn, even if they share the same roots that the English names. Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Icelandic share the origin of Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday. But when it comes to Saturday they keep the Old Norse root, which has an interesting origin. The ancient Scandinavians had the habit of bathing, washing, and grooming themselves every Saturday. For this reason Saturday was called Laugardagur, day of bathing. From this word come the Swedish lördag, the Norwegian and Danish lørdag, and the Icelandic Laugardagur, which is the same word as in Old Norse because Icelandic has remained very similar as to how Scandinavians used to speak 1000 years ago.

Another trend to name the days is after the five elements, which is how they are in Japanese and Korean. In Japanese we have the symbols of the words Sun (), Moon (), Fire (), Water (), Tree/Wood (), Gold/Metal (), and Earth () in the Japanese days of the week: 月曜日 Getsuyōbi, 火曜日 Kayōbi, 水曜日 Suiyōbi, 木曜日 Mokuyōbi, 金曜日 Kin’yōbi, 土曜日 Doyōbi, and 日曜日 Nichiyōbi. Chinese used to have these same words (although with a different pronunciation) but nowadays they use a different system. They use the word 星期 xīngqī, which means “star period” and start counting: Monday is star period one (星期一), Tuesday is star period two (星期二) and so on, until Sunday, where we find again the symbol for “sun” or “day”: 星期日 xīngqīrì.

I think that it is very interesting to see how cultures that apparently have no relation do share the same roots in their words for the days, or that they named them after the same gods, even if adapting it to their own pantheon. There is, of course, more languages and linguistic families where there are for sure more content to analyze, but this is all for today. I hope you enjoyed this walk through etymology as much as I did.

The sound of music…. notes.

Something that surprises many Spanish-speaking people when in contact with anglophones is that the names of the music notes are different. This is because there are two systems of naming the notes. In several countries such as Spain, Italy, Portugal, France, Greece, or Russia, among others, the music notes are called Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, and Si. However, in England, Germany, Finland, Poland, Norway, Hungary and other countries the notes are C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. I do not really know a lot about music, but I thought that this may be interesting to know to avoid misunderstandings, so I will comment a bit on the linguistic aspects of this, without deepening the musical issues.

clave de sol

The Do-Re-Mi system comes from Latin. This seems obvious when we notice that the system is used mainly in countries whose languages come from Latin. The origin is the hymn “Ut queant laxis”, dedicated to John the Baptist and written by Paul the Deacon in the VIII century. Guido D’Arezzo was who took the first syllable from each verse and formed the actual scale in the XI century. This is the Latin text:

Ut queant laxis

Resonare fibris

Mira gestorum

Famuli tuorum

Solve polluti

Labii reatum

Sancte Ioannes

It could be translated as: So that your servants may, with loosened voices, resound the wonders of your deeds, clean the guilt from our stained lips, O Saint John. “Ut” was changed as “Do” in most countries, but in France the original form is still used. In some areas “Si” is changed by “Ti”.

As for the Anglo-Saxon system, it also comes from Latin, but from the alphabet. It is said that the philosopher Boethius took the first letters of the Latin alphabet to from the scale: A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H-I-K-L-M-N-O, but over the centuries it was changed to the present day “C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C”. In Germany “B” is sometimes changed by “H”.

On a curious note, in Chinese they use the Anglo-Saxon system, whereas in Japanese they use the Do-Re-Mi system, but adapted to their writing system. Here is the Chinese scale:

C谱号, D 谱号, E 谱号, F 谱号, G 谱号, A 谱号, B 谱号, C谱号.

And this is the Japanese scale:

ド 全音, レ 全音, ミ 半音, ファ 全音, ソ 全音, ラ 全音, シ 半音.

It is surprising to know how many people do not know that in other countries the music scale is different, so I hope that this entry will be helpful and that someone will learn something new.