Yes, believe it or not, it’s National Toast Day today. Which got us all thinking, how important can toast possibly be?
Turns out, if you look at the English language, it’s pretty important, as are all baked goods to the British mind. We pepper our conversation with references to bread, toast, cake and biscuits on a daily basis:
In this cold weather, you may have turned on the heating, so now you’re as warm as toast. Central heating really is the best thing since sliced bread. Going out in the cold again without a coat would be a really half-baked idea.
If you’re the breadwinner in the family, you’re the one bringing in the money. Your job’s your bread and butter. Maybe you’ve got several projects on the go at the same time, in which case you’ve got your fingers in many pies. Or maybe you’re from the Upper Crust, in which case you may not need to work at all, and will hopefully know which side your bread is buttered.
If someone’s brown bread (a bit of Cockney rhyming slang, by the way), then they’re dead – or, if used as a threat, about to be dead. You can also say they’re toast.
A simple task is as easy as pie or a piece of cake. If something sells fast it sells like hot cakes. The icing on the cake is a lovely, unexpected bonus to a project; the sarcastic alternative is taking the biscuit. When fortune spins the wheel of fate, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. And if it goes badly for you, you might feel deflated, or as flat as a pancake.
It’s not just English speakers who love to talk about bread. The Polish equivalent of a ‘piece of cake’ is a bułka z masłem (bread roll with butter). In Spanish, someone living a life of luxury nació con el pan bajo el brazo (was born with bread under their arm). If you suspect someone of being up to no good, in Swedish you can suggest that inte ha rent mjöl i påsen (they don’t have clean flour in their bag) – and if you then need to seek revenge, you can demand in Italian that the person who’s wronged you rendere pan per focaccia (to give back bread for focaccia).
Well, that’s probably enough: we don’t want to over-egg the pudding, so time now for us to shut our cake holes. Let’s conclude by raising a toast (which – as all good Big Bang Theory fans know – is so called because of a historic tradition of putting spiced toast in drinks) to all our favourite baked goods… we hope this post has given you food for thought 🙂
Nat and Liz
So you think you can’t speak French? You may not realise it but if you’re an English speaker, you probably know more French than you think. Just take a look…
Whether you go to the ‘deli’ aisle in the supermarket, or an independent delicatessen for some dips, sauces or meats, we’ve all used this word. In French the word for this is ‘delicatessen’, which literally means ‘delicious things’.
A common snack or treat in the UK and the US, there are so many options to choose from. But did you know that this originates from French, meaning ‘twice cooked’. The original biscuits were baked first, and then put into another oven to dry out so that they kept longer.
Often seen in magazines or newspaper as a favourite way to describe a celebrity fashion ‘faux pas’. It originally means ‘false step’ in French related to a social mistake, which leads to embarrassment.
The original meaning of picnic was to describe people who bring their own wine to a restaurant. The connotation of bringing something has stayed today with the idea that people contribute different things to a picnic. Today we also know it as a meal we eat outside or ‘al fresco’ (which is from Italian, if you were wondering).
Interestingly this word was first related to a work dispute and the idea that workers threw shoes into the machinery (originally clogs) to stop it from working, so they could strike. Today we associate this word with the idea of doing something which will prevent the desired outcome.
We do have a couple of words for the person we’re going to marry in English, but for some reason the French is used much more regularly than ‘intended’ or ‘betrothed’. Perhaps it’s just that the French sounds more romantic?
A term used in cooking such as to sauté an onion, it means frying in a small amount of fat. It originates from ‘sauter’ which means to jump in French.
Can you think of any other examples of French words or expressions that are regularly used by English speakers?
The world has become slightly obsessed with cat videos and cat Instagram accounts (have you seen the video where cats see a cucumber? Trust me, it’s worth a watch). They are seriously cute! I am a massive cat lover and my phone is filled with photos of my cat, Marcella.
And when it comes to the English language, we love to use cats in idioms; you may find some are more difficult than others to guess the meaning of.
Here are some examples:
Has the cat got your tongue?
This basically means why are you being so quiet? Why aren’t you speaking? Sometimes associated with the idea that you’ve done something wrong and don’t know what to say to get out of the situation.
It’s raining cats and dogs
It’s raining (like it does A LOT in England) and it’s raining really hard.
Look what the cat dragged in
This is a very catty comment (see what I did there) this is said to someone when you don’t particularly like him or her. You’re making a point to say you don’t want them there in the same place as you.
There isn’t room to swing a cat
Okay I don’t know why you would want to swing a cat but this idiom means, it’s a really small space.
Put the cat among the pigeons
This is when you say something or do something that causes trouble. This could be expressing a different opinion to people in a group who all think the same thing.
Let the cat out of the bag
You’ve said something you shouldn’t have said, a secret maybe. You’ve said it to someone you shouldn’t have, which means you’ve essentially ‘let the cat out of the bag’.
The cat’s pyjamas/whiskers
This is an expression that means something is fabulous or excellent, similar to the ‘bee’s knees’.
If you have any other fun cat-related idioms (or any great cat videos to share with us), let us know!
Welcome to my family! My Grandma’s called Minnie, and my Granddad’s called Jack.
Except, they’re not really.
Because, in English, we have an eccentric tendency to distort names until they no longer resemble the original at all. My Gran’s actually called Mary and my Granddad, of course, is John.
Now meet my Uncle Bob, cousins Harry, Bill and Jim, and aunts Kitty and Nancy. Their real names – the names on their birth certificates – are Robert, Henry, William, James, Katherine and Anne. Makes total sense, right?
Some common English names have not one but several permutations, just to make things more confusing. The name Edward can be twisted into Ed (OK, fine), Ted (hmm) or Ned (well….), whilst Robert can be not only Bob but Rob, Bobby or Bertie. James can be Jim, Jimmy or Jem, and Richard can be Rich, Rick, Dick or Dickie.
On the girls’ side, Elizabeth must be one of the most prolific of names, producing not only Eliza, Liz and Lizzie, but Ellie, Beth, Bess, Bett and Bettie, whilst Margaret becomes Maggie and Meg, or Peggie and Peg. Victoria becomes Vic, Vicky, Tor and Tory, and Mary can be Molly, Minnie, Polly or Poll.
It’s not just our language that does this, of course, and Russian is another which can mutate its names into seemingly unconnected variants. When I was in Russia, my friends were Tolik, Vanya, Sanya and Masha, whose real names were Anatolii, Ivan, Alexsandr and Mariya. But whereas in English a Rob might always be a Rob, both in private and public arenas, formal and informal, in Russia someone might be called Alexandr in formal situations but Sasha with friends – and Sanya, Sanka or Sashenka for extra familiarity and affection.
My name, Natalie or Natalia, was used formally, but to most acquaintances I was Natasha, and to closer friends I would sometimes be Nata, Natashenka, Natusik or Natusyenka. Alekseii becomes Alyosha or, more colloquially again, Alyoha, Lyosha or Lyoha. Dmitrii become Dima, Dimka (the -ka ending adding another level of diminutive to the already familiarised Dima), Mitya or Mitka. Evgenii becomes Zhenya and Sergei becomes Seryozha.
Of course, if you have a bit of time in Russia then the aim is to collect a group of friends with the following rhyming names: Masha, Pasha, Dasha, Natasha and Sasha. And, because of the popularity of the names Mariya, Pavel, Natalia, Dariya and Alexsandr, that’s not as hard as it seems!
We’d love to know about other languages that mangle their names!
Just before Christmas I helped our language producer record Latin, which will be coming to uTalk later in the year. Whilst listening to the Latin speakers I found I recognised some of the words (although I have never learnt Latin before). And then I realised this was due to my love for/slight obsession with Harry Potter.
As a child I would read every Harry Potter book that came out (this could take some time, as my mum would read it first, followed by my sister, then my dad and then finally me; by which point my mum would have already disclosed a summary of the book including 100 different spoilers!). The extremely clever use of Latin has helped to allow the Harry Potter stories to become even more accessible worldwide, as Latin runs through many modern romance languages, such as French and English. It is also a language that isn’t as widely used or known in modern society anymore.
A few examples of J.K.Rowling’s use of Latin:
- ‘Protego’, which is a shield charm that creates a magical barrier, literally means ‘protect’ in Latin.
- ‘Lumos’, which produces a burst of light, is related to the Latin word lumen – which directly translates into light.
- ‘Crucio’ one of the ‘forbidden curses’ which causes a lot of pain, means ‘I torture’ in Latin.
- ‘Expecto Patronum’ which is used to produce a spirit animal to shield you from dementors, translates into ‘I wait for a patron’ in Latin.
- ‘Levicorpus‘, which is a spell that suspends someone from their ankles in mid-air, is a combination of two Latin words: levare, which means ‘lift’, and corpus translates as ‘body’.
These spells are pretty self-explanatory when you know Latin!
Again, the Latin theme can be found across names used in Harry Potter, often describing their personality or role in the books.
- Remus Lupin – his surname means wolf (which Hermione worked out early on in the third book).
- Draco – means dragon although the character’s surname, Malfoy, is actually French for ‘bad faith’.
- Severus (Snape) – means ‘stern’ in Latin, which is an appropriate word for Hogwarts’ meanest teacher!
- Sirius Black – it’s no coincidence that this character’s named after the Dog Star.
- Ludo Bagman – he’s the head of the Division for Magical Games and Sports, so it makes sense that his first name, Ludo, means ‘I play’ in Latin.
Can you think of any more examples of Latin in Harry Potter?