Tag Archives: Greek

“paradise” lost

Today I learned that a “paradise” is literally an enclosure, a place of confinement. The Greek word was originally used to refer to walled game preserves in Persia.


having a goat under your arm (and other animal expressions)

I’ve recently come across a number of humorous expressions involving animals and thought I should share. The textbook we use in my German class gives the following:

  • Schwein haben : “to be lucky” (literally “to have a pig”)
  • einen Vogel haben : “to be crazy” (literally “to have a bird”)
  • einen Kater haben : “to have a hangover” (literally “to have a tomcat”)

My favorite animal expression in English is “I’m on it like a duck on a junebug” (thanks, David Lynch). The expression “let the cat out of the bag” has always mystified me. A friend has a good story about the term “pussy-footing”– but I won’t tell it for her. I also adore “happy as a pig in a ditch” and “that really gets my goat.” Continue reading


I started to write an introductory post laying out my whole vision for this blog, but quickly realized that people would probably rather read about, well, pretty much anything else. So the topic of the first official post is: tongues. Specifically, what we call them. 

In Latin, “tongue” (both the organ and the speech it produces) is lingua and in Greek, γλωσσα (glossa) or γλωττα (glotta).  English derivatives come to mind right away: linguistics, bilingual, glossary, to gloss. The German word from which our English tongue derives is Zunge (tsoon-geh: German “z” is a “ts” sound, like the “zz” in pizza). Pronouncing each of these words slowly and attentively gives a sense of how perfectly suited they are for the task of naming this important organ.

Zunge, lingua, and tongue start out with a flick of the tip of the tongue against the upper teeth and/or that bump right behind them. From there, one must draw the tongue back, tense it up, and push the sides against the palate and upper teeth to get that “ng” sound. Try to make the “ng” sound a few times without the rest of the word. It engages the whole tongue in a way that I think is remarkably appropriate for what the word denotes.  The Greek words don’t have that “ng” sound, but the “gl” achieves something similar.

You have to use the whole tongue in order to say any of these words, in a way that you really don’t for words like mop, or happy, or sassafras . I don’t know if that makes it onomatopoeic, strictly speaking, but I like to think of it that way.