Tricky Words in this week's OVI
Its interesting how links between different languages appear or get hidden as connections between nations arise or weaken in history. Let's look at the connection between Slovak "kmeň" and English
"stem". The original close link was between Slovak "kmeň" and German "Stamm", exactly meaning "tree trunk". The linking idea is something strong or permanent, so there are associated ideas like
"Stammgast" (literally "kmeňový hosť"), or "kmeňový lístok". In contrast, English "stem" means "stonka" or "byľ" - not really strong, but something growing up from a root. So "to stem from" (cf.
German "stammen") means to originate or spring from something, and nowadays medical researchers talk about "stem cells" ("kmeňové bunky"), not because they're strong or permanent, but because they
are found in the base or root of the brain, and they may be what other vital body cells grow from.
Scottish people celebrate Christmas, of course, but they save their real celebrations for New Year's Eve, especially midnight when the New Year starts. There is a special Scottish name for
"Silvester" which is "Hogmanay", which also reveals a connection between languages and nations, this time French and Scottish. There's an ancient Old French expression, "aguil-lan-neuf", meaning "a
gift for the new year", possibly brought to England by the Normans (with their special kind of French language) and later reinforced by French support for Catholics in Scotland when England became
Protestant (like a secret code word). With time and distance the pronunciation got distorted from French /agy-lan-nöf/to Scottish /hog-ma-né/, but the tradition of a gift for the New Year is
Please send questions about English language habits to email@example.com, and I will choose one to answer each week.
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