When do I use a direct or indirect article to denote something?

The concrete example stems from a text that I am co-authoring with a friend whose native language is Czech. Mine is German. It goes like this: This regime is called random phase To me, it feels like a direct article is missing. In English there’s not much choice, so a “the” is missing before the … Read more

Are there any Germanic cognates to “lithe”?

          When winter first begins to bite                and stones crack in the frosty night,           when pools are black and trees are bare,                ’tis evil in the Wild to fare. In this time of the sun’s greatest ebb when our hearts are gladdened knowing that with Midwinter come and gone, winter is now half over, my thoughts … Read more

Etymological link between “shall” and “will”?

“X shall happen” means “X is (strongly) expected to happen” (“X wird geschehen”) or “X is hoped for to happen” (“X soll geschehen”) German “Ich will, dass X geschieht” means “I want X to happen” (different from “I hope for X to happen”). English “X will happen” means “X is (strongly) expected to happen”. My … Read more

Does the origin of the auxiliary “shall” lie in the medieval blood-money practice of wergeld?

Perusing some 19th-century grammar books for another purpose, I came across an interesting etymology: “According to Grimm ‘shall’ or ‘skal’ is the preterite or perfect of a verb meaning ‘to kill’. As killing involved the payment of the penalty of wer-geld, ‘I have killed,’ came to mean ‘I owe the fine,’ and thence ‘I owe’ … Read more

What’s the English cognate with German “Stick” and Dutch “stik”?

Is there an English cognate with German Stick (as in Stickstoff) and Dutch stik (as in stikstof)? What’s the absolutely literal calque of Stickstoff/stikstof meaning nitrogen? Answer Yes, there is a cognate: stick (as in stick out or stick a needle in someone). The German and Dutch words (as well as Scandinavian equivalents like Danish … Read more

How can I keep away from latinate?

Are there resources to help me keep away from latinate when I write? Preferably, they would let me trade latinate words for older, better words. A thesaurus might help (or better, a good dictionary with information on etymology, combined with a thesaurus—which is the combination I used to find that “keep away” could replace “avoid”), … Read more

Why is borne a past participle of bear?

This is a question people seldom ask. In the English language, past participles are verbs that usually end with -ed. But bear seems to be an exception. It has bore and borne as past participles, but not beared. Why do they even exist? That doesn’t make any sense. Update: I’m not familiar with the term … Read more

Etymology of English “Achoo” relative to other sneezing onomatopoeiae

So I was recently curious about the sound that people sneeze with in other languages and was surprised to notice the difference between the English onomatopoetic word "Achoo" and that of other languages in the same family. For example: German – hatschi Dutch – hatsjie However some of our sibling languages are closer: Icelandic – … Read more

Answering a negative question with one word

There has been talk of how to answer a negative question without ambiguity, most often with a qualifying phrase needed for clarification. (For example, “yes, I do”/”no, I don’t.) I’ve noticed that other languages have a single word to address a negative question on the contrary. In German, ja means yes and nein means no. … Read more

Wer, wie, was, wieso, weshalb, warum, all start with W in German. In English they don’t, why?

Wer, wie, was, wieso, weshalb, warum. Wer nicht fragt bleibt dumm. This is the theme song to the German Sesame Street, IIRC It roughly translates to: Who, how, what, why, why ,why. If you don’t ask you stay stupid. Anyhow the German question words all start with W. English seems to have fewer words for … Read more