My company is trying hard to save money. In one attempt to cut costs, we outsourced our IT department to an overseas service provider. But we have had to spend so much time explaining every little detail and dealing with language problems. In the end, it costs us as much as we saved by moving the IT staff off our payroll. It’s swings and roundabouts (gehupft wie gesprungen), really.
This common British idiom comes from the longer phrase: „What you lose on the swings you gain on the roundabouts“ and is based on a poem by Irish writer Patrick Reginald Chalmers. It conjures the image of two fairground rides – the roundabout (similar to a carousel) and the swing. Both move without any actual change in location, they return to where they started. This image now stands for losses balanced by gains.
Many of you may have heard the story that in the late 1700s German almost became the official language of the USA, missing out by only a single vote. Well I’m afraid it’s not really true. But, like many such myths, there is a grain of truth around which this story grew. Find out more below:
English (and German, for that matter) is under attack! Or so we are told constantly. The threat comes from text messages / the internet / young people / political correctness / foreigners / Americans …!
But this is nothing new. People have always feared that their language was on the brink of collapse. Past „threats“ have even included the printing press and Shakespeare.
Today, new scientific discoveries are almost always published in English. But in 1900 English was far from the dominant scientific language. The dominant language was German. So how did English rise into its current position?
The article below also includes a link to a podcast of the interview on which the article was based.
English is spoken as a first language by around 400 million people, making it the third largest language by native-speaker number after Mandarin and Spanish. But when you include non-native speakers, that number could be as high as 2 billion, making it by far the most widely spoken language in the world. What effect does it have on the language when the majority of the people speaking it are non-native? The video and article below examine this question.
After our post on German superstitions it’s time to have a look at some typical British cultural beliefs. Click on the link to the article below. When you have read it, you will no longer be surprised to see an Englishman panicking when he sees a single magpie (Elster), and starts wildly looking for more magpies, before giving up and reciting a poem while saluting the single bird.
Are you a linguistic prescriptivist who loves a catchy tune? Here is the world’s premiere parody song-writer, „Weird Al“ Yankovic with his hit all about his frustration at the bad grammar and language usage you see all over the internet. Oh, and you might recognise the tune…
Superstitions vary from culture to culture, with one group’s beliefs often seeming very strange to those not familiar with it. The article below presents some of the most common German superstitions from an outsiders‘ perspective. Have you experienced any strange superstitions from other cultures? Tell us in the comments below!
I used to smoke 30 cigarettes a day. But when I got sick last winter I decided enough was enough. I stopped smoking overnight and haven’t had a cigarette since. It doesn’t work for everyone, but going cold turkey(kalter Entzug, abrupt) was the best way for me to quit.
This American idiom comes from the earliest 20th century, when it had quite a different meaning. Back then, talking cold turkey meant to talk in a direct and no-nonsense way, i.e. not beating around the bush. From there, we got the cold turkey way of quitting drugs or alcohol: no special program, just simply stopping. In modern English, this is the meaning we kept. Although talking turkey still means speaking in a direct and unprepared way.
German has Sie and du, French has vous and tu, Spanish has usted and tú, and modern English has… you.
But this was not always the case. In the 15th century, you was used in a similar way to the German Sie. The equivalent of the German du was the English thou (and thee for dir), words that will be familiar to anyone who has read Shakespeare in the original English. So to say English has no Sie form is not totally correct – more historically accurate would be to say English has only a Sie form. See more below: