Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Satiable Curiosity

When the Blether Region was a schoolchild learning elementary German, great hilarity was occasioned by the word Fahrt, which means "journey" but sounds like an English term in no need of elucidation. Indeed, German-teachers sometimes find that the long vowel in Vater ("father") has the same effect, particularly with pupils from non-rhotic dialect backgrounds. Later on, I realised that laughing out loud at such minor coincidences is childish, superficial and essentially a case of revelling in one's own ignorance. Probably it seems as stupid to Germans as when foreigners whose languages don't distinguish between front and near-front vowels giggle at the English word "sheet".

Late last year, the BBC reported on the difficulties faced by the parish of Effin in County Limerick, which was for a time banned from Facebook, whose staff took its name to be an expletive.

Now the Beeb reports that the Perthshire hamlet of Dull has been "paired" with the Oregon town of Boring (geddit?). Yet Effin is the name of an Irish saint, while "Dull's name is thought to have come from the Gaelic word for meadow".

Indeed, to Gaelicists, such reactions may seem as risibly uninquisitive as Frank Mitchell's groan-inducing place-name clues on UTV weather, which do little to entertain but a great deal to underline the pressing need for education in and about Irish — and for Irish-language road signs.

To provide genuine grounds for amusement, any coincidence would have to be much greater, of course, and perhaps even hold up over a complete sentence.

Which brings us to the term for "12 months" in Estonian ...

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