How English sounds to everyone else

I got the idea for today’s post from the podcast A Way With Words. I’m super in love with this show, and I recommend it for everyone who is interested in English word origins and other language topics.

Native English speakers have ideas about how languages they do not speak sound. There are certain noises we can string together that imitate our idea of another language—noises that if we were to make to a speaker of that language would sound like gibberish.

Here’s a video of one English speaker speaking what he thinks sounds like several foreign languages:

 Ever wonder how English sounds to people who don’t speak it?

Youtube has a treasure trove of videos showing just this: English-sounding gibberish. Here’s a collection for you to enjoy.

This is a song made for Italian TV in which the singer sings entirely in sounds he interprets as sounding like English. (Also note the awesome background dancers!)

Here is a song in “fake” English from an Argentinian band:

Skwerl is a short film that plays with the same idea. In it, a couple speaks in “fake” English. One aspect I like about it is that even though they are not saying real words, the audience can still understand the emotions and ideas portrayed.

Here are more examples of foreign language speakers’ interpretation of English:

Severe weather etymology

I have previously written about the etymology of tsunami. Today we are delving into the history of words for other serious weather systems.

Note: I received all my information from the Online Etymology Dictionary—an amazing, exhaustive resource that I strongly encourage you to check out.

The first citation of blizzard comes from 1859, though it gained popularity after a particularly hard winter in the United States during 1880. It is believed that the word is onomatopœic. In addition, in the 1770s, American English used the word blizz to mean a “violent rainstorm.” It came to be used to mean a winter storm thanks to people in the Upper Midwest of the United States.

Hurricane entered the English language in the 1550s from the Spanish word huracan. However, it took time (as is usual) for the spelling to become standardized. In the late sixteenth century, there were 39 recorded spellings, including forcane, herrycano, harrycaine, and hurlecane.

Tornado began in the 1550s, when it meant a “violent, windy thunderstorm.” It probably came from the Spanish word for “thunderstorm,” tronada. Tornado came to mean an “extremely violent whirlwind” in the 1620s.

In the 1550s, typhoon in English was spelled tiphon, coming from the Greek word typhon, which means “whirlwind.” During this time, it meant a “violent storm, whirlwind, tornado.” In the 1580s, it took on the meaning of a “cyclone, violent hurricane of India or the China Seas” after a translation of an Italian story of a voyage to the East Indies in which the author encountered a touffon.

Meow! Miau! Nyan!

I happen to be obsessed with a little Japanese kitty who has a Pop Tart for a body and leaves a rainbow trail every time he moves. His name is Nyan, and he stars in a simple but deceivingly addictive video game of the same name. At first I thought the kitty’s name was Nyan just because . . . well, it was. But it turns out that nyan is the sound cats make in Japan.

In English, we’re used to our moos and oinks and woofs and meows, but animals don’t make the same sounds in other countries. Or, rather, the people speaking the languages don’t interpret the sounds the same way.

Take our Nyan cat, for example. In Japan, he says nyan. In the United States, he says meow. In Germany, it’s miau; and, in France, it’s miaou.

Here are other examples of what animals say across the globe:

English: tweet
French: cui cui
Greek: tsiou tsiou
Portuguese: pio
Swedish: pip-pip

English: moo
Finnish: ammuu
French: meuh
Japanese: mau mau
Spanish: meee

English: woof
French: ouah
German: wau
Greek: gav
Japanese: wan

English: cock-a-doodle-do
French: cocorico
Hebrew: coo-koo-ri-koo
Japanese: ko-ke-kok-ko-o
Portuguese: cucurucu

English: ribbit
Dutch: kwak kwak
Finnish: kvaak
Italian: cra cra
Japanese: kero kero

English: oink oink
French: groin groin
German: grunz
Japanese: boo boo
Russian: hrgu-hrgu

Want to learn more?
Here’s the page where I found all of these lovely words. Want to know the noise a donkey, moose, or crocodile makes? Check it out.

Here’s a link to a great ESL page where you can hear sound clips of native speakers saying the animal sounds.

Sabai dee pee mai! Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun! Happy New Year!


Felix annus novus tibi sit! Or, for our English readers, Happy New Year.

I’ve been wanting to study Latin for years. (If some super rich and friendly reader happens to want to sponsor my Latin classes, I’d, um, be open to it. ‘Cause I’m broke.) So, I bought this Latin phrase-a-day calendar because that’s sort of like studying Latin. And for January 1, it says, “Felix annus novus tibi sit.”

So, I would like to officially announce to all Grammar Party readers: “Felix annus novus tibi sit” to you.

In honor of well wishes for 2012, I have also collected translations of “Happy New Year” from other languages. Enjoy!

Afgani: Saale Nao Mubbarak

Afrikaans: Gelukkige nuwe jaar

Armenian: Snorhavor Nor Tari

Arabic: Kul ‘am wa antum bikhair

Croatian: Sretna nova godina

Danish: Godt Nytår

Dutch: Gelukkig Nieuwjaar

French: Bonne année

German: Glückliches neues Jahr

Greek: Kenourios Chronos

Hebrew: L’Shanah Tovah

Hungarian: Boldog új évet

Indonesian: Selamat Tahun Baru

Italian: Felice anno nuovo

Japanese: Akimashite Omedetto Gozaimasu

Klingon: DIS chu’ DatIvjaj

Korean: Saehae Bock Mani ba deu sei yo!

Loatian: Sabai dee pee mai

Norwegian: Godt Nyttår

Polish: Szczesliwego Nowego Roku

Portuguese: Feliz Ano Novo

Punjabi: Nave sal di mubarak

Slovenian: sreèno novo leto

Spanish: Feliz año Nuevo

Tebitan: Losar Tashi Delek

Thai: Sawadee Pee Mai

Turkish: Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun

Ukranian: Shchastlyvoho Novoho Roku

Urdu: Naya Saal Mubbarak Ho

Word Nerd Wednesday

Welcome back to this week’s Word Nerd Wednesday.  Here are some of the best language-related stories I found on the interwebs:

What do alligators, cannibals, and potatoes have in common? They are all Spanish words the English language adopted. A lot of these are eyebrow raisers. Here’s the list at

Ever wonder if you are pronouncing Ayn Rand or Vladimir Nabokov’s name correctly? Here’s a pronunciation guide for tricky authors’ names from

Does the sound of chomping and slurping drive you into a rage? If so, you may have misophonia. Here’s more about this strange phobia from

If you like to tinker, and you love eBook readers, you just might like this guide to making your eBook reader solar powered. From Life Hacker.

I hope you had a nice Labor Day weekend. Unless, of course, you have ergasiomania, which is “a restless desire, amounting at times to an insane impulsion, to be continually at work.” Learn more words about laboring at Wordnik.

Attention page designers: Tired of that “lorem ipsum” holder text? Check out this collection of new and awesome dummy text at Nieman Lab.

Here’s an example of “hipster speak”:

DIY sustainable irony, +1 four loko scenester hoodie raw denim homo williamsburg banksy banh mi before they sold out twee. Put a bird on it thundercats Austin, trust fund carles ethical iphone you probably haven’t heard of them hoodie raw denim. Carles gluten-free you probably haven’t heard of them PBR. Iphone next level put a bird on it high life homo food truck viral. Craft beer thundercats mcsweeney’s brunch terry richardson keytar. American apparel dreamcatcher cardigan, irony homo mlkshk marfa. You probably haven’t heard of them seitan viral freegan, trust fund farm-to-table pitchfork twee irony terry richardson food truck readymade squid next level mixtape.

And “Yorkshire Slang”:

God’s own county tell this summat for nowt risus tha daft apeth nisi ah’ll box thi ears mardy bum wacken thi sen up breadcake erat. Ee by gum god’s own county ey up shurrup mi porta where’s tha bin. Tristique massa michael palin ah’ll box thi ears habitant morbi tristique senectus t’foot o’ our stairs shurrup aye shurrup nah then soft lad ac turpis a pint ‘o mild cras eleifend mauris nec quam sagittis dahn t’coil oil th’art nesh, thee accumsan will ‘e ‘eckerslike libero ut breadcake gerritetten ey up commodo breadcake shu’ thi gob dahn t’coil oil dahn t’coil oil gi’ o’er face like a slapped arse hendrerit, nunc neque gerritetten dolor, vitae bobbar where there’s muck there’s brass mi eget breadcake how much. Lectus nunc, ‘sup wi’ ‘im. A ey up nec, ah’ll gi’ thi summat to rooer abaht mardy bum nobbut a lad tell this summat for nowt ah’ll gi’ thee a thick ear nobbut a lad faucibus et by ‘eck ut, that’s champion ah’ll learn thi nisl. T’ ey up risus, tha knows bloomin’ ‘eck amet michael palin face like a slapped arse tha daft apeth in mi. Will ‘e ‘eckerslike nay lad ‘sup wi’ ‘im. Ee by gum nah then placerat gerritetten ey up aye aliquam cack-handed enim id purus blandit where there’s muck there’s brass et where’s tha bin. Leo.

And now “journo ipsum”:

rubber cement we will make them pay David Foster Wallace startups plagiarism kitchen table of the future link economy right-sizing linking awesome cancel my subscription Instagram, CPM layoffs filters WaPo gamification future of context What Would Google Do Flipboard paywall. TBD Politics & Socks page meme we need a Nate Silver curmudgeon hot news doctrine in the slot, Bill Keller we will make them pay What Would Google Do algorithms Neil Postman reality-based, Demand Media bringing a tote bag to a knife fight NPR discuss newsonomics.