Category Archives: Languages and Linguistics
All language and linguistics related matters, including the Huliganov Russian Course and the Gold List Methodology can be found in here.
Original YT playout date: 28 February 2009
Cheryl from Manitoba in Canada gives 5 great questions about the Gold List method which will certainly help people who are using the method and still have uncertainties about its application.
Some of these ideas are of course superseded and the best thing that you can do is look at the GoldList Method section in the navigation at the top of this site, and soon anyway the Guidebook is coming out.
Read the rest of this entry
“Knowing” a language is too vague a term and even if we agreed here what we mean by it, that wouldn’t have any meaning in the wider world, where it would remain vague.
On the one hand you have people like me who can say you don’t really know a language until you are really intimate with the way it handles all manner of nuance and situation, in the way you can be said not to fully know your wife or husband after forty years of marriage. There used to be a show in which married couples would be quizzed about each other and some surprises would come out about things they didn’t know about each other, this was the whole premise of the show and I believe that similar content has been on the TV or radio channels of most countries.
Then you have the 80:20 approach, where you get 80% of what a native of similar intelligence and education to you would have of his language, but Vilfredo Pareto, that famous Esperantist, discovered by throwing his pocket money onto a table that this only takes 20% of the time it would take to actually get as good as that equivalent native speaker, in the language.
I tend to aim for this kind of thing, if I get to be 80% as good in the language as my equivalent native speaker, then I can already communicate as sophisticatedly as I like and that ENS will take up the slack. That way, I get 5 languages for the price (the ‘time-price’) of one, which is a good bargain and also highly usable.
A lot of people using English comfortably in international business are at something like the 80% level. Whether they used the time saved to learn four other languages to the same good but incomplete level, learn some other thing, do more business or just spend more time with their guinea pigs is up to them.
Further down the scale you have people who claim to know 20 or 30 or 80 languages. These are the polyglot equivalents of social networkers who have contact lists well in excess of the Dunbar number. For those who feel “dunbar” than they did before when I say that, I am referring to the lovely gentleman in the featured image, Professor Robin Ian MacDonald Dunbar, the head of Experimental Psychology at Oxford University. Some people say he is the one Diana Gabaldon had in mind when creating the character Roger Mac in the Outlander series. He represents the theory (more than an opinion, as he has got lots of data and it’s all been per reviewed and that) that humans can have meaningful and stable social relationships with somewhere between 100 and 250 people. Most typically this number seems to peak at about 150 people. I have to say I personally have little resonance when it comes to this theory, as I have a social media network which extends to (at the last count and I count it once a quarter) a little over 12,000. Allowing for the overlap between Facebook and LinkedIn that would still likely be over 9,000 being conservative.
Now continuing this analogy between knowing languages and knowing people, the 9,000 maybe symbolises the languages which there are in the world. How many there really are is probably fewer than that by now, as languages have a tendency of going extinct before they even achieve literacy and an archive. Manx and Cornish are among the lucky ones. I reckon there are probably something more like 1,500 which could be learned without recourse to field linguistics and a lot of malaria shots. There are currently 1,353 languages in the Gideons Bible App (my hearty and ongoing recommendation to all interested in the Bible and in languages, and it is free of course, and contains plenty of audio – available on all good App stores) and I am kind of going on that and things also I read in SIL resources. A lot depends on how you place the cut-off between what is another language and what is a dialect. There are more difference between forms of English and Arabic than there are between some clusters of two, three, four or more languages recognised as being separate. There are various tests for this, but in practice no overall consensus seems to have been reached, and of course politics rears its Gorgon’s head and turns objective thought to stone at regular intervals.
Then let’s consider analysing this into the people who asked to connect with me and I agreed, but probably if I cleared them out it wouldn’t make a great deal of difference – well I did at one point produce a cut down database of my contacts (pre GDPR, you understand) and the people I considered valuable contacts that I means to be able to email and phone with ease came to around 800 and now it may be more like 1000, so really maybe only 10%. This, in my languages/people analogy, is a good equivalence to the long lists of “Languages I would like to learn” which some of the less powerful intellects in the Polyglot universe seem to feel compelled to posting from time to time. Yes, we probably all would like to have the time to look at to a greater or lesser extent 10% of the languages that there are, listen to 10% of the songs there have even been, watch 10% of the movies, read 10% of the books, but because there are so many in reality we are going to cover a much smaller sample than that, whether we be persons of leisure or fanatically careerist sarariiman who take inemuri rather than reading breaks because they are too tired, and take zero leisure, apparently.
Of the 800, I would say that I know to greet on the street from the LinkedIn list 500 and another 500 from the facebook or YT side, and as far as really writing on a regular basis is concerned, sending memes privately, playing Quiz Planet or ItsYourTurn and chatting in a way that gets to know even a faceless person, maybe 300. But this is because I make an effort. This may represent the languages that an ambitious polyglot learns a few words of, learns maybe the Korean hangul, learns a bit of Koine to read some passages of New Testament, knows a few words or sentences of for touristic purposes, or looked at for philological research.
When it comes to actually knowing people very well, as it knowing how they will react in a certain situation, it is just a handful of people. And the same goes for languages.
And then you have to wonder whether you really know any person, or language, at all.
So in summary, the whole use of the term “knowing” a language is unhelpful, and I would simply refer the gentle reader to the sentence of Socrates via Plato: “ἓν οἶδα ὅτι οὐδὲν οἶδα“, or “All I know is, I don’t know Jack”.
And for sure, we all do know a lot less than we think we do.
Original YT playout date: 6 December 2008
The earlier comments have been removed in order to give this quiz a new life on Facebook Polyglots group in 2015. Most of the people there won’t have seen this video. Sorry if your comment is gone, it was there 7 years. Fkriuk won the original quiz.
It’s 10 thirty second long clips featuring mystery languages with as many visual clues removed as I could.
If you wish to take part in the quiz it will be open until the first person gets 100% or until the New Year, if earlier.
Answers must be added in Polyglots Group on Facebook or on Huliganov.TV as I have deleted the comments below, not sent by mail for just my attention, as part of the game is to see what marks other contestants got, and use also some numerical deduction to work your way to the right answer.
There will be clues over the course of the quiz, how many depends on how much the participants seem to need.
I’m only going to answer one (probably the first one) of each contestants sets of answers per day. This is to give everyone a fair chance. Come back and try again the next day and you’ll get another mark.
1 point for each correct answer.
A right answer imprecisely defined or misspelt gets 0.5 points, and it’s 0.2 points for getting the right language but in the wrong place.
I couldn’t actually give credit for the YouTube materials taken to make this quiz as it would have given the game away, but if you see your piece used in here, please accept my gratitude, and please feel free to make yourself known in the comments after New Year. There are now annotations with these acknowledgements but please do not click on tchem while doing the quiz.
The store I refer to at which you can purchase any Amazon book and I will receive a small commission is http://astore.amazon.com/wwwusenetposc-20 the offer to use this commission on prizes is no longer current.
but as that is quite long to remember I’ve set up a new domain forwarding which is http://www.OIOIOIO.com, which you will easily remeber as it one of only a handful of web domains which reads the same upside down and back to front. It’s a wonder nobody else had booked it already, really. Just have to remember it’s the seven letter not the five letter one – that one belongs to someone else.
I also have http://www.OIOIOIO.eu which will be to the Amazon store for people in the EU, as they will find the P&P cheaper as well as not being troubled with customs duty and the wrong coding on DVDs.
Each of these stores has some recommended products but via these links you can buy any book, music, film or piece of equipment Amazon has to offer. If you can buy cheaper elsewhere do, if you were buying on Amazon anyway try and remember to use these domains to enter and you’ll be funding future competition prizes, which will be Amazon gift tokens, once I get enough commissions to fund them, which isn’t happening this time as, like I say, only one commission has been earned there so far, which is a tiny sum.
Enjoy the quiz, and enjoy your festive season!
Read the rest of this entry
Original YT playout date: 24 November 2008
This is part two of two parts that the 18th lesson comes in. You may be surprised not to get much actual Russian in the first half – but more talk around the way prepositions work in Russian, but I believe it will help you if you take in what is being said here – more than that, you won’t get your head around Russian unless and until you get some of the ideas I’m talking about here. In the second half, which will be in a day or so for those following real time, we cover two locative case prepositions, a joke and a song.
Read the rest of this entry
Original YT playout date: 23 November 2008
This is part one of two parts that the 18th lesson comes in. You may be surprised not to get much actual Russian in the first half – but more talk around the way prepositions work in Russian, but I believe it will help you if you take in what is being said here – more than that, you won’t get your head around Russian unless and until you get some of the ideas I’m talking about here. In the second half, which will be in a day or so for those following real time, we cover two locative case prepositions, a joke and a song.
Read the rest of this entry
Original YT playout date: 2 November 2008
My subscriber blueclue57 kindly invited me to come along and visit him while in Moscow – he said he had a class on Business English. I was taken by surprise that he wanted me to be guest lecturer, but I managed to cobble a couple of notes together during an earlier part of his lesson while he was doing an exercise – actually I don’t use the notes till the second half as I can’t really abide speaking from notes, I always prefer to adlib – and what came out is probably the best lecture yet done by me on the Gold List System. Thankfully blueclue57 was kind enough to film it on my cam, and the Vado held out somehow. No idea how, but it did.
The message here will help enlarge on what I already stated in the two earlier discussions of the Gold List system. Clearly I couldn’t stay in character as Huliganov while addressing a roomful of Russians learning English, so I’ve taken this out of the Second Huliganov’s Russia series, which is coming up soon.
The goldlist system is free but should be attributed to me. I have started writing a book on this subject, although all that is really needed to know is freely available in these videos and on http://www.goldlist.eu
The system has been seen now by thousands of people and put to the test by many of them. I have received literally hundreds of mails stating that the system works for people and has saved them from wasting time and failing, or else improved their result in learning languages.
Read the rest of this entry
Original YT playout date: 20 September 2008
“This is the introduction to the whole Russian course, which I didn’t do at the start as I never knew it would take off as it has done. I’ve added annotations to get people started to various start points in the course and the goldlist system, and to enlarge on the points raised.
The Facebook group by Lafeen Maggio has the URL:
The google group has the URL
http://astore.amazon.com/wwwusenetposc-20 is the Amazon affiliates store containing my recommendations. If you buy there, it may not be the cheapest for you, I don’t need the 4% I get, but I will use it for competition prizes in the channel. You can see what is available there, and then buy it somewhere cheaper if you like. If I ever need your money, believe me, I’ll say so.
What I do need, on the other hand, from loyal viewers are the following things:
1. Please subscribe to the channel
2. Please give me hits
3. Please give me good ratings
4. Do write comments, including the correction of errors, answers to other contributors questions, not necessarily only praise for the videos, which is nice but discussion is even better!
5. Please support the other kinds of video on the channel – at least give the radio shows and the travel vids a try.
6. Please add the vids to your playlists and favorites
7. Please tell all your friends about the course – don’t keep it under your furry hat!
8. If you want me to address your college or society or do a guest lecture, then the expenses must be covered by you ahead of time. Let me know if you want me to speak and what the topic, duration and the audience will be.
9. Please understand that I am unlikely to have the time to pursue much by way of personal correspondence, and that questions asked in email, unless specifically marked private, will be assumed to be “”mailbag”” which I can read out and answer on air in future videos.
10. Please note that all films are embed enabled – you can use them in other sites not-for-profit, but you have to keep them in full, and not take the credit. They should link back here.
And finally, please consider one of the donation buttons on the site, such as the regular giving one below or the one-off paypal one at the sides, if you feel you had value from the course.
Many thanks and happy learning!” Read the rest of this entry
Original YT playout date: 18 August 2008
Duration: There is, in the time-honoured fashioned fashion, a funny hat and a drink and a joke and a song.
The second part of the lesson showing how to break the back of Russian prepositions.
Read the rest of this entry
Original YT playout date: 16 August 2008
This is what you’ve told me you wanted. At long last Huliganov responds to the demands, requests, threats and indecent proposals and produces the 17th lesson. It’s in 2 parts. The second part is very nearly ready, but just to keep the play out pattern going it’ll be three videos down the list. Ie, probably tomorrow, for those listening the first day this is up!
I introduce a whole new way of tackling the tricky area of prepositions in Russian. You’re gonna love this…
OK. The image promised is up on the facebook group. Please join the following:
Those of my readers who are also on Olly Richards mailing list – and there may well be a sizeable crossover due to common interests – will have noted that he has a guest on this week, one “memory scientist” Anthony Metivier telling people that according to his method it is possible to learn 1000 words in six weeks.
Now just for the record let me say that learning words in isolation isn’t optial, better to learn short phrases showing the word in use with its collocations and recalling a range of grammar, but you certainly can learn words if you want to.
I just wanted to compare the results of people using the GoldList Method and certainly my own experience using the GoldList Method with this run rate of 1000 words in six weeks.
I prefer to use the term lines, and how many new words equate to 100 new lines depends entirely on the material. If it’s a dictionary it can be 100% or near. Probably the average is around half of that, and in some cases even less. Certainly I take several lines for each new word in Japanese, while in Czech I have 24,000 lines of Headlist and I know that there are around 18,000 words in there. Imiagine that we wanted to focus on words, we’d prepare material in order that a line was a word. So for this thought experiment I will take the idea 1 line of GLM = 1 word per Mr Metivier’s Method. GLM is very flexible so it will work around that.
To learn 1000 lines in GLM means to entirely distil them away. This cannot actually be done in six weeks as you can do a maximum of two distillations in that time. So instead you have to apply the long-term run rate which is 3 line repetitions on average per line of Headlist, because a 1000 line Headlist will distil out at somthing like this:
H = 1000,
D1 = 680,
D2 = 460,
D3 = 310
Bronze total 2,450
D4 = 175,
D5 = 125,
D6 = 90
D7 = 60
Silver Total 450
D8 = 40
D9 = 25
D10 = 15
D11 = 10
Gold Total 100
Grand total 3,000
3000/1000 = 3
It will vary from maybe 2.6 to 3.4 but in the main it will be around 3.
So to learn 1000 lines to the long term memory you need to do 3,000 lines in those 3 weeks.
That will be the equivalent of learning 1000 words, but you won’t necessarily know which of them they are. It won’t be a question of guaranteeing that all the words in a list of 1000 are in long-term memory, instead it is a question of following a long-term run rate.
So, how 3000 lines in 6 weeks is 500 lines a week.
That’s the same as the 5,000 level target on the 70 day challenges.
So effectively what Metivier is doing and what we are doing is a very similar result.
In our case, it should be possible using an average of 1.5 hours per day.
What is more interesting is to see which method gives the best passive recall two years after the six weeks in question are over.
Today I can segue quite nicely from both the fact that I mentioned “Orange” last time and also the fact that the day I started writing this was the 8th March or International Women’s Day – Międzynarodowy Dzień Kobiet, a day associated with flowers, to approach a large and interesting topic.
Recently I was walking past the main headquarters of Orange (they have a lot of buildings and some of them are old telecoms-offices no longer needed with modern infrastructure, and these are for sale. If you want to buy one please let me know and I am sure I’ll be able to wangle a commission out of it, but this is their flagship office on al. Jerozolimskie) and it looks like this:
As you see, the green space in front of the office is looking rather unkempt but the reason is clear from the information board, which explains all. This is in fact a collection of natural meadow plants which have been optimistically planted in the green space in front of the Orange building in the hope that the exhaust from the cars won’t destroy the growing plants. In fact since we practically don’t have lead that much any more and the main pollutants coming off car fuel are CO2 and NO2, there shouldn’t be much harm to plants nearby, although maybe you wouldn’t want to eat them. These are both good fertilisers and their nuisance value comes from their being greenhouse gases. They can’t both be greenhouse gases and fertilisers at the same time, of course. On a molecule-by-molecule basis it has to make up its mind if it is going up or down, and such green spaces are indeed valuable oases of carbon sinkage.
The meadow plants that can possibly be protected in spaces like this may indeed find it harder to survive in an agricultural environment. Even forage grasses for pasture tend to be planted pure having had “weeds” or “impurities” removed, and only certain species left in. These mixes are then applied to land which has been tilled. So many species of wildflower are these days just as likely to be encountered in the protected environment of a corporate HQ green space as they are miles from anywhere in a place where the cropping is intensive. Some farms do look out for this, even some large agribusinesses, but sadly some don’t. The subsidies for set-aside are not always very specific about the species you need to be protecting in order to qualify and maybe for certain types of set-aside they should be.
If not, then it’s easy to see how many of the plants we are going to talk about today will simply disappear and never come back.
Now, to focus on the linguistic side, as this blog is Much Ado About Polish and not Much Ado About Agriculture, one of the things learners will soon note about Slavic languages generally, not only Polish, is that they are very good at making names up for all manner of plants, animals, fungi, places, illnesses and other natural phenomena where many Germanic languages default to Greek and Latin, and the way they go about it tells us a lot about the deeper workings of the language. I have noted precisely the same thing in Russian and Czech, where for every plant, insect or tropical fish there is a common name in the local language. In English or German on the other hand there is a tendency to find some having a whole bunch of common names, some with one and some with none at all because people simply default to the scientific name and use that as the common name.
Those are the general principles. Another principle is that often the base word underlying the Slavic common name for a living thing will be a verbal root, whereas often in Germanic languages it will be a noun or adjective. All are possible in each of the languages, but there is more of a frequency of verbal roots in Slavic and noun roots in Germanic.
Now I thought we could look at the information board set up by Orange as an independently drawn sample. I didn’t pick them so in a sense it is like a challenge set to me also to analyse these plant names in the light of the above theoretical talk and show you some insights about how Polish word creation works and how it compares to English in this area. It may also dispel this old chestnut about English being the richest language and other languages not having as many words as we do. You hear this again and again and it really is some properly warmed-up nonsense.
Here goes, first the close-up of the board itself:
- PoppyFirst we see the well-known poppy. In Polish you have “mak polny” or “field poppy” whereby “polny” comes from “pole” meaning “field” and is at the base of the name of the Polanie, the early tribe who became the Polacy, or Poles. You could regard them as the people of the fields. Mak itself means “poppy” but often you will encounter it referring to a sweet mass of poppy seeds in sugar used in cake fillings in Poland, the Czech Republic and Russia, all of whose languages have the same word “mak” for the poppy, “mak” of that what you will.Poppies are not known here so much as a symbol of the fallen in the World Wars. Poland obtained its independence only at the end of the First World War, when the Flanders fields and their poppies became an indelible symbol of war deaths, especially as they are neophytic, and quickly settle on newly-turned earth; for example, earth dug for entrenchments or for battleside graves.Papaver rhoeas, the scientific name, is a very typical mix of Latin (Papaver means milk or food, the Latin term was also “papa” for food, and this is also a Polish slang term like “grub” and its use here may refer to the milky substance obtainable when the seed head is cut (don’t try this at home, boys and girls, at least not on some species) the term rhoeas is a Greek word for “red”. Now whereas Polish simply has “mak” or the fuller “mak polny” for this species, English has common poppy, corn poppy, corn rose, field poppy, Flanders poppy, or red poppy. Perhaps most people would just say “poppy”, and be unaware of the fact that there are numerous kinds which look similar, including the “blindeyes” or “long-headed poppy”, Papaver dubium, known in Polish (as in the “Latin”) as “the doubtful poppy” or “mak wątpliwy”, but if in doubt, check the stem. Red poppy proper has the hairy stem.If you want a key to the etymology of “mak”, the Latvian “magone” and Picardy French “mahon” suggests an older term used across Europe. Most Slavic languages have “mak” and so does Romanian, probably borrowed from Slavic. German has “Mohn” and this is also clearly derived from a “magon” style base. “Mogra” is Arabic for Jasmine and may (or may not) be cognate.Bulgarian has “polski mak” but they don’t mean “Polish poppy” – that’s their way of saying “mak polny”.The English version follows most languages including Greek to have words based around Pap… and then there are the few exceptions, such as the French coquelicot (which isn’t their remembrance flower, by the way, theirs also happens to be on this board so we will get to it) or the Spanish “amapola” just like the song which you can see me making a proper mess of here.
Polish consciousness does have a wartime memory associated with red poppies however, even if it is different to ours. A song exists “czerwone maki na Monte Cassino” which can be seen here . This refers to the Polish war dead at Monte Cassino, around one thousand people. Not a lot in comparison with the total war dead in Poland in the Second World War, but a very iconic battle which was one of the best achievements of the Poles in the war, along with breaking the Enigma Code and the resistance breaking the supply lines to the Russian front. All of these things will be the topics of future articles.
- ChicoryThe next plant around is the blue (can be pink or white, but it’s blue here) Cykoria podróżnik or Cichorium intybus. Now this is common chicory whose leaves you’ll have eaten in fancy salads without knowing what they were, and you’ll have also drunk it as a coffee substitute or flavour enhancer. It’s a good forage crop for animals too. Other than common chicory, English can refer to this as blue daisy, blue dandelion, blue sailors, blue weed, bunk, coffeeweed, cornflower, hendibeh, horseweed, ragged sailors, succory, wild bachelor’s buttons, and wild endive. On top of that people sometimes erroneously call this the cornflower, but the real cornflower is coming up and that’s the French remembrance plant I already hinted at. Cykoria in Polish, or Chicory in English come straight out of the Latin. The plant is well attested in classical literature, even appearing as early as Horace “me pascunt … cichorea” in his 31st Ode, written in 30BC. For most of us there is no need to invent a word for this. But it has travelled very well, hence the Polish term “podróżnik”, or traveller, from “droga”, road. Here the German word “Wegwarte” is similar in meaning.Most other languages including even Japanese チコリー derive from the Latin.Often the Polish name will follow the scientific name re-slavicising the Latin or Greek. That’s not the case here. If you look at the term “intybus”, which after many alternative namings the scientific community has settled on, you’ll see it has no appearance beyond being the species name for chicory. Most commentators seem to pass over the point, but if you are stubborn in your research as I have been, you’ll find someone claiming that it is a mix of Latin and Greek as a way of describing the structure of the leaf, as being cut around a tube. Well, I am not really seeing that piece of etymology myself, but for sure the observation that it seems a mix of Latin and Greek is at least justified in that you won’t find many “y”s in Latin, while the Greeks were ever wont to consider themselves “y”s.Although Chicory, unlike some of the plants in this list which we think about almost on a daily basis and others which are barely known at all, people know about chicory, but they don’t tend to know it well. The endive which is much more broadly consumed as a vegetable, was thoughout history usually Cichorium endivia and to cap it off there’s a wild one also called Cichorium pumilum. Each of these is pretty similar, and no doubt hybrids exist and certainly there are numerous cultivars, so that identification becomes a tricky business. Polish here calls endive cykoria, whether we would call it endive or chicory. So in this sense Polish tends to be a bit simpler than English.
- Bluegrass/meadow grassPoa pratensis is known in English as bluegrass, especially Kentucky bluegrass (also lending its money in America, and as a range of things such as sweet meadowgrass or common meadow grass in British usage. In the scientific name you have the Greek “Poa” of fodder and the Latin “pratensis” from the meadow. Poa is the base genus of the Poaceae, or the grasses and cereals which make up the majority of the worlds caories, spread over 12,000 species and several times that many varieties, of which only a minority of species are eaten by humans or given as fodder to animals and these species account for the majority of the varieties which are bred out from wild-tye exit versions.Poa as a genus has on its own 500 species and while English has no word for them other than grasses (which applies just as well to numerous other genera) the Poles call all the members of this genus “wiechlina” which is an old word, sounding a bit like “wiek” and “wieczny” but probably not related. the łakowa part simply translates “pratensis”.This grass is not something you’d consider at all endangered, it must be one of the most common plants on earth, and indeed if it goes too far north in the North American subcontinent it is considered invasive. It is not native to America in the first place, having been carried over by the Spanish as part of the Colombian exchange. Nevertheless, the image on this board can’t be what it says it is by any stretch of the imagination. I am still trying to work out if that’s a real plant or something which Orange’s botany consultant borrowed from the Voynich Manuscript. Probably that was supposed to be the lamb’s tongue (coming up), but if so they got the leaf-shape rather wrong.
- Meadow ClarySalvia pratensis, which in English has the common name meadow sage or meadow clary (derived from “clear-eye” – a reference to it’s former use as an ingredient in eye drops prior to the advent of industrial brands) is rendered into Polish as Szałwia łąkowa. We saw above how łąkowa means “meadow” so there’s no real need to walk over “łąkowa” again.Szałwia, like the Latin Salvia, is used for any kind of sage and as you see Polish follows the Linnaean idea of placing the descriptor after the noun, which is a natural place for Polish adjectives anyway, a huge topic to come back to in the future. The szałwia you will find used as a herb is Salvia officinalis, or medical sage, and the name in Latin Salvia, from salvere to heal, save, make whole also attests to the long history (recorded in Pliny, Galen and in the instructions for monastic gardens created by Charlesmagne), but Salvia is a very large genus with a thousand species, and most of these are not referred to with the term “Sage” in English, but rather “Salvia”, whereas it is rare for Polish not to use Szałwia as a simple default, so that we can say that in Polish, “szałwia” stands in for cases both where English uses “sage” and where we use “Salvia”. This is a common phenomenon.
- Brown knapweedThis plant is a close relative of Centaurea (not “Centaurera” as shown on the board) cyanus which is the cornflower and the French remembranc flower for similar reasons as the poppy to us, but pre-dating the poppy. The French call these bluets, and the same term is one of a series of English language terms describing the 350 or so species in the genus Centaurea, a pretty bunch of hardy flowers resembling a thistle crossed with a daisy.English has for the genus generally the terms knapweeds, bluets, centauries, starthistles, centories, and loggerheads, the last of these being a dialect word in certain parts of southern England.
The specific identification of species within this group is often not bothered with as they are rather troublesome weeds in arable crops and have no economic use themselves, although some have alkoloids which could be developed into cancer drugs potentially. They are important however in the ecosystem as a whole as they attract and support pollinating insects. And here we come on to the Centaurea jacea or brown knapweed (aka brownray knapweed) specifically – it has its very own butterfly, the knapweed fritilllary. Often we see however crosses between C. jacea and C. nigra – they may be subspecies of each other.
In Poland this mauve-coloured meadow flower is once again termed “łąkowa” or “meadow” – this time not following the Latin as jacea actually means “hyacinth” and is no doubt a reference to the colour of the flower. Certainly it is not “brown” as the English puts it, not in full flower anyway. The term “chaber” is used alone to talke about the cornflower C. cyanus and is also used to stand in for Centaurea generically.
Centaurea as a genus refers to the name given in Latin, and this is supposed to have come from a story that Hippocrates stated that the flower had been shown to man by the centaur Chiron. Whether Hippocrates himself believed that or merely regarded that as a cultural meme is anybody’s guess.
- Lamb’s tongueLamb’s tongue is just one of many names for Plantago lanceolata, also known as ribleaf, ribwort plantain, narrowleaf plantain or English plantain. It is however not only English, as the Poles also have it in abundance and use “lancetowata” as the species name to follow the Linnean form, while the general term for a plantain in Polish is “babka”, which normally refers to a small woman, like a grandmother, babcia.The image here is a grass not a plantain, so my best guess is that this was supposed to be Poa pratensis or the Kentucky bluegrass above, that they simply got them muddled up. Don’t tell them this in Kentucky. Or in KFC for that matter, thinking of which this may explain something…
Again this plant is overlooked economically and regarded as a weed these days, although a tea made from it was a popular cough medicine in the past. It is of course useful as a home to pollinating insects.
- Ragged robinOrange’s team of botanists have once again shown up their skill by getting the scientific name wrong. It is no longer Silene flos-cuculi but Lychnis flos-cuculi. Linnaeus himself placed the flower with the campions in the genus Lychnis, but the genuns Silene also has campions, and they told the Lychnis members “WE are the campions, my friend”, which persuaded some to get Lychnis members like Lychnis flos-jovis or Lychnis flos-cuculi to go over. Poland’s wikipedia is about the only one to accept this uncritically though, and Orange seems to take their side. Deutsche Telekom and BT probably follow the German and English wikipedias and go for Lychnis, while the French try to keep everyone happy and have both.The Latin and the most common forms in most European languages refer to this as the cuckoo flower, flos cuculi, although opinion is mixed on whether this is due to the timing of its flowering in May (probably not the case as many flowers come out then) and the fact that it is favoured by froghoppers and spittlebugs to lay their eggs, which they do in a protective foam known as “cuckoo spit” in most European languages. Russian has “Kukushkin” also referring to the cuckoo also, as does almost the whole European area, with the Polish “firletka poszarpana” (practically meaning “ragged campion”) being not far from the English, which uncharacteristically has only one name for the species. Why robin? Nobody seems willing to venture an opinion, and probably that mystery is lost in the depths of time.
That’s all the botanical etymology for this time. In a few weeks we’ll come back and look at some more of these.