A couple of months ago, I tried and failed to read a sign in Hebrew that I passed in the Hasidic part of Williamsburg. I realized that I was forgetting the alphabet, or rather, the Alef Bet. This filled me with horror, since I’ve known how to read Hebrew almost as long as I’ve known how to read English, and I thought the ability to do so was an unshakeable feature of who I am.
Then I realized that I had already forgotten how to read one other language that I used to know fluently. Three decades ago, I could play sheet music on my clarinet, effortlessly. (I mean, I could read the notes effortlessly. I could not play the instrument to save my life.) Continue reading
I had never heard of Korhogo, the fourth biggest city in Cote d’Ivoire, prior to a few months before my work trip. It is a city full of artisans, in a region full of artisans, and I’m excited to show you some of the beautiful handicrafts I saw while there. Continue reading
…I was deleting some photos from my laptop yesterday and found one that I took of a page from Iceland Air’s in-flight magazine on the way to Reykjavik. On the page were a bunch of facts about the Icelandic language. At the time, I thought I would share some of them when I posted my Iceland pictures, but by the time I got around to that, I had forgotten about it.
With the passage of almost a year, there’s only one fact on the page that I still find interesting. And I just realized that coincidentally, it is a fact about a kenning, whose definition — a compound word with a metaphorical meaning — I just learned.
“Icelanders have selected their favorite word in a national referendum: Ljósmóðir (literally, ‘mother of light’) is the Icelandic word for midwife.”
Isn’t that such a beautiful word and a beautiful sentiment? It reminds me of the Spanish phrase for “to give birth”: dar a luz (give to light), which I only know because I spotted it on a sign in a hospital waiting room.
It would make sense that Icelandic would be kenning-heavy, since kennings originated in Old Norse (and Old English), a precursor to Icelandic. And according to Wikipedia, “Since the written language has not changed much, Icelanders are able to read classic Old Norse literature created in the 10th through 13th centuries with relative ease.”
I’m not sure whether this counts as a kenning, but I also just discovered this Icelandic word that I love: gluggaveður, which means window-weather (weather = glugga; window = veður). It refers to “weather that is nice to look at through a window, but not nice to be out in.”
Oh words, you delightful poetic things!
It’s been so long since I was in Cote d’Ivoire that I need the photos to jog my memory. I went in late November / early December and spent most of my time in Korhogo, bookended on either side by a few days in Abidjan, as well as a day trip to Grand Bassam. Here are some brief Abidjan highlights…
It’s been awhile (again). I’ve been busy in the non-virtual world with things that felt much more timely and urgent than writing blog posts. But today, for the first time in months, the day stretched out ahead of me with nothing in particular calling for my attention. So I’m using the time to share just a few things I’ve found particularly entertaining, fascinating, and/or inspiring over the past few months of being homebound. (I’m working back up to speed before sharing, at long last, my pix from Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal in December and from Austrai-Slovenia-Italy in February.)
“Mysteries of Vernacular” is a beautifully animated short video series that explains the etymology of interesting words from A to Z.
I learned the word “kenning” from the Mysteries of Vernacular video about the origin of “window,” which led me to search for a list of kennings, some of which are exceptionally beautiful.
Resources for learning a new language from home.
Six virtual train rides you can take from home.
Window Swap invites you to “open a new window, somewhere in the world.” It is so meditative, life-expanding, and wonderful. And it also helped me to realize that my geographical sweet spot is grassy alpine mountains. (I would move to the spot in the window above in a heartbeat.)
Finally, a nonsense-English song that is so catchy, I had it in my head for WEEKS after listening to it.
I found it via Atlas Obscura, which delves into the fascinating history of writing in nonsensical languages.