How to self-isolate in Welsh

I realised with some shock the other day that it’s getting on for a year since I last wrote anything on my blog. I have no aspirations to be a daily blogger unlike, for example, my brother Wulf, but even by my standards it’s quite a long gap.

The world right now seems quite a different place from when I last wrote. I certainly had no idea at that point that we’d be in the grip of a pandemic at the moment and I’d be stuck at home almost full-time, with only occasional brief forays into town (roughly once per week) to do some shopping, while many people are fighting for their own or other people’s lives and nobody knows when it’s all going to end and we’ll return to normality (though many people, myself included, incline to the view that our definition of normality will have changed somewhat by the time we get there).

There are several words that, while perhaps not entirely new, are now pretty much on the tip of everyone’s tongue. The one I’m particularly thinking about at the moment is self-isolation, except that I’m thinking about it not in English but in Welsh and there’s not one word for it but at least three. More accurately, I’m thinking mostly in English (in so far as my thoughts clothe themselves in language – which tends to be pretty far most of the time) but about Welsh words.

Shortly before the UK lockdown started, I was talking (in Welsh) to a translator I know and, since the subject of self-isolation came up and I didn’t know how to say it in Welsh, I asked him. He told me that the official Welsh word for it is ymneilltuo. This makes sense, as neilltuol is an adjective meaning “separate”, ym- is a prefix that tends to give verbs a reflexive sense (for example diswyddo is “to dismiss” and ymddiswyddo is “to resign”, literally “to dismiss oneself”), and Welsh is a language that loves to build up words logically in this fashion.

Since then, I’ve been speaking (or more strictly accurately, writing) quite a lot of Welsh but haven’t actually had any need to refer to self-isolation. However, a couple of days of go a friend mentioned the word he’d heard for it, which is hunanynysu. This is another one that’s built up from a couple of simple building blocks; in this case, hunan (“self”, not too far removed in sense from ym-, though it also functions as a standalone word) and ynys (“island”). So literally it is “to self-island” or (slightly less poetically, but not much) “to make oneself into an island”. It was a new one on me, but I immediately fell in love with it.

I’m reminded of the John Donne quote in which he says that “no man is an island” (I can’t remember whereabouts it crops up in his writing but it’s in the same passage as the equally famous “ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee!”, or words to that effect). Donne’s point is that we are all fundamentally interconnected (eat your heart out, Dirk Gently!) and in a sense the self-islanding that has been forced on us in recent weeks perhaps serves to make that more, rather than less apparent. I’ll leave you to muse (if you so wish) on the philosophical implications of that statement while I return to the lexicographic theme of my discourse.

I was listening to the radio last night (more about that soon – possibly tomorrow!) and I heard someone use the word hunanynysu (at least three times). I was, incidentally, listening to Radio Cymru (the Welsh language BBC radio station) so it was less of a surprise to hear it there than it would have been on, say, Radio 4. Still, I was delighted to hear the word in the wild, so to speak, as it means I now feel I can legitimately add it to my own word-hoard.

I mentioned earlier that there were three Welsh words for self-isolation. The third, which admittedly I haven’t yet heard used in this context, is encilio, which literally means to retreat. It’s a nice enough sounding word, I suppose, but to me it doesn’t have quite the same vigour about it as hunanynysu.

Getting there

As I mentioned the other day, I have been working through Figuary, a daily series of life drawing videos provided by Croquis Café and LoveLifeDrawing during the month of February, with a view to encouraging daily drawing practice.

One of the recent videos included a quote I rather liked, and which is applicable not just to life drawing but to a wide range of other subjects:

Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.

This quote originated with Arthur Ashe, an American tennis player (described in the video where the quote was mentioned as a “tennis legend”, though I must confess that I’d never heard of him). I’m guessing he’s more likely to have had tennis than drawing in mind when he said it.

It occurred to me that if you wanted to be slightly obscure you could paraphrase this quote as:

Getting there is more important than getting there


Yesterday (shortly after I’d decided to write about my bike) I came across a wonderful quote, used as the title for a photo (which you can see at Flickr if you want to — I haven’t included it here since it belongs to somebody else and I haven’t sought permission to reproduce it).

The quote (which happens to be in Spanish) is:

La paciencia es un árbol de raiz amarga, pero de frutos muy dulces

A translation (by me, without recourse to dictionaries, Google Translate etc., so I hope it’s reasonably accurate) is:

Patience is a tree with bitter roots but very sweet fruit

Actually, after I came up with the translation I looked back at the picture from which I borrowed it and discovered that a translation was given there, which was the same as mine but with a comma (as in the Spanish version) that I deemed unnecessary in the English rendering. I wasn’t aware of it before providing my own translation, but it’s possible that I’d subconsciously glimpsed it.

Also, since I first mentioned this quote on Facebook (very shortly after stumbling across it), it has been drawn to my attention that this is pretty much the same as a quote that’s variously attributed to Aristotle and Jean-Jacques Rousseau:

Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet

I couldn’t find any references to a specific source for the attribution to Aristotle (such as, for example, any of his writings) but I did find evidence that it didn’t originate with Rousseau. It appears (in French, as La patience est amère, mais son fruit est doux) on page 175 of the book Voyages en Perse et autres lieux de l’Orient by John Chardin, published in 1711, the year before Rousseau was born (a copy of the page can be seen here, courtesy of Google Books; I got to this information via Wikiquote). That’s not to say that Rousseau didn’t use it (perhaps having read it in Chardin’s book), or that Chardin didn’t get it ultimately from Aristotle, or even that Aristotle (if he did say / write it) didn’t get it from someone else.

I think it’s highly likely that the quote as used in the picture title came from this one that may or may not have been from Aristotle or Chardin, whether or not the artist who made and titled the picture was aware of the source, or whether she herself altered it to include the reference to the tree or came across it in that form (perhaps introduced more or less by accident when it was translated from Greek or French into Spanish, or perhaps done deliberately for extra poetic effect). In any case, I particularly like the version I first came across (not to mention the picture that went with it).

Definitely one to think about (and to take your time doing so!).

Delight in the details

It is sometimes said that the devil is in the detail, usually when something that seems on the face of it to be simple turns out to contain some hidden complexity.

According to Wikipedia this actually derives from an earlier saying – God is in the detail – which indicates that details are important and whatever you do should be done thoroughly.

Sometimes, however, I think that it is delight that awaits in the details, especially if it’s in a work of art (in the broadest sense of the term) that you are contemplating.

This thought came to my mind this evening as I was listening to the Tweed Album by Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer, my favourite exponent of the wonderful genre of chap hop.

This is one of his albums that I got relatively recently and I am therefore less familiar with it than with his first two albums, which I’ve had for somewhat longer. Still, I have listened to it at least half a dozen times in the last couple of years. Tonight, though, I heard (or at least noticed) for the first time a particular line in the song Summertime (nothing to do with the Gershwin classic of that name) that rather tickled my fancy:

“All the young people on their field telephones, updating their stati so they don’t feel alone”

The thing that I found delightful about this was the use of stati instead of the generally accepted statuses as the plural of status, clearly and deliberately playing on the Latin origin of the word (as stati is the nominative plural form in Latin, while in English it gets the standard plural treatment). Not, I admit, a particularly earth-shattering detail but quite amusing to me and a nice example of how you can pick up on little details of things long after you become basically familiar with them.

I wonder what other delights await me on further acquaintance with the works of Mr. B. (As a partial answer, while I was finishing this post, another delightful phrase cropped up in one of the songs on the same album: “Butter my muffin” — an expression of surprise that I think will have to adopt into my own idiolect.)

A positive sadness

I hadn’t intended to write another Doctor-Who-related post so soon after the last one, but I came across a lovely quote in the book that I finished yesterday, which was too good to pass by.

The book was Full Circle by Andrew Smith, who also wrote the original TV story.   Any Doctor Who aficionado worthy of the name will recognise this as the first story of the classic E-Space trilogy and the one in which Adric (the companion that most fans evidently love to hate, although I always quite liked him) was introduced.

The quote appears on the first page of Chapter 1 (which isn’t the start of the book as this one has a prologue) and reads:

The [Doctor’s] face was at once immensely cheerful and yet tinged with the sadness of one who has known too many people for too short a time.

I’m nowhere near 750 years old (the Doctor’s approximate age at the time of this story), however much I may sometimes feel like it, and I’ve obviously not met anything like as many people as he had.  However, I’ve been living in or near a university town for the best part of the last 20 years (and, in case you know me and think I’ve miscounted, I’m referring to two separate universities), and these are notable for the transitory nature of large chunks of the population.  Therefore, whether or not it’s reflected in my face, I can certainly relate to the sadness of knowing many (though perhaps not too many) people for all too short a time.

It doesn’t help that my track record for keeping in touch with people when they (or I, though mostly I’m the one staying put) leave is generally pretty poor.  Of course, staying in touch is a two-way business so it would be unfair to apportion all or even most of the blame in one direction or the other.  Suffice it to say that my contact with some people I’ve known (and in some cases known very well and got on with excellently) is limited while for others it is non-existent.

Long ago, I came to the conclusion that (at least in the cases where you get on well with each other, which for me seems to be most of the time) it’s better to be able to enjoy the pleasure of someone’s company for a short while than never to have met them at all.

And if you are someone I used to know and have dropped out of touch with, please (a) accept my apologies, especially if you made attempts to stay in touch which weren’t reciprocated, and (b) feel free to drop me a line. [And if you’re one of my former English teachers, please accept my further apologies for starting two consecutive sentences with the word “and” :-)]

Salad Days

Despite indications I may sometimes give to the contrary (e.g. with jovial references to “token salad” when helping myself to a minimal bit of vegetable matter as part of a well-piled plate of food at a buffet), I actually quite enjoy eating salads.  However, it is rare for them to make up the bulk of a meal for me.

Yesterday was an exception.

I had been to the supermarket and picked up a couple of little gem lettuces and some salad tomatoes as part of a special offer on fruit and veg, along with a fresh pineapple.

My plan all along was to make them into salad as part of my dinner.  However, due to a sequence of events including an impromptu beach trip with some friends in the evening, I didn’t actually get round to eating much more than a few handfuls of Bombay Mix until I got home shortly before 11pm.  By this time I was fairly hungry and wanted something quick to prepare and not too heavy to eat before I went to bed.

A few minutes later, I had two delicious salads prepared which I then proceded to eat with a few slices of fresh bread.

I remember reading, several years ago, advice from a cookery guru (I think it was Nigella Lawson, though I’m not entirely sure) that you shouldn’t mix red and green in a salad.  Although I’ve enjoyed enough mixed salads to be firmly convinced that this advice can be safely ignored, I decided on this occasion to make two separate salads – one featuring the lettuce and the other the tomatoes.

My first salad was a version of my default salad, namely some torn-up lettuce leaves and various other ingredients tossed around in a DIY vinaigrette dressing.  On this occasion, the other ingredients were a couple of chopped spring onions, a few capers and a handful of bisected green olives.  The vinaigrette was a simple mixture of a fairly generous quantity of olive oil and a somewhat smaller amount of balsamic vinegar, seasoned with a bit of salt, pepper and rosemary and whipped up a bit with a hand whisk.

The other salad was a bit more experimental, although based fairly closely on my recollection of salads I’ve been served by other people.  I sliced up a couple of tomatoes and put them in a bowl, then sprinkled them with black pepper (freshly-milled, of course – Delia would be proud of me), dried basil, crumbled-up goat’s cheese and a dash of balsamic vinegar, garnishing the ensemble with a single basil leaf.

In total, it was probably no more than five minutes’ work to prepare both salads (and even less to eat them).  There was enough to save a bit for this evening too and, while they weren’t in quite such good condition after a day in the fridge, they were still very tasty.

In case you were wondering about the meaning of the term Salad Days (when not being misappropriated for blog titles), it is usually used to refer back to the bygone days of one’s youth.  Apparently (and I was not aware of this, despite having read the play at least once), the term comes from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, in which the eponymous heroine speaks of:

…My salad days,
When I was green in judgment, cold in blood…


Nothing Much

Over the weekend I read Much Ado About Nothing for, as far as I can recall, the first time (although I did recently watch a film version of it, which is actually what prompted me to read it when I realised that I was unfamiliar with the story.

My favourite line from the play comes early in Act 2, where it is spoken by Beatrice (one of the main protagonists):

He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man.

Incidentally, I just went to add that to my list of favourite quotes on Facebook and discovered that this section of the Facebook profile seems to have been removed, or at least well-hidden. This goes to show, I suppose, that relying on an online medium such as Facebook (or, for that matter, a blog) for long-term archiving of information is probably not a very good idea. Fortunately I can remember most of the quotes I had on my Facebook page (which were there mostly to help me remember them), so I’ll probably include a few more of them in blog posts over the next few months (I’ve already blogged a few of them over the past couple of years).

The film version of Much Ado that I referred to is one directed by Joss Whedon (the creator of my favourite TV series – Firefly – as well as other greats such as Dollhouse, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog) that was made a couple of years ago.  I was keen to see it as I have enjoyed the aforementioned works of Whedon as well as Shakespeare.  It was somewhat adapted from the original play but stayed fairly faithful to the plot and pretty much entirely, as far as I could gather, stuck to Shakespeare’s words (although the setting was modernised).  It was filmed entirely in black & white, which worked pretty well, and featured several actors I recognised from Whedon’s other series, including Nathan Fillion and Sean Maher from Firefly and Amy Acker from Dollhouse (who was playing Beatrice – I’m not sure whether the beard quote was in the film but I think it was).

It was slightly strange hearing Shakespeare pronounced with American accents although, in fact, these are probably just as close to authentic Shakespearean English pronunciation as modern British accents are (if not closer).