A Welshman’s Shed is his Castle?

Over the past few months I’ve slowly been working my way through the Scottish Gaelic lessons on Duolingo. The one I did this morning contained two sentences that gave me a blast of nostalgia for my Welsh classes nearly 20 years ago.

The sentences in question were Is toil leam seadaichean gu mòr (“I really like sheds”) and Latha sgoinneil ann an seada beag (“A brilliant day in a small shed”). While perhaps not quite as intrinsically exciting as Òbh òbh, tha leòmhann anns an taigh agad a-rithhist (“Oh dear, there is a lion in your house again”; a phrase that cropped up in a lesson I did a couple of weeks ago) — although admittedly the brilliant day one leaves quite a bit of room for interpretation — these reminded me of my first Welsh tutor, Siân.

As well as having bright red hair and a very vivacious personality, not to mention a lovely Llanelli accent (slightly at odds with the North Wales variety of Welsh she was teaching us), Siân had a slightly wicked sense of humour. For instance, during group oral exercises she would take great delight in asking somebody (usually me) to translate phrases such as “her party” into Welsh, where it becomes ei pharti. Suffice it to say that the ‘ph’ in Welsh is the same sound that it generally is in English — think pheasant or pharmacy — and the word as a whole rhymes with the English version. (Incidentally, modern Welsh also uses ‘ff’ for the same sound as ‘ph’, albeit not interchangeably, but uses a single ‘f’ to represent the sound that we’d write in English with a ‘v’; this also crops up with an ‘f’ in the English word “of” and as I recall that sound / letter combo used to be much more common in Old English).

She also had a fixation for garden sheds and would regularly mention them in pretty much every lesson, usually with an observation along the lines that every married man needed one as his special domain, while the wife ruled the rest of the house. I don’t think I ever had the pleasure of meeting Siân’s husband.

Mind you, I too had a bit of a fixation in those Welsh lessons, as I’d mention ironing almost as often as Siân mentioned sheds. Not that I was ever a fan of ironing itself, but the Welsh word for it (smwddio, pronounced a bit like “smoothie” with an ‘o’ on the end) is so delightfully onomatopoeic that I couldn’t help but fall in love with it (the word, not the activity). As a result, any time we were assembling a list of words with which to practice whatever grammatical constructions we were working on at the time, you could pretty much guarantee that both sied (that’s how you write “shed” in Welsh; it’s pronounced the same as in English) and smwddio would appear — at least until I was banned from using the latter. I always thought that was a bit unfair, since Siân still got to talk about sheds regularly. Perk of being the teacher, I suppose.

Anyway, while I only had Siân as my Welsh tutor (or rather one of them, as we had her on Mondays, Jim on Tuesdays and Rhiannon on Thursdays) for one year, and then had two further years of Welsh lessons (with tutors Angela and Nia) before gaining my A-level and stopping my formal Welsh education, I have recently been working my way through the Duolingo Welsh course by way of revision of the basics (and extending my grasp of South Wales Welsh, to which the course is slightly biased). And today’s Gaelic lesson wasn’t the only one to provide noteworthy sentences. The Welsh one contained this little gem, which I’ve never before needed to utter and probably never will, although I think I can totally get behind the sentiment: Noson carioci? Basai’n well gyda fi fwyta malwod byw! (“Karaoke night? I’d rather eat live snails!”, though up here in the North we’d actually say Basai’n well gen i fwyta…, which means exactly the same thing).

Let me diarise that…

This morning I came across a new word. That is to say, one I’ve not previously come across (or at least not registered), though I think it’s actually been around for quite a while.

The word is diarise (also, apparently spelt diarize) and, as you can see from the link, it’s sufficiently well-established to have its own entry on Wiktionary, though sadly without any etymological information. I haven’t got round to checking it out in any of my bigger dictionaries but it doesn’t appear in the Collins Gem English Dictionary (1988 edition – a souvenir from my school days) — that’s probably more due to the diminutive size of the dictionary than a reliable indication that the word didn’t exist 25 years ago.

The word, according to Wiktionary, means “to record (events) in a diary”. I suppose it could refer to keeping a journal (à la “January 9th – today I learnt an absolutely spiffing new word…”) but in the context in which I discovered it (a work-related email) it referred to making a note of the dates of several forthcoming events.

Although I’ve managed to get through several decades of life without knowing this word, it strikes me as one that, now I know it, will be very useful.

How black is my Friday?

This morning, I discovered that there are two different days that are both referred to as Black Friday.

Up until now, I’ve always understood Black Friday to be the last Friday before Christmas (or possibly before Christmas Eve), which is the traditional night for office Christmas parties and hence a particularly busy night for pubs, clubs, restaurants and the emergency services. This indeed appears to be the more traditional British English usage of the term. According to Wikipedia, the day is known in South Yorkshire as Mad Friday. Interestingly this is also a direct translation of the name used for the same night in Welsh – Nos Wener Wallgo. As a consequence, I often tend to think of it as Mad Friday myself (since I first learnt about the concept in Welsh rather than English) and I have been known to confuse people by calling it Mad Friday when I’m speaking English.

It turns out that in the United States they mean something quite different by the term Black Friday. Over there, it refers to the day after Thanksgiving Day (itself the fourth Thursday in November), which is taken as the beginning of the Christmas Shopping season and, in recent years, has become a popular day for shops to offer promotional sales (with extended opening hours). According to an article on the UK edition of the Huffington Post this morning, this idea has now spread to our shores, although we still don’t celebrate Thanksgiving itself. I can’t say I’ve noticed it at all (except on Amazon, who have been having a Black Friday promotion – I didn’t pay much attention to the advance advertising and assumed they were getting ready for 19th December), but it’s possible it just hasn’t reached North Wales yet.

Actually, there is also a third (though technically, this usage predates the other two) Black Friday – the name has sometimes been used as a synonym for Good Friday, i.e. the Friday before Easter, which commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus (Easter itself, if you didn’t know, celebrates his resurrection; it’s not just an excuse to eat too much chocolate). I was vaguely aware of this usage although I don’t think it’s very common these days. Probably just as well, as it’s confusing enough having two different days with the same name.