This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Nuts and Bolts: camels and coffee.

How many coffee-related English words can you think of in five seconds? (I think I might have got into double figures, and I don't even drink coffee.)

English has lots of words for coffee.

The Somali language has, according to this excellent article, at least forty six words for camels of various kinds and conditions.

What philosophical differences can be deduced about the English and Somali-speaking peoples from this?

Yes, that's right: more or less none at all.

Once you get to the metaphorical and extended uses of words, though, then things can get interesting. For instance, camels froth at the mouth when mating, and one of the Somali words for camel froth is doobbo. Doobbadillaacso means (of a camel) to reach adulthood - or, alternatively (of a human) to be capable of public-speaking, or intellectually mature.

From this we may (and should) deduce that public-speaking is a particularly important part of Somali culture; and also, it would seem, that in Somalia reaching sexual maturity is linked in some way with reaching intellectual maturity.

The last is interesting, because in England we tend to think rather the opposite.

So what, if anything, can be deduced from the English use of the word capuchin to give us words for coffee and kinds of monk, pigeon and monkey? 

Not much, really.


Word To Use Today: doobbo, if you fancy a challenge. Camel, if not. The word camel comes from the Greek word kamēlos, and is related to the Arabic word jamal.

Capuchin means, basically, hood, from the Italian cappuccio.

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