Check out my nuanced leitmotif

01Jun11

Aren’t language mashups the best? When they can’t express a certain idea – or someone else got there first – they can just lean over the fence, hoik out the useful word with a shrimping net and pull it over to their side. Melvyn Bragg once told me, from his house in the telly, that most of the judicial/punishmenty legal words in English are from the French brought over during the Norman Conquest. The Brits were presumably still forfeiting livestock, beer or root crops according to the whims of the local thegn. It was only those crafty Normans who brought over ideas like prison, judge and jury. Sneaky.

These days of course it’s mostly English that gets poached. What joy it is to hear Johnny Foreigner chattering on in his vernacular before detonating an English term like a shaken can of Stella on a coach trip. ‘Hurdy flurdy bunken platzlich Hard Drive moose gedumpt’.

The American comic (and this is so far back that they were actually still called comics) Sid Caesar had a part of his act where he would do an impression of different nationalities proposing marriage. The ‘Frenchman’ was like Pepe Le Pew, of course; the ‘Japanese’ bloke behaved as if he were in a kung-fu death scene and the ‘German’ just shouted. I can’t find the clip, but here he is pretending to speak French. Anyway, I used to wonder if he was actually, by accident, saying anything even vaguely coherent in whichever language he was imitating, and I always wanted to hear a foreign comedian do ‘English’, just to find out what we sound like to others.

So anyway, back to the point. As custodians of the language of technology – for the moment, at least, hello China – we have all the exciting words like programme and spreadsheet, leaving the poor old French with boring stuff like sangfroid, amour propre, savoir faire, chic and salopette (those last two rarely found together, in truth). The Germans get to roll in the aisles with Realpolitik (cheers, Bismarck), Weltschmerz and Angst, whereas the Welsh get… What? What do the Welsh get?

Now this is where I take a gamble. You know the way people tell you things and you believe them, sometimes for years, and only discover the magnitude of the misapprehension (or downright fib) when you wheel it out with an air of authority in the pub, only to be met with furrowed brows then cackling incredulity? Like the time Mr Turner told me they extracted the colouring for jelly babies from unsold clothes at jumble sales. I believed that for years. Lucy Townsend wouldn’t eat tomatoes at school because her brother told her they were really rat hearts. And a parental sally left my flatmate’s sister unshakeably convinced throughout childhood that brown cows produce chocolate milk.

Well, ok. Enough prevarication. Here it is. The Welsh have gone their own sweet way, and it’s all down to the microwave. They haven’t got a word for it but rather than do the ‘Llangewidd ap rhodri Microwave’ business, they’ve made up their own term (this is my mate Kristin who told me this last week). Microwaves go ping, look you, see? And the Welsh for oven, delightfully, is popty. So in Wales, a microwave is a popty ping. This is surely too charming to be true, but Melvyn Bragg be damned, I don’t care if it’s a lie. This house now has a popty ping, and we’re proud of it.

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4 Responses to “Check out my nuanced leitmotif”

  1. 1 PaulW

    YOU BIG LIAR!

  2. 2 PaulW

    Uhm.
    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=popty%20ping

    Okeh.

    I am having trouble accepting this New World Order.

    *choke/stagger*

  3. 3 PaulW

    AHA!

    Random Googled quote: ‘The “official” word for “microwave oven” is “ffwrn meicrodon”‘
    But yes, popty-ping would seem to be the accepted form.
    Just one more reason to saw Wales off, tow it into the Atlantic and SINK IT.

    • 4 vanessaharriss

      D’you I deliberately – but DELIBERATELY – resisted the temptation to WikiDestroy this by looking it up. Heavens, though, isn’t ffwrn meicrodon ugly? Like a huge, squat dinosaur. I’m sticking with the woozily lovely popty ping.


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