Did you end up here without reading LINGO? Feel equally welcome. But if you’re even remotely interested in languages, do yourself a favour and get your hands on the book…
I’m not very superstitious, I’m even less religious and I’m not in the least Norwegian. Even so, if given the choice, I’d rather not live on Devil Street, Beelzebub Crescent or Satan Square.
But surely such names don’t exist, you may say – and what has Norway to do with it anyway?
You’re right: as far as I’m aware (I haven’t googled for fear of spoiling my story) there are no such overtly diabolically named streets. But this morning, while delivering some books to buyers here in Amersfoort, I came across Moenenstraat (MOO-nen-straht, Moenen Street). Moenen is a character from the late medieval play Mariken van Nieumeghen. Calling him the bad guy in the story would be understating it: he’s no less than the devil himself, the prince of darkness, the monarch of hell, evil incarnate. Moenenstraat – some street to live on!
Could the committee that decided on the name have had a different, altogether more good-natured Moenen in mind, one that I’ve never heard of? No such escape, I’m afraid, seeing that the neighbourhood is full of street names inspired by medieval literature. There is an Everyman Lane, a Ballade Avenue and more of the same ilk.
Incidentally, Amersfoort is good at bad street names. A few miles north of Moenenstraat, there is a Laan van Duurzaamheid or ‘Sustainability Avenue’: a straight, wide road without pedestrian crossings between houses without solar panels. Damn you, committee. Better call it Hypocrisy Heights.
And why should it matter that I’m not from Norway? It’s because the devil seems to be more present in swear words there than anywhere else in Europe. While speakers of most languages let off steam by invoking a divine being or the human body (its parts and excretions, its functions and malfunctions), Norwegians have a particular fondness for words like faen, satan, djævelsk and helvete (‘devil, ‘satan’, ‘devilish’ and ‘hell’). Which leads me to think that in the land of trolls and utepils, Moenen Street would not have found favour with any committee.
You won’t be surprised to learn that I’m a reader and listener rather than an ever-alert observer. My world is made up mostly of words, with pictures a far second.
Yet even somebody like me can see that Lingo has the sort of graceful cover design that catches the eye and lifts the mood – I liked it as soon as I saw it. Still, what got me playing with it was, once more, the word, the letters, the fivefold repetition of l-i-n-g-o.
What was there to be made of these letters, I wondered? Largely Independent Non-Governmental Organisation? London International New Grammar Observatory? Lascivious, Indecent… stop right there. Or perhaps they could be re-arranged? Loing – that would the gerund of ‘lo (and behold)’. Gnoli – sounds like an Italian specialty. Login – … Hey, login!
Which resulted in:
Should you wish to hear me talk about Lingo, then listen to this interview on Monocle Weekly. The 10-minute item begins at 26 minutes. The hosts are Andrew Tuck and Robert Bound.
A blogpost about sign languages that I wrote some time ago has been translated into English and Japanese by Wouter Thielen, a Dutchman in Japan. Thank you, Wouter!
What I take away from the Japanese version is that my name is written ガストン・ドルン (ga-su-to-n do-ru-n) in katakana, the script the Japanese use to render foreign names.
What is it about days and colours that makes them such happy pairs? Journalists, marketers, idealists, they all love to give the days of the week a dab of paint: just google for Black Monday, Yellow Tuesday, Red Wednesday and Green or Purple Friday, and you’ll find all sorts of catastrophes, sales campaigns, football matches, environmental activism and gay solidarity.
Most of these are recent inventions, but others have long become household terms, in English or other languages. Here’s an incomplete list – feel free to add.
Long before becoming a popular meme for a day in late January, claimed to be the gloomiest of the year, ‘blue Monday’ was already a well-known idiom in Dutch: blauwe maandag. Somebody who read philosophy ‘for a blue Monday’ studied it for a very short period and unsuccessfully. As for why a Monday and why blue, nobody is sure, though theories abound. Continue reading
‘Boil just what you need’: it’s with this slogan, printed large on one side of the box, that Philips try to lure us into buying their electric kettle. It is an appeal to our green better selves, the smaller print underneath suggests: ‘Save up to 66% energy.’
In its April issue, the Swiss magazine Sprachspiegel published a German translation of my Dutch-language article on ‘holiday linguistics’ that first appeared in Onze Taal magazine. You can download the PDF. The translation was by Jenny Audring and myself.
Two weeks ago, the website Futility Closet reproduced a 1969 language puzzle that may be futile but certainly not uninteresting. It can only be solved if you know a thing or two about foreign languages. Personally, I managed to identify the languages 1, 3, and 5 correctly, while for 2, I was in doubt between two possibilities. I had no idea what number 4 might be (though of course, upon seeing the answer, it seemed obvious).
The puzzle inspired me to design one along the same lines myself. Continue reading