Monday, March 21, 2011


Sunday Trivia 7 was about nationalities, and a friend of mine mentioned that what we call going Dutch (splitting a bill evenly) is referred to as American in some languages and some parts of the world. It turns out that the full story is a little more complicated: some South American countries use pagar a la americana, "pay American style," and Thailand uses อเมริกันแชร์, "American share," but worldwide there are several nationalities associated with this practice. In Turkey, they say Alman usulü, "German style"; in Egypt, Englizy, "English style." This reminded me of a great graphic I once saw, originally from Language Log. It's a map of mutual incomprehensibility:

In this image, an arrow from one language to another signifies an expression like "It's all Greek to me," which is the arrow from English to Greek. (This is a phrase that Shakespeare coined, although the idea of Greek being hard to understand is much older.) Some great patterns emerge here, like the global inability to understand Chinese, or the more subtle geographic trends that govern certain areas, like English → Greek → Arabic → Hindi. It's nice to know that as messy and convoluted as English can be, there are other languages that the world has deemed much more inscrutable.

Of course, I also have some trivia for you guys. The answer is (sort of) a reversal "Greek to me." Name a term in English which derives from an onomatopoeic Greek word for foreigners.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I used to think that word meant "bearded".

  3. DeMaio, you are correct and still the Lux Verbis trivia champion. Congratulations.