December 1, 2014


A language fact that I learned today: in English, where we usually have so many words for the same thing (which is why our dictionaries are so much thicker than those of any other European language), we use the same word, leg, for that department of a person, animal, table, chair, piano, etc. In Catalan, a person’s leg is a cama (which, confusingly enough around here, is the Spanish word for bed, whereas Catalans call a bed a llit). But an animal or piece of furniture doesn’t have a cama, but a pota. Unless it’s a chicken, in which case it trots around on a cuixa.

But that’s a minor problem for a learner like me (who came upon all this today only because I wanted to know how to refer to a dog’s hind leg, or pota posterior). I am constantly reminded of the barriers that English puts up for non-native speakers. I’m just taking at random a word like joke. Jest, jibe, crack, drollery, funny, gag, jape, josh, pleasantry, wisecrack, witticism. Oh, my. How lucky I am to have absorbed such things in infancy without effort!

3 Responses to “Limbs”

  1. Hmm. English dictionaries are thicker than German ones? Or maybe, if not, their words are just longer? Just this weekend, though, I realized that German has the same word for sunset and sundown — Sonnenuntergang — two concepts that see completely different, especially for a “Romantic” people!

  2. rogerevans said

    It’s true that there are various ways of measuring these things, but the largest and first collection of peer reviewed words taken from published context is the Oxford English Dictionary, with over 176,000 used words and 45,000 obsolete words. Its format of peer-review and documentation was followed by the next largest, the Real Academia’s Spanish dictionary with over 88,000, again all taken from trusted sources and following established methodology.

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