black cloud, blue straw

With berry season upon us, why don’t we talk about them already. In English, many words for berries have two roots (botanical pun is not intended), one of which is, not surprisingly, “berry”. (Similarly, in German they have “Beere”.) But let’s look at the variable roots in berry names. Take strawberry. Merriam-Webster says:

Etymology: Middle English, from Old English strēawberige, from strēaw straw + berige berry; perhaps from the appearance of the achenes on the surface

According to Wiktionary, it is named so

perhaps from the straw put beneath the berry bushes during the cultivation process

Before I came to England and saw the said straw for myself, I thought that “straw” in English word has an entirely different origin. When I was a child, we used to pick up wild strawberries and put them on a stalk of grass like beads. Maybe the English were using straw for this purpose? Surely wild strawberries do not need any straw to grow. Yet another theory says that

it comes from “stray” or “strew”, designating the spread of the plant’s runners (slender tendrils), in that in an unchecked field of strawberries the plants appear to have been strewn across the ground with their runners straying everywhere.

Convincing? Not really. At least, The Concise Oxford Dictionary honestly states that

reason for the name unkn.

It is well kn. though that German Erdbeere, Dutch aardbei, Swedish jordgubbe and Russian земляника have nothing to do with straw: these are “earth berries”, because strawberries grow close to the ground. Makes much more sense.

English blackberry cloudberry gooseberry raspberry strawberry
Dutch braam kruipbraam kruisbes framboos aardbei
Finnish karhunvatukka lakka, hilla karviainen vadelma mansikka
French mûre plaquebière groseille à maquereau framboise fraise
German Brombeere Moltebeere Stachelbeere Himbeere Erdbeere
Italian rovo camemoro uva spina lampone fragola
Portuguese amora-preta; amora-silvestre amora-branca-silvestre groselheira framboesa morango
Russian ежевика морошка крыжовник малина земляника
Spanish mora mora de los pantanos grosella espinosa frambuesa fresa
Swedish björnbär hjortron krusbär hallon jordgubbe

The names of blackberry and blueberry need no special explanation. Apparently, lingonberry is kn. as “redberry” in Labrador. But what is “bilberry”? The best I could find is Webster’s “probably of Scandinavian origin”. Blåbär, Swedish for bilberry, literally means “blue berry”. As for blueberry, it is amerikanskt blåbär. We have to blame Vikings for the confusion.

What about raspberry? Webster says

English dial. rasp raspberry + English berry

It makes “berry” kind of redundant here, right? (Cf. lingon, Swedish for lingonberry.)

In Russian, many berries have names ending with –ка but they (like vodka) are not diminutives.

English bilberry blueberry cranberry lingonberry
Dutch blauwe bosbes blauwe bes veenbes rode bosbes
Finnish mustikka pensasmustikka karpalo puolukka
French myrtille bleuet canneberge airelle rouge
German Heidelbeere; Blaubeere Amerikanische Heidelbeere Moosbeere Preißelbeere
Italian mirtillo nero mirtillo americano mirtillo palustre mirtillo rosso
Portuguese mirtilo, uva-do-monte vacínio arando arando vermelho
Russian черника голубика клюква брусника
Spanish mirtilo; arándano negro arándano azul arándano agrio arándano rojo
Swedish blåbär amerikanskt blåbär tranbär lingon

continental seafood

Every Saturday I see them on the market. The fishmongers who specialise in

Quality English and Continental Seafood.

Wait a minute. What on earth is “continental seafood”? The seafood caught on the continent? Or the fish from continental seas? The term “continental sea” is used in geology, although their inhabitants must be fossilised by now. In British English, however, “continental” also means “related to Continental Europe” (as opposed to Britain). Thus “continental philosophy” refers to the reasonably modern philosophy from continental Europe (mostly Germany and France), as opposed to “analytic philosophy” (mostly English-speaking countries). Similarly, continental breakfast has French-sounding food in it, unlike full breakfast which does not. Now I don’t understand how a decent breakfast can be full without a croissant, but there you are. As for seafood, it is probably caught in the same sea by fishermen from both sides of La Manche.

Most Brits, of course, do not live on an island but on mainland. As, indeed, do most Irish. I know that for sure from one of the Father Ted episodes. Also, 75% of Orkney’s population live on the Mainland (which is the largest island in the archipelago). It looks like pattern: nobody wants to live on an island. Except maybe Icelanders whose volcanic-ash belching country is called “Island” in at least ten languages. But wait: according to Wikipedia, both Great Britain and Ireland are continental islands because they lie on the continental shelf off Europe. So there.

fish and fly

I guess I am not the only one who wonders why in English “fish” stands for “some creature which lives in water” and “fly” means “a flying insect”, with no regard to taxonomy whatsoever. Crayfish (crustacean), cuttlefish (cephalopod mollusc) and starfish (echinoderm) look nothing like fish. Accordingly, in many European languages, they have names which have nothing to do with fish.

English fish crayfish cuttlefish jellyfish starfish
French poisson écrevisse seiche méduse étoile de mer
German Fisch Flusskrebs Sepie Qualle Seestern
Portuguese peixe lagostim choco medusa estrela-do-mar
Russian рыба рак каракатица медуза морская звезда
Spanish pez cangrejo de río sepia medusa estrella de mar

Similarly, butterflies, damselflies and dragonflies are very different from flies. Damselflies and dragonflies belong to the order Odonata, but their kinship is only reflected in German language: both Prachtlibellen and Großlibellen are Libellen. I like the best the Spanish name for damselfly, caballito del diablo (literally, “devil’s little horse”).

English fly butterfly damselfly dragonfly
French mouche papillon de jour demoiselle libellule
German Fliege Schmetterling Prachtlibelle Großlibelle
Portuguese mosca borboleta donzelinha libelinha
Russian муха бабочка красотка стрекоза
Spanish mosca mariposa caballito del diablo libélula