by Adam Bieganski, 5 years ago

I've been trying to keep a constant pace of blogging, but I'm failing miserably of course. So I've got this idea to post a TWIL every week.

TWIL stands for This Week I Learned.

This Week I've Learned

I haven't actually learned it this week, but would like to get this out of my system.

The "TIL" acronym, very popular on the Internet, is actually a grammatical mistake. It stands for Today I Learned, and strictly speaking - at the moment of writing, that "today" is still going on, so the tense used should be present perfect.

Today I've Learned.

Moreover, in Europe (Britain) the preferred past participle of "to learn" would be "learnt".

Therefore - TWIL actually stands for This Week I've Learned (I prefer the regular, albeit rather American, past participle). Because when I write "this week" on a Saturday, "this week" is still in progress.

I hear it is actually acceptable in American English to use past simple here, but I didn't hammer this rule into my head just to ignore it, so there.


On a completely different topic now. And a different, although not completely, language.

Earlier this week I was trying to remember the German word for "expensive", which is "teuer". It turns out that its English cognate is the word "dear", which makes a lot of sense, if you consider that the initial consonant [t] is there in Modern High German, because it underwent the Second Germanic Consonant Shift (also called High German Consonant Shift), which did not affect English (hence in English it is still [d]).

This might not be too helpful on its own, but there are two additional trivia associated with this word:

  1. In Ireland, and also in England, I believe, it is customary to use the word "dear" instead of "expensive" in colloquial speech ("Car insurance in Ireland is very dear").
  2. A friend of mine, who's from Germany, always uses the word "dear" to mean "expensive".

The Second Germanic Consonant Shift is called "Second" for a reason, too. There was indeed a first Germanic shift, called The First Germanic Shift (you'd never guess, would you), but it is more often referred to as Grimm's Law.

The "Grimm" here is Jacob Grimm, brother of Wilhelm Grimm, both of whom were the editors of "Kinder- und Hausmärchen" (Children's and Household Tales), better known as Grimm's Fairy Tales.

Aside from the fairy tales, Jacob Grimm discovered the law ruling the first Germanic sound shift (this one did affect English, or rather Old English), where non-Germanic Indo-European languages like Greek, Latin, Slavic languages, etc. retained certain unshifted consonant sounds, while those sounds got "shifted" in Germanic languages like German, English, Dutch, etc.

Examples would be:

p → f Latin pedis, Polish pod (under) German Fuß, English foot but a "foot doctor" is still a "podiatrist" in English; and there's also "pedestrian crossing"
p → f Latin pater German Vater, English father but still: "paternal"
k → h Latin canis German Hund, English hound but something dog-related is "canine" in English; or even K-9

There are a lot more examples for different sounds, and the shift was more complicated than that, but combined with Verner's Law, and the Second Germanic Consonant Shift this explains all Indo-European languages.

Of course, the "teuer"-"dear" pair is not the only one, and some other interesting ones are:

tun - do

schlafen - sleep

essen - eat

machen - make

geben - give

Tag - day

Tür - door

dass - that

And the word for "father" in Dutch is "Vader", which is why Lord Vader says to Luke "I'm your father", and Luke is surprised, because he has no idea what the Second Germanic Consonant Shift is... (I think that's the case, I've never seen Star Wars, I've only read about them).


Speaking of "teuer" - the switch from Deutsche Mark to Euro in Germany was supposedly a price-raising opportunity for sellers. Whether it is true or not is beyond the scope of this post; what's interesting though is this brilliant portmanteau created to describe this phenomenon:


It obviously comes from splicing these two words:

teuer and Euro


Another pair of German-English cognates is:

Tier - deer

In German Tier signifies any animal, while in English a deer is one particular species. And the word "animal" is of course borrowed from Latin. There is this nice pair though, which is perfect: Rentier - reindeer.

As we know, German, being a true Germanic language, sides on the compounding way of creating new words. English, since around the 16th century, has mostly opted for blatant borrowing from Greek and Latin.

What happened then is that "a garden or park where wild animals are kept for exhibition" is called a zoo in English (and many other languages) - but in Germany it's a much more charming, though verbose, Tiergarten.

Dear Deer

There is also this chuckle-inducing one-liner from Jimmy Carr:

Venison's dear, isn't it?

Speaking of Funny Stuff

I've also found out this week that Mozart wrote this canon in B-flat for six voices called:

Leck mich im Arsch

This helped me to forever remember how Germans say "Kiss my ass" :) Apparently they prefer to be licked...

Although the tune itself isn't very catchy...


Bahnhof Zoo

Speaking of "zoo" and "Tiergarten" - the Greek "zoo" is quite international, so it seems like in German both Zoo and Tiergarten are acceptable.

In fact in Berlin there is Zoologischer Garten Berlin, also known simply as Berlin Zoo, which is located in Tiergarten, which is an inner-city park, located in a district of Berlin named... Tiergarten.

On top of that, there is a railway station there, called Berlin Tiergarten. Which is fine and dandy, except that its preceding (or following) station is Bahnhof Berlin Zoologischer Garten, colloquially knows as... Bahnhof Zoo.

And that's the one from the 1978 book "Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo" ("We children from Zoo Station").

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