The Latvians rewrite the English dictionary

When I meet an English person and tell them what I do for a living, I am occasionally rewarded with a pudgy finger in my face, and a bellowed “YOU CAWN’T TEACH ENGLISH! YOU’RE OIRISH!” They then turn to their equally linguistically-challenged mates and all have a good old belly laugh at my expense. As most of these buffoons can barely string an intelligible sentence together, I usually laugh too. If I were to retort using any ‘big words’, they’d probably think I was speaking Irish.

My students, however, also like to play the ‘Irish’ card. When they come out with a sentence so appalling that it actually makes me wince, they respond to my groans with “Maybe it’s only wrong in Irish English” or “Maybe it’s right in American English but you just don’t know”. No. No it isn’t. It is an assault on the English language, be it Irish English, British English, American English, Canadian English, Australian English… (I usually run out of breath around here.)


Yesterday, I was accused by a blog reader of “falsificating” the dialogue in my previous post. This is not a verb in English but I can, at least, understand where it comes from –  ”falsificēt” in Latvian. However, I do have one student who defies all logic – Latvian or otherwise – and befuddles me beyond belief. I call him “Dangering” as this was the only adjective he “knew” when I first met him. Everything was “dangering” – getting a haircut, a painting in his apartment, a meal he’d once had in a restaurant… it took me around three lessons (and approximately 400 lines under the OUS in “dangerOUS” to convince him that “dangering” was not a word and to stop him using it.

We recently moved on to word families.

Me: OK, if the adjective is ‘intelligent’, what is the noun?

Dangering: Intelligented, intelliging, intelligentician, intelligentness…

Me: GAH! STOP! It’s intelligence! Intelligence! (I take a deep breath) OK, next, if the adjective is ‘tired’, what is the noun?

Dangering: Tiredation, tiredician, tiredhood, tireding, tireded…

Me: (I tear the last hair out of my head and softly weep)

And of course, it doesn’t stop there. You’re probably aware of the recent addition of the word “selfie” to the Oxford English Dictionary. (Oh, how I hate that word and concept!) What you may not be aware of is that the Latvians have also been stealthily adding new words such as those mentioned above, or amending the meanings of existing ones.

Luckily, I’m here to keep an eye on things or the New English Dictionary (According to Jānis) might look a little something like this:

kidnap – a short sleep a child has in the middle of the day

Parents love kidnapping because then they get to have some peace and quiet.

blackmail – post sent by black people

Michelle: Hey O’! I’m putting together our Christmas blackmail list – anyone we should add?*

(*Yes, the apostrophe is intentional – he is part Irish, after all.)


cooker – a person who cooks

My mother is a wonderful cooker.

whore – an organised group of people singing together, especially at church services

All God’s creatures have a place in the whore, some sing low and some sing higher… 

Phrasal verbs:

to eat on – to put on (weight)

to put out – to eat out

She’s eating on weight because she’s always putting out.

I assured the student in question that if she was always putting out, chances are she’d be losing weight but I think it was lost on him.

About BerLinda

Adjusting to life in Germany, after living in Latvia for four years. Should be easy, right?
This entry was posted in Humor, Humour, Language, Latvia, TEFL and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

130 Responses to The Latvians rewrite the English dictionary

  1. Pingback: An open letter to Latvijas Pasts | Expat Eye on Latvia

  2. 1WriteWay says:

    This is why I didn’t become a teacher. I have less patience than you and I love my hair too much to even try 😉

  3. Excellent! Laughing out loud 😀 good that it is early morning and I am alone in my kitchen 😀 was on a teaching French trip last week and postponed reading this till today – what a great post! Thank you – and right on time as I am fighting about a similar issues while teaching French and also while translating from Latvian to French. People sometimes are convinced that the words they use are real (when clearly they are not) and it gets a bit more complicated when the a word is real, but is not the right one for that particular sentence. That is is what I often deal with while translating and getting my text back with editor’s notes – if the person doesn’t speak Latvian and is trying to edit just based on my translation – it is kind of hard to explain that even if our language is not that old, we still have several words for one thing and that they do have slight differences in meaning. Well, thank you for making me feel better – let’s keep on fighting for both English and French being used in a correct manner! greetings from Brussels, Signe (so happy for your students that they have such an excellent “professeur”)

  4. mmarinaa says:

    Take me a picture. Close the AC. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Arablish is highly entertaining to me. I love it.

    Although it took me a long time to get used to Irish people ending sentences with like. I kept waiting for them to keep going, like….

  5. Pingback: Wordplay | Tripping the Light Fantastic

  6. Just shared this on Facebook – what a masterpiece!

    Sicilians are good at inventing new and additional meanings for old words. A friend recently told me that one of her students came up with this:
    “When was the last time Mount Etna ejaculated?”

  7. I just want to see the last student ask a member of the appropriate sex if s/he wants to “put out” at, like, the start of the first date.

  8. rower says:

    mister John Doe Jānis Balodis William O’Pooh might think :
    fascinat-ion -> to fascinat-e
    advocat-ion -> to advocat-e
    suffocat-ion -> to suffocat-e
    probat-ion -> to probat-e
    okay, now some simpler words…
    creat-ion -> to creat-e
    generat-ion, locat-ion, ignit-ion -> generat-e, locat-e, ignit-e

    oookay, it _must_ be the rule. hence – falsificat-ion -> to falsificat-e 🙂

    or maybe (if he’s doubtful) –
    imagin-ation — to imagin-e => falsific-ation -> to falsific-e ?
    mo-tion – to mo-ve => falsifica-tion -> to falsifica-ve ?
    adapt-ation — to adapt- => falsific-ation -> to falsific ?

    okay, but how to find the correct pattern ? what makes this one — “classification -> classify, ramification -> ramify, crucification -> crucify” the correct one for this particular case ? 🙂

  9. barbedwords says:

    I love the word dangering, I’m going to start using it immediately! I like creating new words and seeing if they catch on. I named the divider you use on a supermarket conveyer belt to separate your shopping from next person’s a ‘fonbouy’. I make sure I ask people to pass me the fonbouy and then nod intelligently when they say, ‘oh, I didn’t know it was called that.’ I’m waiting for the day someone asks me to pass them the fonbouy 😉

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha ha, you’re nuts! But not in a dangering way 😉 I do want dangering to catch on actually!

    • rower says:

      reminds me of “dangling”. and i immediately imagine the object hanging as a cowbell somewhere… ding-dong! are you sure you want to be misunderstood ? 🙂

  10. Anna says:

    Irish ISNT English 😛
    I kid, I kid. Sort of. I have staked out my linguistic dominance at RT Corporate, over a native Brit who’s an Oxford grad. She kept undermining proper English in my copy with her ‘a herb’ and ‘live life to the full.’ Just….NO.

  11. Maybe some of these words should be added to dictionaries? 🙂
    After the meaning of “literally” was changed in Oxford dictionary and they added such words as “swag” and “twerk” – anything seems possible to me. 😀

    • Expat Eye says:

      I guess that’s the good/bad thing about the language! I hate some of the new words though!

      • Well, bu as you said – language changes with the world. If we wouldn’t use such phrases as “vacay”, “death stare” or “food coma”, Oxford would never add them. But I agree, sometimes when you read the updates for the most respectful and reliable dictionary… you keep wondering – is this why aliens don’t communicate with us? 🙂

      • Expat Eye says:

        Ha ha, I could go into a food coma from eating cake pops – no doubt about that! 😉 Wait, did you actually LIKE a post?! 🙂

      • Yes. Why would that be so surprising?

      • Expat Eye says:

        You always seem to disagree with everything! 😉

      • If you’d check – it’s on those posts where you use stereotypes or generalisations because 5 people said smthg or did smthg – everybody/-thing is bad. I’m used to look to the world in a broader perspective and that’s why such opinions annoy me as they seem short-sighted. And, oh boy, I love a good discussion and it seems you do too because if it wouldn’t be welcome, you’d just delete those comments. 🙂
        And I can promise I’ll disagree on many other things. 🙂 If everybody would have the same opinions and points of view – it would be bloody boring.
        And definitely I’d love to read more of this – educational and entertaining at the same time. 🙂 Btw – you should try to take it the other way around – teach Latvians about Irish things. 🙂

      • Expat Eye says:

        I don’t delete any comments – and yes, I love a good discussion as much as the next person! It’s why I’ve kept writing the blog really – I thought about quitting it after the KJ stuff but I think I’d miss it too much 😉 I find the different opinions and experiences fascinating – usually the comment thread is far more interesting than the original post (unfortunately!) and I think that’s why people keep coming back to read more! Each post is generating 100-200 comments (including mine, of course) and that’s what keeps me doing it 😉 So keep doing what you’re doing 😉

  12. Lāsma says:

    Native speakers would love to rewrite the English dictionary too! There are so many irritating things! I’ll list some of them…

    1) They say/write ”How’s you?” Honestly, I don’t get it. There are so many alternatives. Why would they want to use that incorrect phrase?
    2) They use ”yay” and ”nay” instead of ”yes” and ”no”. No, it doesn’t sound cute unless you’re 3. In fact, it doesn’t even sound cute if you’re 3.
    3) They always use ”then” when they should be using ”than”.
    4) …And ”your” instead of ”you’re”. It’s not the same thing, for God’s sake!
    5) I HATE all the stupid ”gangsta slang” words/phrases, such as ”innit”, ”we was”, ”dey touch”.
    6) They don’t realise that it’s incorrect to say, ”That’s 10 pound, please”. It’s poundS, not pound. I swear, I keep hearing this mistake every day.
    7) I’d love to slap everyone who says ”reh teh teh” instead of etc. WHY?!??!
    8) They keep calling strangers ”love” and ”sweetie”. I’m not 5 and you’re not my grandma!

    I could go on forever…

    • Expat Eye says:

      I’ve never heard of reh teh teh before! How awful is that! Your poor ears/eyes!!

    • rower says:

      Hey! not a usual name for native speaker 🙂

      for 1 through 6… i remember one of russian “joke-tellers” (they’re called humourists… and that’s not quite the same as a simple stage artist) telling a story he heard from russian expat – teaching some humantirian science somewhere in US. once he asked one of his pupils – why he’d written GERSHWIN in the written test, while in oral test for the same question he answered correctly – GOETHE. Students answer was epic – i did not know how to spell GOETHE correctly.

      maybe it’s just overall lowering of language culture ? tendency to oversimplify everything?

      as for #7 i’ve to tell you, that latvian for etc. is u.t.t. – un tā tālāk (which literally means, and so on, and so on…). so it’s definately not our influence. maybe that RTT comes from yiddish or something?

      and #8, Lāsma, dear, tell them that it sounds soooo auld. like from early 20ies or something, and you wonder, if it’s professional deformation, and how by all ods they’ve managed to keep themselves looking so young?

    • Mārtiņš says:

      “Your” instead of “you’re” and “then” instead of “than” is one thing, a lack of knowledge nevertheless you should admit that there is some beauty in gangsta shit, innit? And Ali G English, come on, he has created his language and I am sure he is able to speak standard English.
      I remember prof. Druviete’s (our minister of education) opinion in lectures of sociolinguistics that one should be able to speak different language registers – formal, proper in one situation and lower it in another. My point is you will not speak the same way in an official government meeting and to cargo worker or in a construction site. Find the beauty in language variety not only in being a grammar police officer.
      Have a look at this one Southern American English done by Jamie Foxx:))

    • Džuris says:

      You’re? Your? It’s ur. Otherwise all the meaning of Uruguay would be gone. Just like Holland makes no sense if u rite whore instead of ho…

  13. wasd says:

    Oh how I would like to learn English from you 🙂 Your writing for me as non native speaker feels like candy. Expressions, words, sentences and even names as such. I can understand (probably) the meaning of them, but some I have never seen before.

    About making new words on the spot, we had some list of some people created latvian words, while they learned it, some of them were quite hilarious. Same goes for what I call “Forced latvian” like when someone thought it would be good idea to translate Windows OS in latvian. Probably few translators got to gether with some unknown ammount of alcohol and didnt leave the room until finished. Thats what it feels like for me to read it afterwards. “Palaistuve” (meant to be power button but it is definetly how we call whores), “Atkritne” (as wierd and forced it feels, it means recycling bin)

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha ha! Do you prefer the made up words like klikot etc? Not sure I spelled that right!
      One of my students actually prints out my posts and brings them to lessons sometimes. She says they’re really rich in language and makes me go through them word by word 😉

    • Ha ha, and I thought it was only us who’ve got this ‘forced Lithuanian’ translations for many and many ‘new’ things, which are often so ridiculous that only grammar nazis can actually use them 😀 I had quite an experience a couple of years ago with translated MS Office Suite, and I swear the only way for me to find a function I needed was by trying to find an actual visual icon of that function since those ‘Lithuanian’ names for cutting, pasting, editing were so ridiculous and even misleading and very distracting.
      Imagine calling computer’s monitor ‘vaizduoklis’, which sounds almost like ‘vaiduoklis’ (ghost). Or ‘tapšnutė’ for tablet – I won’t even try to explain why this diminutive for tapping sounds funny

      • Expat Eye says:

        Ha ha, that sounds like a nightmare! Murgs in Latvian – that word I do know 😉

      • wasd says:

        Haha, sounds quite a hedache 😀 Well now you know that you are not alone in this. One of reasons why no system with language options in my home uses latvian. Its all fun and games until you actualy need to do something on it. So far I managed to avoid latvian MS Office, and have never seen one.
        Not everything is bad actualy, we have picked some actualy usable words like “Dators” for computer first part of the word is Dati (data) not shure about the second one. “Viedtelefons” for smartphone vieds – wise person with great experience, telefons – phone.

      • Expat Eye says:

        And I’ve learned a new word! 🙂

  14. I soo look forward to your posts, Linda. I love languages. But I confess that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become a bit lazy. I took french in high school. A few years ago, I tested into the intermediate immersion level at Alliance Francaise. I loved the class. But after two 8 week sessions (one class a week) for a total of $700, I decided to get my immersion wherever I can, for free.

    Btw, I used to love it when my son would say, “You’re a good cooker mom!” But he was three at the time.

  15. suejansons says:

    Oh, what an interesting post. There are certain things that are lost on people whose first language is not English…….. That’s pretty funny. Made me laugh.

  16. whore – an organised group of people singing together, especially at church services

    So what have I been doing all these years..? Also, kidnap: brilliant.

  17. LOL, to put out! Phrasal verbs are a total nightmare… did you explain to them that you can put the dog out, but if your boss is put out and you are the cause, you may have no choice but to ‘fix’ it by putting out…

  18. nancytex2013 says:

    My husband, the cooker, just asked why I was making laugh so loudness. I told him to shut up and start putting out.

  19. Sharn says:

    Oh gosh and here I thought my making up words because they sounded quaint was bad.

    This made me lolz.

  20. Mārtiņš says:

    “Falsifying” must be the verb I had to write and accused you of. Feeling down when seeing my own mistakes. But at least I hope (naively) I learn from them.
    Dangering was a nice one:).
    I looked up in my beloved and discovered to myself:

    To be both dangerous and daring.
    They were dangering hipsters, those bearded fools.
    by Bret Evan August 11, 2010

    It was a blend/blending (?), I hope I remember the term correctly from linguistics in university. Like sexpert, brunch (breakfast + lunch), infotainment. But I guess I should be living in an English speaking country to pick up things like that and to be able to use them naturally.

    Or maybe it’s not advisable or suggested by a native speaker or wouldn’t be by Hyacinth Bucket (from Keeping Up Appearances) to express oneself like that? Or bad language & style? What’s your opinion?

    • Expat Eye says:

      I think that the language changes over time and new words are invented based on circumstances. Your examples are good ones – also words like staycation and glamping and jeggings 😉 To me it sounds strange though if someone is still making basic mistakes and uses words like these. Or gonna and wanna in the middle of an incorrect sentence!
      I think Dangering is a long way from perusing the Urban Dictionary 😉
      Also hope I didn’t make you feel bad – it was just a perfect example for the post!

      • Mārtiņš says:

        No, it’s O.K. The deeper one gets into language the more corrections are welcome.
        I point out other people mistakes be it in Latvian or English. I remember taking a thick black marker and correcting a price tag in a super market, a lengthening mark (and there were plenty of Latvian personnel who could have spot the mistake) was not needed.
        A pineapple in Latvian is ananass. Still people write ananāss (’cause it’s pronounced more like it).
        Also I refused to buy balzāms in Christmas fair saying I don’t buy it until you rewrite it balzams. Unfortunately they missed some flexibility in their thinking and customer service. Didn’t (or pretended they did not) get my joke.

      • Expat Eye says:

        Oh god, I’d be dangering with a black marker around here! 😉

      • Loronzo says:

        Jeans look good. Sexy body stands out in leggings.
        But jeggings look awful. Make women totally unsexy, even a wee bit tasteless in my humble opinion.

      • Expat Eye says:

        I’m not a fan of leggings or jeggings. 90% of the people who wear them SHOULD NOT be wearing them 😉

  21. LigaFromRiga says:

    I suppose Mr Dangering wasn’t quite sure what parts of speech were in his mothertongue eather. I’ve had it with students. And once you explain, they start becoming cookers.

  22. Karolyn Cooper says:

    I’m really tiredated tonight but that post made me cry with laughingness.

  23. My Slovak students encouraged me to correct them all the time, and I was happy to do so. They had a problem with the “ing” sound. To them, it was “ink.” So one day, I chose “sing” and “king” and had them actually sing those words until they had the correct sound. It was refreshing that they wanted to speak English properly and had a respect for languages. The egregious careless or ignorant mistakes native English-speaking people make is deplorable.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Yes, I have students here who take such care to make sure that they’re learning the correct way to say things. They’re dying to go to England to practise on real English people… I try not to get their hopes up too much 😉

  24. What’s the Latvian verb form of Guinness? 😉

  25. lizard100 says:

    There’s a thing in my head. It’s saying quietly that non English people often have the edge. They often speak and use English far more accurately than those with a misunderstood birth right in my experience. (Also teaching) The dear Scotsman nearby on the couch has a far richer (more accurate) pronunciation for example!

    • Expat Eye says:

      I agree with that 100%!

    • LigaFromRiga says:

      I have the locals here who not only use “funny English” on their FB status but also use phrases like “I likes doing smth” or “I absolutely loves it” every day. With their children listening. I can’t understand if it’s part of showing off or just stupidity.

      • Expat Eye says:

        Are you surrounded by Welsh people?? I’ve heard them doing that 😉 And things like ‘Where to you going?’ 🙂

      • lizard100 says:

        Damaging language should be a criminal offence!

      • LigaFromRiga says:

        Oh, yes, heard that one as well. So it must be Welsh then. It doesn’t make it right, does it? I don’t mind using the most amazing Welsh word ‘cwtch’ in English though.

      • Expat Eye says:

        Hmm, I guess it’s hard to say what’s right or wrong as the language changes from place to place. To me it sounds comical but to a Welsh person, it’s perfectly normal. I cringe every time I hear an English person saying ‘I was sat there’ – I correct them actually. It doesn’t go down well 😉 I can’t even imagine how ‘cwtch’ is pronounced!

      • LigaFromRiga says:

        Do they mean someone made them sit down there? 😀
        Cwtch is for a hug but can be used as an adjective – cwtchy. A blanket could be cwtchy. W is a consonant, similar to ‘u’.

      • Expat Eye says:

        Oh now that you say it it sounds familiar! And yes, to me it sounds like someone forced them into a chair at gunpoint or something 😉

      • Mārtiņš says:

        I presume that is what lizard100 wants
        Poor teaching and no discipline nowadays.

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