Page 2 - Language Facts

It took more than 200 years for the Greek people to choose an official language — it wasn't as easy as you would think!


The Greek people grappled with a strange, but not all too unusual problem from 1766 until 1976. They had to decide what the official language of Greece would be and they had to choose one of two options. It was a highly controversial topic in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The dispute was about whether the language of the Greek people (Demotic Greek) or a cultivated imitation of Ancient Greek (katharevousa) should be the official language. The language phenomenon in question—which also occurs elsewhere in the world—is called 'diglossia.'

Diglossia refers to the coexistence of two—in extreme cases—completely different forms of a language that greatly exceed the usual stylistic difference between written and spoken word. Usually there is a 'higher' more formal language co-existing with a 'lower' form of the language that is spoken in homes, market places and among friends. One can therefore say there is a formal and informal version of the same language.

In Greece 'katharevousa' (ancient Greek) was the formal, high version of the language and demotic Greek was the common or 'lower' version of the language. The dispute was finally settled in 1976 when demotic Greek was chosen as the official language of Greece.

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The word 'frenemy' was first used in 1953 to describe the relationship between Russia and America.


"Frenemy," sometimes spelled "frienemy,” is a combination of the words "friend" and "enemy." It can be used to describe an enemy pretending to be a friend, or it can describe a real friend with whom one is competing for something – a title, a job or popularity.

The word is not only used to describe personal relationships, but also refers to political and commercial relationships among individuals, groups, corporations and even countries. The word has appeared in print as early as 1953 when W. Winchell wrote: "Howz about calling the Russians our Frienemies?" In the ‘Nevada State Journal ‘ on 19 May 1953.

Although the word has been around for a long time, it was popularized on the third season of the television series ‘Sex and the City’. In politics one could say that the Arabic proverb, ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend,’ comes into play and evolves into ‘frenemy’ when two countries that are not necessarily friends, work together against a common, more threatening enemy.

Frenemy has become a popular word and a widely used concept. It has been written about in publications such as ‘Businessweek’ and the topic appears abundantly on various websites like that of ‘Scientific American’ and on countless blog pages.

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Literacy in North Korea is measured by a child's ability to write down the name of their 'Dear Leader.' They claim 99% literacy


The Korean alphabet is also known as hangul in South Korea and chosongul in North Korea. It is the native alphabet of the Korean language. It was created in 1443, and is now the official written language of both South Korea and North Korea.

It differs greatly from the written Latin alphabet insofar as hangul letters are grouped into blocks and each block forms a syllable, whereas letters of the Latin alphabet are written sequentially. Each block in hangul consists of two to five letters and includes at least one vowel and one consonant.

The blocks are arranged horizontally from left to right, or horizontally from top to bottom. The number of mathematical possible syllables (or 'blocks') in the language is 11,172 although Korean phonotactics allow for far less. All hangul letters follow the rules of Chinese calligraphy.

Although both North and South Korea claim 99% literacy, studies show that the older generation in South Korea are not completely literate in hangul. It is really almost impossible to truly measure literacy in North Korea, as literacy in that country is defined by the ability to write the name of their Dear Leader, so the success of hangul in its entirety has not been completely measured.

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Some awesome lists!

The word for "turkey" is translated oddly in various languages. What's the word for "turkey" in Turkey?


The word "turkey" is a funny one. Not only does it mean a type of bird, but it is also a country. And in that country, the word translates oddly. In Turkey, the word for the bird "turkey" is "hindi." This also means "India."

In India, the word for turkey is "peru." Another country! The word for turkey is also "peru" in Portuguese. These different translations come from confusion about the origin of the bird. Most countries believed that the turkey came from India, but this is not true.

The word for turkey in Chinese is the same as "fire chicken." And in Japanese it means "seven-faced bird." In Macedonia, Turkey is named for the Turkish word for "Egypt." While the three romance languages, Spanish, Italian, and French all have completely different words for it—tavo, tacchino, and dinde.

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The plural of sphinx is sphinges. What's the plural of octopus?


Some words have very odd plural versions. Cul de sac becomes Culs de Sac. Thesis becomes theses. Octopus becomes octopi. And sphinx apparently becomes sphinges. Where did that come from?

A sphinx is a creature with the head of a person and a body of a lion. It is also an ancient Greek monster. The best known sphinx is probably the giant sphinx statue built in ancient Egypt. It can also be a mysterious or inscrutable person.

Since there isn't usually more than one sphinx at a time, people don't often use the plural version. Hence why sphinges sounds so odd. It pronounced almost exactly as it sounds — sfin - jeez.

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