Language Learners' Library

I think that’s a phenomenon in most languages, where there are many synonyms with subtle differences and slight variations in connotations and appropriate context.

Here are some examples in English:

What about Russian? I imagine that you could make a similar list.

I think the majority of people that are trained in touch typing would hold down shift with one finger (typically a pinky) while pressing another key with some other finger.

However, with injuries or disability, that might not be easy or even possible. Caps lock provides one workaround to allow such people to type capital letters. However, caps lock typically does not provide the same functionality as holding down shift for actuating other inputs (such as typing certain symbols). Similarly, one might be unable to use other keys like “Ctrl”, “Alt”, etc. in tandem with another keypress.

To address such disabilities, major operating systems implement this accessibility feature:


Yes, if we’re looking at merely synonyms. But luckily synonyms often come from different root words so it’s not that hard to distinguish them. Here the annoying part is that not only they mean similar things, they even look the same. I think in English an example could be “use” vs “utilize”. At least for me, since they look similar to my eye, for other people they might be sufficiently different.

I think that’s the first time I’ve ever seen viaticum.

It has three senses, of which one is the relevant

provisions, money, or other supplies given to someone setting off on a long journey

It’s a Latin word, ofc, deriving from the adjective viāticus (of the road, of travelling), from via (road).

eg. rēs viāticus, travelling supplies, things * for the road

[or “something for the road” – rēs has no plural distinction in the nominative]

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Let’s examine some etymologies.

word initial root further root
nourishment O.F. norrir (to feed) L. nutrio (I suckle)
sustenance O.F. sustenir (to support) L. sustineo (I support)
nutriment L. nutrio
subsistence L. subsisto (I halt)
fare O.E. fær / faru (journey)
bread O.E. brēad
cooking O.E. cōc L. cocus
baking O.E. bacan (to bake)
cuisine F. cuisine L. coquina (cooking, kitchen)
foodstuffs O.E. fōda & O.F. estoffer (to decorate)
edibles L. edo (I eat)
refreshments O.F. refrescher (to refresh)
meals O.F. mǣl
provisions L. provisio (precaution)

I was just reading the British Go Journal’s Spring 2000 issue.

It surprised me to see an article still referring to “wei-chi” rather than weiqi. The same author, Franco Pratesi, also uses the unusual orthography “Shangai” for Shanghai.

One guess is that these were fashionable European styles at the time. Wiktionary says that the Shangai form is used in Portuguese, alongside Xangai. However, the topic is Western Go journalism in the 19th century, so perhaps an attempt was being made to mimic historic forms.

Interestingly, the quoted material from 1892 uses the even more archaic wei-ch’i.

To quote:

The name of Z. Volpicelli is known … thanks to two pioneering English articles that he published … printed in Shangai … the second, of 1892, contains one of the first descriptions of wei-chi in an European language.

Whilst quoting I also noticed another oddity, the “stubborn” spelling an European, the type of which we’ve discussed before.

Remember this thread?

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German has these too, “geflügelte Wörter”. They’re from Homer’s epics. When a character says something, it is sometimes introduced with the phrase Καί μιν φωνήσας ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηῦδα “And then he answered him and spoke with winged words”
There are some who argue that it’s not winged, as if the words fly from one to another, but feathered like an arrow and they hit their mark.

German Geflügelte Wörter are quotes of famous people, though, or famous texts, that made it into everyday use.


I just used the phrase

My suspicion is that that is the better move.

Do other languages have similar palindromic expressions?

Sure, but only half of the word, the first half.

Distinguishing 食べ物 from 食物 is through the first one having くん pronunciation: たべもの (because there’s a hiragana in) and the second having おん pronunciation: しょくもつ (a word made up solely of kanji; funnily it could be read as しょくぶつ, but that usually means plant: 植物).

品 just means item, and 材 means ingredient, so these make sense as well.

食料 and 食糧 are most annoying, since they are pronounced the same (which is why they have the same radical 米). However, they’re pretty much synonymous, and the kanji might only give a slight nuance.

In other words, kanji is used to give more nuance, such as with 分かる (generally to understand or know something) and 解る(to understand / figure out a problem), or 見る (to see), 観る (to view) and 診る (to inspect). It’s an extra literary dimension that our languages lack, and can be used to great creativity (e.g. 煙草 being read as たばこ / tobacco or 麦酒 being read as ビール / beer)


The problem is not that you can’t distinguish them, べ in 食べ物 is quite clear, it’s that it’s harder and more annoying. Sure, no one has any problems with this specific word because it’s so easy, but I bet you could come up with an appropriately difficult example for you where kanji is slightly different but looks the same or reading changes for no reason.

The problem with these particular words is when you’re given English in anki and need to answer Japanese. That’s the point, because you need to prepare English part in a way to make you quickly figure out translation, and not get confused. So you kinda need to put in a hint there, and that’s why I’m figuring out nuance.

Precisely the problem with English → Japanese part of anki.

Reminds me about distinguishing these two cats.

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Yeah, like I said earlier, I haven’t solved the anki problem

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Yeah, my trouble are mostly with Anki. In the real text I don’t find words particularly annoying.

I wanna try and rewrite English parts of leeched cards in a way that would help me figure out the exact synonym. Like translating 短所 as shortcoming and 欠点 as lacking point.

One funny example is コンクール which is translated as competition or contest in jisho org which can be confused. But apparently it comes from French concours from Latin concursus, and has Russian analogue конкурс, and when you know that, it’s easy.

The next annoying set of words are those containing 用:

  • 使用 - to use something, in a straightforward way, for it intended purpose
  • 利用 - to use something with the meaning of benefitting or taking advantage of something, maybe outside of the typical usage
  • 活用 - use something effectively or proficiently within intended purpose
  • 運用 - this one it seems is used in a sense of “operating” as in “operation manual”, “operation procedures” or management as in 資産運用.

Additionally there’s a bunch of 応用, 実用 and 適用. But I’m having a hard time figuring out those.

Additionally I found a fun-looking game on steam, I wonder if I could play it.

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We also have the word concourse in English.

According to Wiktionary, though, it doesn’t have the meaning of contest.

Its given senses are:

  1. A large open space in or in front of a building where people can gather, particularly one joining various paths
  2. A large group of people; a crowd
  3. The running or flowing together of things; confluence
  4. An open space, especially in a park, where several roads or paths meet

concursus is the particle of concurro, a verb meaning

  1. To run with others
  2. To flock
  3. To concur
  4. To coincide

The ultimate recorded root is, ofc, the basic verb curro (to run, hurry, travel).

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This site was brought to my attention: Improve your Japanese pronunciation using YouTube You type in a word and it finds videos with the word (using the subtitles in the language) so you can listen in context for pronunciation. Clever idea

Not just for Japanese, seems like a few different languages


Apparently ethnic slurs have been banned in tournament Scrabble.

Lately I’ve been watching Easy Italian.

(compare The Colors of Latin)

(compare The Latin Alphabet - Consonant Pronunciation and The Latin Alphabet - Vowel Pronunciation)

Time Italian Latin English
0:33 uova ovum egg
0:39 limone citrum (N) / malum citrorum lemon
0:45 peperone verda piper viride green pepper
0:49 pomodorini tomatae (N), lycopersici (N) tomatoes
0:54 parmigiano caseus Parmianus parmesan
1:01 prugne pruna plums
1:08 formaggio caseus cheese
1:11 zucchina cucurbita zucchini
1:19 melanzana melongena (M) aubergine / eggplant
1:21 burro butyrum butter
1:25 latte de soia lac sojarum (N) * soy milk
1:27 olive olivae olives
1:30 passata di pomodoro jus tomatae (N) / lycopersica (N) tomato sauce
1:36 vino Italiano vinum Italianum Italian wine

* I had to coin soja on the spot. The word in Italian comes from French soie, silk.

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Bison bison bison”, not to be confused with “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo


There’s also Gorilla gorilla gorilla.