Latvian Love Words

Valentine’s Day is known among Latvians as Sirsniņdiena, which can mean Sweethearts Day, as in lovers, but also anyone you love. My mother called me, Sirsniņa. My aunt called me, Sirds, which means heart, as a term of affection.

For my Valentine’s Day post I’m writing about the words Latvians use to express love. These words are used much more conservatively than the terms of endearment I wrote about before.

Latvians are a reserved people. It used to be, and maybe still is in some circles that Latvians’ idea of a proper public display of affection was to go to church and get married in front of God and the congregation of family and friends. Latvians don’t say the words “love” or “I love you” lightly. People don’t generally use such expressions as, “I love this pair of shoes” or “I love pizza.” They like the shoes. They like pizza. “I love you” is reserved for spouses or fiancées/fiancés. They’re not even used for one’s parents, children, or other family members. 

An embrace like this should probably be kept private even when married.

I remember overhearing a parent criticize an in-law for saying “I love you” to his young daughter. It’s not a phrase I remember hearing around my house when I was growing up. It should be enough that love is demonstrated by providing food, clothes, and a roof over one’s head. Some might say such an attitude is outdated, Things have changed, the world has changed. But I got criticized in a Latvian social media group for saying people should say, “I love you” much more often. That happened not only in this century but as recently as last year.

Here are those very exclusive words.

Mīlestība = Love

Es mīlu Tevi = I love you

Mīlulis = loved one

Mīlīgs = lovable

Mīļošs = loving 

Mans Mīļiotais = my lover 

These next diminutives are okay to use with adults, children, and even pets.

Mīlulītis = my little loved one

Mīļumiņš = my little loved one (smaller and thus more dear)

Sieva = wife (the diphthong “ie” is pronounced like the “ea” in “ear.”

Sieviņa = my dear little wife. It can be used affectionately, but depending on context can also be belittling.

Vīrs = husband (veers)

Vīriņš = dear little husband. Most likely used only in private. The word could also refer to a little old man.

Possessives:

Mans = (pronounced “muhns”) My. Masculine. But it refers to the subject,  not to the person who is speaking. e.g. “Mans vīrs” is what a woman would say when introducing her husband.

Mana = My. Feminine, also refers to the subject. A man introducing his wife would say, “Mana sieva.” 

A Latvian friend and I had a discussion about whether a declaration of love should include the word, “es” (pronounced like the letter “S.”) meaning “I.” He said that “es” = “I” is understood, so it’s enough to say, “mīlu Tevi.” Technically, in English, the word “I” would also be understood nevertheless people say, “I love you.” To me, just saying “mīlu Tevi” sounds abrupt, like you’re eager to get on to the next thing, maybe “What’s for dinner?” This rule could be a familial difference or a regional one.  My choice would include the first person singular pronoun,

Have fun with these loving words. Use them however you please on Valentine’s Day or any other day you want to tell someone you love them. Some rules are meant to be broken. 

Hearts can break when they don’t hear these words. And stay broken even though hidden.





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Diminutives Controversy, Part 3

My posts on Latvian diminutives have stirred up a tempest in a teapot.

Latvians use a lot of diminutives, not just for family members and friends. Not just for humans but also for animals and inanimate objects. A few people have objected to such usage. They feel diminutives should be used only for loved human beings. These objections are nothing new. Years ago I read a verse by a Latvian writer who made fun of the indiscriminate use of diminutives. Other blog readers felt that employing diminutives in such a manner shows warmth, kindness, and compassion.

To some extent, I agree with both points of view. Diminutives applied willy-nilly can come across as saccharine. Even pukey. But the objectors seem to have overlooked the fact that diminutives aren’t used just to express affection but also to indicate size.

“Vista” is the word for a hen. The diminutive is “vistiņa.” One lady said she objects to eating a “vistiņa.” To her, it felt like she’d be eating someone’s pet. Farmers are far more practical. They can be fond of their chickens, even give them names, but eventually,  cook them up in a stew. For all the woman knows, the “vistiņa.” could be a bantam hen or other small breed of chicken.

The lady with objections has a dog. I don’t know if she speaks to him in Latvian, as many Latvian pet owners, including me, do. If she speaks Latvian to him does she call him, “sunītis” or “suņuks,” “šunelis,” or other diminutives for the word “suns”?

Doesn’t this sweet little critter deserve a pet (!) name?

My late great kitty (!) went by the name of Mincis, a Latvian word meaning, kitty cat, so she had a term of endearment for her proper name. Yes, I know the name has a masculine suffix but the suffix is used for both male and female cats (and people and other critters) Male cats would be called “runcis,” or “runcītis” or “runčuks.” Heaven forbid that someone might call a pet “mīluls,” (loved one) “mīlulītis” or “mīļumiņš.” Those terms of endearment should be reserved for humans. Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not one to judge.

My Minčuks

Not just domestic animals, but wild animals too get diminutive, e.g. “stirna” a.k.a. “stirniņa.”

A dear deer.

Diminutives are used for the names of body parts. Mostly in regards to children, but also adults, who can be fond of their own body parts. It’s okay. “Acs,” eye, becomes, “Actiņa” or “Ačele.” Hair = “mati” (pl) diminutive, “matiņi,” Hand, “Roka” = “rociņa” = “roķele,” and so on. This also goes for people you’re fond of no matter their age. As Rodolfo sang in “La Boheme” to a young woman he’s just met and is falling in love with, “Che gelida manina.” “What a cold little hand.” “Cik auksta rociņa.” Lovers are a whole other story.

Inanimate objects aren’t left out of the affection/size equation. The same lady who objected to “vistiņa” also had issues with things such as spoons, “karote” (s) “Karotīte” and books “Grāmata” (s) = “Grāmatiņa,” Some of us are more fond of our spoons and books than others. Of course, spoons and books come in various sizes. I don’t recall my parents, who learned the

language while living in Latvia, using diminutives when speaking of spoons, books, or other household objects. Their use of the diminutive suffixes for these things was indicative of the item’s size. That’s how I’ve always spoken of most inanimate objects. But as always, there are exceptions to the rule and people’s personal preferences.

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Latvian Terms of Endearment, part 2

As a couple of readers pointed out, the use of endearments is a cultural thing. In college, the brother of one of my American friends lived and worked in South America for a while. His wife was of the opinion that Spanish speakers were childish because they used so many diminutives in everyday speech.

Years later, I still remember one of my Spanish classes where we were required to think up a sentence, using a diminutive, and speak it out loud going in turn around the room. The translation of one student’s sentence was, “My Mamacita is five feet tall.” She didn’t understand that a diminutive doesn’t just refer to something or someone small. Your mother can be six feet tall and weigh three hundred pounds, but you still call her Mamacita because you love her, not because of her size.

In Latvian the word for mother is “māte.” pronounced, maah-te. Common diminutives are, mamma, mammīte, mammiņa, and māmmuļa. I hate the latter; to me, its associations make it seem saccharine. A couple of my relatives called their mother mammsis. I sometimes called my mom mammele. (nothing to do with mammals, as auto-correct would have it.) Mammukiņš is another option. Families have a way of coming up with their own variations.

Dacīte un (and) Mammīte,

The word for father is “tēvs,” pronounced, tehvs. Fondly known as tētis, tētuks or tētukiņš. However, tētiņš means “little old man” so not necessarily an endearment. Some Latvians call their father “papa” but that word comes from German. It, too, has its diminutives, “papiņš” among them. My father was a stickler for using the Latvian language instead of borrowed words so he was tētis, not paps (German for “pop.”)

Dūdiiņa un tētis.

The word for “little old man” is “vecītis.” It’s sometimes used as an endearment, too. Latvians call Santa Claus, Ziemassvētku vecītis.(Little Old Man Winter Holiday) Yeah, it’s turned backward, but works better that way.

Grandfather is vectēvs but that’s too formal. Affectionately he’s known as vectēiņš, a.k.a., granddaddy. Opa, opaps, opiņš also come from German.

My vectēiņš, Mārtņš Francis. Despite the way his first name is spelled, it’s not a diminutive, it’s Latvian for Martin.

Grandmother must not be left out. More formally, she’s known as vecmāte. She’s also called, “vecmāmmiņa.” That’s a long word for little kids so she’s often called, oma, omi, omīte, omamma.

Mana (My) Omīte, Marija France (in the Latvian language the woman’s names, first and last are given the feminine suffixes “a” or “e.”

Going through the whole family tree would make for a very long post. I thought I could handle this topic in two posts. Who am I kidding? At least one more will be required.

No doubt readers will come up with their own family terms of endearment.

And, yes, as in any language, there are exceptions to the rules. English speakers know this weird rule, “I” before “e,” except after “c.”

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Latvian Terms of Endearment

A Plethora of Diminutives, part 1

Latvian Terms of Endearment

Dacīte and her kaķītis, Tincis, which is not included among the nicknames but is the main character in a Latvian children’s book that I loved.

The other day I was editing a chapter of my novel, As Wind to Flame. One of the characters is named Louisa. Rereading the chapter reminded me of the time I read it to my critique group. They wanted to know who Lu was. Who was Lulu? Since there were only three characters in the scene, one of them a guy and the other Louisa’s sister, Thea. It seemed obvious to me that when Thea said Lu or Lulu she was talking about Louisa. I had one character call Louisa “Baby” because the girl is Thea’s younger sister and often behaves like a baby. I was the only one to whom the nicknames seemed an obvious reference to Louisa.

Too many different nicknames was the group’s consensus opinion. Only three nicknames were too many? I felt sorry for the members of my group. Such a paucity of nicknames. Unlike other European languages, English has a shortage of diminutive. I’m a Latvian. Multiple nicknames are common among us. Over the years I’ve had many nicknames. I counted a total of fifteen terms of endearment that people who are fond of me have called me. The poor Americans had only one, maybe two nicknames.

Some of my nicknames are diminutive variations of my first name, Dace. Dacīte and Dačuks. Both are common variations. The “-īte” suffix is a common way to turn a name into a diminutive for girls and women whose names end with an “e.” One friend came up with his own original version, Dacele. I thought that was kind of sweet. The diminutives for women’s names that end with an “a,” as in Ausma, the suffix becomes, “-iņa,” Ausmiņa. The “N” with the “tail” is pronounced like the Spanish “N” with a tilde.

Men’s names, both first and last end with an “-s” or an “-is.” Diminutives follow the same rule. I have a half-Latvian friend with an Anglo name, Scott. He was pleased when I gave him the Latvian nickname, “Skotiņš.”

(note: Unless they have a diacritical mark, letters in the Latvian alphabet have only one pronunciation. Since in the name Scott, the “c” is pronounced like a “k” that’s how it’s said and how it’s spelled in Latvian. The Latvian “c” is pronounced almost like the “ts” in tsar.)

Back to terms of endearment.

Dūda is a popular nickname for girls and women. It derives from the word, dūdo, the cooing sound made by doves. I guess that to parents Dūda must have seemed like a fitting endearment for cooing baby girls. I’ve been called by every single variation of Dūda–Dūdele, Dūdiņa, Dūcītis (yes, sometimes masculine suffixes show up in girls’ nicknames) and Dūc. My cousin and I were both called Dūda by our mothers. It’s sad that neither of us has a mother to call us Dūda and other endearments anymore.

Dūja, a dove.

Oops! I left out a couple of variations of my name. The rule for diminutives is, “the smaller, the dearer.” Dačuks is small. Dačukiņš is even smaller and thus more dear. Dacele could become Dacelīte. 

I’ve lost count of the various variations.

Some nicknames are the same as the ones Anglos use. For instance “Kitten,” which becomes Kaķītis, and also Mincītis, Pincītis, and Incītis. My mother called me Kaķītis and Mincītis. I once knew a Latvian woman called, Pelīte, little mouse. The names of birds also come into play. Dūjiņa, little dove. Cālītis, little chicken. Pūcīte, little owl for when a child is being a crosspatch. I guess to Latvians owls look grumpy.

Pūce. Owl. It does look kind of cross, doesn’t it?

Yep, I’ve been told not to be such a cross little owl.

When I was a baby I must have had pink cheeks because I was known as apple blossom ābeļziediņš and čupčiks. I don’t know where čupčiks came from. Maybe it came from the Kewpie doll-like tuft of hair I had on top of my head. At least that’s what I imagine.

After I posted on Facebook about my many nicknames some of my Latvian and half-Latvian (fractional Latvian) friends wanted me to give them Latvian nicknames. So I did. I hope they enjoy their diminutive Latvian names of endearment. 

If you want to give yourself, your spouse, child, or another loved one a Latvian nickname, you now know where to begin.

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It Ain’t Always What It Seems

Gertrude Stein said, “A rose is a rose is a rose.” But not always. Maybe she’d never seen a Rose of Sharon bush, which is not a rose at all. Several plants have been called, “Rose of Sharon.” 

Pretty, but not a rose. Hibiscus has also been called, “Rose of Sharon.”

Misleading names are common to many things, including food.

Most of us know that french fries are not really from France.

I’d like some french fries right now.

And that there is no ham in hamburgers.

But how many folks know that “Rocky Mountain oysters” are not seafood? They’re actually the testicles of a bull. Yes, people cook and eat them.

Once, in my younger years, I made a dish called “Welsh rabbit.” No bunnies were sacrificed. The variation I made was a cheese sauce seasoned with mustard and served over toast. The name is probably a derogatory implication that the Welsh are too poor to be able to afford to cook a real rabbit. The name seems to imply that they’re also too poor to buy a gun to shoot rabbits and not smart enough to make a snare to catch them. In the term “Welsh rarebit” the latter word is a corruption of rabbit.

Variations of this dish are called Scotch rabbit and English rabbit. They all sound like grilled cheese sandwiches to me.

Another food with a deceptive name that I once made is steamed pudding. It’s not the creamy, custardy dessert that you’d expect. Instead, it’s more like a very moist, delicious cake. 

Steamed pudding, all dressed up for Christmas.

So what’s with all this writing about things that aren’t what they seem? Because a few Latvians are still arguing about the proper meaning of ķūķu or is the word ķūči? Or is it the same word declined?

Some people insist that the dish is a porridge. One source I found said that ķūčis (singular) is a dish made of grain, without defining it further. Cakes are made of grain. Yet another source claimed that ķūčis is a dish made with pig’s ears. So which is it? Go figure.  

Latvians make a dessert called “debessmana,” mana from heaven. It’s made out of farina, which is a form of milled wheat, You whip the heck out of it as it’s cooking until it turns into a fluffy, mousse-like substance that’s served with milk. No one that I know of calls it porridge. Of course, that doesn’t mean that someone doesn’t call it porridge.

Gruel is the name for a thin porridge made of oatmeal or other meal. So confusing. 

Turns out that ķūķu cliffs are an outcrop of Devonian rocks on the banks of the Gauja River in the Cēsis district of Latvia.

It’s been fun researching this information and learning something while I’m at it.

“Outlander:” Not an Endearment

Outlander. Foreigner. Sassenach

Definition of sassenach (Merriam-Webster)

: a typical Englishman or something considered typical of England —often used disparagingly by Scots and Irish

My second reading of The Outlander, the first book in Diana Gabaldon’s the Outlander series, is far more critical than the first. The first time around I was too caught up in the story to pay attention to errors that I now find irritating. I’m not going to dwell on minor glitches, instead, I’ll focus on the one that bugs me most because it’s the one that shows up most often and strikes too close to home.

It’s clear that Gabaldon has never been a foreigner, not in the real sense. Not as someone who has lived in another country. No doubt she’s been a tourist and she probably traveled to Scotland to do research. On her website, she says that her husband is a foreigner, but gives no details. Is he a “foreigner” from another state than Arizona, their home, or is he a foreigner to the USA? I wonder if she calls him Sassenach? Or perhaps Outlander? But in the Outlander books, Scotsman Jamie Fraser refers to his beloved, English wife, Claire, as Sassenach. Affectionately, of course, almost as if the word meant darling and were not considered a disparaging term.

Having been an actual foreigner and being too often reminded that I am “other” (You have an accent, where is your accent from? Are you English?) I can assure you that “outlander,” “foreigner,” “Sassenach” don’t come across as endearments. Not even in Latvian, my native language, which has many diminutive suffixes, the word Ārzemniecīte would not come across as loving, no matter how gently said or softly whispered in the most intimate of circumstances.

Who needs to be constantly reminded that they’re an outsider, that they do not belong? Imagine yourself in that situation, in this country, or any other you may have emigrated to.

Gabaldon was obviously reaching for something original. Something Scottish and did not give the matter enough thought.

How does this sound to you?

Husband comes home from work and kisses wife. “How are you, Foreigner?”

Wife to husband, “I adore you. Let’s make love, Foreigner.”

Does that seem endearing? Loving? Or does that sound like grounds for divorce, especially after having heard it for the five thousandth time?

A Few Good Words: Prig

its synonyms and an illustrative painting

Yes, it rhymes with “pig.”

This is what I imagine prigs look like, as if they drank vinegar for breakfast.

Prigs, as defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary are self-righteously moralistic.

Holier-than-thou.

Synonyms are: fuddy-duddy, old maid, spoilsport, stuffed shirt, prude, puritan, bluenose, Mrs. Grundy, moralizer, Goody Two-shoes. These synonyms are more fun than those whom the word prig defines.

Also, a conceited, narrow-minded, dull person. Someone who criticizes the behavior of others. The word dates back to the 16th Century in the form of prigger or prigman. Over the centuries the meaning of the word has changed.

The paining is titled, “American Gothic,” painted by Grant Wood in 1930 and is now at the Art Institute of Chicago. I got the image from the stock agency, Pixabay.

I always thought the painting was of a farmer and his wife, but according to the Art Institute, the woman is the farmer’s daughter. Her priggish expression makes her look as old as he. The painting derives its title from the house, which is in a style called, Carpenter Gothic. Wood deliberately elongated the faces of the models to make the harmonize with the house. The models were Wood’s sister and his dentist. Yikes! I’d never go to a dentist with a face like that.

To learn more about the painting: https://www.artic.edu/artworks/6565/american-gothic

A Few Good Words: 4

Oscar the Crosspatch

A real grouch, but not Oscar. I didn’t use a picture of the little blue Muppet because no doubt he’s a trademarked character.

As I write about words, I’m leaning, too, and having fun.

I like the word crosspatch. It means a peevish, grouchy person. A whiner. A bellyacher. A grumbler. A sourpuss. The word crosspatch dates back to the 1700s.

Cross, used as an adjective means bad-tempered, angry, annoyed. I did not know that “patch,” once meant a fool or a professional jester. Maybe that explains the name of a local children’s show host–J.P. Patches, who had a red nose and a white-painted face. Did the actor who created J.P know the anachronistic name for a clown? Or maybe the character’s name derived front the patched clothes he wore.

What a sourpuss looks like. “What do you mean, you forgot to buy cat food?”

These days many of us associate the word “sourpuss” with the media star Grumpy Cat, a feline with a peevish expression on his face. But “puss” doesn’t just mean a cat. It also means the human face. Needless to say, it’s not a flattering description. Puss in this sense is more likely to be used in a sneering way: “I’m gonna wipe that smirk off your puss.” A threat to punch someone in the face.

The year 2020 has made us feel like crosspatches and sourpusses.

A Few Good Words, 2

Why did the chicken skedaddle? It was scaddled of the dog.

Roosters have been known to chase people and make them vamoose right out of here.

Absquatulate: I love this word. I first read it in a book by Diana Gabaldon. The word means to run away. It’s a facetious US coinage. No kidding! How could a word like absquatulate be anything but facetious? It dates back to the early Nineteenth Century. The speculation is that it’s meant to be the opposite of the word, “squat,’ which, of course, means to stay. It was first used in an English play to describe a character who was a blustery American. 

Skedaddle: also means to run away. It dates to 1860 and is supposedly Civil War military slang. No one can trace the word’s origins to any language, such as Greek or Latin. It might have evolved from the word, scaddle, which means scared. Makes sense that someone who was scared would skedaddle. 

Vamoose: This one’s easy, it’s derived from the Spanish word vamos or “let’s go,” which in turn originates from the Latin word, vadamus, which also means, “let’s go.” From vadere. “to go, to walk, to go hastily.”

If this guy decides to chase you, you’d better absquatulate, skedaddle, and vamoose.

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