January 18th, 2017
Abracadabra hasn’t always been a fun word modern day magicians and others use to unlock something or create a quick magical fix to some problem. The word itself is very old. According to wikipedia, its earliest reference is in a book from the 3rd century a.d. called "Liber Medicinalis" by the Roman doctor Quintus Serenus […]
January 17th, 2017
"Grandmas Project is a collaborative web-series sharing the recipes and stories of grandmas around the world, filmed by their grandchildren." What a wonderful idea! Check it out at Grandmas Project. There "you can watch films, apply as a filmmaker, explore recipes, share stories about your own grandma – and more." Enjoy! Mama Lisa
January 10th, 2017
I recently heard, "Winner, winner, chicken dinner" for the first time. It’s said when someone wins something. We were curious to learn more, so we asked on the Mama Lisa’s Facebook Group the question, "Do you ever say, "Winner, winner, chicken dinner"? If so, when do you say it?" Here are the responses… Pippa N.: […]
November 29th, 2016
It’s an annual tradition for different English dictionary companies to announce a word that encapsulates that year. They call it the Word of the Year. Judging by the words picked for 2016, this has not been a good year. Here are the words for 2016 in English with their definitions. You’ll also find the reasons […]
November 15th, 2016
Monique from France recorded a few words for us in French that are difficult to pronounce. You can find the words below with their meanings followed by a recording. 1. Bouilloire – Kettle 2. Accueillir – To welcome or greet 3. Serrurerie – Ironwork 4. Verrerie – Glasswork 5. Cueillir – To gather, pick or […]
October 19th, 2016
Here’s an interesting little video about how the names and places in the Harry Potter books were translated… including names like Hogwarts, Tom Riddle, Diagon Alley, etc. What a nightmare to translate! lol Enjoy! Mama Lisa
February 5th, 2016
The Spanish alphabet used to have 30 letters: A B C CH D E F G H I J K L LL M N Ñ O P Q R RR S T U V W X Y Z In 2010, the Academies of the Spanish Language, the Real Academia Española in Spain and the Latin […]
January 21st, 2016
"John Doe" is a way to speak about an anonymous person. Sometimes it refers to the average guy on the street, sometimes to an unidentified body that’s been found. In French, there are different ways to say "John Doe" depending on the circumstance. Check them out below… Monsieur/Madame Tout-le-monde (literally, Mr./Mrs. Everybody) is the equivalent […]
January 20th, 2016
Sadao Mazuka recently wrote to us about the “John Doe” name “Gonbei” in Japan, used for someone whose name you don’t know. He wrote about other phrases in Japanese that are used in other circumstances in ways similar to “John Doe” below… “Urashima Taroh” is a name just like Rip van Winkle；浦島太郎 “Urashima Taroh” comes […]
Sadao Mazuka wrote from Japan about expressions in English that use common names like "Jack", as in a "Jack-of-all-trades"… I would like to tell about some individual names in English, such as “Jack”, “Jill”, “John”, “Johnny”, etc. In Japanese, “Jack” can be replaced “太郎=Taroh” and “Jill” can be replaced “花子=Hanako”. In English, names like "Jack" […]
January 19th, 2016
Sadao Mazuka wrote from Japan about the name “Gonbei” which refers to a guy whose name is unknown… “The name ‘Gonbei’ or ‘Gonbee’ is a kind of pronoun for a random person, like ‘some guy’ or ‘John Doe’. When people don’t know the name of someone (male), they say ‘Gonbei No-family-name’ (名無しの権兵衛 [nanashi-no Gonbei]). There’s […]
January 11th, 2016
"Pochi" is a generic name for a dog in Japan just like the English stereotypical dog names "Spot" or "Rover". Sadao wrote about it from Japan: "Pochi" was the most popular dog name in the Meiji Period (about 100 years ago). There are theories about where the name comes from. One is that a French […]
November 29th, 2015
Many words for mother (mama/nana) and father (papa/baba) are similar in many languages around the world. Linguists believe this is related to the first sounds that babies make. They’re the sounds that are the easiest to create… m, p, and b and the open vowel a. The people who are around the baby the most […]
September 10th, 2015
Did you know that each state in the US has it’s own slang? It’s true! Slate compiled a list of the top slang word in each state. Words were chosen in part by how great they are – as opposed to statistical popularity. Yahoo Travel compiled its own list of slang in each states. You […]
April 22nd, 2015
Have you ever considered where the generic dog names Fido, Rover and Spot come from? These are the canine equivalent of "John Doe". Did you know that one was a President’s dog, another the 1st movie star dog, and the last, a dog from a book that helped kids learn to read for over 40 […]
March 16th, 2015
Check out this site about Disappearing Idioms. It covers the origins and meaning of some idioms that are going out of use.
January 6th, 2015
When I was very little (less than 5 years old), all the kids in my neighborhood used to chant, "How now brown cow!" It turns out that the phrase originally came from Scotland in the 1700’s. Some sources say that, "brown cow" was a phrase that used to mean a barrel of beer because a […]
December 5th, 2014
Sadao Mazuka wrote to us from Japan about Japanese idiomatic expressions about cats. Here’s his email: Hi Lisa, I was very much interested in your blog post, “Animal Names used as Terms of Endearment” that was written by Monique. I don’t think we have any phrases about a child or spouse with a connection like […]
November 14th, 2014
Monique wrote from France about terms of endearment used in French, Spanish and English that use Animal names… In French, we use many animals names as endearment words. We use: Mon poussin (my chick) Mon poulet (my chicken) Ma poule/poulette (my hen/little hen – mostly for girls) Ma cocotte (my hen – cocotte is baby […]
October 21st, 2014
Monique and I have been adding a lot of Drop the Handkerchief Games to Mama Lisa’s World. This got Monique thinking about the actual meaning of handkerchief in different languages. Here are some of her thoughts… "I was thinking about the word for handkerchief in some languages and it’s funny what they literally mean. In […]
October 16th, 2014
The word "lagniappe" is really fantastic. It’s a small gift given from a merchant to a customer who’s buying something. "Lagniappe" comes from the Quechua word "yapa". We have some restaurants near us that give dessert as a lagniappe. It produces a kind of "oooh" effect when you receive it, precisely because you weren’t expecting […]
October 8th, 2014
Did you ever wonder whether specific proverbs and idiomatic expressions are still used in the English language? Here I discuss some phrases that begin with the letter "A" and how well-known they are. These proverbs are specifically about animals. They can be found on the site The Phrase Finder. The discussion here is specially from […]
June 10th, 2014
The Persian New Year is celebrated on the first day of Spring. It’s called Nowruz. There are many New Year traditions, including throwing grass into a river or lake. Here’s what Fatima wrote from Iran about some New Year’s traditions: In the last month of the Iranian year people shake up the house (i.e. they […]
June 9th, 2014
The expression "to tie the knot" means "to get married". There are several places where tied knots have been connected to marriage and love. During Roman times, brides wore a belt or girdle at their wedding tied in a Hercules Knot. Only the groom was allowed to untie it (the unloosening was supposed to be […]
April 2nd, 2014
The Atlantic surveyed how people start a conversation all across the U.S. Below you can hear what some people said… The Geography of Small Talk from The Atlantic on Vimeo. How do you start a conversation where you’re from? -Mama Lisa
March 27th, 2014
Here’s a video to hear animal sounds around the world… Bow Wow Meow – Animal Sounds in Different Languages from properniceinnit on Vimeo. The languages are: English, Mandarin, French, Italian, Spanish, Turkish, Hindi, Canadian-French, Romanian, Japanese, Russian, Dutch, Bengali, Brazilian-Portuguese, Colombian-Spanish, Swahili and Mongolian. Enjoy! Mama Lisa
January 22nd, 2014
Some English terms go back further than you’d think… -OMG The first recorded appearance of this breathless acronym for “Oh, my God!” comes, surprisingly, in a letter to Winston Churchill. (1917) -LITERALLY Word curmudgeons wince when “literally” is used figuratively. Examples of this inversion go back to 1769. Even Mark Twain did it. (1876) -UNFRIEND […]
June 7th, 2013
Who remembers the expression "I love you with a cherry on top"? I remember saying it to my mother either to express love or to butter her up if I wanted something! You can make the expression even stronger, by adding more and more toppings as if your love was an ice cream sundae. You […]
May 30th, 2013
In English, when you don’t understand something, you say "It’s all Greek to me". In French you say either, "C’est de l’hébreu" (It’s in Hebrew) or "C’est du chinois" (It’s in Chinese). In Spanish you say, "Me suena a chino" (Sounds like Chinese to me). It would be interesting to learn what other languages people […]
May 10th, 2013
Reduplications are words or phrases that contain a duplicated element. An example is the phrase "riffraff". The two parts of the word are almost the same (i.e. "riff" and "raff"), but they have a small change (the vowels). When you have a rhyming reduplication, the duplicated element rhymes with the original element in the phrase. […]
February 27th, 2013
"Easy peasy" is an expression people say when something is very easy to do. My daughter just recited a longer version of it which I had never heard: "Easy, peasy, lemon, squeezy." (listen here) She couldn’t believe that I, Mama Lisa, had never heard the full expression before! It seems to come from a British […]
February 25th, 2013
There are many variations in different languages of "mother" and "father". These are formal words that people use when referring to their parents. But most words used to address our parents directly are less formal. In the US, most people don’t say "mother’ and "father" when talking to their parents. Even when I was a […]
January 12th, 2013
Each language has its own unique words that don’t exist in other languages. Here are two links to blog posts about words that exist in other languages, but not in English. The 1st one includes an infographic… 21 Emotions for Which There are No Words in English 25 Handy Words That Simply Don’t Exist In […]
January 8th, 2013
Here’s a video with a song explaining onomatopoeias… one of the coolest types of words out there!
December 27th, 2012
Every year, in December in Japan, a word is chosen that represents that year. There’s a Kanji Character that represents that word. Kanji are the characters used to represent the Japanese language. They originally come from China. The kanji character of the year is unveiled for the 1st time at Kiyomizu Temple each year. Ayako […]
January 27th, 2012
A while ago, I talked about how my daughter’s class made drawings illustrating the literal meanings of idiomatic expressions. This is a great way to help children, and people learning English as a second language, to understand these sayings.. One drawing my daughter did was an illustration of the expression "follow your nose". "Follow your […]
January 11th, 2012
I’m currently reading a series of books that takes place in Botswana called The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. When reading the first book, you quickly come upon the term "Mma" (pronounced "ma") used before a woman’s name and "Rra" (pronounced "ra" with a rolling "r") used before a man’s name. […]
January 1st, 2012
"January is named after the two-headed Roman god Janus, god of thresholds and beginnings… With his two heads he looks at the past and the future, behind and before… Which I guess is what we are all doing today." -Ernestine Shargool
December 20th, 2011
Ayako wrote to me about how each year a Chinese character (called a kanji) is chosen in Japan that best represents the year. Here’s what she wrote: Hi Lisa, I wanted to tell you about this year’s Kanji. We choose the best kanji at end of each year in December – it’s an annual event. […]
December 18th, 2011
I’ve been corresponding with Gian Carlo Macchi who’s from Italy about foods eaten for Christmas and Santa Lucia in Italy and how they differ from food eaten by Italian Americans the US (I’m an Italian American). We’ve also been discussing gift giving in both countries and greetings for the season. These comparisons are interesting! Here’s […]
December 9th, 2011
A candle apple is called a "pomme d’amour" in French. That’s literally "apple of love"! How cool is that?! What’s it called in your language? Please let us know in the comments below.
November 30th, 2011
My daughter’s fifth grade class was given a really interesting assignment. The teacher asked them to make drawings that illustrated the literal meanings of common sayings. In American English "You’re on a roll" means you’re going from success to success. Here’s a drawing my daughter did of the literal meaning of being on a roll! […]
November 4th, 2011
My son’s friend just picked up his cell phone, talked into it, hung up and said, "My friend just butt dialed me." I said, "What?" He said, "You never heard of butt dialing? It’s when someone accidentally calls you by pressing a button on their phone in their back pocket with their butt." Come on […]
October 18th, 2011
We asked people how they say Murphy’s Law in other languages. Murphy’s Law is the saying, "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong". Marina wrote from Russia, "…in my country Murphy’s Law has the same name [and is also called] the Law of Meanness, or the law of bread and butter (if it’s falling, […]
October 16th, 2011
Murphy’s Law is the adage, "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong". I wonder if people say this in other countries and what they call it. Is it "Murphy’s Law" in non-English speaking countries or does it have another name? Please let us know what they call it in your language in the comments […]
May 24th, 2011
What are the names for ladybugs in your language? Ladybugs belong to the Coccinellidae family, from a Latin word meaning "scarlet". But they also have many other names: in English, they’ve been called ladybug, ladybird, lady beetle, lady clock, lady cow and lady fly. The name ladybird was originally "Our Lady’s bird" in England. This […]
May 12th, 2011
The Idiom: The Frog in the Well – 井底之蛙 (jǐng dǐ zhī wā) – is a Chinese idiom that refers to a narrow-minded person who doesn’t see the larger world around them. The Story: The story is about a frog who lives happily in a well. He has no idea what’s outside of that well. […]
November 11th, 2010
The expression Like a Bull in a China Shop literally refers to a lumbering, clumsy person damaging things… imagine someone stumbling around a shop full of delicate items, flailing, knocking things over and breaking them. That’s what you’d think would happen of you let a bull loose in a real china shop. Wouldn’t he charge […]
November 1st, 2010
I normally make Jack-o’-Lantern’s out of pumpkins using a normal knife. This year I bought a cheap kit for carving pumpkins. I found that it made a huge difference using the carver I got (pictured at the bottom in the photo above). The top tool is for scraping out the inside of the pumpkin. I […]
My neighbor Jennifer makes intricate Jack-o’-Lanterns for her four kids each year. She lets them each choose a design and then she carves them out. Of course, not everyone has the time or the skill to create jack-o-lanterns like this. So, I particularly wanted to point out Jenn’s youngest child’s design pick. He’s 3 […]
Please contribute a traditional song or rhyme from your country.
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More about Words & Phrases...
100 Songs With Sheet Music And Links To Recordings
Whoever the children are in your life - your kids, your grandkids, your students, even yourself (in your heart) - Kid Songs Around The World is a wonderful way to help them experience other languages and cultures.
In Kid Songs Around The World we've gathered 100 of our favorite songs and rhymes from all the continents of the globe. (Over 350 pages!)
Each song includes the full text in the original language, with an English translation, and most include sheet music.
All include links to web pages where you can listen to recordings, hear the tune or watch a video performance.
Each includes a beautiful illustration.
Many have commentary sent to us by our correspondents who write about the history of the songs and what they've meant in their lives.
We hope this book will help foster a love of international children's songs!
This is a downloadable e-book, which you will gain access to immediately. (It is not a physical book.)