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August 11, 2009
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On the subject of sesquipedality—the use of big words—Bryan Garner has this to say:
"Build your vocabulary to make yourself a better reader; choose simple words whenever possible to make yourself a better writer." (A Dictionary of Modern American Usage)
That is sound advice. Of course, obscure* is not the same as simple, but the principle applies to both kinds. If you find yourself wondering whether a word is "too smart for the room," then it probably is. Paul and Porsche have made essentially the same point. Still, I might be tempted to drop "ebulliate" on readers of a technical reference, Paul, just to wake them up.
*See John McIntyre's comments on "limn" here:
Porsche,You make a good point. By "singularity" I meant as a grammatical construction, as in "anything goes." But when the waiter asks "may I get you anything?" the question does not limit you to just one item, of course.
It's interesting: we use "anything" and "everything" often, understanding—we think—the difference. But dictionary definitions are less than clear:
any thing whatever : any such thing
all that exists; all that relates to the subject
These are from Merriam-Webster Online. The first is hardly a definition, and the second is little better. I examined my older dictionaries and found no clearer explanation. My sense is that "anything" implies a singularity, while "everything" will usually be plural.
The distinction between “Find anything again” and “Find everything again” is not one of connotation but of denotation. It's the difference is between finding one thing and finding all things (or as defined: "all that exists; all that relates to the subject"). Put simply: "I find a random thing" versus "I find all things."
I agree with Jm on one point, at least: if you want to learn more about Anglish, go to anglish.wikia.com, also known as "The Anglish Moot." I mentioned this site in an earlier posting.
Study this site with an open but discerning mind, and with a ear to actual history. If one plows through its drifts of Anglish neologisms a slippery revisionist history is laid bare. While there may be bare patches of truth, the puddles of half-truth are heavily salted, and slippery areas of historical inconvenience are often ignored. So watch your footing.
For a more learned and nuanced history of English, I recommend "The Stories of English," by David Crystal.
". . . I pointed to most OE words being unrecognizable by modern englsish speakers. You then said this was because of inflection being lost (this is simply not true, inflectin and wods themselves are two different things), which seems to suggest that you are of the opinion that because grammar erodes, loss of words themselves is made acceptable, hence my ironic statement ““oh, grammar changed, to hell with it then, let’s change the words, too.”
Let me reiterate:
"Words change. Spellings change. The structure of the language has changed from Old English to now. Old English used inflectional endings to signal grammatical structure. Modern English uses word order instead of inflection."
This does not imply that the loss of words is acceptable, or, for that matter, unacceptable. It addresses your complaint that most OE words are unrecognizable to modern English speakers. Of course they are. They have evolved. Modern english has jettisoned gender, eschewed inflection (by and large) and adopted the Roman alphabet. Add to this the Great Vowel Shift and Old English appears foreign to modern English speakers.
". . . we anglishers just love the core of english, a core we feel is germanic, (I’m of italian forekinship (ancestory), so this has nothing to do with race– language provides identity beyond race)."
I have said nothing about race. Why do you bring it up?
If you love the core of English—and I don't doubt that you do—then study its history. Thomas Jefferson advocated the study of Anglo Saxon as a means of understanding Modern English. But first he actually studied it. With all due respect, your comments show a lack of knowledge of history. I cannot claim to be an expert on the history of English, but I have ventured beyond Wikipedia.
As for Anglish, well, you have my opinion on that. If you wish to change anyone's opinion of it, including mine, you will need to do better than peppering your argument with Anglish neologisms. This is merely annoying.
"Let’s cut the crap"
Wonderful. I have been insulted in Old French by an advocate for Anglish. Let me think: what would be the Anglish word for "irony?"
“oh, grammar changed, to hell with it then, let’s change the words, too.”
What does that mean? It bears no relation to any argument I have made. I have tried to explain the development of English into its modern form. I have argued that the mere substitution of mock-Anglo-Saxon neologisms for established English words does not result in "“ressurections” [sic] of lost OE words," as you assert, but in awkward replacements for well-understood English words, and in words which lack the nuance of their English forebears.
I have tried to stick to historical facts. Insofar as I have expressed an opinion it is this: adherents of "Anglish" debase history, picking and choosing where it is convenient, ignoring or inventing it where it is not. Let me reiterate: at the core of Anglish is an interesting academic exercise which seeks the Anglo-Saxon roots of Modern English. But closer examination reveals it to be, in practice, a simple word game.
West Saxon was dominant from the eighth to the eleventh century, but it was not the progenitor of Modern English. Sorry. London, the seat of government, and Cambridge and Oxford, homes of the preeminent universities, proved stronger. As for xenophobia, I revised my comment to apply only to the "Moot" website, and only to portions of that. Frankly, I'm sorry I brought it up. It distracts from what has been a mostly constructive conversation.
It is true that Modern English has a great many words of French or Latin origin: each comprises nearly a third of the lexicon—wordstock, if you insist—according to some sources. But the story of the entry of these words into English is more complex than your account of it. And more interesting.
You say: "Then have a look at an old english text or an OE dictionary, do you recognize most of the words?, some , yes, most. no!" Well, of course. Words change. Spellings change. The structure of the language has changed from Old English to now. Old English used inflectional endings to signal grammatical structure. Modern English uses word order instead of inflection.
Anglish attempts to graft pseudo-Anglo-Saxon words onto the structure of Modern English. This is why it is a parlor game, not much different from speaking Klingon at a costume party. If I am wrong, if there is a credible source or website to prove me so, I would be glad to hear of it.
The 80% figure you cite (from Wikipedia?) is at the high end of what linguists estimate were lost from Old English. Yes, some have been supplanted by words of French or Latin origin. But others were synonyms for other Old English words that lost popularity and fell into disuse. It cannot be said that 80% of OE words were replaced by French or Latin ones, though I concede that some were. But 20,000 or so French-speakers were insufficient to supplant the language of England, which had 1.5 million inhabitants when the Normans arrived, and three million when English re-asserted itself as the sole language. The rise to dominance of the dialect of London over other regional dialects probably killed off more words than the Normans ever did.
It is important to note that half of the thousand most commonly used words in Old English survive in Modern English, and 80% of the thousand most commonly used words in Modern English derive from Old English. And fully a third of the 10,000 most common words in Modern English derive from OE. The frequency of use of words is as important as the mere quantity, if not more so. For example, the word "consanguinity" has probably been used more in this discussion than most people use it in a lifetime. It would not surprise me if most of the words used in this discussion are from Old English.
In response to Goofy's assertion that "an attempt to change English by decree will never work anyway," Jm writes:
"I don’t know about that–I would say that decree had something to do with OE becoming ME, at least a self imposed one (based on the idea of the superiority of french and latin), and for sure this ’self-imposed’ decree played a role in the transition from middle english to modern english, with a lot of native words being lost in favour of french or latin ones, precisely because these were thought of as being better. ..."
But history shows that a different dynamic was behind the transition from Old English to Modern English, what we call Middle English. During the period when French was the language of government—from the Norman invasion of 1066 to the opening of Parliament in 1362—the English nation was trilingual, but it's people largely were not. French became the language of government and the royal court, Latin remained the language of education and the Church, but the vast majority of English people spoke only their native tongue.
It was during this period that the shift from Old English began, not by decree, either imposed or self-imposed, but as a natural process. The fact that the people spoke a different tongue than the isolated elites meant that their language was free to change unchecked by any authority. There are many causes of the change, such as the increase in regional dialects during the Middle English period, but none resemble a "decree." It could be argued that the end of Middle English was induced, at least in part, by forces of authority, such as the return of English to government use at the end of the 14th century and the introduction of the printing press at the end of the 15th; both would have strong stabilizing effect on the language.
As for "a lot of native words being lost in favour of french or latin ones" (Jn again), this is simply not what happened. French and Latin words were indeed added to the language, but they coexisted with English ones; they did not supplant them. This is reflected in our legal language today, in which couplets like "breaking and entering," where an English word was paired with a French borrowing so that monolingual defendants could understand what they were being charged with.
I hope you're not counting me among the "haters." I should clarify my comment about xenophobia. That should not have been directed against Anglish in general. Rather, I sense on the "Anglish Moot" website—which is a Wiki, and open to editing—the idea that English has been polluted by outside influences. For example:
"English (Inglish) is the theidish speech of the English (Inglish) folk wherever they be found in the world. Hence it should be made up mostly of words which were in English (Inglish) before 1066 and have theidish (germanic) roots."
I take issue with that. English has not been the sole property of "the English folk" for quite some time. Far more English speakers are non-English than English.
English is a great language partly because it adopts foreign words gladly. English has more lexemes than any other language. This gives it a subtlety that is hard to beat. That English has words that are not understood by toddlers is not a bad thing. (And I'm not convinced a four-year-old child would understand "samebloodedness" any more than "consanguinity." My guess is that both would be incomprehensible.)
As I said, Anglish seems at first blush an interesting exercise. But on closer inspection it seems more a parlor game. For example: what are "uncleftish springballs?" (This is a word taken from the "Moot.") Give up? Atom bombs. Consanguinity is crystal in comparison.
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