The Evolving English Language: Part 83

I love seeing how languages evolve.  That’s why I loved CSP (Comparative Slavonic Philology) in final year at university.

  • Why is there an “h” in “ghost”?  Because Caxton employed Dutch typesetters on his printing presses, and they were used to seeing an “h” in their word for “ghost.”  In it went…
  • But then, why do we call the people from the Netherlands the “Dutch”?  Because the people from the Netherlands and the people from modern-day Germany were seen as one and the same people.  Hence “Deutsch” becomes “Dutch.”
  • Ain’t no doubt about that.  But what about the word “ain’t”?  Until the late 1700’s, “ain’t” was, in fact, the perfectly correct shortened form of “[I] am not.”
  • As for “its”, this is a relatively new word in modern English.  Up until the late 1600’s the word “his” was used in relation to both “he” and “it.”
    • That man: his head.
    • That book: his author.
      • Just like in modern German.
        • Dieser Mann: sein Kopf.
        • Dieser Buch: sein Autor.
    • An intermediate step was the “there[proposition] because not everyone liked to use the word its, eg:
      • Parts thereof
      • Therein lies the message
  • Mad as a hatter?  Hatters used mercury to clean dust off hats.  Breathe in mercury vapour, and it’ll cause brain damage.  And why call a hatter a “milner”?  Because Milan in Italy was famous for hat-making.

Finally a clip that may appeal to all the etymologists out there, even if you are not that interested in insects.

Have a lexical day, won’t you!

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A … walks into a bar

One of my favourite genre of jokes in English is “A (whatever/whoever) walks into a bar.”

Shakespeare walks into a bar.

The landlord shouts:

Get out!  You’re bard.

A man walks into a bar.  He cries:

Ouch!  That hurt!

It was an iron bar.

My favourite is this one, however.

A dog walks into a bar.  He orders a drink.

A pint of… bitter, please.

Our barman replies:

Hey, that’s amazing.  But why the pause?

Our dog replies:

No idea.  I was just born with them.

Have a bar-vellous day, won’t you!

Our Mother Tongue (4)

Russia has Pushkin.

Germany has Brecht.

France has… I haven’t a clue…

England has Shakespeare.  Shakespeare invented lots of words, eg assassin, bump, even the word “elbow” (cf: German: “Elbogen”).

Take a look at these beauties!

And for a bonus, take a look at these Shakespearean insults, thou curmudgeonly apple-worm!

Have an inventive day, won’t you!

 

 

Our Mother Tongue (3)

To you they might seem like mild expletives.  To people in Elizabethan times, they were a lot stronger?

Which words?

 

  • Blimey – “God blind me!”
  • Crickey – 19th century euphemism for Christ.
  • Zounds – nowadays rhymes with “bounds”, but was originally “God’s wounds” (ie from the nails driven into his body on the cross).
  • Bloody – nothing to do with red (or blue if a royal) liquid: it’s a corruption of “by Our Lady” (ie, the Virgin Mary).

Back in those days of Elizabeth I, religious oaths were considered much stronger and profane than sexual “rude words.”

Have a rude day, won’t you!

 

Our mother tongue (2)

Australia.  Oz?  What about it?  A land down under.  Who were the Poms?  Some say it was to do with the early settlers being:

  • Prisoners
  • Of
  • Her
  • Majesty

One thing is for sure, they were all transported there by a kangaroo court, one where you were definitely going to be found guilty.  Why “kangaroo”?  Guess what you’ll find in Australia when you arrive in Botany Bay…

Have a g’day, won’t you!

Our mother tongue (1)

So, our beloved mother tongue, post-Norman demotic Anglo-Saxon.  Modern-day British English.  Where do some of the words come from?

Let’s head round about town.  When a village  became a certain size, the residents built a fence round it, to create a town.  What’s the German word for “fence”?

Der Zaun

Do you think that is beyond the pale?

The pale were the city walls (of Dublin, Ireland), somewhat strong than a fence, to protect the citizens from the ruffians outside of it.   Anything that was beyond the pale, out the control of the English, was unacceptable.

Have an acceptable day, won’t you!