Victor's Ramblings

Etymological Ramblings.

Words from the Angles and Saxons.

The basis of English is an old form of German called 'low German', because it was mainly spoken in the 'low countries'. This is an area consisting today of the Netherlands and parts of Germany, southern Denmark, and Belgium.  'Old English' came across the English Channel with the Angles and Saxons in the 5th century.  They pushed the ancient Britons north into Scotland and west into Wales, and their ancient British language, a Celtic language, went with them. Very few words from this ancient British language passed into English. England evolved over 400 years into a cultured and rich society, and the English language evolved with it.

Sadly, it is very difficult for an English-speaking person to read the 'Old English' as it was before the Norman Conquest. Word order was still Germanic, with subject, object, then the verb at the end, or other obscure orders. Nouns had cases such as nominative and accusative, just as they still do in modern German. And very many words have not survived into modern English.

Today, most of our commonest and shortest words are derived from our Anglo-Saxon heritage. Of the 100 commonest words in English, only 4 do not come from Anglo-Saxon. We can still recognize the similarity many such words have with their modern German and Dutch equivalents. Writers of 'Plain English' are advised to employ as many of these Anglo-Saxon words as possible, together the words from Danish, instead of the long and flowery words derived from Norman French or other Latin-based languages.

Words which came with the Angles and Saxons.

Modern English Modern German Modern Dutch
singsingen zingen
speaksprach spreken
givegibt geven
manmann mens
househaus huis
brownbraun bruin
groundgrund grond
friendfreund vriendin
herehier hier

Words brought to us by the Danes and Vikings.

Around 793 AD, a new crowd of invaders started arriving and settling in England from Norway and Denmark. They continued to arrive over 3 centuries. They mainly settled in the north-east of England, and some accents of that region today can be traced to Viking and Jute influence.
Modern English Modern Danish

Words derived from Norman French.

A lot changed in England after the Norman conquest in 1066. The Normans ruled the land, and they only spoke French. The English were the serfs, they spoke old English. French words rapidly spread into the English language. However, the French language did not take over England, instead a greatly expanded English language resulted. The Norman rulers were speaking the new English after a century or two.
Modern English Modern French
army armée

Words with Latin roots.

Though many Celtic-speaking ancient Britons did learn Latin during the Roman occupation of Britain, very few Latin words passed into their Celtic language.  Then hardly any Celtic words passed into English after the Angles and Saxons took over. The majority of our old established Latin-based words came into English via Norman French.  Then as time went by and people travelled over Europe, words arrived in England from the other Latin countries - Italy, Portugal and Spain.  The lingua franca across all of Europe including Britain, particularly amongst academics and the church,  continued to be Latin right up to the middle of the 19th century. Enormous numbers of Latin words with anglicised endings were absorbed into English. Science and religion are thick with words from Latin.  Many of these are neologisms, that is, they are not classical Latin words, but words manufactured by academics from Latin roots, to describe scientific phenomena.
Modern English Latin roots
nuclear nucleus - the kernel of a nut, the stone of a fruit.
terrestrialterrestris - 'earthly',  from terra - 'earth'.
marinemarinus - 'of the sea',  from mare 'sea'
urbanurbanus - 'belonging to a city', from urbs 'the city'.
rustic and rural rusticus - 'of the country, rural, rustic, simple', from rus / ruris - 'the country'.
manufacturingmanus - 'hand' + factus - 'made' (past participle of  facere 'to make'). Clearly, many goods today are no longer hand-made!
fraternalfraternus - 'brotherly', from frater - 'brother'.

Words with Greek roots.

An enormous number of English words can trace their origins to ancient Greek. Some have reached English via other European languages, others have been constructed from Greek roots by academics, scientists and theologians.
Modern English Greek roots
bible, bibliography. biblia - 'the book' - graphos 'written'
biography bios-'life, way of living', + graphos - 'written'.
atomicatomos - 'indivisible',  then through Latin atomus - 'smallest particle'.
cosmopolitan cosmos - 'order, world,  universe', + politis - 'citizen'.  So it means 'a citizen of the world'.

Words from India.

Many words from Hindi were brought back to England during the 'British Raj', and have endured in our language.
English Hindi roots
dhobi-wallah, dhobi - 'washing' - wallah 'protector, person in charge'.  So it means- 'washer-man' or 'washer-woman'
pukka pukka-'properly or perfectly done'.
bungalowbangla - 'house of the Bengal type, with a single storey.'