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The History of English
December 1, 2011 4:29 PM   Subscribe

How new words are created - just one section of a site that charts 'How English went from an obscure Germanic dialect to a global language'.
posted by unliteral (37 comments total) 89 users marked this as a favorite

 
I predict I will be spending a lot of time reading that site rather than working.
posted by mrnutty at 4:54 PM on December 1, 2011


Oh my. This is fantastic. The whole site is. Thank you!
posted by disillusioned at 5:13 PM on December 1, 2011


I've said, for over a decade now, that language is my favourite game.

This site is awesome. Thank you!
posted by Dark Messiah at 5:21 PM on December 1, 2011


Oh dear, there goes December
posted by scrowdid at 6:00 PM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder why some letter combinations are NOT words. For example, bake, cake, and fake are words, but "dake" and "gake" are not. Another example is why "nake" and "pake" are not words, yet make, quake, rake, sake, take, and wake are.
posted by Renoroc at 6:05 PM on December 1, 2011


Golly, I love this type of stuff.
posted by Atreides at 6:15 PM on December 1, 2011


Given what happened with napple, norange, Ned and nuncle, it's sheer accident you don't moan about your nakes and pains.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:16 PM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Orange" started out with an "n" but I don't think "apple" did. And, marry, "nuncle" was formed from "uncle" rather than the other way around.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:31 PM on December 1, 2011


I could be confabulating the facticity of "napple." But in checking the veraciousness of my fallible recollection I was reminded of nickname (ekename) and adder (nadder).
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:48 PM on December 1, 2011


This is the part where I started to wonder whether this whole thing was a prank:
Some words have changed their meanings many times. Nice originally meant stupid or foolish; then, for a time, it came to mean lascivious or wanton; it then went through a whole host of alternative meanings (including extravagant, elegant, strange, slothful, unmanly, luxurious, modest, slight, precise, thin, shy, discriminating and dainty), before settling down into its modern meaning of pleasant and agreeable in the late 18th Century. Conversely, silly originally meant blessed or happy, and then passed through intermediate meanings of pious, innocent, harmless, pitiable, feeble and feeble-minded, before finally ending up as foolish or stupid. Buxom originally meant obedient to God in Middle English, but it passed through phases of meaning humble and submissive, obliging and courteous, ready and willing, bright and lively, and healthy and vigorous, before settling on its current very specific meaning relating to a plump and well-endowed woman.
Awefulsome!
posted by jhc at 6:49 PM on December 1, 2011


"I wonder why some letter combinations are NOT words. For example, bake, cake, and fake are words, but "dake" and "gake" are not. Another example is why "nake" and "pake" are not words, yet make, quake, rake, sake, take, and wake are."

Oh, they're totally words! You just used them! I just repeated them back at you! We are having a conversation using them right now!

Now we just have to discover what they mean, and our work here is done.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:50 PM on December 1, 2011 [12 favorites]


Another example is why "nake" and "pake" are not words, yet make, quake, rake, sake, take, and wake are.

"nake" is totally a word! It is a verb, meaning "to remove one's clothing".

(If it doesn't actually mean that, it should.)
posted by madcaptenor at 7:10 PM on December 1, 2011 [9 favorites]


"Orange" started out with an "n" but I don't think "apple" did. And, marry, "nuncle" was formed from "uncle" rather than the other way around.

But both apron and humble, as in humble pie, come from "napron" and "numble"; English words that start with n have a long history of dropping the letter.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:13 PM on December 1, 2011


"nake" is totally a word! It is a verb, meaning "to remove one's clothing".
Come, be ready, nake your swords.
posted by unliteral at 7:16 PM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I get emails from an Indian customer that say things like "Please revert and do the needful."
posted by swift at 7:18 PM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is a perfectly cromulent link, thank you!
posted by usonian at 7:41 PM on December 1, 2011


My favorite word that isn't a word yet but should be a word? 'prepone'.

Like 'postpone', only earlier instead of later. It works in ASL, why not in English?
posted by benito.strauss at 7:56 PM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


My favorite word that isn't a word yet but should be a word? 'prepone'.
languagehat agrees - prepone.
posted by unliteral at 8:01 PM on December 1, 2011


Prepone is a perfectly whelming word.

When I was about six years old and was forced to sit quietly I would pick a short word and mentally try every letter in every position. I would find non words equidistant to two words and assign them the right meaning.

For an easy example, dake is between cake and fake, thus dake is a fake cake. Like the ones one can find in bakery display windows.

Now I want a T-shirt with a picture of the Portal cake and the word Dake.
posted by Ayn Rand and God at 8:45 PM on December 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


There are at least nine different negation prefixes (a-, anti-, dis-, il-, im-, in-, ir-, non- and un-)

It has been many years since I've considered it accurate to call myself a linguist, but I feel like this is cheating a tiny bit: il-, im-, in-, and ir- are all allomorphs of a single prefix ("iN-"), right?
posted by psoas at 8:50 PM on December 1, 2011


il-, im-, in-, and ir- are all allomorphs of a single prefix ("iN-"), right?

Well, allomorphs in Latin, arbitrary rule in English.

(N > L in illuminate but not in enlightenment. And why is it illegitimate but not *ullimited?)

I think idea was just to present the list without trying to explain "fossilized allomorph".
posted by nangar at 9:33 PM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


By the way, I found a "pake". Not English, but Frisian is closely to English: pakesizzer.

It doesn't rhyme with "cake" though; Frisians missed out on the Great English Spelling Scrambling Event. (It's not actually called that.) But it presumably it would rhyme if it was English.
posted by nangar at 10:00 PM on December 1, 2011


I could be confabulating the facticity of "napple."

Totally a real thing. It's even referenced in song!
posted by FatherDagon at 10:56 PM on December 1, 2011


I've said it before and I'll say it again, I love Nelson. What a great video. Wow.
posted by Kale Slayer at 11:17 PM on December 1, 2011


Oops, see previous post for relevance.
posted by Kale Slayer at 11:19 PM on December 1, 2011


And by previous I mean next. This is excellent too. What a day in the blue.
posted by Kale Slayer at 11:23 PM on December 1, 2011


il-, im-, in-, and ir- are all allomorphs of a single prefix ("iN-"), right?
Well, allomorphs in Latin, arbitrary rule in English.
No, totally not arbitrary in English! psoas had it right. These are all allomorphs of the underlying representation in-. The rules are:

in ➾ im / _[+bilabial], "impossible" instead of "inpossible"
in ➾ il / _[+alveolar, +lateral, +approximant], "illegitimate" instead of "inlegitimate"
in ➾ ir / _[+alveolar, +approximant] "irresponsible" instead of "inresponsible"
in = in / elsewhere

So, going back to our nonce words (now turned adjectives), they could be prefixed as innake, impake, indake and ingake.


(N ➾ L in illuminate but not in enlightenment. And why is it illegitimate but not *ullimited?)

in, en, and un are three different sets of prefixes, with different meanings and histories. The rules above only apply to the in/m/r/l set.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:22 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


The word 'nonce' has a very specific meaning in the UK. It's an acronym of Not On Normal Courtyard Exercise, and refers to prisoners convicted of sexual offences. It comes from the idea that those prisoners, for their own protection, need to be kept away from the rest of the prison population.
posted by veedubya at 2:07 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Holy crap, that's hilarious. The word nonce is all over my PhD dissertation. Maybe I should change that...or leave it. Ha.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:10 AM on December 2, 2011


I had no idea "nake" was old English for "to make naked". I'm going to try to resurrect the word by using it as much as plausibly possible today.
posted by Renoroc at 5:37 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


English doesn't "borrow" from other languages. It stalks other languages until it catches them in a dark alley, beats them senseless and then goes through their pockets for loose words.
posted by charred husk at 5:57 AM on December 2, 2011 [6 favorites]


And it's still nake-ed while similar words (I'm assuming) like baked have drop the second syllable. Unless I've been pronouncing it wrong all these years.
posted by This Guy at 11:21 AM on December 2, 2011


I love reading about the history of English and the etymology (or lack of) of words, but really....

...does it always have to be couched in language such as 'how English became a global language'? Because other languages do this stuff as well, and the reason they're not global languages is not so much to do with their elasticity, or lack of it, but to do with the history and empire building ways of the people of the people that speak them.
posted by Summer at 12:31 PM on December 2, 2011


Charred Husk, the original is better (and you should give credit):

James Nicoll: The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.

Some background.
posted by Mo Nickels at 12:38 PM on December 2, 2011 [6 favorites]


Some day we'll be calling nerds "herds."
posted by mokin at 11:28 PM on December 2, 2011


Mo Nickels: "James Nicoll:"

Consider this the effect of internet telephone. I had originally only known it as a random, unattributed comment on Facebook reading, "English doesn't borrow from other languages. It follows them down dark alleyways, beats them senseless and rifles through their pockets for loose grammar."

Thanks for letting me know the origin of the quote. It is an interesting read.
posted by charred husk at 7:24 AM on December 5, 2011


Seconding that charred husk. Interesting archive Mo Nickels.
posted by unliteral at 4:37 AM on December 6, 2011


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