The Spread Of English

The various dialects of English differ from the standard language in rough proportion to how long they have had a separate identity. Languages need time to develop in their own directions and take on their own features. For this reason Scottish and northern English are generally more different from standard Southern British English than, say, Australian and New Zealand English are.
Over the last 400 years English has spread to all continents and in each country it has taken on its own peculiarities, creating new words to describe indigenous features of landscape, wildlife, and plantlife, and absorbing words from the local languages.
Nevertheless, the vast majority of words in the various dialects are common to all forms.
They belong to what is known as ‘World English’.
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Origins – How To Say Yes And No

Equivocate is built on another Latin word meaning equal – aequus (the spelling in English is always equ-) – plus vox, vocis, voice.
When you equivocate, you seem to be saying both yes and no with equal voice. An equivocal answer, therefore, is by design vague, indefinite, and susceptible of contradictory interpretation, quite the opposite of an unequivocal response, which says Yes! or No!, and no kidding. Professional politicians are masters of equivocation – on most vital issues they sit on the fence. You will often hear candidates for office say, publicly, that they unequivocally promise, if elected, to . . . ; and then they start equivocating for all they are worth, like people who say, ‘Let me be perfectly Frank with you’ – and then promptly and glibly lie through their teeth.
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The Sources Of New Words

Completely new words are very rare – through from time to time some do arise. One example of a word made entirely by artificial processes is the trade name Kodak, a ‘designer’ word consciously using the rare letter k to make it stand out. Another earlier example of a consciously created word is gas. The Flemish chemist J.B. van Helmont coined it in the 17th century, possibly by analogy with the Greek chaos. More recently – in 1907 – the American humorist Gelett Burgess coined the word blurb.
But most new words and senses to emerge in the last century or so have done so by other, more established, methods.
Loaning, for example, continues from an ever-increasing variety of languages. Often you can tell approximately how long a loan has existed in English by its form. As a rule, the more English a word looks and sounds the longer it has been in the language. Warden is older than guardian in English; line than machine. More recent loans from French, within the last 200 years, include nou veau riche and a vant-garde, though hors d’oeuvre entered English as early as 1714.
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The Structure of Nursery Rhymes

Here are some familiar nursery rhymes in an unfamiliar guise – as if composed by a poet who lacked the patience to structure his ideas properly before committing them to paper. Silly, of course. Yet so much everyday writing betrays a similar thoughtlessness.

For the original, well-structured versions of the nursery rhymes.

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again,      following his fall. He had been sitting on a wall prior to falling.

There was a crooked man who found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile. This was while he was walking a crooked mile. He lived together in a little crooked house with a crooked cat and a crooked mouse which the crooked cat had caught. The crooked man had bought the crooked cat with the sixpence, you see.

Hey diddle diddle!

The little dog laughed

To see the fun –

i.e.  the cow’s jumping over the Moon.

Another effect was that the dish ran away with the spoon.

Maybe the cat and the fiddle also had something to do with it all.

Some birds began to sing

When a pie was opened.

Wasn’t that a dainty dish

To set before the king?

There were four-and-twenty of them birds, I mean.

Blackbirds actually. Did I mention

They’d been baked in the pie?

No? Well you can’t be expected to remember everything

If all they pay you for your song is sixpence

And a pocketful of rye.

As a contrasting exercise – contrasting  in scale and skill – try to work out the structure of a long magazine article or broadcast. Take notes as you proceed, and then draw up a diagram or summary revealing the bones and ligaments of the structure.

Here, for instance, is a brief description of a typical edition of Newsdesk in mid-1990 – a half-hour news programme on the BBC World Service, beginning at midnight GMT.

Five main features go to make up the programme, though they are hardly evenly weighted. In reverse order: the last three – the Press Review, Financial News, and Sports News – take only about two minutes each. The feature before that – News about Britain – takes roughly six minutes. The opening feature – World News – dominates the programme, taking up 15 or 16 minutes.

The World News is itself divided into three sections, in a particularly helpful way:

First come four or five ‘news headlines’ covering the main stories (about 30 seconds).

Then more detailed versions of each of those stories, and a few others (totaling about five minutes).

Then ‘our correspondents’ reports’ – consisting of in-depth coverage of the main stories, and some other topical stories, in the form of recorded reports by the BBC journalists based in the various countries involved(totalling about 12 minutes).

Especially helpful to the listener is the constant ‘signposting’ by the presenters – repeatedly mentioning the programme, the station, the time, and so on. In the ‘correspondents’ reports’ phase, for instance, the co-presenter begins with an outline of the story each time, and identifies the journalist and the

city – typically repeating these markers at the end of each report.
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Origins – The Heart

Cardiologist combines Greek kardia, heart, and logos, science.
The speciality is cardiology, the adjective cardiological.
So a cardiac condition refers to some malfunctioning of the heart; a cardiogram is an electrically produced record of the heartbeat. The instrument that produces this record is called a cardiograph.

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Latin Influences On Old English

From the Anglo-Saxon period down to the 17th and 18th centuries, Latin, as well as being the language of church services, was the international language of culture and religion, and it was Latin-learned clerics who taught the English to write.
There appear to have been two distinct periods of Latin influence on Old English. The first corresponds with the 200 years after the arrival of Christianity in Britain in the 7th century. Most of the words it provided in this period were fairly practical. Germanic had already taken in Latin-based words like church and bishop, but now came many new words related to the new religion and its organisation: abbot, alms, candle, martyr, mass, noon, offer, priest, rule, and temple.
Some words dealing with education and culture also date from this period: for example, school, master, grammar, note, and verse (which appears in the Caedmon passage).
Latin influence waned with the turmoil of the Viking invasions during the later Anglo-Saxon period. But just before AD 1000 there started a new wave of scholarly activity in the English monasteries. From this period come new Christian words (some going back further, to Greek) such as cell, collect, demon, idol, and prime and new words to do with learning, such as accent, history, paper, and title.

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The Last Hundred Years – New Industries

The great changes in the world over the last century or so have brought a further flood of new words into English. Many of these are associated with new fields of human activity and knowledge.
New Industries: Here the preference has been for extending the meaning of existing words.
X . Motor Industry: automobile, choke, clutch, coach, differential, knock, motor car, motorway, park (a car), petrol, radiator, saloon, spark plug, stall, transmission, truck, tune (an engine).
X . Media: 3-D, aerial, AM/FM/VHF, antenna, broad-cast, cartoon, cassette, cinema, close-up, fade-out, film, gramophone, loudspeaker, micro-phone, motion picture, movie, phonograph, projector, radio, reception, reel-to-reel, scenario, stereophonic, Technicolor, teleprompt, television, transmitter, vedio.
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Origin – Cutting In And Out

Flies, bees, beetles, wasps, and other insects are segmented creatures – head, thorax, and abdomen. Where these parts join, there appears to the imaginative eye a ‘cutting in’ of the body.
Hence the branch of zoology dealing with insects is aptly named entomology, from Greek en-, in, plus tome, a cutting. The adjective is entomological.
(The word insect makes the same point – it is built on Latin in-, in, plus sectus, a form of the verb meaning to cut.)
The prefix ec-, from Greek ek-, means out. (The Latin prefix, you will recall, is ex-.) Combine ec- with tome to derive the words for surgical procedures in which parts are ‘cut out’ or removed: tonsil-lectomy (the tonsils), appendectomy (the appendix), mastectomy (the breast), hysterectomy (the uterus), prostatectomy (the prostate), etc.
Combine ec- with Greek kentron, centre (the Latin root, as we have discovered, is centrum), to derive eccentric – out of the centre, hence deviating from the normal in behavior, attitudes, etc., or unconventional odd, strange. The noun is eccentricity.
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Origins – Aging And The Old

We know that a geriatrician specializes in the medical care of the elderly. The Greek word geras, old age, has a derived form, geron, old man, the root in gerontologist. The speciality is gerontology, the adjective is gerontological.
The Latin word for old is senex, the base on which senile, senescent, senior, and senate are built.
1.senile – showing signs of the physical and/or mental detioriation that generally marks very old age. The noun is senility.
2.senescent – aging, growing old. (Note the same suffix in this word as in adolescent, growing into an adult, convalescent, growing healthy again, and obsolescent, growing or becoming obsolete.) The noun is senescence.
3.senior – older. Noun: seniority.
4.senate – originally a council of older, and presumably wiser, citizens.
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The Root Of English – The Enlightenment

The tendencies established during the Renaissance continued throughout the 18th century – the period of the ‘Enlightenment’. The works of writers like Dr Samuel Johnson and Edward Gibbon are packed with Latin- and Greek-based words that bear witness to their classical educations. And as Britain became a world power in the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a new confidence in the qualities of English. The feeling gained currency that the language had now reached a state of unparalleled elegance and perfection, and that any change could only be for the worse.
There were two important consequences of this new-found confidence. First, the desire to ‘fix’ English – which lay behind the pioneering work of Dr Johnson and others in dictionary-making and the study of English grammar. Dr Johnson’s dictionary, published in 1755, was the first dictionary that seriously attempted a complete coverage of the English vocabulary.
The other result was the formulation of rules of usage – the ‘this-is-right-and-you-are-wrong’ attitude. Several ‘rules’ still peddled today come from this period, with little or no basis in the language as it is or ever has been used. There is the ‘rule’ for instance, that prepositions should not be used to end clauses with. Most of these prejudices were based on attempts to impose Latin grammar upon English. Preposition, for example, means literally ‘placed in front’, hence ‘something placed in front of something’, and so, said the lawgivers, prepositions could not go at the end.
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