Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 33, Number 9. 25 June, 1970
A shawte histree of the Inglish langwidge..
A shawte histree of the Inglish langwidge...
A knowledge of the history of his language has been a great help to the English scholar, but even if you are not English, you still ought to know something about it. You may then pursue your own researches, and become an amateur expert, as I did. You will learn that "amateur" comes from the Latin—amat, he loves; err, the blunder. The true amateur will trace English back until it no longer exists, and by studying it in depth, come to know everything about nothing, a feat usually reserved for philosophers.
In the days when English wasn't, Latin was, and this period is called the 'Zeroth Influence' after Zero Mostel, a drunken actor in A funny thing happened on the way to the forum. These are the glorious days of early Britain, brought down to us in the tales of King Arthur's Court. Little is left of that era, but some names continue, especially of those towns named after court jesters,—Worchester, after the disreputable whore jester, and Winchester, after the weak joke expert, the wince jester.
Meanwhile, deep in the Black Forest, the natives were restless, even though they were German. Roman rumours had it that they talked peculiar, and this made the Germans nasty. The nasty bits are recorded in Grimm's Fairy Tales, but the technical details are to be found in his monumental classic, Grimm's Lore. Changes from g to k and k to h, b to p, p to f, and so on altered the entire outlook of the Germans. Where the Roman said "Gremlin buddy", the German now said 'Kremlin putty', and the 'god of the bogs' became the 'cot of the pocks', none of which were funny when a Roman army was dispatched to dispatch you. This wasn't really fair when one considers that a rather aspirate 'Nero piddles' became 'Nero fiddles'—although the Romans may have thought this ambiguous. The Germans moved out, and headed for Norway and Sweden, which had liberal immigration policies towards well-armed hordes. Some of these later became the Angles and the Saxons, who had the honour of being a successful invader of Britain.
The first Anglo-Saxon invader was a minor chieftain, Bumnav, who set sail for Glish near Istanbul, but on misdirecting his boat to Britain, still insisted to his crew that he was right. "We are now in Glish", he said, and Inglish they remained. Anglo-Saxon words can be recognised as hard-sounding (e.g. "hard") and monosyllabic, (a word which echoes, and re-echoes, and re-echoes . . . and re-echoes its meaning—good poetry.) The Anglo-Saxons were not good poets, because they were not civilized. A man was judged civilized in those days, by whether he used a po or tree. Anglo-Saxons used a tree, but poetry has continued as a criterion of civilization, although its meaning has become more abstract. Changes in meaning are common, and words like "head" acquired many meanings, such as the nautical-head, a toilet, discharging into the sea. Hence, 'Wellington Heads .
The next invasion was by monks, who, in a clever pincer movement, captured the minds and morbidity of Anglo-Saxon religionists. They altered the names of the week, spelling Munday "Monday", since munk was spelt monk. A love of food (all the greater for fasting) created Chewsday and Fryday, both also misspelt. Wednesday, (Winny's day) was named after St Winny the Pooh, who had been cooked over a slow fire. (Later, the martyr was renamed St Winifred, since "Winny fried"). The land was divided into bishopries, or sees, and each bishop named his own see. Mercy see (Mersey), Angel's see (Anglesey) and Guerre's see (Jersey) are examples. Soon there were more sees than saws, so the bards wrote in protest, "Suffix by the see". The bishops replied ironically to this by naming one county Suffix and another, right next to the first, Surrey, since they weren't in the least bit surrey.
The Cells, meanwhile, retreated either into Wales, where all names were written in a code, or to Scotland, where began the first of the clans. These were registered by an old Scots monk with a lisp. The first of the Clydes was "Firth of Clyde" and so on for the "Firth of Tay" and others. The Fourth clan ("Firth of Forth") were so named because they were the fourth registered but didn't have a clan name at that time. The monk even named a town after his purse—"Perth.'
Then came the Normans, and with them came the peculiar garlic (or is it "Gallic"?) flavour to our native tongue. The name "Norman" came, as had "English", from the mouth of the conqueror, who shouted in victory, "Nay best, nor man will ever conquer England again" which was understood by the English as "No beast Norman . . .", and the two races could agree from the beginning. The French suffix -ette, meaning little, became -et. Thus to occupy a house as William occupied the country was to be a little Bill,—billet. The Saxons replied with such words as "gourmet", a little guorm, or in the Norman dialect, the cognate "worm" (i.e. guorm).
The races got on like a house on fire (or a mansion in flammes) and by the sixteenth century, the renewed study of Latin enabled them to get on like an establishment in a conflagration. This was also the age of the suffix and prefix, used with daring innovation and admirable scholarship. A simple comparison, male-female, gave the trivially obvious-fe; non. However, one could now explain such words as:
February (non Brewery—Breweries once had their annual holidays in February, when the Christmas hangover had settled),
Fecund (non cund. Cund is related to the word cunctation-cautious delaying)
Felon (non-Ion (innocuous) after Sir Keith Ramble-Lon, a superficially innocuous politician).
It was during these centuries that the Great Vowel Shift took place, when accents similar to Coronation Street were modernised. The reasons for the changes are obscure, but one hypothesis by the Rev. Staunchley of Raddical is that there were great religious changes in this period, and the change is better called the great Avowal Shift. This view has been severely criticized by Colonel Witherby-Snipe of Raveon-on-Avon who points out that a change in food supply due to foreign imports from America caused a wave of indigestion, and the movement is better named the Great Bowel Shift. There is still considerable debate, but as both men are in their nineties, a final solution is likely before long.
This brings US to the modern period, when words are becoming redundant. "The", "a", "an" and suffixes like "-ly" are disappearing quick. Road signs such as "slow men at work" or "Road works" are no longer taken to imply that the men are slow, or that some roads don't work. Even worse is the American tendency to replaces phrases with suffixes (which are abominable, literary wise) or with letters,
Eva: Extra Vehicular Activity (Latin thrice confounded)
Lem: Lunar Excursion Module
Snoopy: A Society Numerically Optimizing Orbiting Pollution Yearly
These and others repeatedly fouled the ether for the entirety of the moon mission. It is sincerely hoped that this trend will not continue. As secretary for the Foundation for the Advancement of Research into Trivialities, I can assure you that we are doing our utmost to oppose this.
It has even been known for essays to be written without a single quote from Shakespeare (Alas! Poor flourish, I knew it well.) I exhort you to study your language, while you yet have a language to study.
By Anton Erasmuson