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May 05, 2012

Words New & Old

As a total word nerd, I am always interested in where words come from. Some, if not most, words have interesting stories behind their origins. But what about those...

...common words or word endings (like using 's' or 'es' for plurals) that we use every day?

If you are interested in how words developed - or how they used to be pronounced - you are probably really interested in Etymology. This is not the study of definitions; it is the explanation of what our words meant and how they may have sounded 500 or 2,000 years ago. If you want to learn more (MUCH more) about word origins, check out this website - http://www.etymonline.com/.

English, as we all know, is the ultimate linguistic sponge. Our language, for better, and sometimes worse, absorbs, adapts and mangles every manner of slang, jargon and obtuse words or terms from any vocation, subculture or other language.

But how to make sense of where these words come from?

Here's an absolutely wonderful source if you are interested in all this.

I found a great website that analyzes typical paragraphs and breaks down where individual words (or their components) came from. You can see the details here - http://ideasillustrated.com/blog/2012/04/01/visualizing-english-word-origins/.

Yes, we get our words from everywhere across history and culture, from Greek and Latin roots, from Old French, Old Norse, Old English and Modern American. I find it fascinating to see (in color) which word came from which source.

A key principle to keep in mind is to keep it simple if you want your message to be understood in 500 years or by someone 10,000 miles away. Winston Churchill also recommended keeping it to the basics; “Short words are best and the old words when short are best of all.”

As always, send us any words or phrases that make you crazy and be sure to let us know what it is about English and language learning that you find confounding, infuriating or endlessly intriguing.

Listen, read and speak. Make your new language your own.

My best to you as you make your way through this intriguing , constantly shifting linguistic landscape.


Also, Morf just might be available to visit your school or agency this coming summer. You can contact him at mmorf@mail.com.

Posted by mmorf at May 5, 2012 07:53 PM


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