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June 15, 2013

Words That Last

Every word has its own roots, its specific, particular route that it takes from emergence, common use and acceptance and finally, sometimes....

...into oblivion, forgotten almost forever.

But some words latch onto a popular phrase or saying and, somehow, stay current and meaningful, at least within that particular term.

And the history of these words can give us some insights into a word or phrase we often hear or use today.

Did you ever wonder, for example, about the word 'went'? What does it have to do with the word 'go'?

Linguistically nothing - but it turn out that the word 'went' is closely related (at least by sound) to the ancient Anglo word 'wend' which we might hear in the phrase 'wending its way'. 'Wend' is an ancient synonym for 'go'. We just use it currently ending with a 't' instead of a 'd'.

There are several words like this (you can see a list with their histories here - http://mentalfloss.com/article/51150/12-old-words-survived-getting-fossilized-idioms).

The trick to these words, especially for the English language learner, is to know when to - and when not to - use these words.

'Wend its way' is a familiar enough term (which just means that something goes its own way) but if you use 'wend' without 'way' everyone will wonder what you are talking about.

Yes, it's true that these familiar terms have, in their way, 'saved' these words, but they have also isolated them. Any other use will be awkward or confusing.

Be careful how you use words; it is rarely the words that hold the most meaning, it is how they are used.

Language, perhaps like everything else, becomes settled and familiar, but sometimes, we discover that our language is not as firmly established as we thought it was.

Be sure to send us any language usages or historical nuances that interest you, and be sure to let us know what it is about language learning that you find confounding, infuriating or endlessly intriguing.

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


Also: for the first time in several years, Morf is available this July and August (and possibly the first half of September) to visit your school or program. You can contact him at mmorf@mail.com. As you can probably guess, Morf can talk or teach about just about anything related to language learning, linguistics and cultural changes.

Posted by mmorf at June 15, 2013 10:34 PM


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