The Lawgiver of English Usage: Henry Watson Fowler
Educated at Rugby and Oxford's Balliol College, H.W. Fowler began his career by teaching English grammar for seventeen years at a Yorkshire secondary school for boys. When offered a promotion to housemaster, he quit and move to London. There, while proving to himself that it was possible to live on 100 pound sterling a year, he was a freelance journalist. Fowler made his real mark on the English language only after moving to the remote island of Guernsey in 1903. He and his brother, Francis George Fowler, proposed to write "a sort of English composition manual, from the negative point of view, for journalists & amateur writers." The outcome, The King's English, was published by the Oxford University Press and quickly became a de facto standard. Exposing the shortcomings of eminent writers, the tome offering but five basic commandments:
1. Prefer the familiar word to the far-fetched.
2. Prefer the concrete to the abstract.
3. Prefer the single word to the circumlocution.
4. Prefer the short word to the long.
5. Prefer the Saxon word to the Romance.
The majority of "Old English" words are lost to modern usage and have no descendants. Of the small core of survivors, most are readily familiar and seldom have abstract meanings. The roots are typically short and often contain a single syllable. Some have taken on meanings only indirectly related to those in Saxon times. And, others are downright awkward in contemporary usage. Fowler addressed these point in A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, first published in 1926 and still in print. He warns that:
"...conscious deliberate Saxionism is folly, that the choice or rejection of particular words should depend not on their descent but on considerations of expressiveness, intelligibility, brevity, euphony, or ease of handling, & yet that any writer who becomes aware that the Saxon or native English element in what he writes is small will do well to take that fact as a danger-signal."
(extract from "The Fowler Collection" site)
"Ow we spake" (the dialect of the Black Country)
The dialect of the area remains perhaps one of the last examples of early English still spoken today. The word endings with 'en' are still noticeable in conversation as in 'gooen' (going), callen (calling) and the vowel A is pronounced as O as in sond (sand), hond (hand) and mon (man).Other pronunciations are 'winder' for window, 'fer' for far, and 'loff' for laugh - exactly as Chaucer's English was spoken.
This "dictionary" is Black Country in general and not particularly Sedgley in origin. Local dialect was (and probably still is to a lesser degree) quite distinctive between the different towns and villages of the Black Country. My Grandmother reckoned that she could tell which village that a person came from by the way they spoke. This has probably changed today due to the greater mobility of people.
(extract from the Sedgley Manor site)
Earliest English cookbook rediscovered
A cookbook thought to be the earliest printed in English has been unearthed at the Marquis of Bath's ancestral seat.
It dates from 1500 and includes recipes for the likes of chopped sparrow and roasted swan.
The Daily Telegraph says it offers an invaluable culinary and cultural insight into the life of England's wealthiest and most influential people, including kings and archbishops.
A British Library spokesman described the book, entitled A Noble Book of Royal Feasts, as an extraordinary find.
He said recipe books from the medieval period are in existence, but this is the earliest known copy of a printed cook book in English.
"One feast listed was that served for George Nevill, who became Archbishop of York in 1465. It is a huge list of birds, including curlews, gannets, gulls, dotterels, larks, redshanks, peacocks, partridges, woodcocks, knots and sparrows.
"Henry V's coronation feast is also recorded and it included cygnets, trout, fried roach, perch, carp and lamprey. During the meal the King would have had swan, but everybody else would have eaten conger eel."
(extract from the "Ananova" site, referencing the Daily Telegraph
What is "Hiberno-English"? Is it a dialect of English?
Bob Cunningham: Recalling Padraig's recent remarks about whether or not Hiberno-English should be considered to be a dialect of English, I've done a Google search and have come up with some remarks that seem to be pertinent.
University College Dublin has a Web site at www.ucd.ie. On a page of that site, at Staff Publications,
there appear the following remarks:
===== Begin remarks =====
Hiberno-English is the name given to the Irish dialect of English. It differs from Standard English on two principal counts. First, it is a hybrid dialect, full of borrowings from the Irish language, with words or phrases imported directly or in anglicised form ('meas', 'rawmaish', 'galore', and so on). Thus 'galore' is an anglicisation of the Irish 'go leor', meaning 'in abundance'. Galore has now passed into Standard English usage, but Hiberno-English is full of such formations which remain unique to Ireland. Irish also influences the grammar, as in 'I'm after writing a letter'.
The second strand in Hiberno-English comprises words obsolete in Standard English but still commonly used in Ireland. Thus a word like 'oxter', meaning an armpit, is still in general use in Ireland but passed out of Standard English around 1800. Similarly, words such as 'cog', to cheat in an exam, 'crack', 'bowsey' and 'delph' have retained their currency in Ireland.
In this pioneering work, Professor Dolan has prepared an accessible one volume dictionary of Hiberno-English.
===== End remarks =====
So far as I've seen, the page doesn't give an explicit reference to Professor Dolan's book. However, I happen to have a book called _A
Dictionary of Hiberno-English_, subtitled "The Irish Use of English"; compiled and edited by Terence Patrick Dolan, published by Gill & Macmillan Ltd, Goldenbridge, Dublin 8; copyright Terence Patrick Dolan 1998. It seems reasonable to assume it's the book the UCD Web page is referring to.
(extract from the aue archives, article by Bob Cunningham, follow the link below for the complete thread)
"No lawful standard...": The Evolution of English Dictionaries
As early as 1582, in the Elementarie (a list of about 8,000 English words, but with no definitions), Richard Mulcaster had called for a dictionary which, in addition to providing for English words "the right writing, which is incident to the Alphabete, wold open vnto us therein, both their naturall force, and their proper use." But not until 150 years later, in Nathaniel Bailey's Universal Etymological English Dictionary (1721), did anyone try to list all the words in the language. The earliest English dictionaries were not dictionaries at all in the modern sense, but rather lists of Latin words and their English equivalents or lists of "hard words" in English.
In 1730, Nathaniel Bailey produced his Dictionarium Britannicum. It encompassed 48,000 words and became the standard English dictionary until Samuel Johnson, using Bailey's work as a foundation, produced A Dictionary of the English Language (1755). Johnson conceived his plan for the dictionary with the notion of "fixing" the language.
One of the more remarkable features of Johnson's dictionary project was his relationship to Lord Chesterfield, who promised patronage but delivered only verbal allegiance:
I had long lamented, that we had no lawful standard of our language set up, for those to repair to, who might choose to speak and write it grammatically and correctly . . . . The time for discrimination seems to be now come. Toleration, adoption, and naturalization, have run their lengths. Good order and authority are now necessary. But where shall we find them, and at the same time the obedience due to them? We must have recourse to the old Roman expedient in times of confusion, and choose a Dictator. Upon this principle, I give my vote for Mr. Johnson to fill that great and arduous post. And I hereby declare that I make a total surrender of all my rights and privileges in the English language, as a freeborn British subject, to the said Mr. Johnson, during the term of his dictatorship. Nay, more; I will not only obey him, like an old Roman, as my dictator, but, like a modern Roman, I will implicitly believe in him as my pope, and hold him to be infallible while in the chair; but no longer. (The World. November 28, 1754; quoted in Finegan 23)
(extracts from the "Virginia Tech" site, article by Daniel W. Mosser)
Is English the "Official" Language of the UK?
Don Aitken: There has never been any law stating that English is the official
language of the UK, although there is one (dating from the 18th century) requiring court records to be kept in English and not in French or Latin, as they were until that time. The Uk has no official language, and I don't think anyone has ever suggested that it should have.
Henry Churchyard: Here are some semi-random facts:
First book appears to teach French to children of upper
classes in England
Early 14th century
Contemporary statements that all classes can speak English,
while knowledge of French is somewhat limited
For the first time, chancellor opens parliament in
English. Lawsuits ordered to be conducted in English, not
2nd half of 14th century
Schools generally switch over from French to English as
language of instruction. (The subject matter which is taught
is still mostly Latin, of course.)
Henry IV comes to throne as first monarch speaking only
English ambassadors negotiating with France insist that French
not be used as the language of negotiations (instead, Latin is
1st half of 15th century
Private letters between members of upper classes switch over
from being generally in French to almost entirely in English
London Brewers switch guild proceedings from French to English
Parliamentary proceedings ("petitions of commons") start to
appear in English.
"A large number of towns are seen translating their ordinances
and their books of customs into English."
late 1480's (first Tudor on throne)
Parliamentary statutes are written down in English in their
final form; effective disappearance of most of the last
lingering uses of French in the internal domestic
administration of England, though many French (and Latin)
phrases remained in the language of the law.
(extract from the aue archives, articles by Don Aitken and Henry Churchyard)
12th & 13th Century English Textile Surnames (Language history)
The sources for these surnames are Appendix 1, "Textile professions from BLC, EFF, and IPM grouped by occupation and role listed by property and year," and Appendix 2, "Textile professions from the control group selected by occupation and role listed by property and year" of The Textile Industry in Essex in the late 12th and 13th Century by Michael Gervers.
While the given names and place names in the Appendix have been modernized, the surnames have been retained in their original forms. I have listed the surnames in alphabetical order, organized by their modern counterparts and with derivation notes. Following each name are the dates that the name was found. (I have not included duplicate instances; a specific spelling might have been found four times in 1254, but I have listed the date only once.)
(extract from Sara L. Friedemann's page on 12th & 13th Century English Textile Surnames)
The origin of the @ symbol (Language history)
It's called the "at" or "ape tail" in English, the "arroba" in Spanish, the "chiocciola" in Italian. Everyone familiar with the internet knows we're talking about the symbol in an e-mail address separating the addressee's or sender's name from the server name : the "@" symbol. But where does this funny looking symbol come from ?
Following a few indications given by the School for Palaeography in Rome, Stabile consulted a collection of documents of 16th century Italian business men. The documents belong to the International Institute for History of the Economy "Francesco Datini" in Prado. After some browsing in the documents Stabile found that the @ symbol was formerly used to designate an "amphora". In those days this antique unit of measure was used a lot in the wine commerce, especially in Venice. But the origin of the @ symbol even goes back much further than the 16th century Venice. In an Arabic-Italian dictionary from 1492 Stabile found that the Arabic word written as "@" meant simply "amphora", confirming the previous finding.
That the @ symbol finally became part of cyberspace is due to Ray Tomlinson, an American engineer who is one of the founding fathers of the internet, or actually the Arpanet, the predecessor to the present internet. In 1972 Tomlinson invented a system for individual electronic mail, introducing the first "hot" application of the Arpanet. He used the @ symbol to distinguish a sender's or addressee's name from the name of the electronic mail box. According to Stabile, Tomlinson chose this symbol "just because it was on the keyboard".
(extract from "Kurt's Not Frequently Asked Questions" page)
Civil War Slang (Language history)
What if you could talk to someone who lived at the time of the Civil War? YOU would probably have a hard time understanding some of the things they said.. .LET'S step back now and hear what they had to say:
Glossary of Old Names (for diseases) (Language history)
This is a glossary of terms used to describe diseases in times gone by. I have generally, but not invariably, omitted terms that can be found in a modern medical dictionary. I have also included a few terms that appear in Bills of Mortality that are not strictly diseases.
If a disease name is a hyperlink, then the disease is covered in greater detail on another page, which the link will take you to. It is only in comparatively recent times that it has been possible to identify diseases with certainty. Therefore, some of the terms used will be imprecise and they may have been used in different ways to those shown here.
The History of American English (Language history)
The history of American English can be divided into the colonial (1607-1776), the national (1776-1898), and the international (1898-present) periods. During nearly four hundred years of use in North America, the English language changed in small ways in pronunciation and grammar but extensively in vocabulary and in the attitude of its speakers.
English settlements along the Atlantic Coast during the seventeenth century provided the foundation for English as a permanent language in the New World. But the English of the American colonies was bound to become distinct from that of the motherland. When people do not talk with one another, they begin to talk differently. The Atlantic Ocean served as an effective barrier to oral communication between the colonists and those who stayed in England, ensuring that their speech would evolve in different directions.
Americans also came cheek-to-jowl with Amerindians of several linguistic stocks, as well as French and Dutch speakers. They had to talk in new ways to communicate with their new neighbors. Moreover, the settlers had come from various districts and social groups of England, so there was a homogenizing effect: those in a given colony came to talk more like one another and less like any particular community in England. All these influences combined to make American English a distinct variety of the language.
Despite such changes, the norm of usage in the colonies remained that of the motherland until the American Revolution. Thereafter American English was no longer a colonial variety of the English of London but had entered its national period. Political independence was soon followed by cultural independence, of which a notable Founding Father was Noah Webster. As a schoolmaster, Webster recognized that the new nation needed a sense of linguistic identity. Accordingly he set out to provide dictionaries and textbooks for recording and teaching American English with American models. The need Webster sought to fill was twofold: to help Americans realize they should no longer look to England for a standard of usage and to foster a reasonable degree of uniformity in American English. To those ends, Webster's dictionary, reader, grammar, and blue-backed speller were major forces for institutionalizing what he called Federal English.
(extract from The History Channel site by John Algeo)
The Protean N-Word (Etymology)
Let's turn first to etymology. Nigger is derived from the Latin word for the color black, niger. According to the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, it did not originate as a slur but took on a derogatory connotation over time. Nigger and other words related to it have been spelled in a variety of ways, including niggah, nigguh, niggur, and niggar. When John Rolfe recorded in his journal the first shipment of Africans to Virginia in 1619, he listed them as "negars." A 1689 inventory of an estate in Brooklyn, New York, made mention of an enslaved "niggor" boy. The seminal lexicographer Noah Webster referred to Negroes as "negers." (Currently some people insist upon distinguishing nigger--which they see as exclusively an insult--from nigga, which they view as a term capable of signaling friendly salutation.) In the 1700s niger appeared in what the dictionary describes as "dignified argumentation" such as Samuel Sewall's denunciation of slavery, The Selling of Joseph. No one knows precisely when or how niger turned derisively into nigger and attained a pejorative meaning. We do know, however, that by the end of the first third of the nineteenth century, nigger had already become a familiar and influential insult.
Nigger was also a standard element in Senator Huey P. Long's vocabulary, though many blacks appreciated the Louisiana Democrat's notable reluctance to indulge in race baiting. Interviewing "The Kingfish" in 1935, Roy Wilkins (working as a journalist in the days before he became a leader of the NAACP) noted that Long used the terms "nigra," "colored," and "nigger" with no apparent awareness that that last word would or should be viewed as offensive. By contrast, for Georgia governor Eugene Talmadge, nigger was not simply a designation he had been taught; it was also a tool of demagoguery that he self-consciously deployed. Asked by a white constituent about "Negroes attending our schools," Talmadge happily replied, "Before God, friend, the niggers will never go to a school which is white while I am governor."
(extract from the review of "Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word" at the Amazon site)
Deciphering Old Handwriting (Language history)
Not only have our words and their meanings changed throughout the years, the way we form the letters have too.
In order to get the most information from the records that are available, we have to decipher these records and put meaning into the symbols we see on the old documents or papers that we find.
As we read old Bible, census, courthouse, archive and Church records to obtain the names, places and dates, often we are unclear at the words before us. Also, the further back we go - the harder it is to read.
An important note to remember is that much of the writing is "phonetic." They wrote the name the best that they could by how it sounded.
This on-line tutorial will help you understand these old records better.
(from Sabina J. Murray's "Deciphering Old Handwriting" page)
The Great Vowel Shift (Language history)
The main difference between Chaucer's language and our own is in the pronunciation of the "long" vowels. The consonants remain generally the same, though Chaucer rolled his r's, sometimes dropped his aitches, and pronounced both elements of consonant combinations, such as "kn," that were later simplified. And the short vowels are very similar in Middle and Modern English. But the "long" vowels are regularly and strikingly different. This is due to what is called The Great Vowel Shift.
Beginning in the twelfth century and continuing until the eighteenth century (but with its main effects in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries) the sounds of the long stressed vowels in English changed their places of articulation (i.e., how the sounds are made).
(extract from "THE GEOFFREY CHAUCER PAGE")
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Is the English language changing? (Language history)
Yes, and so is every other human language. Language is always changing, evolving, and adapting to the needs of its users. This isn't a bad thing; if English hadn't changed since, say, 1950, we wouldn't have words to refer to modems, fax machines, or cable TV. As long as the needs of language users continue to change, so will the language. The change is so slow that from year to year we hardly notice it (except to grumble every so often about the 'poor English' being used by the younger generation!). But reading Shakespeare's writings from the sixteenth century can be difficult. If you go back a couple more centuries, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales are very tough sledding, and if you went back another 500 years to try to read Beowulf, it would be like reading a different language.
Why does language change? Language changes for several reasons. First, it changes because the needs of its speakers change. New technologies, new products, and new experiences require new words to refer to them clearly and efficiently. Consider the fax machine: Originally it was called a facsimile machine, because it allowed one person to send another a copy, or facsimile, of a document. As the machines became more common, people began using the shorter form fax to refer to both the machine and the document; from there, it was just a short step to using the word fax as a verb (as in I'll fax this over to Sylvia).
Another reason for change is that no two people have had exactly the same language experience. We all know a slightly different set of words and constructions, depending on our age, job, education level, region of the country, and so on. We pick up new words and phrases from all the different people we talk with, and these combine to make something new and unlike any other person's particular way of speaking. At the same time, various groups in society use language as a way of marking their group identity - showing who is and isn't a member of the group. Many of the changes that occur in language begin with teens and young adults: As young people interact with others their own age, their language grows to include words, phrases, and constructions that are different from those of the older generation. Some have a short life span (heard groovy lately?), but others stick around to affect the language as a whole.
We get new words from many different places. We borrow them from other languages (sushi, chutzpah), we create them by shortening longer words (gym from gymnasium) or by combining words (brunch from breakfast and lunch), and we make them out of proper names (Levis, fahrenheit). Sometimes we even create a new word by being wrong about the analysis of an existing word. That's how the word pea was created: Four hundred years ago, the word pease was used to refer to either a single pea or a bunch of them. But over time, people assumed that pease was a plural form, for which pea must be the singular, and a new word - pea - was born. (The same thing would happen if people began to think of the word cheese as referring to more than one chee.)
Word order also changes, though this process is much slower. Old English word order was much more 'free' than that of Modern English, and even comparing the Early Modern English of the King James Bible with today's English shows differences in word order. For example, the King James Bible translates Matthew 6:28 as "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not." In a more recent translation, the last phrase is translated as "they do not toil". English no longer places not after the verb in a sentence.
Finally, the sounds of a language change over time, too. About 500 years ago English began to undergo a major change in the way its vowels were pronounced. Before that, geese would have rhymed with today's pronunciation of face, while mice would have rhymed with today's peace. But then a 'Great Vowel Shift' began to occur, during which the ay sound (as in pay) changed to ee (as in fee) in all the words containing it, while the ee sound changed to i (as in pie). In all, seven different vowel sounds were affected. If you've ever wondered why most other European languages spell the sound ay with an e (as in fianc) and the sound ee with an i (as in aria), it's because those languages didn't undergo the Great Vowel Shift. Only English did.
(extract from the Linguistic Society of America FAQ)
Articles on the history of English (Language history)
Herder: An essay on the origin of language. Superb! (Language history)
A brilliant set of pages on the early history of human languages (Language history)
AUE Contributors John Lawler and Aaron Dinkin provide an *excellent* reference for Latin sources for grammatical terms. (Language history)
Tony Jebson's site on learning Old English. This site includes articles on the history and origins of Old English. (Language history)
"The Old English Pages". An acclaimed site with a mailing list, downloads, and further links. (Language history)
The "Perseus Digital Library". An Internet treasure! (Language history)
The Sources of Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture (SASLC) is a collaborative project that aims to produce a reference work providing a convenient summary of current scholarship on the knowledge and use of literary sources in Anglo-Saxon England. Departing from (Language history)
Ansaxdat is the full-text database for the Listserv discussion group ANSAXNET. It is stored on the library server of the Queen Elizabeth II Library at Memorial University, St John's, Newfoundland. (Language history)
Search The Cambridge History of English and American Literature (Language history)
The Great Vowel Shift: The main difference between Chaucer's language and our own is in the pronunciation of the "long" vowels. The consonants remain generally the same, though Chaucer rolled his r's, sometimes dropped his aitches, and pronounced both e (Language history)