The Grammarphobia Blog

As German as apple pie!

Q: You mentioned on your blog that the word “stop” has roots in Old English and other early Germanic languages. It got me to thinking that we would be saying “stoppen” and “halten” instead of “stop” today if German hadn’t missed by one vote from becoming the official language here.

A: Thanks for writing, but I have to tell you that this business about German almost becoming the “official” language of the United States is a myth. In fact, there has never been an official language in the U.S.

The true story dates back to 1794, when a group of German American farmers from Virginia asked Congress to publish Federal laws in German as well as English.

In early 1795, the House considered the request but ultimately decided to publish Federal laws in English only. During the debate about the farmers’ request, a vote to adjourn failed by one vote, which apparently led to this myth.

Goodbye to another language legend. Or, as those farmers would have said, “Auf Wiedersehen!”

Buy Pat’s books at a local store or Amazon.com.