The Grammarphobia Blog

He blued his pocket money

Q: In A Pocketful of Rye, a 1953 mystery by Agatha Christie, Lance Fortescue says, “I blued my pocket money, he saved his.” Lance, the son of a wealthy financier, is comparing his handling of money to that of his brother. Do the British still use “blue” the way Americans use “blow”?

A: The slang use of both “blow” and “blue” to mean squander showed up in Britain in the 19th century, though only the profligate “blow” made it across the Atlantic, as far as we can tell.

Is “blue” still used in the UK for that sense? Perhaps, but not very often. We haven’t seen any published examples since the early 1990s.

Oxford Dictionaries Online describes the use of “blue” to mean “squander or recklessly spend” as a “dated, informal” British usage, and gives this example: “It is again time to break open a bottle of bubbly and to blue our money till kingdom comes.”

The most recent citation in the Oxford English Dictionary is from Arcadia, a 1992 novel by the English writer Jim Crace: “These were the sort of boys who made their cash like tough old men, and blued it all on sweets, and toys, and cigarettes.”

The OED describes the usage as slang of uncertain origin, but speculates that it may have originated as a pun on “blew,” the past tense of “blow.” The dictionary notes, however, that the use of “blue” for squander showed up in writing before “blow” had that slang sense.

The dictionary’s earliest example for “blue” meaning to squander is from The Swell’s Night Guide (1846), by Lord Chief Baron (pseudonym of the actor-writer Renton Nicholson): “The coves … vot we blues a bob or a tanner to see.”

The next citation is from Caste, an 1867 comedy by the English playwright T. W. Robertson: “D’Alroy: ‘So Papa Eccles had the money—’  Sam: ‘And blued it!’ ” (We’ve expanded the citation, based on an early script of the play.)

The OED says the use of “blow” to mean squander or spend lavishly showed up almost three decades after “blue” appeared in this sense.

Oxford’s earliest example is from an 1874 edition of a slang dictionary originally compiled by the English bibliophile and lexicographer John Camden Hotten: “Blew, or blow … to lose or spend money.”

The next citation is from the Sept. 5, 1892, issue of the Daily News (London): “Sometimes you’ll blow a little money … but another week you may make a lot.”

When the verb “blow” showed up in Anglo-Saxon times, it meant either to produce an air current or to burst into bloom.

The OED’s earliest air citation (with “blow” spelled bláwan in Old English), is from the West Saxon Gospels (circa 1000), a translation of the four Gospels from Latin into the West Saxon dialect of Old English: “Þonne ge geseoð suðan blawan” (“When the south wind blows”), from Luke 12:55.

The dictionary’s first blooming citation is from Old English Leechdoms, an Anglo-Saxon medical text dated around 1000: “Ðonne heo grewð & blewð” (“When they grow and blow”).

If you’d like to read more about the horticultural sense of “blow,” we answered a question in 2017 about the phrase “blown rose” in Shakespeare.

When “blue” appeared as a verb in the early 17th century, it meant to make blue in color. The earliest OED example is from Joshua Sylvester’s 1606 translation from French of the poetry of Guillaume de Saluste Du Bartas:

“Playd the Painter, when hee did so gild / The turning Globes, blew’d Seas, and green’d the field.”

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You betcha!

Q: I assume “betcha” is a slangy spelling of the way “bet you” is spoken. But I can’t figure out how “bet you” came to express certainty. Betcha know the answer.

A: The use of the verb “bet” to express certainty showed up in the US and the UK around the same time in the mid-19th century, according to written examples in the Oxford English Dictionary.

The first British citation is from the novel Tom Brown’s School Days (1857), by Thomas Hughes:  “What a bore that he’s got a study in this passage! Don’t you hear them now at supper in his den? Brandy punch going, I’ll bet.” (We’ve expanded the example.)

And here’s the earliest American citation: “I saw all the ‘boys,’ and distributed to them the papers and ‘you bet,’ they were in great demand” (from the Nov. 22, 1857, issue of the Phoenix, a short-lived newspaper in Sacramento).

An expanded version of the expression, “you bet you,” appeared in Mark Twain’s  Roughing It (1872), an account of his travels in the Wild West: “Hank Monk said, ‘Keep your seat, Horace, I’ll get you there on time’—and you bet you he did, too.” We’ve expanded the OED citation.

Around the same time, various hyperbolic versions of the usage showed up (originally in the US), such as “bet your life” (1852), “bet your old boots” (1856), “bet his bottom dollar” (1866), and so on.

The OED describes these dressed-up variants as “slang asseverative phrases meaning: to stake everything or all one’s resources (upon the truth of an assertion).”

The dictionary’s first example is from the Jan. 18, 1852, issue of the Sunday Dispatch in San Francisco: “He’s around when there’s money in the pipe—bet your life on t-h-a-t.”

The “corrupt forms (I, you, etc.) betcha, betcher” showed up in the early 20th century, “representing colloq. pronunciation of bet you or your (life),”  the OED says.

The dictionary’s first example is from Just William, a 1922 collection of children’s stories by the English writer Richmal Crompton: “You betcher life!”

The next OED citation is from Laughing Gas, a 1936 novel by P. G. Wodehouse about Hollywood: “ ‘You’re home-sick, what?’ ‘You betcher.’ ”

And we found this Jan. 1, 1922, Wodehouse example in Mostly Sally, a novel serialized in Maclean’s Magazine.

“I hope you are going to win, Mr. Butler,” she said.

The smile which she forced as she spoke the words removed the coming champion’s doubts, though they had never been serious.

“You betcher,” he assented briefly.

In uses like those, the “-cha” and “-cher” endings represent casual pronunciations of “you” and “your.” As the OED explains elsewhere, such uses can also be seen in “nonstandard” spellings like “ain’tcha” and “aren’tcha,” which date from the early 20th century.

This citation from the OED mentions all three usages: “Comic strips and some other contemporary literature (literachoor) recognize the prevalence of these forms in speech by spelling them that way: aintcha, arentcha, betcha, etc.” (Scientific American, August 1955).

As for the early etymology of “bet,” the OED says the word is “of uncertain origin” and it’s unclear “whether the noun or the verb was the starting-point.”

The dictionary defines the noun as “the backing of an affirmation or forecast by offering to forfeit, in case of an adverse issue, a sum of money or article of value, to one who by accepting, maintains the opposite, and backs his or her opinion by a corresponding stipulation.”

The earliest Oxford example is from a 1591 collection of stories by the Elizabethan writer Robert Greene about the tricks of coney catchers, or swindlers: “Certaine olde sokers [drunkards], which are lookers on, and listen for bets, either euen or odde.” (The archaic slang term “coney catcher” comes from “coneys,” or tame rabbits, raised for eating.)

When the verb “bet” first appeared, the OED says, it meant what it usually means now: “To stake or wager (a sum of money, etc.) in support of an affirmation or on the issue of a forecast.”

The dictionary’s earliest example, dated with a question mark at some time before 1600, is from an anonymous Robin Hood legend: “Said the bishop then, Ile not bet one peny.”

The next Oxford citation is from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 2, believed written in the late 1590s: “Iohn a Gaunt loued him well, and betted much money on his head.”

John Ayto writes in his Dictionary of Word Origins that the appearance of the noun “bet” in Greene’s book about the tricks of swindlers “suggests an origin in the argot of small-time Elizabethan criminals.”

If the noun “bet” did indeed come first, Ayto notes, “the usual explanation is that it is short for the noun abet, in the sense ‘instigation,’ ‘encouragement,’ ‘support’—that is, one is giving one’s ‘support’ to that which one thinks, or hopes, may happen in the future.” (The obsolete noun “abet” meant the act of abetting a crime.)

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2001: A speech odyssey

Q: Just recently, I heard someone pronounce 1901 as “nineteen-one” instead of “nineteen-oh-one.” What is the origin of this practice and is it correct? It sounds so weird to me.

A: There’s no right or wrong here. When a year ends in a number from 01 to 09, the ending can be pronounced with or without “oh” for the zero.

The form with “oh” (as in “nineteen-oh-one”) is usual in today’s English, but the clipped version (“nineteen-one”) was once more common.

The word “oh” is usually an interjection or exclamation. But as we mentioned in a 2013 post, in modern English it’s also used as a noun to represent the pronunciation of the number 0 (zero).

This use of “oh” in dates and other numbers began in the early 20th century and is “probably” based on the spelling of the exclamation, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

(Oxford says that the spelling “oh” is a variant of a much earlier spelling, the capital letter “O.” It, too, is used to represent both an interjection—as in “O my!”—and the number zero, though not in dates.)

The OEDs earliest written example of “oh” in a date is from the December 1908 issue of a trade journal, the Railroad Telegrapher: “Wishing one and all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, hoping to see everyone out in nineteen oh nine.”

We found an earlier example from the same year with “oh” in quotation marks, indicating it was a new usage at the time: “The Nineteen ‘Oh’ Eight Fair Will Be Better Than Ever” (part of a headline for an article about the Colorado State Fair, published in the Aspen Democrat, May 21, 1908).

Later examples in the OED also show “oh” used for zero in the time of day (“oh-eight-thirty-hours,” 1948); in weaponry (“three oh three” for a .303 rifle cartridge, sometime before 1961); and in sports scores (“oh for nine,” 1998).

In earlier times, as we mentioned, “oh” was not included in pronunciations of years with a zero. By way of illustration, here’s a scrap of 19th-century stage dialogue in which a history instructor resumes a lesson with his pupil, a young duke:

Obenhaus: Take up the lesson where we had to stop, —in eighteen five.
The Duke: Yes, eighteen five.
Obenhaus: We’ve seen in eighteen six …
The Duke: Your pardon; do you mean that nothing marked that year?
Obenhaus: Hein? What? What date?
The Duke: Why, eighteen five.

The passage is from an English translation of Edmund Rostand’s 1899 play L’Aiglon (The Eaglet).

We found more examples in old issues of Arbutus, Indiana University’s student yearbook.

This is from 1901: “When Soph and Freshman cease to scrap, / And the Junior’s work is done, / Our class will be remembered yet— / The Class of Nineteen-one; / The noble Class of Nineteen-one, / Of Nineteen-one.”

And this is from 1906: “Rickety Rix! Rickety Rix! / Here’s to the class of nineteen six.”

The usage appeared in both British and American fiction.

Rudyard Kipling used it in one of his naval stories: ” In Nineteen One, mark you, I was in the Carthusian, back in Auckland Bay again.” (From “Mrs. Bathurst,” published in 1904 in both the Metropolitan Magazine, New York, and the Windsor Magazine, London.)

And this example is from the American novel You Can’t Go Home Again, written by Thomas Wolfe in the early 1930s and published posthumously in 1940: “ ‘I should think it was done in nineteen-one or two—wasn’t it, Esther? … Around nineteen-one, wasn’t it?’ … ‘Oh the picture! No, Steve. It was done in nineteen … in nineteen-six.”

In another usage from earlier times, “ought” was often used for zero in speech and written dialogue (as in “nineteen-ought-one”).

The use of “ought” as a noun to mean a zero was first recorded in 1821, the OED says, adding that it was “probably” a variant of the noun “nought.”

The dictionary has only one example, from 1979, for “ought” indicating zero in a year (“ought eight,” short for 1908, in William Kennedy’s novel Ironweed).

But we found this one in a work of 19th-century political reporting, Egypt Under the British (1896), by H. Freeman Wood:

“ ‘The barracks are close to the place where our regiment, the 28th, landed in eighteen-ought-two.’ ‘Eighteen hundred and eighty-two?’ ‘No; eighteen-ought-two, when we beat the French.’ ‘Eighteen-ought-one,’ corrected the other corporal, more accurate in his dates.”

This “ought” usage was also known in Australia, as this early 20th-century newspaper ad shows: “Let it be known that Nettlefold’s have prepared for Summer Nineteen ought five, an extremely dignified (you may call it ‘swagger’) line of Gentlemen’s Tailoring, as worn by gentlemen.” From the Mercury (Hobart, Tasmania), Dec. 29, 1904.

And “ought” was used similarly in American advertising around the same time, as in this notice by a hat manufacturer: “FALL SEASON NINETEEN OUGHT SIX ON DISPLAY AND SALE.” From the Albuquerque Evening Citizen, Aug. 13, 1906.

Moving ahead a hundred years, those who refer to the current century as beginning with “twenty” invariably use “oh” for numbers in the first decade—”twenty-oh-one” and so on. Otherwise the year would sound like “twenty-one,” “twenty-two,” etc.

Those who prefer “two thousand” for this century seem to use both “two thousand one” and “two thousand and one,” a usage that may have been influenced by the pronunciation of Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Why a timepiece is a watch

Q: I wonder about the derivation of the word “watch” as in the timepiece on my wrist. Does it come from looking at (i.e., watching) the watch?

A: When the noun “watch” showed up in Anglo-Saxon times (spelled wæcce or wæccan in Old English), it referred to wakefulness, especially keeping awake for guarding or observing. That sense of wakefulness probably led to the use of “watch” for a timepiece.

As John Ayto explains in his Dictionary of Word Origins, “The sort of watch that tells the time is probably so called not because you look at it to see what time it is, but because originally it woke you up.”

Ayto adds that the “earliest records of the noun’s application to a timepiece (in the 15th century) refer to an ‘alarm clock’; it was not used for what we would today recognize as a ‘watch’ until the end of the 16th century.”

The Chambers Dictionary of Etymology cites the Promptorium Parvulorum, a Middle English-Latin dictionary from around 1440, for the “alarm clock” sense.

In the Promptorium, the Middle English term for “watch” is referred to as the alarum, or alarm, on a clock: “Wecche, of a clokke.” Chambers describes the use of “wecche” here as “an alarm attached to a clock to wake up sleepers.”

The Oxford English Dictionary questions the Promptorium citation because the entry in the bilingual dictionary doesn’t include a Latin translation of the Old English. However, the OED adds that “on etymological grounds it seems likely that the sense ‘alarum’ is the oldest of the senses of this branch.”

The OED’s first unqualified example is from a 1542 issue of the Archaeological Journal: “Item oone Larum [alarm] or Watch of iron, the case being likewise iron gilt with two plumettes of led [lead weights].”

The dictionary has several citations from the late 1500s for “watch” used to mean a “small time-piece; orig. one with a spring-driven movement, and of a size to be carried in the pocket; now also frequently, a wrist-watch (spring- or battery-driven).”

The earliest example is from Plaine Perceuall the Peace-Maker of England (1590), by the Elizabethan pamphleteer Richard Harvey: “Surrender vp thy watch though it were gold.”

And here’s an example from Shakespeare’s comedy Love’s Labour’s Lost (1598): “A woman that is like a Iermane Cloake [German clock], / Still a repairing: euer out of frame, / And neuer going a right, being a Watch: / But being watcht, that it may still go right.”

We especially like this later example from an Aug. 21, 1784, letter by the lexicographer Samuel Johnson: “Dictionaries are like watches, the worst is better than none, and the best cannot be expected to go quite true.”

Returning to the earlier etymology of the noun “watch,” it originally meant the “action or a continued act of watching; a keeping awake and vigilant for the purpose of attending, guarding, observing, or the like,” according to the OED.

The dictionary’s first Old English example is from King Ælfred’s translation (circa 888) of De Consolatione Philosophiæ, a sixth-century treatise by the Roman philosopher and statesman Boethius:

“Hu micele wæccan & hu micle unrotnesse se hæfð þe ðone won willan hæfð on þisse worulde” (“How great the watch and how great the grief of someone with wicked desires in this world”).

This Middle English example is from Confessio Amantis (1393), a long poem by John Gower about the confessions of an aging lover: “So mot I nedes fro hire wende / And of my wachche make an ende” (“So I must needs go from her and make an end of my watch”).

Over the next two centuries, the noun “watch” came to mean people on guard or observation, as well as their period of duty, especially at night. The term was used for watches in towns, on military posts, and aboard ships.

Here’s an example from Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth, first performed in the early 1600s: “As I did stand my watch vpon the Hill / I look’d toward Byrnane, and anon me thought / The Wood began to moue.”

And this biblical example is from the King James Version of 1611: “I will stand vpon my watch, and set mee vpon the towre, and will watch to see what he will say vnto me.”

If you’d like to read more, we published a post in 2017 about the expression “not on my watch.” We’ve borrowed some of the early etymology in that post for this one.

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Let’s talk turkey

[On the eve of Thanksgiving, we’re revisiting a 2014 post about how the turkey got its name.]

Q: How did our native Thanksgiving bird get named for a country at the crossroads of Europe and Asia?

A: Yes, turkey, the main event at Thanksgiving dinners in the US, is native to the Americas.

The big bird came to the attention of Europeans in 1518 when the Spanish conquistador Juan de Grijalva encountered it in Mexico. The following year, Hernán Cortés found turkeys being domesticated by the Aztecs.

Knowing a good thing when they saw it, the Spanish soon transplanted the turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) to Europe.

(Columbus may have come across the bird in Honduras in 1502 on his fourth voyage, but it’s unclear whether the fowl that he referred to as gallina de la tierra, or land hen, was actually a turkey.)

But why, you ask, is the bird called a “turkey”? The reason is that Europeans confused it with the guinea fowl, an African species that was very briefly referred to as a “turkey” because it was thought to have been imported into Europe by way of Turkey.

The word “turkey” first began showing up in English as the name of the bird in the mid-16th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

For example, Thomas Tusser’s book Fiue Hundreth Points of Good Husbandry Vnited to as Many of Good Huswiferie (1573) suggested that the Christmas table should include “shred pies of the best … & Turkey wel drest.”

The turkey is a noble bird, and in 19th-century North America the term “turkey” was often used figuratively in colloquial expressions that were generally positive.

For instance, to “talk turkey,” an expression first recorded in 1824, means to speak openly or frankly.

But pejorative uses of “turkey” eventually crept in.

In the 1920s, “turkey” came to be used as slang for an inferior theatrical or movie production. In other words, a flop.

The OED’s first example is from the American magazine Vanity Fair in 1927: “ ‘A turkey’ is a third rate production.”

The slang expression was soon extended to other kinds of failures and disappointments.

This example comes from James M. Cain’s novel Mildred Pierce (1943): “The beach … was studded with rocks and was therefore unsuitable to swimming. For all ordinary purposes it was simply a turkey.”

Later, in the early 1950s, “turkey” became a slang word for a stupid or inept person.

Incidentally, in case you’re wondering why the leg of a turkey or chicken is called the “drumstick,” check out a blog post we wrote in 2012.

No matter which part of the turkey you prefer, we hope that you and all our other readers will enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with your families tomorrow, a holiday that’s often referred to as “Turkey Day.”

The expression was first recorded, the OED says, in the Nov. 23, 1870, issue of the Hartford Courant: “To-morrow is turkey day, gobbler’s day, or the day when the gobbler is gobbled.”

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All bombast and fustian

Q: I enjoyed your post about the pronunciation of “bomb.” I especially enjoy the word “bombastic,” which I assume is a relative.

A: We wish we could say “bombastic” is related to “bomb.” Alas, it isn’t so.

The adjective “bombastic” comes from “bombast,” a noun that once meant cotton padding. So etymologically, a “bombastic” speech (or speaker) is stuffed with padding—that is, inflated language.

The word “bombast” first appeared in English writing in the mid-16th century, when it meant “the soft down of the cotton-plant; raw cotton; cotton-wool,” according to citations in the Oxford English Dictionary.

The first Oxford example is from The Arbor of Amitie (1568), a book of poems by Thomas Howell: “From all meate soft, as wooll and flaxe, / bombaste and winds that bloe.” (In the later 1500s the word was used adjectivally in the same way, and “bombast cloth” meant cotton cloth.)

Early on, the word was often spelled with a final “e,” or with a “u” as the first vowel. (A variant, spelled “bombace” or “bombase,” was recorded in the 1550s, the OED says.)

The source of “bombast” was the French noun bombace (cotton or cotton wadding), which came from a form of the Latin noun bombax (cotton). The Latin noun, the dictionary says, was “a corruption and transferred use of Latin bombyx” (silk), from the Greek βόμβυξ (bombux, for silk or silkworm).

Soon after it was introduced, “bombast” was used to mean, in the OED’s words, “cotton-wool used as padding or stuffing for clothes, etc.” Oxford’s earliest example of this use is from George Gascoigne’s poem Councell Given to Master Bartholomew Withipoll (1572): “To stuff thy doublet full of such bumbaste.”

And Gascoigne himself was the first to use the word in a broader way, to mean any kind of padding or stuffing: “It hath no bumbast now, but skin and bones.” Here the narrator of Gascoigne’s short poem “Dan Bartholomew” (1575) describes his enfeebled body.

All those uses of “bombast” are now obsolete, Oxford says. Except for historical references, they died out in the 17th century.

The only surviving use is a figurative one that emerged in the 1580s, defined in the OED as “inflated or turgid language; high-sounding language on a trivial or commonplace subject; ‘fustian’; ‘tall talk.’ ”

The dictionary’s earliest citation for this sense is from Thomas Nashe’s To Students (1589): “To outbraue better pens with the swelling bumbast of a bragging blanke verse.”

(Myth alert: It’s not true, the OED says, that this sense of the word is derived from Paracelsus, pseudonym of the Swiss alchemist, astrologer, and physician Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim.)

Until well into the 17th century, spellings of “bombast” varied. But by the 18th century, both the spelling and the meaning had become standardized, as in this OED citation from Alexander Pope:

“The ambition of surprising a reader, is the true natural cause of all Fustian, or Bombast in Poetry” (from a letter written Dec. 17, 1710).

At around this same time, the adjective “bombastic” came into use.

The adjective was first recorded, the OED says, in what’s known as “The ‘Key’ to The Rehearsal” (1704): “Outdoing them in their Bumbastick Bills.” (The “Key” is an anonymous commentary on The Rehearsal, a satirical play by the Duke of Buckingham that was first performed in 1671.)

And Daniel Defoe used the modern spelling in a 1727 essay: “A certain bombastic Author.”

By the time the adjective “bombastic” appeared, all remnants of the “cotton wool” and “cotton fabric” senses of “bombast” had disappeared. But there’s an echo of those earlier senses in “bombazine,” a heavy dress-making material.

While “bombazine” doesn’t come from “bombast,” the two words have points in common.

“Bombazine” came into English from French (bombasin), but (like “bombast”) it can also be traced back to the Latin bombyx. Despite their origin in bombyx (silk) rather than bombax (cotton), the French bombasin and the later English “bombazine” sometimes meant a fabric that was part cotton.

The OED defines “bombazine” (spelled “bombasine” in Britain) as “a twilled or corded dress-material, composed of silk and worsted [wool]; sometimes also of cotton and worsted, or of worsted alone.” As the OED notes, black bombazine was “much used in mourning.”

As you may have noticed, the term “fustian” was mentioned above a couple of times. Interestingly, this is another fabric term that’s been used to mean overblown language.

As long ago as circa 1200, “fustian” meant a coarse fabric of cotton and flax. The term came into English from the Old French fustaigne, a term “conjecturally derived,” as the OED says, from “Fostat, the name of a suburb of Cairo where cloth was manufactured.”

In the late 1500s, probably because of its earlier associations with “bombast,” the noun “fustian” similarly came to mean empty verbiage. The OED defines it as “inflated, turgid, or inappropriately lofty language; speech or writing composed of high-sounding words and phrases; bombast, rant.”

This exchange, from Christopher Marlowes Doctor Faustus (written sometime before 1593), is the OED’s earliest example:

Wag: Let thy left eye be diametarily fixt vpon my right heele, with quasi vestigias nostras insistere.

Clown: God forgiue me, he speakes Dutch fustian.

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What do you suggest?

Q: What is the graceful or correct way to use “suggest” when it’s an I-don’t-know-what-kind-of-verb (not transitive, I think). I’ve recently read such things as “I was suggested to study harder.”

A: Anyone who’d say “I was suggested to study harder” should probably study harder. The usual way to say that would be “It was suggested I study harder” or “It was suggested I should study harder.”

The verb “suggest” can mean to propose, to express possibility, to state indirectly, to evoke, and so on.

There are several ways the verb can be used in modern English, depending on the context: with an object (that is, transitively), with a quotation, or with a clause (a group of words with its own subject and verb).

When used to introduce a clause (with or without “that”), the verb in the clause is often in the subjunctive mood, especially in American English: “They suggested that he study Latin.” The indicative is more common in British English: “They suggested that he should study Latin.”

Here are a few examples of “suggest” used to propose something for consideration: “He suggested that we wait a few days before voting”  … “ ‘We should wait a few days,’ ” he suggested” … “He suggested a delay.”

And here “suggest” expresses the possibility of something: “The smell of bitter almonds suggests that poison was used” … “The smell of bitter almonds suggests cyanide.”

In these examples, it’s used to state something indirectly: “Are you suggesting I’m a liar?” … “No, I’m not suggesting any such thing.” And here “suggest” is used when one thing evokes another: “The cloudy sky suggests El Greco’s View of Toledo.”

When the verb “suggest” showed up in English in the early 1500s, it was transitive and the object was an idea put into someone’s mind, “esp. of insinuating or prompting to evil,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

The earliest OED example for this sense is from Pylgrimage of Perfection, a 1526 religious treatise by William Bonde:

“The angell of Sathanas … euer suggestyng and mouyng some vyce, vnder the colour of vertue” (“The angel of Satan … ever suggesting and prompting some vice, under the color of virtue”).

English borrowed “suggest” from Latin, where suggest- is the past participial stem of suggerĕre (to bring up, supply, provide), according to the dictionary.

Over the years, Oxford says, it’s been used in “extended application, to propose as an explanation or solution, as a course of action, as a person or thing suitable for a purpose, or the like.”

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That’s why they play the game

Q: What is the origin of the expression “that’s why they play the game”? Sports announcers say it when an underdog wins a game or when a team comes from behind to win.

A: The sports expression “that’s why they play the game” means playing the game is the only way to determine who wins—in other words, the favored team isn’t always the victor.

The earliest example we’ve seen is from an article headlined “Who’s Going to Win?” in the Oct. 7, 1964, issue of the Scottsdale (Ariz.) Progress.

The article polled teachers and students at two rival high schools before a big football game, and one teacher responded: “I’m not sure who will win. I think that’s why they play the game.”

This is how the word sleuth Barry Popik described the expression in a 2012 post on his Big Apple blog:

“ ‘That’s why they play the game’ is a popular sports adage meaning that the game isn’t decided on paper. One team might have more talent and might be favored to win the game by oddsmakers, but when the game is actually played there is no certainty that the favorite will always win.”

Popik found a newspaper article from the mid-1960s that credited the adage to the Kentucky basketball coach Adolph Rupp:

“But as old Dolph Rupp of Kentucky says, ‘That’s why we play the game to see who’ll win.’ ” (From the Morning Advocate, Baton Rouge, La., Dec. 30, 1965.)

And he cited these later examples, from sports prognosticators of the 1970s:

“The Longhorns, Aggies, Red Raiders and Bears are expected to be runaway winners. But then that’s why they play the games.” (From an Associated Press column in a Texas paper, the Del Rio News-Herald, Nov. 1, 1974.)

“In contrast to last year, the Steelers are favored by about a touchdown. [Pittsburgh Steelers football coach Chuck] Noll, not a one for rash statements, admits he thinks the Steelers are the best team. ‘I think we are, but you have to prove it on the field. That’s why they play the games.’ ” (From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Jan. 3, 1976.)

We found this more recent example on the sportscaster Dick Stockton’s website. In 2016, he recalled a famous moment in NCAA basketball, “the shocking upset by Villanova over Georgetown in 1985”:

“I was in the stands on a CBS set hosting the game, while Brent Musburger and Billy Packer broadcast the contest. When it ended with a 2-point Wildcat stunner (they were double-digit underdogs), Brent threw it to me and my immediate declaration was ‘that’s why they play the game.’ It goes for any game in any sport where people think the result is a foregone conclusion.”

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Is government the issue?

(For Veterans Day, we’re repeating a post about the term “GI” that originally appeared on Aug. 26, 2011, and was updated on Nov. 11, 2018.)

Q: I’m a reporter in the Midwest. The other day I did a story about local people in the military. I wanted to say the term “GI” is short for “government issue,” but the copy editor insisted it’s an abbreviation of “galvanized iron.” In the end, we took it out. Who’s right?

A: Both of you, depending on how the abbreviation is used. Here’s the story.

In the early 20th century, “GI” was a semiofficial US Army abbreviation for “galvanized iron.”

The term, dating back to 1907, was used in military inventories to describe iron cans, buckets, and so on, according to the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang.

By 1917, however, “GI” began to take on a wider meaning.

In World War I, it was used to refer to all things Army, so military bricks became GI bricks and military Christmases became GI Christmases. Before long, we had GI soap and GI shoes and, eventually, plain old GIs.

A lot of people apparently felt this new usage needed a new family tree. So in the minds of many, “galvanized iron” became “government issue” or “general issue.”

The Oxford English Dictionary says “GI” can be an abbreviation for all three, depending on how it’s used:

It stands for “galvanized iron” when used in a phrase like “GI can” (an iron trash can or a World War I German artillery shell). It’s short for “government issue” or “general issue” when referring to American soldiers or things associated with them.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.) and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) also list all three as as the longer forms of “GI.”

The entry for “GI” in American Heritage sums up the etymology this way: “From abbreviation of galvanized iron (applied to trash cans, etc.), later reinterpreted as government issue.”

[Note: This post was updated on Nov. 11, 2018.]

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On cousins and cousinesses

Q: I don’t know if this is a question that has an answer, but here goes. Why does English have the female “niece” and the male “nephew,” but only the unisex “cousin”?

A: English does have a word for a female cousin, “cousiness,” but it’s quite rare. We’ve found only two modern standard dictionaries with entries for it—the subscription-based Merriam Webster Unabridged and its more accessible cousin, the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Both define it as “a female cousin : kinswoman.”

The Oxford English Dictionary, an etymological dictionary based on historical evidence, has examples for the term dating back to the 14th century. The OED defines it as “a female cousin” but says the sense of “a kinswoman” is “obsolete.”

The dictionary’s earliest example is from The Romance of William of Palerne (circa 1350), also known as William and the Werewolf, an anonymous Middle English translation of the French tale Guillaume de Palerme (c. 1200):

“Þer-for, curteise cosynes, for loue of crist in heuene, / Kiþe nouȝ þi kindenes” (“Therefore, courteous cousiness, for love of Christ in heaven, / Make known now thy Kindness”).

The dictionary’s next citation is from the Wycliffe bible of 1382: “Loo! Elizabeth, thi cosyness, and sche hath conceyued a sone in hir elde” (“And behold, Elizabeth, thy cousiness, she hath conceived a son in her old age”). From Luke 1:36.

As we’ve said, the word isn’t seen much these days. The most recent OED citation is from an 1889 collection of fiction by the pseudonymous “F. Pigot.”

In “The Story of a Return Ticket,” the narrator thinks he’s originated the term: “He had the bad taste not to care for his cousinesses, if I may coin a word which is much wanted.”

Here’s a later example that we found in The Two Mrs. Abbotts, a 1943 novel by the Scottish writer D. E. Stevenson: “ ‘Jerry is my cousiness, then,’ declared Fay. ‘She’s my cousiness and I love her.’ ”

Why, you ask, is “cousin” generally used for both sexes in modern English, while “niece” and “nephew” are gendered?

Unlike other Germanic languages, English is now essentially gender free. Although “cousin” is gendered in modern German (der Cousin and die Cousine), it’s unisex in English. However, gender used to play a more important role in English, and vestiges of it have survived—hence, “niece” and “nephew.”

Interestingly, “cousin” was often used in the past to mean a niece or a nephew, a now obsolete sense that the OED defines as a “collateral relative more distant than a brother or sister; a kinsman or kinswoman, a relative; formerly very frequently applied to a nephew or niece.”

The earliest example in the dictionary for this sense is from Sir Beues of Hamtoun (c. 1320), a metrical romance about the legendary English hero Bevis of Hampton. Here Sir Bevis meets his uncle, the bishop of Cologne:

“The beschop was glad afin / And seide: ‘Wolkome, leve cosin!’ ” (“The bishop was altogether glad / And said: ‘Welcome, dear cousin!’ ”) We’ve expanded part of the citation.

The dictionary has a dozen more examples for this sense, dating up to the mid-18th century. Here’s one from Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing, believed written at the end of the 16th century: “How now brother, where is my cosen your sonne.” And here’s one from Clarissa, a 1747 novel by Samuel Richardson: “Cousin Harlowe, said my aunt Hervey, allow me to say.”

However, “cousin” meant the same as it does today when it first showed up in Middle English in the late 1200s: the “son or daughter of (one’s) uncle or aunt,” which the OED describes as the “strict modern sense.”

English borrowed the noun from the Old French cusin or cosin, but the word ultimately comes from the classical Latin consobrīnus, the child of the sister of one’s mother.

The earliest English example in the OED is from The South English Legendary (c. 1290), a collection of lives, or stories, of saints and other church figures:

“Huy weren ore louerdes cosines” (“They were our lord’s cousins”). The citation refers to the children of half-sisters. It’s based on a medieval belief that the Virgin Mary’s mother had three daughters with three husbands, so the children of the daughters would be cousins.

As for “nephew” and “niece,” both appeared in Middle English around 1300, borrowed from Anglo-Norman, Middle French, and Old French, but ultimately derived from the Latin words nepōs (grandson, male descendant, or prodigal) and neptis (granddaughter or female descendant).

The two words, as well as their counterparts in many other languages, are traceable ultimately to an ancient Indo-European root that’s been reconstructed as nepto, meaning grandson or nephew (the feminine form was nepti). This root is also the ancestor of our word “nepotism.”

In English, according to the OED, “niece” and “nephew” originally meant the same as they do now: the daughter or son of one’s brother, sister, brother-in-law, or sister-in-law.

The earliest OED examples for both terms are from Arthurian legends recorded in The Chronicle of Robert of Gloucester, an account of early Britain written around 1300, perhaps as early as 1297. (There are many other versions of the two legends cited.)

In the “nephew” citation, King Arthur has just won a battle in France and is preparing to march on Rome when he learns that during his absence from England his nephew Mordred has seized Arthur’s wife and his crown:

“Þo was þe king arþure vol of sorwe & sore … / Ac to awreke him of is luþer neueu his herte bar alre best” (“King Arthur was then full of sorrow and misery … / But his heart bore it all best so he could take vengeance on his treacherous nephew”). In the ensuing battle, Mordred is killed and Arthur is mortally wounded.

In the “niece” citation, King Arthur is in Brittany and learns that a monstrous giant has come from Spain and kidnapped his niece Elaine, daughter of his cousin, Howel of Brittany:

“Þe … geaunt … Out of þe lond of spayne come & adde ynome eleyne Þat was so vair, þe kinges nece howel of brutayne” (“The … giant … out of the land of Spain had come and seized Elaine that was so fair, the king’s niece Howel of Brittany”). Arthur arrives too late to save his niece, but he kills the giant in a bloody battle.

Over the years, “nephew” and “niece” were also used to designate grandsons and granddaughters, male and female descendants, and, euphemistically, illegitimate sons and daughters (especially those of popes and other churchmen who were theoretically chaste).

Getting back to your question, the noun “cousin” isn’t unique among kinship words in English. It’s one of many unisex terms, including “child,” “in-law,” “parent,” “kin,” “relation,” “relative,” “sibling,” and “spouse.”

Most of those have common gendered equivalents: the phrase “three children,” for example, could be expressed by gender as “two girls and a boy,” “two sons and a daughter,” “three boys,” and so on. But “three cousins” would have to be expressed as “two female cousins and one male cousin,” “two female cousins and a male,” “three female cousins,” etc.

Although English has a huge lexicon, it’s weak on kinship terms. As Joanna Rubery explains in an Aug. 30, 2013, post on the Oxford Dictionaries blog, “English is sometimes irritatingly vague when it comes to kinship terminology, even within fairly close family relationships.

“I can’t tell (without more context) if your brother-in-law is your sister’s husband or your husband’s brother,” she writes. “We can say, for example, ‘aunt-by-marriage’ or ‘paternal grandfather,’ but those precise terms aren’t common in everyday speech. We accord our parents’ siblings and our siblings’ children special status (uncles and aunts, nephews and nieces) but beyond that we rely on a single catch-all term which is mysteriously ambiguous when it comes to age, sex, degree, or side of the family: cousin.”

Rubery, a former online editor for Oxford Dictionaries, notes that it wasn’t always like this: “Old English (spoken in England until about 1150) had several phrases to describe first cousin relationships more precisely, among them fæderan sunu for father’s brother’s son, and mōdrigan sunu for mother’s sister’s son. These phrases soon died out in Middle English.”

Anthropologists, she writes, “have identified at least ten different kinship systems in use around the world.” The simplest is the Hawaiian system, which “makes no distinction between siblings and cousins,” while the most complex, the Sudanese system, “has a different name for each individual on the family tree. There are different words for aunt and uncle depending on whether they are related by blood or marriage; specific terms for in-laws depending on age; and different words for grandchildren depending on lineage.”

In Chinese, she says, “our simple cousin can be translated in at least eight different ways, not just according to whether the cousin is male or female, but also whether they are on the father’s or mother’s side, and whether they are older or younger than the speaker.”

Her conclusion: “Perhaps our generic word cousin is quite handy, after all.”

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Is it a ‘wow’ or a ‘pow’?

Q: At a recent reunion, we were asked to share a WOW and a POW in our lives—that is, an upper and a downer. What is the etymology of these terms? Are they acronyms, or something else? How did they enter English?

A: “Wow” and “pow” are exclamations of a very different nature. While “wow” represents a feeling (like surprise or awe), “pow” imitates a sound (that of a blow or a punch).

As a noun, the way it was used at your reunion, “wow” means a sensational success, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, an etymological dictionary that focuses on the history of words.

Neither the OED nor standard dictionaries, which focus on the current meaning of words, define “pow” as anything but the sound of a blow. But at your reunion, “pow” was used creatively as a noun to mean an unhappy blow.

We wrote posts in 2012 and 2014 about “wow.” As we noted, it was recorded as far back as the 1500s in Scottish English. By the late 1800s, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the interjection was in “general use” among English speakers to express “astonishment or admiration.”

The OED doesn’t offer any further explanation for the derivation of “wow.” However, it notes a similarity with the interjection “vow” (probably a clipped version of “I vow”), which was used in Scottish English to emphasize a statement.

It wasn’t until the 1920s that the noun “wow” (a sensational success), the adjective “wow” (exciting, delightful), and the exclamation “wowey!” (later “wowee!”) appeared on the scene, according to OED citations.

As for “pow,” the OED says it’s an interjection and a noun of “imitative or expressive” origin. The word represents “the sound of a blow, punch, shot, etc.,” Oxford says, like  “Wham!” and “Bang!”

While the interjection was recorded around 1580, it didn’t appear again until the late 1800s, and the OED says it’s “uncertain whether there is any continuity between” the early example and the later use.

So that first example may be a fluke. It appeared in The Bugbears (circa 1580), John Jeffrey’s English translation of an Italian play. The word, which Jeffrey spelled “powe,” represents a knock at a door: “I will knocke … powe! ho? who is in the house?”

The modern use of “pow” originated in late 19th-century America, the OED says. The dictionary’s earliest example is from a story by Joel Chandler Harris, published in Scribner’s Monthly in June 1881. Here, “pow” represents a smack given to a horse: “He step en hit de hoss a rap—pow!”

The usage spread to Britain in the 20th century. One of the Oxford citations is from the Leicester Chronicle (Nov. 26, 1976): “In some cases that does not mean films which are more sanguinary, but poorly made action stuff with entire reliance on the pows and kerplunks.”

The dictionary also gives this figurative usage, from the American writer James Morrow’s fantasy novel Only Begotten Daughter (1990): “I’m fertile as a cheerleader. All we need is some pixie dust and—pow!”

Like “pow,” the interjections “biff” (first recorded in 1843), “bam” (1922), “kerplunk” (1923), and “wham” (1924) are associated with cartoons and comic strips. They’re usually printed in capital letters and festooned with exclamation points.

These exclamations are as much a part of the “funnies” as the random strings of symbols—like %&*&##@—that represent swear words. As we wrote on the blog in 2011, there are words for these cartoonish obscenities: “grawlix,” coined in 1964 by the cartoonist Mort Walker, and “obscenicon,” introduced in 2006 by the linguist and lexicographer Ben Zimmer.

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How families got their names

Q: My last name, Doremus, is an American alteration of “de Remes.” (The patriarch of the family probably came from Rheims in France.) When did a family’s place of origin become its last name?

A: Inherited family names developed very gradually and irregularly in Europe, beginning in the 11th and 12th centuries and emerging slowly over the next few hundred years. And not all were “locative” or “toponymic”—that is, based on place names.

Without tax or birth records to rely on, it’s difficult to say when a particular name started being passed down within a family. But it’s safe to say that “de Remes” probably became hereditary sometime between the 11th and 15th centuries.

In England, inherited family names did not exist, even among royalty, before the Norman Conquest of 1066, according to Surnames, DNA, and Family History (2011), by George Redmonds, Turi King, and David Hey.

Hereditary names in England, the authors write, were introduced by the Norman barons, though only a few of the conquerors arrived with inherited names and none of the names were more than a couple of generations old.

Most of the barons adopted hereditary names after arriving, naming themselves after their new holdings in England or their old estates in Normandy. However, it took a while for family names to become fixed even among the nobility.

“Indeed, during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries,” the authors write, “some junior members of baronial families assumed different surnames, while the convention that married women acquired their husband’s name took time to become established.”

Gradually the fashion for inherited family names spread. Most knights in the south of England had them by about 1200, the authors write, and by the early 1400s so did most English families, though “some of these names continued to evolve and were sometimes changed out of recognition.”

Historians generally agree that in England, the great surge in hereditary surnames occurred between 1250 and 1450. So how did people distinguish one John or Alfred from another before people had last names?

In earlier times, first names were often accompanied by nicknames (or “bynames”) consisting of some identifying characteristic. This in fact was the original meaning of the word “surname”; it simply meant something added to a name.

So a byname could be based on someone’s parentage; their occupation; where they lived; their personal appearance (like the color of their hair, complexion, clothing, etc.); or some trait or habit, ability or disability.

And such names were not official. A byname could change, or a single person might have more than one. At any rate, it was these bynames that were the precursors of inherited family names.

But even after family names were adopted, they were changeable and might take many generations to become fixed. And early on, these names were almost as idiosyncratic as the nicknames they grew out of.

In his book Family Names and Family History (2006), David Hey writes: “Amongst the taxpayers of Gatcombe in the Isle of Wight in 1379 was a man named William Godbeourhelp. We have to assume that his name was given to him by his neighbors who were amused or exasperated at the frequency with which he used this particular expression.” (The interjection “God be our help!” was equivalent to “God help us!”)

Hey also notes that in the Essex tax rolls for 1381, three men had the last name Inthelane, a name for where they lived. Eventually, Hey writes, the article and preposition fell out of the last name, and “in time, Inthelane became simply Lane.”

There were no rules about this. As Richard A. McKinley writes in A History of British Surnames (1990): “It is generally impossible to say why, for instance, a man living about 1300 who was a blacksmith, who had a father called William, and who walked with a limp, came to be called Smith, rather than Williamson or Crookshank.”

We’ve written several posts about the development of surnames in English, which is a fascinating subject.

In 2016 we wrote about occupational surnames like Potter, Weaver, and the ubiquitous Smith, which was recorded as a byname as early as the 900s.

We’ve also discussed names based on color (White, Black, Green, Reade, etc.) or personal appearance (as in Fairfax, for “fair haired”).

In addition, we’ve written posts about family names that include particles like “de” and “la,” and about British surnames that don’t look like their pronunciations, as with Cholmondeley (pronounced “Chumley”) and Featherstonehaugh (“Fanshaw”).

We’ve also discussed names that include “-kin” (Watkins, Hawkins, Jenkins, and so on), as well as those odd-looking names that begin with a double “f” (as in ffoulkes and ffolliott).

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When English met Latin

Q: I was just wondering if y’all could write about the influence of Latin on English—the Roman occupation, the Norman Conquest, etc.

A: That’s a broad question, too broad for an exhaustive answer, but let’s look at the high points.

English developed in Britain more than 1,500 years ago when Germanic tribes (mainly Angles and Saxons) invaded a Celtic-speaking land already colonized by Latin-speaking Romans. (The Germanic tribes also included Jutes, Frisians, and Franks, according to various medieval accounts.)

As we’ve already said on our blog, English is a Germanic language; it evolved from the prehistoric Germanic that produced German, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic, and other related languages. However, English stands out because of its many borrowings from non-Germanic languages.

Although it’s not unusual for one language to borrow words from another, English has been a lexical sponge, absorbing numerous words from dozens of languages. And as you apparently suspect, the major source of English loanwords is Latin, either directly or indirectly by way of French and to a lesser extent other Romance languages.

In Borrowed Words: A History of Loanwords in English (2014), Philip Durkin writes that “Latin and French are by far the most prolific contributors of loanwords” to English.

Durkin, deputy chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, illustrated that point on Slate’s language blog in 2014 with a graphic that tracks the 14 most popular sources of loanwords in English over the centuries.

The core vocabulary of Old English, the Anglo-Saxon language that developed in Britain, was Germanic. But Latin had already slipped into the Low German dialects spoken by the invaders before they arrived, according to From Old English to Standard English: A Course Book in Language Variation Across Time (1998), by the linguist Dennis Freeborn.

Freeborn lists several dozen Old English words of Latin origin that the Anglo-Saxons brought with them to Britain, including butere (“butter,” from the Latin butyrum), cuppe (“cup,” from cuppa), disc (“dish,” from discus), forca (“fork,” from furca), line (“line,” from linea), mil (“mile,” from from milea), pipor (“pepper,” from piper), stært (“street,” from strata), and win (“wine,” from vinum).

He doesn’t explain how Germanic tribes picked up those Latin words, but we assume it was from their contacts, often hostile, with Roman troops trying to control the rebellious province of Germania.

Interestingly, Freeborn notes that hardly any of the Latin words spoken by educated Celts during the Roman occupation of the province of Britannia from 43 to 410 AD “were passed on from this source to the Anglo-Saxon invaders” in Britain. “An exception,” he adds, “was the -caster/-chester suffix for place-names like Doncaster and Manchester, from the Latin castra, meaning camp.”

The influence of Latin on Old English (spoken from around 450 to 1150) increased after Pope Gregory sent a group of Christian missionaries to Britain in the late 6th century. The missionaries, led by Augustine, prior of a Benedictine monastery in Rome, arrived in 597, and within a few years had converted Æthelberht, King of Kent.

In addition to spreading Christianity, the missionaries spread Latin, which became the language of education and scholarship. Latin gave Old English such ecclesiastical terms as discipul (“disciple,” from discipulus), mæssa (“mass,” from missa), nunne (“nun,” from nonna), preost (“priest,” from presbyter), and sabat (“sabbath,” from sabbatum),  as well as secular terms like circul (“circle,” from circulus), fefor (“fever,” from febris), plante (“plant,” from planta), scol (“school,” from schola), and talente (“talent,” from talenta).

However, the impact of Latin on English was relatively minor until the Norman Conquest in 1066 and the development of Middle English (roughly 1150-1500).

In Borrowed Words, Durkin describes the language of the educated elite after the Conquest as “English/French/Latin trilingualism,” and adds that “for almost all of the Middle English period it would have been more or less impossible to pursue any mode of life that involved literacy without having considerable, probably native-like, competence in Anglo-French and Latin, as well as in English.”

The language of the church was Latin, while the language of government, the law, and business was Latin or Anglo-French. “The situation gradually changed in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries,” Durkin writes, “as English began to be used in an ever-increasing range of professional functions.”

The frequent use of Latin and Anglo-French by the trilingual speakers began to influence their English and the English of their servants, and very gradually influenced the language of the general population, “most of whom were probably monolingual throughout this period,” according to Durkin.

The linguist Suzanne Kemmer has a page on her Words in English website that includes dozens of loanwords borrowed from French (and ultimately Latin) during the Middle English period. Here are some of them, broken down into categories, and using modern spellings:

Law and government: attorney, countrycrime, defendant, judge, parliament, tax. Churchabbot, clergy, friar, prayer, religion, saintNobility: baron, count, duke, noble, royal (she contrasts them with these native words: king, queen, earl, lord, lady, knight). Military: army, artillerybattle, captain, defense, enemy, soldier. Cookingbeef, dine, mutton, pork, salmon, vealCulture: art, dance, painting, sculpture.

(In a 2007 post on our blog, we note that many English words for barnyard animals are of Anglo-Saxon origin: “calf,” “cow,” “ox,” “pig,” “hog,” “swine,” and “sheep.” But many words for the meat that comes from those animals are of Anglo-French origin: “veal,” “beef,” “pork,” and “mutton.”)

During the early modern period (1500-1650), according to Kemmer, English got even more words of Latin origin, including agile, abdomen, anatomy, area, capsule, compensate, dexterity, excavate, expensive, fictitious, gradual, habitual, insane, janitor, meditate, notorious, orbit, peninsula, physician, superintendent, ultimate, and vindicate.

And during the modern period (from 1650 to the present day), she writes, English has continued to get words from Latin, directly or via French. Here are some French examples she cites: ballet, bouillabaise, cabernet, cachet, champagne, chic, cognac, corsage, faux pas, quiche, rouge, sachet, salon, saloon, sangfroid, and savoir faire.

As Durkin concludes in Slate, words of Latin origin “have become an indispensable part of English. Even among the 1000 most frequently used words in modern English, not far short of 50 percent have come into the language from French or Latin.”

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