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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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