How to Ruin a Good Language

Lately I have been doing some story writing.  It has mainly consisted of taking seeds that come into my mind and seeing what they grow into in writing (usually the plant grows quickly for a few paragraphs and then withers into a brown stub).  In the process I have learned a lot about word etymology.  J.R.R. Tolkien, as a philologist, cared a lot about words and where they came from.  In his writings he avoided words that were new, which for him were words that came into existence in the past few hundred years.  He also disliked words of French origin.  This led me to a revelation as I tried to write a story avoiding those words.  It is the revelation that the Norman Invasion was the worst thing that has happened to the English Language.  French as usual is the source of the problem.

Old English was the language spoken in Britain from around 600-1100 AD.  The Norman invasion in 1066 brought early French in the island.  Out of this sprung Middle English which eventually evolved into the Modern English we speak today.  Old English is an earthy language, raw and solid as compared to the floweriness and fanciness of French.  French is the source of many of those hard to spell words, like reservoir and rogue whose spelling goes against common sense and is the cause of my life long struggle with spelling.

From Old English we get words like doom and death.  As you can see their spelling makes much more sense.  Old English may lack the ability to discuss as many abstract ideas as French, but makes up for it in word imagery.  For example, one word for leader or chief in Old English is “goldwine,” which literally means gold friend as ancient chieftains often rewarded their followers with the spoils of war.  If you look for a book containing Old English words and their definitions today you will discover that they are literally called word-hordes, a word I like much better than dictionary.

My most powerful weapon against French words has been spell-check, the word itself a kind of hands across the channel, with each growing up on different sides (I will leave the reader to determine which is which).  Perhaps I should leave it at this and stop bashing the French language.  Ultimately both came from Indian Sanskrit and share a common heritage, no matter how far removed.  Since I can’t be that impartial I will end with an expression of Old English origin.  To the reader, Godspeed.


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