Fighting Latin With Latin

In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit…

In trying to come up with true English (a.k.a. “Anglish”) alternatives to Hellenised, Latinised, or Frenchified English (hereafter, “Fancy English”), we risk overstepping the mark  into ye olde Englyshe land and sounding like Frodo Baggins. A randomly drawn example of what I’m talking about here comes from The Anglish Moot. It lists “pacifist” along with its Anglish counterpart: frithweaver(!) This sort of thing does our cause no good, as it makes us seem cranky, twee, and disconnected from reality (which we may well be, but we can’t let them know that!)

So, how could we sidestep such weirdy-beardy English whilst coming up with real English alternatives to fancy English? Well, why not let’s just adapt these “fancy” English words to true English word patterns?

But how would this work? First, we should look at what Anglishers currently do.

Reinventing the wheel a.k.a. English is NOT the Edda

Let’s take the word “electricity”. This is, both in the spelling and the saying, clearly an “educated” borrowing into English. From our standpoint, it is problematic because it neither sounds truly English, nor is it derived from English roots. Furthermore, it adds fuel to the intellectual fire that only Latin, Greek, or French can express highminded concepts; true English, on the other hand, being fit only to express base notions.

So what shall we do? Those of us interested in Anglish/True English/Roots English (call it what you will) would come up with a new word for it, of course. Amongst those that I have heard is the rather poetic and evocative ghostfire. Supposedly, this is a loan oversetting from Icelandic (altho the wordbooks I’ve looked in say that rafmagn refers to “amber”, just like the word “electricity” itself, and has nothing to do with ghosts or fire). However, surely this word is a non-starter. Yes, it is evocative. Yes, it is expressive. Yes, it is beautiful. Yes, it is English. But let’s get real: is anyone really going to give up “electricity” for “ghostfire”? I doubt it. I doubt the legs of this word for a few reasons, but the biggest of all is that it simply cannot be “slipped into” a sentence. It is so different, so powerfully striking, that it draws attention to itself quite self-consciously.

Another word I’ve heard (I believe from  my brother-in-Anglish arms, Chris Chamberlain) is sparkflow. We all know what a “spark” is. But the idea for the word also comes from “sparky”, which is British slang for an electrician. Now this I feel is moving more in the right direction. Don’t get me wrong: I would love for ghostfire to take off, but… not gonna happen.  I feel that sparkflow, on the other hand, has most of the positive attributes of ghostfire and is easier to “slip in” without drawing wry looks. Furthermore, it kind of has the ground partially laid for it in the aforesaid, widely-used word “sparky”. But despite these ups, sparkflow may be as misborn as ghostfire. Why? Because it obviously is a new word, of course, and draws attention to itself as such.

Biting the bullet

So what are we to do?

It seems to me, no matter how it may rankle the romantic inclinations of many an Anglisher, we are probably best just adapting these Greek, Latin, and French words to English forms (as I alluded to earlier). If that may seem like a cop-out, it most certainly is not. We’ve been doing this since forever. Let’s look at one olden example.

The word “bishop“, odd as it may seem at first glance, was borrowed from Latin episcopus (itself borrowed from Greek ἐπισκοπος episkopos: hence English words such as episcopal). We modified this word along Germanic lines by dropping the e- and the -us, changing the “p” to a “b” (note: /p/ is not a homeborn Germanic sound and was consequently disfavoured in some early borrowings), and giving it word initial stress.

So, instead of ghostfire or sparkflow, and along the lines of “bishop” which comes from episcopus, we could have lecky. And why not? This is a widely used and ready-made Anglicisation of “electricity”. It has broad currency and acceptance.

With “lecky” as a model, below is a list of a few words to demonstrate the point. They are given first in Englandish, secondly in Germanicising/ye olde Anglish, and lastly in real, de facto true English, merely phonologically adapting the forms to a more English base:

electricity ~~ ghostfire, sparkflow ~~ lecky

tobacco ~~ *pipeweed, *weed ~~ backy

potato ~~ *earthapple ~~ tater, tatty, tat, pot

banana ~~ ??? ~~ narna, nanny

tomato ~~ *loveapple ~~ tom, mater, tomater

moustache ~~ e.g. “lipbeard” ~~ ‘tache/tash, mo

cucumber ~~ *earthapple ~~ cumber

In Conclusion…

To sum up, then, I’m not saying we shouldn’t give wonderful words such as “ghostfire” or “sparkflow” a go, but we should just get used to — and, indeed, embrace! — the idea that Anglicising fancy English is more likely to yield successful English-sounding words.

AFTERNOTES

Use of “mo” seems to be spreading due to the popularity of “Movember”. Also note the above ye olde englyshe words marked with a star (*) are historically attested with those meanings in English.

UPDATES

So, whenever I come up with new words, I’ll add them here instead of making new posts. I’ll put the date of edit in brackets. Non-attested words will be marked with a star (*).

 

broccoli -> brockle (16.05.2018)

cauliflower -> cauli, colly (16.05.2018)

comfortable -> comfy (16.05.2018)

confess -> fess up (03.08.2013)

cucumber -> cuke (Note: I have heard this used), cumber (16.05.2018)

didgeridoo -> didge (03.08.2013)

mobile telephone –> mobile phone, mobile, moby (16.05.2018)

omnibus -> bus (16.05.2018)

pigeon -> pidge (Note: humorous, child-talk) (03.08.2013)

perambulator -> pram (16.05.2018)

telephone -> phone (16.05.2018)

television -> telly, TV/teevee (16.05.2018)

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6 Responses to Fighting Latin With Latin

  1. þ says:

    I have thought an alike thing, but with other words. The ones I settled on keeping were words for modern inventions where a shortened English version was already in use. So:

    telephone = phone / fone
    photograph = photo / foto
    bicycle = bike
    television = telly / tv / teevee

    • bryanajparry says:

      Definitely up for those, too. Also: tricycle = trike, refridgerator = fridge (altho I like “chiller” too much, I think), microphone = mike, computer = puter (I’ve heard and used this, leastways), microwave = nuke, and so on.

      Incidentally, while I think of it, what about “mobile (telephones)”? “Walkies”?

      • þ says:

        For fun, I’ve taken up the Google Image Test (GIT, for short): think of a new name for something, type it into Google Images, and see what comes up. It the pictures are roughly of the meaning you want, you’re good to go. On those grounds, I think “mobile” should be “handphone”.

      • Amidstmost says:

        “mobile (telephones)”? “Walkies”?

        “handphone”

        The hand- wordbit seems to go hand in hand with anything to do with phones and kindredike devices (wirelessware?)

        There is:

        handset
        handheld
        handsfree
        handy (German slang for ‘mobile phone’ gotten off British troops stead over there)

        Also fits in well with other wonderfully straightforward English words for ‘black goods’ ‘blackware’ (electronic kit?) out there, like:

        headset
        headphone (headringer?)
        landline
        laptop
        palmtop (handtop?)
        pocketbook
        walkietalkie
        speakerphone (speakerringer?)
        earpiece/earbit(?)
        brick – slang for the oldschool firstling (first generation) bigger mobiles
        blower (on the blower)
        horn (on the horn)
        ringer
        bleeper
        wireless
        network
        roaming

        Anyway, aren’t ‘wirelessgear’ with there ever widening ‘handifold’ (multi-functional) workings like: mobiles, ipods, palmtops and so forth, all blending into something like “handhelds” anyway?

    • bryanajparry says:

      Also, compare Swedish “bil” (=car) to our “automobile”… this isn’t just some nonsense we’ve made up. Another real example that I’m rather fond of is “spital/spittal” (=hospital) as seen in, for example, Spitalfields.

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