TV programmes can be great at spreading words and popularising their use. The rise in the UK of hitherto unknown terms such as “douchebag”, for example, I lay squarely at the door of US TV shows. Why? Simply put: nobody in the UK uses, has seen, or even knows what an actual “douchebag” is. I’ve asked young Britons who use the term what exactly a “douchebag” is; they blush and sheepishly mumble “I dunno”. The same goes for many other Americanisms. TV is great at spreading words — and most TV is American, so there we go.
Other examples of TV spreading words that might ring true, especially notable for the fact that they are made up words, are “frack” (Battlestar Galactica, 2004), “naff off” (Porridge, 1974), and “lergy” (The Goonies, 1951-60). These words can and are used by people without intentional reference to the shows that spawned them and, indeed, often with no knowledge of said shows or that the words sprang from there!
Anyway, does the allwhereness of TV mean that we may be able to popularise Anglish words if they pop up in widely-liked shows? The answer is yes indeed!
But what kind of programme is going to use Anglish words? The obvious answer is anything in the fantasy genre.
Writer of The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien, has had a massive influence in this respect (including and notably through the Peter Jackson film adaptions). He has thoroughly inlivened previously dead or nearly-dead* words such as “wraith”, “Middle Earth”, “turnkey”, “-moot” (as in “Entmoot”), “rede”, and “whither” (see more words here). More than that, he has rehabilitated the elven race; in old Germanic mytholgy, they were man-sized and similar to Tolkien’s portrayal, but by the nineteenth century, that noble race (yes, I do know they aren’t real… or are they?? Answer: no) had become degenerated in the folkmind as fairy-like tiny beings (see the tale of The Elves and The Shoemaker for a prime example). But due to Tolkien, we almost can’t even think of elves as small fairy-like beings anymore.
Another more recent example of the fantasy genre popularising Anglish formations is the completely amazing Game of Thrones. Based on George Martin’s book series A Game of Ice and Fire, this show has grabbed people who wouldn’t know their kobolds from their gibberlings. And, like all greats, Martin has both brought back woords from the brink, and crafted his own idiosyncratic wordstock.
Let’s have a look at some of his Anglish-style formations. Wonderful words that I feel could permeate into standard English such is the influence of the truly marvellous show that is based on his works.
raper noun aka “rapist”
The word “rape” is actually from Old French rapir, although it’s hard to believe; the word seems thoroughly English. However, the ending -ist is definitely not thoroughly English. Therefore, let’s do as the show does and use the English agent ending -er. Raper. I’ve actually heard people use this word without apparent reference to Game of Thrones — but only since the show took off!
highborn noun aka “noble”
Noblemen are referred to as “highborn”. Makes sense. Funny thing is, I’ve always used this as my Anglish oversetting of the term. Always good to know that someone else hit upon the same idea!
lowborn noun aka “commoner”
Just like “highborn”, this makes sense and I’ve always used it in Anglish.
wildling noun aka “savage”
A “wildling” can fairly be glossed as “savage”. Indeed, in the Spanish dub/subtitled version of GoT, “wildling” is translated as salvaje — savage.
knee-bender noun aka “subject”
This is an interesting one. A person who owes allegiance to a king or queen is known properly in English as a “subject”. In the programme, the word “knee-bender” is used by the wildlings to refer, in intention disparagingly, to anyone who bends their knee to a king, that is, anyone who is a subject.
If you’ve noticed any others in Martin’s work, let me know and I’ll update this post.
*incidentally, I just realised “nearly-dead” is a pretty good nonce word for “moribund”.
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© 2014 – 2015 Bryan A. J. Parry
One of my favorite Martin word is “smallclothes”, which is the word he uses for “underwear”
I don’t think it’s an old English word (for all I know, it’s a common saying outside the US)
I also like how he doesn’t use the word “peasant”, he refers to the unwashed masses as “smallfolk”
Thanks for posting this article!
Cheers, mate. I’m glad you liked the post. Those are pretty great words. Question: do you remember them being used in the TV show?
I don’t think I’ve heard anyone say “smallclothes” before!
The TV show certainly hasn’t used “smallclothes,” although in the show’s defense, no one said the words out loud in the books, as I recall. It was always a description of ‘Tyrion couldn’t wait to get her out of her smallclothes’ or stuff like that.
I’ve also not heard anyone on the show say “smallfolk”, but I’ve heard the word “peasants” used.