Size, Temperature, Altitude, Age #PlainEnglish #Anglish #SaxonEnglish #PureEnglish

August 11, 2018

The words “size”, “temperature”, “altitude”, and “age” are all borrowed words: Old French sise (1300ad), Latin temperatura (1670), Latin altitudinem (1300s), and Old French aage (1200s). Why should words for such basic concepts be borrowed? This is particularly the case when we have words such as “length”, “height”, and “depth” derived from the adjectives “long”, “high”, and “deep”. Why shouldn’t adjectives such as “big”, “hot”, “high/tall”, and “old” give rise to analogous derived abstract nouns?

Note that we talk about “length”, derived as it is from “long”, even for short things. Likewise, we have: “height” from “high”, even for short things; “depth” from “deep”, even for shallow things; and “width” and “breadth” from “wide” and “broad”, even for narrow things. Further note that the biggest or positive polarity is taken as the default, just as elsewhere in the language; there is “happy”, “sad”, and “unhappy”, but “unsad” is marked and odd-sounding.

Therefore, as weird or comical as these may sound at first, I think the following are the logical and sensible Saxon English alternatives to their Franco-Latinate counterparts:

  • “size” becomes “bigness”
  • “temperature” becomes “heat” or “hotness”
  • “altitude” becomes “highness”
  • “age” becomes “oldth” or “oldness” (I feel that “oldth” is just about passable, despite -th no longer being productive, whereas “bigth” and “heath” don’t work for me on an intuitive level, and “heighth” is an informal, dialectal, and humorous form of “height”)

I feel that “altitude” is different enough from “height” that we can’t always use the latter instead; “what’s the altitude of this plane” seems to work, but swapping in “height” seems not to. But as so often is the case, the Latinate word is used where the plainer, Saxon word could be: “What altitude are we flying at?” can be perfectly well said as “how high are we flying?” My proposal of “highness”, just like “bigness”, “heat/hotness”, and “oldth/oldness”, should only be used where the more basic word is inappropriate.

© Bryan A. J. Parry

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Spelling: -o(u)r

February 14, 2018

One of the most well-known splits between US and UK spelling is the ending –o(u)r found in colour/color, honour/honor, valour/valor and so on. Whatever your opinion of either spelling, it should be noted that the forms are French and Latin and therefore should probably be taken out of Anglish. However, short of getting rid of every single word in the tongue which has this ending, which may not be possible, we need to face the need to make these forms more English. But how should we do this?

Broadly speaking, –our is French whereas –or is Latin. See the history from below. The English form for this sound in the position is almost always –er, as in teacher. Now, folk might not want to spell words like “colo(u)r” the logical English way, “culler”, as this Anglish movement is not primarily about spellings. But spellings are a part of the language. And many words simply cannot be taken out of the speech; even Icelandic and German have many outland borrowings. But there is no reason why the outland spelling should stay. Bear in mind that spellings like “onner” (for “hono(u)r”) are attested.

Folk may also complain that –er makes agent nouns (a “teacher” is one who teaches), and so spelling it “culler” might confuse issues with one who culls. But in any case, –er isn’t exclusive for agents, unless “butter” is someone who butts. And indeed, “butter” being one who butts is a perfectly legitimate word — none-the-less, context tells us what we mean.

So how’s this for an Anglish proposal? Where we cannot get rid of –o(u)r words, change the spelling to –er, particularly where the rest of the word doesn’t need changing at all: so maybe maybe not “culler”, but definitely “governer”. 

© 2017-2018 Bryan A. J. Parry

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-orword-forming element making nouns of quality, state, or condition, from Middle English -our, from Old French -our (Modern French -eur), from Latin -orem (nominative -or), a suffix added to past participle verbal stems. Also in some cases from Latin -atorem (nominative -ator).

In U.S., via Noah Webster, -or is nearly universal (but not in glamour, curious, generous), while in Britain -our is used in most cases (but with many exceptions: author, error, senator, ancestor, horror etc.). The -our form predominated after c. 1300, but Mencken reports that the first three folios of Shakespeare’s plays used both spellings indiscriminately and with equal frequency; only in the Fourth Folio of 1685 does -our become consistent.

A partial revival of -or on the Latin model took place from 16c. (governour began to lose its -u- 16c. and it was gone by 19c.), and also among phonetic spellers in both England and America (John Wesley wrote that -or was “a fashionable impropriety” in England in 1791).

Webster criticized the habit of deleting -u- in -our words in his first speller (“A Grammatical Institute of the English Language,” commonly called the Blue-Black Speller) in 1783. His own deletion of the -u- began with the revision of 1804, and was enshrined in the influential “Comprehensive Dictionary of the English Language” (1806), which also established in the U.S. -ic for British -ick and -er for -re, along with many other attempts at reformed spelling which never caught on (such as masheen for machine). His attempt to justify them on the grounds of etymology and the custom of great writers does not hold up.

Fowler notes the British drop the -u- when forming adjectives ending in -orous (humorous) and derivatives in -ation and -ize, in which cases the Latin origin is respected (such as vaporize). When the Americans began to consistently spell it one way, however, the British reflexively hardened their insistence on the other. “The American abolition of -our in such words as honour and favour has probably retarded rather than quickened English progress in the same direction.” [Fowler]


June 19, 2017

The English town “Shrewsbury”. How do you say it? Some, like me, say it as “shrowes-bury”, to rhyme with “owes”. Others say “shroos-bury”, to rhyme with “shoes”?

This town’s name is quite interesting as it shows how the Norman’s mucked our speech up.

In the beginning, the town was “Scrobbesbyrig”.

The Normans couldn’t pronounce “scr-“, which was said more-or-less like the modern “shr”. So they spelt it, and said it, as “sr”. That also proved too hard for them, though, so they then changed it to “sar”. To make things worse, the sounds /n/, /l/, and /r/ often change their positions (“metathesis”) or swap for each other, hence Latin parabola but Spanish palabra and English palaver, or Spanish playa but Portuguese praia. Thus, Normanised “Saropesberie” became “Salopesberie” — and remember, the Old English form was “Scrobbesbyrig”! This is also why the shortening of the shire’s name, Shropshire, is “Salop.”

Lay folk carried on saying it as they always did. Throw in a few regular sound changes from the Middle Ages, such as b–>v–>u, and we got the modern pronunciations and spelling around 500 years ago.

Wow, did the Normans muck our speech up!

But what of the “right” way to say the town’s name: “Shrowesbury”, or “Shroosbury”? The simple answer is that both are right; enough folk say both to warrant both being considered right, and that includes folk who grew up in the town itself! But I reckon “Shrowesbury” might better represent the continuation of ancient “Scrobbesbyrig”, whereas “Shroosbury” looks to me like a spelling pronunciation based on the animal “shrew”. Look at the northern spelling pronunciations of “tong” (to rhyme with “long”) set against the southern pronunciation which rhymes with “young” and which represents a continuation of the original “tung” of Old English.

The moral of this tale is twofold. One, there isn’t always one right way of saying a word. Two, don’t get scribes who can’t speak the language to devise or modify a spelling system for it!

© 2017 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Backbones #Anglish #PlainEnglish

February 15, 2017


We talk of someone having or needing to get a backbone. This of course means to get a spine. But we don’t just use “backbone” metaphorically; the word “backbone” has meant a literal spine ever since the early 1300s.

“Spine” is from the Latin spina. So a plain Saxon English / Anglish alternative for spine is backbone.

It then struck me that the backbone itself is actually made of lots of little bones: vertebrae. Each of these is surely a backbone, too. So we have backbones made of backbones? Or perhaps, made of backbonelings… I wasn’t happy with this wordmess. And then I remembered that knuckle doesn’t just mean the finger joint, it also refers to any (particularly knobbly) joint of the body. Thus, your backbone is made up of knuckles; or to be overly clear, back-knuckles. No need to use Latin spine or vertebra or that dodgy outlandish plural –ae.

© 2017 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Gite #PlainEnglish #Anglish

February 1, 2017


I love house-buying shows. Mostly they look at homes in Spain or Portugual. But today they were looking in France. Just when you thought estate-agent-speak couldn’t get worse than bijou, cosy (=cramped), and the like, I learnt a new word: gîte. After about three minutes, and hearing it several times, the word had already begun to irk me. After an hour, I was ready to start stabbing.

So far as I can tell, the word means a small cottage or annex, self-catering. The Oxford English wordbook defines it as:

A stopping-place, lodging … a furnished or self-catering holiday home, usu. in a rural district.

Call me a “luddite” if you will, but what is wrong with (French-style) self-board holiday home/cot(e)? Or if that’s too overly specific, what about hire holiday home?

I think gîte, even without its little letter-hat (gite), is needless,  pretentious, dreck.

© 2017 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Century #Anglish #PlainEnglish

January 17, 2017


The twenty-first century, a test century in cricket, a Roman century led by a centurion. Century means, as we all know, one hundred — of anything. The words come from the Latin centuria. But why bother with “century” at all? We have the word hundred! And the madness doesn’t stop there.

We have homegrown words for ten, hundred, and thousand. Yet we borrow the words for the same periods of years: decade, century, millennium? German gets by quite well with homegrown Jahrzehnt, Jahrhundert, and Jahrtausand; literally, ‘year-ten’, ‘year-hundred’, and ‘year-thousand’. So why can’t English?

Of course, in English we can just say things like “ten years” or “tens of years”. But a lot of the time this doesn’t quite work. These are descriptive phrases, when what we sometimes really want is one noun that pithily expresses the same concept. So in step decade, century, and millenium as our lexical saviours.

Yet it wasn’t always so.

Century only came into English in the 1530s with the sense of “hundred”. It only took on the meaning “period of a hundred years” in around the 1650s as a short form of the phrase “a century of years”. Likewise, decade only came into English in the mid-fifteenth century meaning “ten parts”, it acquiring the sense of “period of ten years” in the 1590s. And millennium, in the sense of any thousand year period, is only recorded from 1711.

So what did we say before then?

Confusingly, the Old English word for decade was hund. Century was ældu, as in eld, elder, old. Compare Modern Idelandic öld ‘century’.

These wouldn’t work for nowadays English. So what should we do?

  • When you can swap decade, century, or millenium out for the following phrases with no awkwardness or unnaturalness, then do so: ten years, tens of years, a hundred years, hundreds of years, a thousand years, thousands of years.
  • When you mean a group or amount of, then say tenfold, a group of ten, hundredfold, a group of hundred, thousandfold, a group of a thousand.
  • When you want to say “the twentieth century” (and so on), say “the 1900s” instead — like in Swedish.
  • You can also say ton for hundred, especially in money or speed or sport.

And when these don’t work, I say that Germanising “year-ten” is too un-English. I put forward the following.

1. Ten-year, hundred-year, thousand-year

“I met your Mum three ten-years ago”: cannot be mistaken for “ten years ago”.
“The Battle of Hastings was almost a thousand-year ago”: cannot be mistaken for “a thousand years ago”
“The twentieth hundred-year was a time of great change”: cannot be mistaken for anything.

2. I also put forward, on the analogy of “century of years” being simplified to “century”, these: ten, hundred, thousand.

“It’s been hundreds since England had a separate parliament”
“Tens ago, mobile phones was science fiction”
“Stonehenge was built thousands ago”

3. Swedish also provides a good model with hundratal: hundred-deal. Deal of course can mean amount or quantity, as in “a good deal of rain”.

ten-deal, hundred-deal, thousand-deal.

© 2016-2017 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Natural Functions Part One: Shitting #Anglish #PlainEnglish

August 17, 2016


Eating, drinking, shagging, shitting: what could be more natural than these four things? In this post, I’ll be taking a look at the fourth: shitting.

It’s always irked me that on public toilets, the lock reads “engaged” or “vacant”. Why not the Saxon English “busy” and “free” instead?

imageThe room itself is a “toilet”, which is a French word. In British English, we half-jokingly call it the “bog“, a solid Saxon word (in heart, if not in genes!). I say “half” jokingly, as this is more-or-less the go-to word that I use!

Americans call it the “bathroom” when they’re being polite — another true English word. But I find this usage ridiculous: my answer to, “Where’s the bathroom?” is, “Oh, off for a bath are we?”… or, at least, that would be my answer if I wasn’t so English and well-mannered! I’ve also heard “restroom” — more Saxon English.

In Britain, we can also call it a “lav/lavvy” or a “loo“. The former comes from Latin lavatorium, but is a bishop-shifting thereof, so isn’t too bad. And the latter’s birth is unclear, but may be a pun on “Waterloo” (as in, “water closet”) or from the French lieux d’aisances.

imagePeople I know, including me, often call it a “shithouse“, more salty Saxon, although many would find this rude. And when a toilet it outside, we all call it an “outhouse” — Saxon wins yet again. And we see again how great -house is!

Of course, in many languages and not just English, it is known as a “WC“, short for “water closet”. “Water” is good Saxon, but “closet” is French; we could say the “C” stands for “cupboard”, too. “Cupboard” of course refers to shelves (boards) with cups on them, yet “Cupboard” now just refers to any small room/inbuilt storage space. (mark well: it’s true that “cup” is Latin, but it was borrowed in the Old English period and throughout the Germanic languages).

And then there’s “little boys’ room“, “powder room”, and I often use “my thinking room” — as it seems to be the only place I can get peace and quiet at times! — or “newspaper reading room”. Although “powder” isn’t homeborn English, and “boy” might not be Germanic.

In any case, plenty of choices other than “toilet”.

imageThe porcelain thing you sit on itself is also known as a “toilet”. And in Britain, we use “bog” to refer to the place you sit as well a the room. I often call it, jokingly, a “glory seat” — though “Glory” isn’t homeborn English (“wuldor” was our own word, but that is deader than Harold II). “Shit-seat“, “shitter“, “shit-hole” (although mostly in metaphorical use) are words I use, and I have heard “crapper” and “crap-stool“. Therefore, “shit-stool” should work. You may have noticed that in polite English we refer to one’s “stools”; this literally comes from the word “stool” (which is the homeborn and original general use word for “chair”). Yes, historically, the toilet thing itself was known as a “stool“. But I actually think I might like to keep “shit-stool” to gloss “commode”! Or perhaps, on the analogy of the “bed-pan”, a “commode” should be a “seatpan” or “stoolpan“.

imageIn public men’s toilets, there is often the urinal as well. When it is a bowl, that is for individual use, I call it a “pissbowl” or a “weebowl“. When it is a trough, a long one for several men, I call it a “pisstrough” or a “weetrough“. “Urine cakes” are, of course, “weecakes” or “pisscakes” — or, as a euphemism, “yellow-cakes” (as most are yellow).

imagePosh houses, and European houses, also have a bidet. William Barnes, the nineteenth century poet and one of the Gods of the Anglish movement, came up with the unbestable word “saddle-bath“, for it is literally a bath which you saddle. I used to call it a “bum/bottom-sink”, but “saddle-bath” is so much better.

Speaking of which: please, American cousins, stop saying “basin” and “faucet”; use the true English “sink” and “tap“.

imageBy the way, we wash our hands with “soap”, but we wash our hair with “shampoo”. Now, I don’t mind “shampoo”; it’s a lovely left-over part of our hundreds of years in India (for it is a Hindi word champo). But why not just say “hairsoap“? By the way, I do often say that.

And last of all, what do we do in the bog? Or at least, what are we meant to do! Defecate/defecation and excrement, urine/urinate and micturate/micturition are unacceptable nonsense. I like it better when folk call a “spade” a “spade”: it’s “shit(e)” and “piss“, guys (both noun and verb).

But if you can’t bear such words, we have other Saxon softer words.  These include “poo“, “plop“, “dung“, “number two“, “turd“, and we’ve already met “stool” and its verb form “pass a stool“. For the other thing, we have “wee“, for a noun and a verb, and the verb “pass water“.

© 2016 Bryan A. J. Parry

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