deduct #Anglish #PlainEnglish

March 7, 2018

The word deduct is very Latin-sounding. Which is no surprise, because it is Latin:

early 15c., from Latin deductus, past participle of deducere “lead down, bring away;” see deduce, with which it formerly was interchangeable. Technically, deduct refers to taking away portions or amounts; subtract to taking away numbers. Related: Deducted; deducting.

The natural Saxon word would be “take away”. But it is interesting to see that “technically” deduct means to take away amounts, whereas subtract means to take away numbers. I’m not wholly sure if anyone follows this usage, to be honest. But if they do, us Anglishers have two options.

  1. Just replace both deduct and subtract with “take away”.
  2. Try to find another word so we can replace both words.

In option two, English has the handy little word “dock”. You can dock a tail, and you can dock wages. Both cases, we are taking about “portions or amounts”.

Therefore, it seems clear: in non-technical usage, both subtract and deduct can be replaced with either take away or dock, but in technical contexts, subtract becomes take away and deduct becomes dock.

© 2017-2018 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Break #Anglish #PlainEnglish

July 27, 2017

Sadly, I haven’t posted anything new on Wrixlings for more than month. Lack of time and a bunch of personal commitments were responsible. But it was nice to be busy with other stuff and have a hiatus. Or should that be break? I can’t really see the point in the word hiatus myself — but to make the user sound clever.

Break is actually quite a useful word, coming up in all sorts of compounds.

Breakup (noun) or break up (verb) means “to disintegrate / disintegration” and comes from the literal sense of breaking up plough land.

Breakdown (noun) or break down (verb), of course, means “collapse”: a mental breakdown, a machine breaking down.

Breakeven (adjective, noun) is the point outgoings and incomings meet.

Breakaway (noun, adjective) can mean succession, separation, departing from the normal routine, or a person who does any of these.

Breakout (noun): an escape, manifestation or appearance especially of a disease, an itemisaton; (adjective) sudden increase, advance, or success, as in “Tom Cruise’s breakout film was Top Gun

Break in (noun, verb): unlawfully getting into someone’s home, car, office, and so on.

Heartbreak (noun): great sorrow, grief, anguish.

Ground-breaking (adjective): originating or pioneering new work or ideas.

What a fruitful word!

© 2017 Bryan A. J. Parry

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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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June 6, 2017

This is a really short post but, seriously, why say “miles per hour” or “once per day” when you can say “miles an hour” and “once a day/daily”?

The “a/an” we see here is not a corruption of “a/an”, but rather comes from the Old English for “on” which was an. It first meant “on (each)”, but in the end the meaning spread from times to measures, prices, places, and so on.

In other phrases, we might feel we still need “per”, but honestly, be brave! We don’t need it! Per annum, per diem, per capita, per se: all Latin. Just use the English when speaking English: a year/every year/once a year/by the year/yearly. And the same can be used of the others, too: a day, by (the) head, by itself.

So what is the point of “per”? Let’s chuck it.

© 2017 Bryan A. J. Parry

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May 16, 2017

Short post this fortnight.

Coward is from Old French coart which comes from coe ‘tail’ from the Latin coda/cauda which also means ‘tail’. It has the agent affix -ard (as in “sluggard”, “drunkard”, and so on). The idea is the same as when we say “turn tail and run”, or how a dog will put its tail between its legs. So a good Saxon alternative to “coward” is surely tail-turner.

© 2017 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Poetry #Anglish #PlainEnglish

May 5, 2017

Poetry, poem, and poet feel like such basic words, and Old English had such a great poetic tradition. Therefore, it’s a little sad to realise that we borrowed these words.

The word poetry ultimately comes from the Greek root ποιεω poieō meaning ‘I make’. In Old English, we had the words metergeweorc “meter-work” meaning ‘verse’ and metercræft “meter-craft” meaning ‘art of versification’.

Some senses of the word meter are ultimately from Greek, but some senses are from Old English. The homeborn, Germanic word is mete + er, mete meaning to measure (as in “mete out justice”). Thus meter is also Saxon word.

Poetry isn’t really about riming, but about the metre, that is, the rhythm and stresses. Therefore, meterwork and metercraft work really well for the word poem and poetry respectively.

A poet is clearly a meterworker or meterwright and/or a metercrafter/metercraftsman.

We also have the word skald which refers to a Scandinavian poet or singer of the Middle Ages — but we can easily take this word and update it for modern use (after all, “electric” comes from the Ancient Greek word meaning “amber”!) We might wish to spell this “scald” to show we have made the word English (and yes, the English word “scald” is indeed the same word as the Norse word skald! The link? Think how poets (and rappers) scald their opponents in verse).

Unlike in many languages, there is no deedword (verb) in English such as “poetrise”; that is, to do poetry. But with our Saxon forms about, we have no issue: both work and craft can be deedwords as well as namewords (nouns). So “I write poetry/I poetrise” could be “I meterwork/metercraft”.

© 2017 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Obey #Anglish #PlainEnglish

April 17, 2017

This post is a lesson in how hard it can be to think clearly and come up with pithy plain, Saxon English wordforms.

I watched the wonderful film 3096 Days on Netflix last night. No spoilers, but the film featured the word obey prominently. It got me thinking: how would we say “obey” in Plain English?

Now, as far as French borrowings go, “obey” isn’t bad. It’s quite a short word and pretty much obeys(!) the sound structure of English. But it’s not plain English.

Do as you’re told, do what so-and-so tells you to do, follow (after): try to use these and similar phrases when you can.

But what about when we need a shorter expression? What Saxonism could we use?

We could make a phraseword on the analogy of words like wannabe (from the phrase “want(s) to be”). So how about… Tell-do? Say-do? They don’t quite work, do they?

Obey ultimately comes from the Latin meaning “listen to, pay attention to, give ear”. So… Give-ear/ear-give? Listen-do? Forheed? Nice, but I’m not sure they work 100%.

So let’s look to older English words.

Old English had the great word hiersum ‘hearsome’ (like handsome). Why not use this? Or better still, “listensome”? Why? Because listen is distinguished from hear in that it implies that your attention has been directed, whereas hear just means (passively) taking sound into your ear.

So if hearsome or listensome are the adjective, and the abstract noun would clearly be hearsomeness or listensomeness, what would the verb be? Old English had hiersumnian: hiersum with the verb ending, no longer in English. We could follow other -some words and use a phrase with to be. So, “Obey me!”, would be, “Be hearsome/listensome!” And, “You have to obey your father” might be, “You have to be hearsome/listensome with your father”.

As it happens, the root is the verb. Set side-by-side “He is tiresome” and “He tires me”. But there’s a problem: “hear” and “listen” don’t mean “obey”! Interesting, we say “listen to“, so maybe “listen” alone might be “obey”: “Listen to your father” and “Listen (=obey) your father”.

Maybe hear-listen to emphasise the point. “You have to hear-listen (to)   your teachers”.

…but in that case, I feel myself drawn back to “listen-do”. Do is the key, as obey mean do it, whatever it is. But compare: Obey your father and Do your father(!) No, it’s Do the thing that your father says. Using do changes the desired object of the verb.

Maybe swap the order around? Do-hear your father, hear-hear, listen-listen, forlisten/forhear, full-listen, fullhear. To-listen? Cf. Overdo, do over mean different things even tho bring in and in-bring don’t. So why can to-listen mean something different to listen to? You must to-listen your father.

We might use the words “hark” and “heed” in some way. Say, “full-heed your father!”. But this doesn’t work for me either.

We often say a word again to emphasise we mean a “real” or “legitimate” version of the thing: “I want to eat food food, not hamburgers” (that is, real, nourishing food); “I’m talking about football football, not American Football” (in a British context, likely meaning “soccer”). So: Listen-listen meaning to really listen, that is, listen and do… AKA obey.

In short, I am struggling to find a Saxon English form which is Plain English enough and which is short. My best ideas in this post are likely listensome (obedient), listen (without “to”) or listen-listen or listen-and-do (obey), listensomeness (obedience).

EDIT: Danny Scwartz left a comment below putting forward “befollow” on the German analog. Not quite perfect, but an outstanding suggestion. Many thanks, Danny!

© 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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