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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Hybrid #PlainEnglish #Anglish #PureEnglish

December 19, 2016


hybrid (noun) c. 1600, “offspring of plants or animals of different variety or species,” from Latin hybrida, variant of ibrida “mongrel,” specifically “offspring of a tame sow and a wild boar,” of unknown origin but probably from Greek and somehow related to hubris. A rare word before the general sense “anything a product of two heterogeneous things” emerged c. 1850. The adjective is attested from 1716. As a noun meaning “automobile powered by an engine that uses both electricity and gasoline,” 2002, short for hybrid vehicle, etc.

hybridize (verb)

From the Online Etymology Dictionary

We can see indeed from our day-to-day experience that the words hybrid and hybridize are growing in popularity. But what’s wrong with our own Saxon words for these things?

The nameword (noun) is either: cross, crossbreed, or mongrel. I suggest a further word: blendbreed. Obviously, as far as “hybrid” cars go, “cross” is probably the best fit. We might also say half-and-half or half-half cars. And note that mongrel can (but needn’t) have negatives tones, whereas cross and crossbreed are more judgement-free.

The deedword (verb) can therefore either be: cross, crossbreed, and blendbreed.

© 2016 Bryan A. J. Parry

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