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

featured image from http://images5.fanpop.com/image/photos/31100000/poetry-poetry-31167131-998-783.jpg


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

featured image from http://www.hotel-r.net/im/hotel/fr/gîte-61.jpg

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

featured image from http://i.ytimg.com/vi/MK7sju6Ka8E/maxresdefault.jpg

Wildfire Spreads

January 19, 2016


Wildfire is any large fire which spreads quickly and is hard to put out. Originally, it referred to the Greek fire, a highly flammable (firesome? flamesome?) substance deliberately launched, particularly at rival ships, to devastating effect.

The same thing can happen with words. Like any meme, words can spread swiftly and with inevitable and ferocious effect. The Greek wildfire was created deliberately for a particular end. Yet it is hard to force a meme or word to spread like wildfire. Unless we have an accelerant to speed and intensify the flame, that is. And one such accelerant is analogy.

The Spread by Analogy: Successful Examples

We used to say popular antiquities. But then in 1846, William J. Thoms came up with the word folklore as a deliberate Anglo-Saxonism. Now the phrase popular antiquities belongs with the Dodo, and formations in folk– have caught fire and spread wildly by analogy: folk art, folk music, folk musician, folk-song, folk-dance, folk-tale, folk-hero, folk-medicine.

Likewise, foreword was created in the nineteenth century probably as a loan translation of German Vorwort. It hasn’t completely replaced the Latin-based preface, but it’s made serious headway. Foreword sits nicely alongside the English word foreskin, itself created in the sixteenth century as a loan translation of the Latinate prepuce. In truth, who now would rather say prepuce or preface than foreskin and foreword?*

Another favourite Anglo-Saxonism of mine is handbook. This great word was the original Old English, which, like so many others, was ousted by Latinate manual in the Middle English period (from the Latin root itself meaning “hand”). During the nineteenth century, the word was given life again in imitation of German Handbuch. Apparently this word was decried in the beginning. But what could now be more natural or logical than handbook?

The Spread by Analogy: Your Turn

Indeed, the analogy of such successful words, and other words of similar form such as forehead, means the accelerant is already in place. We merely need to try coming up with other analogous words. If we slip them into our speech and writing, who knows, they may too spread like wildfire.

What new forms can you come up with in folk-, –lore, hand-, –book, fore-, and –word? Have you tried using them in conversation? Are you brave enough?(!) I’ll post up some forms I use in a forthcoming post: plenty of time for you to think up your own as well!

*However, note that preface as a noun is probably buttressed by the use of preface as a verb.

© 2015-2016 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_fire#/media/File%3AGreekfire-madridskylitzes1.jpg

Yule and the Months #Yule #Christmas #TrueMeaningOfChristmas

December 23, 2015


Christmas, Xmas, Noel, Yule. So many names. But why? Christ-mass: that one’s simple enough. “X” is the first letter of the word Christ in Greek (Χριστος), hence Xmas. Noel comes from French, and ultimately the Latin, for “birth” [that is,  of Jesus]. Yule, on the other hand, was originally the name for a heathen feast of around the same period.

Yule is therefore the homeborn English word. And as a non-Christian Englishman, I like to use Yule to consciously stand for the cultural, as opposed to religious, celebration. Why? Because “Christmas” is and always has been about more than just Christianity. Eventually the word Yule fell out of use, except in some dialects, and was brought back to mainstream life in the nineteenth century.

The thought might occur to you: if the homeborn English word yule was replaced, perhaps the names of the months were too. And that’s exactly right. Here’s a quote from the venerable Bede’s The Reckoning of Time.

January, is Giuli; February is called Solmonath; March Hrethmonath; April, Eosturmonath; May, Thrimilchi; June, Litha; July, also Litha; August, Weodmonath; September, Halegmonath; October, Winterfilleth; November, Blodmonath; December, Giuli

As you can tell by names like Eosturmonath, these are the words in their Old English forms. I’m not suggesting we replace our current month names with updated versions of the old ones. Threemilch isn’t going to be plainer and easier to understand than May. But I post them for interest sake and because they are our homegrown words.

January: Yule
February: Solmonth
March: Reedmonth
April: Eastermonth
May: Threemilch
June: Lithe
July: Lithe
August: Weedmonth
September: Holymonth
October: Winterfilth
November: Bloodmonth
December: Yule

As you can see, Yule was really a two month long period, roughly December and January, of feasting and celebration. One half before, and one after, the Winter solstice. Respectively these were named, Ere Yule and After Yule. This was coupled with a two month Summer period, one month before the Summer Solstice, one after. Again, Ere Lithe and After Lithe. That’s lithe as in ‘flexible, supple’. September was also known as hærfestmonað: “Harvestmonth”. Winterfilth has nothing to do with dirt; –filth comes from filleth, which is ‘fill’ as in ‘full’, and ‘eth’ as in strength: so, ‘winter-full-ness’.

So there we have it: the original month names in English and the true meaning of Christmas.

© 2015 Bryan A. J. Parry

Source for Bede’s The Reckoning of Time: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=yFsw-Vaup6sC&pg=PA53&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false

featured image from http://americanhumanist.org/system/storage/2/6a/2/3607/spirit_of_yule.jpg

1066 Wrixled Everything

April 17, 2012

1066 and all that. It wrixled everything, it did. Sorry, I mean, it changed everything. Wrixle was the Old English word for “change” (the noun form being wrixling, the title of this blog). One of the most obvious and longlasting legacies of Harold’s defeat at 1066, as you can see, was the English language itself. But how big a change was effected? Take a look at any Old English text, or a quick glance at German, Swedish, or Frisian, to get a clue. The changes affected the vocabulary (wordstock), the grammar, and even the spellings of English.

Many native (homeborn) words were immediately ousted — those relating to law and governance and suchlike — but the deeper changes to our language only came later after the influence of French grew deeper. A great deal of words were pushed out to the margins of our language or shoved out altogether. Many of these formations were of great beauty; how can we best threeness when trying to express the concept of the “trinity”, for example?

It even became illegal — or should I say “unlawful” — to speak English in English courts(!) Don’t believe historians who downplay the importance of 1066 and the wrixlings it brought; 1066 and its aftermath wrixled everything!

One thing that happened was a fetish grew for foreign (outlandish) borrowings. One commentator has remarked that English hasn’t so much borrowed words from other languages, but rather ‘chased languages down alleys, beat them up, and rifled through their pockets for spare vocabulary’.

Now, this all makes learning foreign languages all the more easy: we feel quite at home with Swedish man and kvinna (“woman”), hand, knä, or fot; likewise, Spanish cerebro (brain “cerebrum”), lengua (tongue), humano, and persona are easily intelligible to us. However, I can’t quite help but feel we do ourselves and the richness of our language down when we throw away our own gems, gems that other Germanic languages keep (e.g. Swedish befolkning “population”, from be- + folk + ning, which would translate almost exactly into English as befolking; that is, the noun form of ‘to folk’, i.e., to people, to populate).

A “Purer” English

I’m not the only person who has worked on creating a “pure” or more English version of English. There are many others out there (it turns out). However, when you find them and you speak to these, you would suppose, likeminds, you find they have some very different ideas indeed. This apparently clear goal of creating a de1066ified English is not so straightforward, after all.

There are, I think, two broad schools of thought which are quite different (albeit with a gray area in between). These are what I call (1) Modern Old English, and what is known as (2) Anglish.

Modern Old English

What I call “Modern Old English” is a language that could have been, it’s English as it would have been had Harold not lost the battle of Hastings. This involves, in effect, creating an alternative history, a timeline of the word different to the one we have had over the last 950 years.

This is a very fun project, but quite different to the beast commonly known as Anglish.


Anglish is an attempt to make better use of the resources we still have. So this could even include grasping enthusiastically foreign words as being thoroughly anglicised.

Modern Old English versus Anglish

If you still aren’t sure on the difference between these two projects in real terms, I will illustrate it with a couple of choice examples.

(1) Face it

Modern Old English (ModOE) supporters might insist on chucking out “face” because it came from French. The word we used to use was onsyn which evolved into, and would still be today if it were used, “ansene”.

Anglish-ers might just say, ‘well, “face” is pretty basic and highly naturalised, so let’s just keep it’. They might respell it “fase”, though.

(2) Starry-eyed Surprise

ModOE proponents might say ‘let’s replace “astronomy” with “tongelcraft”‘, which is a modified form of the word in Old English.

Anglish folk might say, ‘”tongel” is deader than the dodo — quite literally — so let’s just stick with originally foreign “star” and say “starlore”, “starcraft”, or even “starology”‘


There are, of course, many, many possibilities even within these two schools of thought. For example, do ModOE proponents start their alternative history off from 1066? Or do they start it earlier from before Edward the Confessor? Perhaps they go back to the before the Danelaw, or maybe they start after 1066, having Hereward the Wake overthrow William and take the throne back for an English king.


And of course that is assuming that people even recognise these schools; from having spent quite a bit of time on these projects, I feel as thought most people likewise engaged have actually not stopped, in their passionate rush, to think about what their own goals in fact are. And so they end up with an ever-wrixling, hodgepodge mess.


I think that, before we can even discuss the project of a “pure” English (or whatever), all people interested in such things should really think about what it is exactly that they themselves are striving for. Why? Well, otherwise, there’ll never be any progress on this matter, and these projects, whatever forms they may take, will never become greater than the sum of their parts; rather, we will remain with isolated eccentrics and their yellow, stained notebooks.

So, yes! These English “projects” of mine are open to dialog with likeminds. Join me!

Bryan Parry

April 2012

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