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

featured image from http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-ah9DaT1FNkM/UsvC-IxBUpI/AAAAAAAAC4I/T8ra-r9twuc/s1600/3096+Days+2013+(4).jpg

Advertisements

Collaborate

November 14, 2016

3dbad47

The verb “to collaborate” can easily be put into plain English by saying “to work with”. Indeed, this is exactly what “collaborate” means in Latin: com– ‘with’ + labore ‘to work’. But what about “collaborator” and “collaboration”? The fairly useless word “collaborate” looks like it’s being buttressed by these two words, as well as by the negative, traitorous sense. Indeed, perhaps “collaborator” is slowly coming to mean something like “traitor”, and thus the time might be right for “collaborator” to be shuffled off.

We could turn the verb phrase “work with” into the phrasewords “withworker” and “withworking”. However, “with” when used as a kind of prefix actually means “against”; look at “withstand” (stand against, resist), “withhold” (hold back), and “withdraw” (draw back). The reason for this weirdly counter-intuitive situation is that in Old English, “with” (wiþ) meant ‘against’. The meaning of wiþ changed under the influence of phrases like “fight with”. The eremost (original) English word for the concept of “with” was “mid” — this still lives on in words like “midwife” (literally, ‘with wife/woman’).

So we have two choices here.

  1. Extend the nearly-dead usage of mid- to mean “with” and with- to mean “against”, even though it runs counter to how these words work when not compounded/prefixed.
  2. Write off current with- and mid- as relics, patterns too irretrievably lost to bring back, and make a new prefix with-.

Option one gives us midworker and midworking. Option two gives us withworker and withworking.

© 2016 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://media.licdn.com/mpr/mpr/p/7/005/068/2bd/3dbad47.jpg

 


Word of the Week: Eyeblink

June 22, 2015

flat550x550075f1

As you may have picked up on, I am a lover of Swedish (see here and here). Going through the Duolingo Swedish course is providing me with a lot of delight and inspiration right now. For example, the Time module has  reminded me of a few lovely Swedish words.

There’s årtionde “decade”, lit. ‘year-ten’, and århundrade “century”, lit. ‘year-hundred’. There’s the particularly lovely årstid “season”, lit. ‘year’s-time’.

But my favourite is ögonblick “moment”: literally, ‘eyes-blink’.

Notice that all of these Swedish words are what I call “phrase-words“: phrases which have been condensed into a word. I propose using such phrase-words more often in English. I consider such formations to be “implied English”; that is, they don’t happen to exist in any dictionary, but they are implied by the mechanisms of the language.

The literal English oversetting of the above Swedish words doesn’t quite work in English. “Year-ten”, “year-hundred”, “year’s-time”, and “eyes-blink” have a distinctly Germanesque smack to them. However, we can make phrase-words of “ten years”, “hundred(s of) years”, “time of the year”, and “blink of an eye” in a style most English. I put forward:

ten-year, hundred-year, year-time, eye-blink (with or without the dashes as one sees fit).

Of course, there is nothing wrong with the phrases “ten years”, “time of the year”, and so on. And I would definitely advise people to use “In the last ten years”, and its ilk, instead of “In the last decade”. But when one needs to use a single word to encompass this phrase, as one does from time to time, let’s use the impled English phrase-words instead of complex Latinate jargon.

featured image from https://thewordsgirl.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/flat550x550075f1.jpg

© 2015 Bryan A. J. Parry


Phrasewords

November 4, 2012

English has a long and noble history of turning phrases into words. From ancient times (“every” <OE æfre ælc, ‘ever each’), to less ancient times (“nevertheless” <MidE neuer þe lesse), to very recently (“wannabe” from “want to be”). These words which are (were) concentated phrases, I call “phrasewords”.

There are many “plain” English equivalents of Greco-Latin or French words which are phrasal with no phraseword form. For example, “to imagine” or “mentally picture” can be rendered “to see in one’s mind’s eye”. I think we can phraseword this as “mind-see”. A phraseword I’ve been using for years now is “forelast”, meaning “penultimate”, derived from the phrase, “the one before the last one”.

It seems that when you start to look into it, there are many such plain English phrases with Greek-Latin-French one word counterparts which we could readily form phrasewords from. This is a kind of extended type of making noun forms of phrasal verbs: get away (verb) –> get-away (noun).

How many phrasewords can you think of?


%d bloggers like this: