The Battle of Hastings: 950th Mind-day

October 16, 2016


Think upon this: the 14th of October 2016 marks the 950th mind-day of the  Battle of Hastings, the day that wrixled (changed) everything! (Note anniversary: Old English mynddæg ‘mind-day’; ‘year’s-day’ would also fit the Germanic mould). It was on this day that Harold, king of the English, was felled, and the conquest of England by the Normans began.

How would the English language be different if 1066 and its fallout had never happened? Nobody knows for sure. But here’s some thoughts.

  1. We still would have borrowed words, including from French, just as the other other Germanic languages have done. However, we would likely have borrowed far fewer. See Article I of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for a good example.
  2. However, funnily enough, the fewer words that we would have borrowed would be more obviously French as they would have had less time to become Anglicised, aka, bishop-shifted. Set English adventure, menu, and point by Swedish aventyr, meny, and poäng, for example. The Swedish words more closely keep to the French pronunciation.
  3. We wouldn’t necessarily have kept up the Old English alphabet with its various letters. This is down to English already using other forms in the Old English period itself, such as <th> instead of <þ> and <ð>, and <uu> instead of wynn (keep in mind that <uu> is the old form of <w>). And the loss of yogh (the Middle English development of the Old English form of writing <g>) had little to do with 1066 and all that. However, I feel that, owing to the eventual dominance of Wessex, the late West Saxon use of <þ> and/or <þ> along with perhaps <æ> would likely have kept them in our alphabet up to nowadays. Yogh may have, too, but wynn would almost certainly have been replaced.
  4. Other spellings would be changed (or, rather, wouldn’t have changed). For example, the use of <qu> for /kw/ would likely not have been used, <cw> being used in its stead (see analogues crab and club, and Old English cwene “queen” for comparison; <k> is only used to keep the /k/ sound where would otherwise go soft, for example, king). Other changes are less obvious but no less sure. Take olden long i, which became said as “eye” after the Great Vowel Shift, so now we have win (OE winn) and wine (OE win). However, olden long u came to be spelt the French way (compare Anjou, bijou, frou-frou). Yet, after the Great Vowel Shift, this came to be pronounced as in out. Therefore, without 1066 and all that, ancient long u, just like its brother ancient long i, would have carried on being spelt as it was. So what we now know of as house, out, and cow (<ow> being the word-final variant of <ou>; compare out, bout, and bow), would have stayed as hus, ut, cu.

Whatever other changes would have happened, English still be very much its own beast, the black sheep of the Germanic language family. But I should point out, Anglish and the project of this site, is not a try at making English as it would have been had the English won the Battle of Hastings. Rather, Anglish and this project is about uncovering the English roots of English, to come up with a more Saxon, plainer English.

© 2016 Bryan A. J. Parry

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May 23, 2016

Lawman comic1-300

Lawyer seems like quite an interesting word. It has the agent noun ending –er, as in teacher and footballer, and the Old English root law*. Look closely: what the hell is the –y– doing in there? Surely the word should be *lawer (although I find this quite hard to say). As it happens, the ending isn’ter at all, but rather –yer. Whereas –er is the Germanic and homegrown form, –yer comes from French, ultimately Latin. (In most words it is actually –ier, but after a vowel or w it becomes –yer.)

Why add a French ending to an English root when we already have a perfectly acceptable form in –er? Simply put: 1066 and all that. A massive inflow of French words in –ier/yer followed. When you start looking, lawyer isn’t alone; there are loads of examples.

glazier (glaze + ier, from glass)

In many cases, one can simply swap out –ier/yer for –er (note: these are real, attested words):



But in many cases, alternative formations just feel better:

bowman, bowmaker (the latter is the attested original form)
lawman (an attested word for lawyer)
grenademan (not attested, so far as I can tell, but for me it doesn’t raise any eyebrows as a nonce word)
hotel owner

Some words are somewhat harder to find an obvious form for, however, for example terrier. We could be creative here; terrier is from the root terre, meaning ‘earth’, as terriers pursue their prey (badgers, foxes) into their burrows, into the very earth. Quite literally, therefore, terrier means ‘earth-dog’. I see no reason why we couldn’t use ‘earth-dog’ instead of terrier. However, this strays into the realms of making words up. And whilst I see a very real place for making words up, so long as they fit a Saxon English model, I always like it more when we use extant English words instead. Why? Because the words are tried and tested and more likely to be taken up and less likely to be perceived as outlandish or outrageous. And as you can see, many of the above -ier/yer forms have extant English forms.

*law is Old English, albeit borrowed ultimately from Old Norse, another Germanic language

© 2016 Bryan A. J. Parry

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