Save Anglo-Saxon Verbiage!

20 Apr

I was writing the world “albeit” the other day and thinking two things: 1) how much I enjoy these archaic combo words and 2) how quickly these words are disappearing from English. Nonetheless, I should forfend the loss and pledge my troth to the plasticity of English.

To quote a famous radio personality, “English is the bastard of them all.” It’s got Norse, mixed with ancient German, add French softening, and a whole lot of loan words. So it shouldn’t be a surprise when these Old/Middle English words are disappearing… because that’s what language does. It adapts.

Trying to read anything more than a hundred years old is difficult. If you were dropped in the middle of Victorian New York City, you would have real trouble trying to communicate with the locals. You might understand the words, but because you don’t speak in that way, you would have difficulty being understood. The difference between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Ernest Hemingway is night and day. I remember reading Sherlock Holmes as a teenager and loving it, but tried to reading it as an adult, and couldn’t get through a single story!

I love words like “nonetheless.” Sure, I could write “however” instead, but there’s a certain glee I have in using this older term in a sentence. But looking up a list of archaic words, I realize the reason I can keep using “albeit” is because it’s still applicable, where as “tweeny” (a maid who assisted both the cook and the housemaid) doesn’t come up in conversation because so few people have household servants. We use “housekeeper” or “butler” or “janitor” because that’s the only context we have with cleaning staff.

We can also blame the Bible–until the 1900’s, the main English translation of the Bible was the King James Version–and since most English speakers were fluent in Bible reading, a lot of those 17th Century terms and idioms lasted a lot longer than they would have. “Thenceforth, thereunto, and therewith” disappeared from most common vernacular, but everyone knew what they meant, because they read it every Sunday. As there are now less Christians, less church attendance, and a lot more readable translations of the Bible, the KJV and its sway on English disappears.

Horses are not our main form of transportation, so “steed” doesn’t get used. “Weak beer” implies a time where you only had three choices at the bar–weak beer, strong beer, and hard liquor. “Slipshod” can still be used, but away from the original meaning of a broken shoe heel. Many words that originally meant one thing doesn’t mean that anymore. “Quality” meaning good products instead of good people, “portion” meaning a piece of the whole instead of destiny or dowry… and how many parents give a “dowry” for that matter?

On the other hand, we’ve come up with new words because we didn’t have something to defining them. “Doxing” for online shaming of public figures, although that comes from “doxy,” old term for “whore.” “Hacking” as a word changed meanings within computer science. A hack was originally a shortcut that a programmer discovered to make the program run faster, but then it was applied to cutting through other people’s software defenses.

There’s probably better examples out there–do you have any? Let me know in the comments below! Then if you want to expand your word power, check out one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too expensive an education, go ahead and download one of my stories for free!

One Response to “Save Anglo-Saxon Verbiage!”

  1. nickreeves April 20, 2021 at 12:00 pm #

    I still vaguely miss the apostrophe betwixt the two e’s in Halloween. Oh, woe betide me!

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