The English language is beautiful, complicated and it is constantly evolving. Lexicographers have the task of updating the dictionary with new words and removing outdated jargon. They also have the difficult task of judging the most popular word of the year. Here are the past five words of the year:
2012 – Omnishambles – Definition – all wrong or everything is wrong.
“This is a complete omnishambles!”
2013 – Selfie – Definition – to take a picture of one’s self through an inward facing camera.
“Let’s take a selfie.”
2014 – Vape -Definition – to inhale and exhale the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device.
“I’ve been vaping for ten weeks.”
2015 – Tear of joy emoji –Definition – to express tears of laughter.
“That was brilliant 😂”
2016 – Post truth –Definition – in which facts are less powerful than appealing to people’s emotions.
“We live in a post truth age.”
2017 – Youthquake –Definition – a noticeable shift in the norms of a society due to the influence of a powerful youth culture.
“A youthquake created a landslide victory in the local elections.”
The most interesting word from that list, for me, is the emoji. I won’t start the conversation that we’re reverting back to hieroglyphics (because that is a flawed argument) but I am impressed that one symbol could have so many different meanings and connotations.
It’s very difficult to trace the exact beginnings of the English language but it is an interesting venture. As far as historians can tell the first language spoken in the British Isles was Celtic and this language varied between the different tribes occupying the land. When the Roman’s invaded in 400 CE they spoke Latin, after they returned to Rome the tribes of Northern Europe invaded. The Angels, the Saxons and the Jutes successfully invaded and brought their own language, now known today as Anglo Saxon. When Anglo Saxon mixed with what Latin remained it formed the language historians call Old English.
The Viking invasion, which took place around 700 CE, created a new influx of words into the Old English language. The Vikings were able to control the northern half of the country with the southern half was ruled by the remaining Saxons. The Saxons spoke Old English and the Vikings spoke Old Norse, as the bloodlines mixed, so did the languages and some Old Norse words were absorbed into the Old English language. We still use some of these words today such as freckle, leg and want.
In 1066 William the Conqueror invaded with his French speaking Normans. This lead to a divide in languages, the monarchy and their nobles spoke French while the common farmers continued to speak Old English. In an effort to appease their new rulers the farmers adopted elements of the new language. The Normans also brought Roman Catholics Priests across the English Channel who spoke Latin but a different strand of Latin to what the Romans of seven hundred years ago would have been familiar with.
That is a very broad and very simplified outline of the history of the English language. You can go deeper if you want to. For example, the Anglo Saxons who invaded from Northern Europe had their own language evolve from Proto – Germanic which dates backs to 500BC and you can trace this language back to what we would call Proto – Indo European. There are also links between Old Norse and the French language as the invading Norman’s were descended from the Vikings. That’s not to mention local dialects and accents around the British Isles. If you have time I suggest studying this topic as it really is fascinating.
Shakespeare’s additions to the English Language came at a crucial time. In 1616 the Old English language had been replaced by the Modern English Language (which we still speak today although the early modern English language is almost unrecognisable from the English we speak) and due to the trade with other European countries we had imported new and foreign words such as rendezvous. Words like Thou and Goeth were changing into You and Goes, although Shakespeare used both forms in his plays. The meaning of words were also changing. Words that look familiar to us from a modern day standpoint mean something completely different in Shakespeare’s time. The term Lover, for example would mean a close friend and not someone you would be in a romantic relationship with. Likewise the word awful meant you were in awe of something. Records vary but it is estimated that he added somewhere between 1000 and 3000 words into the British vocabulary.
It is a common misconception that Elizabethan England spoke Shakespearean. As entertaining as the thought is, Shakespeare adapted his language for the stage so it would be more dramatic. He also wrote in Iambic Pentameter which served both as a pleasing sound when spoken and as a memory aid for the actors to ensure they remembered their lines.
Recently (from the point of view of the date this post was published) I watched Hamlet being performed at the Globe Theatre in London. I will write a review of the performance, and perhaps details of the Globe Theatre for my next post but for now here are five Shakespeare plays and their common expressions they brought into our language.
Hamlet: Outbreak, Rant and of course, To be or not to be.
Macbeth: Assassination, Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble. Macbeth also gifted us with the Knock Knock joke format.
Romeo and Juliet: Star crossed lovers, Uncomfortable, lady bird and a wild goose chase.
Othello: Foregone conclusion, Addiction, Neither here not there and Vanish into thin air.
As You Like It: Too much of a good thing, puking, Love is merely a madness and perhaps one of the most famous quotes of all… All the world‘s a stage.
Thank you for reading, I’ll see you next time.