Fun Etymology Tuesday – Nightmare

Hey, so remember last Tuesday when we said that we’re gonna talk about something that, if you’re unlucky, comes to you at night today?

Well, so we are: today’s word is… nightmare!

A compounded word from Old English ‘niht’, meaning as we learned last week “night”, and mære, meaning “incubus”. It is cognate with Middle Dutch nachtmare, German Nachtmahr.

In fact, from the late 13th century to the mid 16th, the word nightmare did refer to an incubus, or an evil female spirit who afflicts sleepers with a feeling of suffocation. Around mid-16th century, the meaning shifted from incubus to the suffocating feeling that it causes but the meaning of “bad dream” is first recorded as late as in 1829 and the meaning of “very bad experience” is first recorded in 1831!

American English – The language of Shakespeare?

Hello my dear Anglophones!

I’m going to create some generic internet banter for you:

Person 1
– Look here at the differences between American English and British English, crazy stuff! (with the addition of some image or list)


Person 2
– *Something along the lines of*:

Person 3
– *Something along the lines of*:

Person 4, referring to the ‘u’-spellings in British English (colour, favour, etc.):

Then, usually, person 5 comes along with something like:

Person 5, let’s call them Taylor, has read somewhere that the American English accent shares more features with English as it was spoken in the 17th century, when America was settled by the British, and therefore argues that American English is more purely English than British English is. Taylor’s British friend, Leslie, may also join the conversation with something like “America retained the language we gave them, and we changed ours.”1

In this post, I will try to unpack this argument:
Is American English really a preserved Early Modern English accent?2

Firstly, however, I want to stress that one big flaw to this argument is that American English being more similar to an older version of English doesn’t mean it’s any better or purer than another English variety – languages change and evolve organically and inevitably. (We have written several posts on the subject of prescriptivism, resistance to language change, and the idea that some varieties are better than others, for example here, here and here.)

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get to the matter at hand. The main argument for why American English would be more like an early form of English is that it is modelled on the language of the first English-speaking settlers, which in the 17th century would be Early Modern English (EModE, i.e., the language of Shakespeare). In fact, there is some truth in that features of EModE are found in American English, while they’ve changed in (Southern) British English, such as:

  • Pronouncing /r/ in coda position, i.e. in words like farm and bar.
    This feature is called rhoticity, if an accent pronounces these /r/’s it is called a rhotic accent.
  • Pronouncing the /a/ in bath the same as the /a/ in trap, rather than pronouncing it like the /a/ in father which is what we usually associate with British English.
  • Using gotten as a past participle, as in “Leslie has gotten carried away with their argumentation”.
  • Some vocabulary, such as fall (meaning autumn), or mad (meaning angry).
  • The <u>-less spelling of color-like words.

So far Taylor does seem to have a strong case, but, of course, things are never this simple. Famously, immigration to America did not stop after the 17th century (shocker, I know), and as the British English language continued to evolve, newer versions of that language will have reached the shores of America as spoken by hundreds of thousands of British settlers. Furthermore, great numbers of English-speaking migrants were from Ireland, Scotland, and other parts of the British islands which did not speak the version of British English which we associate with the Queen and BBC (we call this accent RP, for Received Pronunciation). Even though the RP accent remained prestigious for some time in America, waves of speakers of other English varieties would soon have outnumbered the few who still aimed to retain this way of speaking. Finally, of course: Taylor not only (seemingly) assumes here that British English is one uniform variety, but also that American English would have no variation – a crucial flaw especially when we talk about phonetics and phonology.

If we look at rhoticity, for example, English accents from Ireland, Scotland and the South-West of England are traditionally rhotic. Some of these accents also traditionally pronounce the /a/ in bath and trap the same. Where settlers from these regions arrived in great numbers, the speech in those regions would have naturally shifted towards the accents of the majority of speakers. Furthermore, there are accents of American English that are not traditionally rhotic, like the New England accent, and various other accents across the East and South-East, such as in New York, Virginia and Georgia. This is to do with which accents were spoken by the larger numbers of settlers there; e.g., large numbers of settlers from the South-East of England, where the accents are non-rhotic, would have impacted the speech of these regions.

Finally, while the /a/ in bath and trap is pronounced the same in American English, it is not the same vowel as is used for these words in, for example, Northern British English. You see, American English went through its very own sound changes, one of these is the Northern Cities Vowel Shift, which affected such vowels as the mentioned /a/ so that it became pronounced more ‘ey-a’ in words such as man, bath, have, and so on. Also, let’s not forget that American English also carries influences from all the other languages that have played a part, to a lesser or larger extent, in settling the North American continent from Early Modern times until today, including but not limited to: French, Italian, Spanish, German, Slavic languages, Chinese, Yiddish, Arabic, Scandinavian languages, and Native American languages.

In sum, while American English has some retention of features from EModE which have changed in British English, the flaws of Taylor’s, and Leslie’s, argument are many:

  • Older isn’t necessarily better
  • Large numbers of English speakers of various dialects migrated to America during centuries after the original settlers, their speech making up the beautiful blend we find today’s American English accents.
  • British English was not the only language involved in the making of American English!
  • British English is varied, some accents still retain the features which are said to be evidence of American English being more “original”, such as rhoticity and pronouncing the /a/ in ‘trap’ and ‘bath’ the same. American English is also varied, and the most dominant input variety in different regions can still be heard in the regional American accents, such as the lack of rhoticity in some Eastern and Southern dialects.
    In sum: Let’s not assume that a language is uniform.
  • American English underwent their very own changes, which makes it just as innovative as British English.
  • No living language is static, Leslie, so your argument that American English never changed is severely flawed.

So the next time you encounter some Taylors or Leslies online, you’ll know what to say! And, of course, let’s not forget what the speakers of both British and American English have in common in these discussions – for example, forgetting that these are not the only types of English in the world.


More on this in a future blog post!

Footnotes
1This is actually a direct quote from this forum thread, read at your own risk: https://forums.digitalspy.com/discussion/1818966/is-american-english-in-fact-closer-to-true-english-than-british-english

2A lot of the material used for this post is based on Dr. Claire Cowie’s material for the course LEL2C: English in Time and Space at the University of Edinburgh.


Fun Etymology Tuesday – Night

Welcome back to yet another Fun Etymology Tuesday (or as I’ve simple started calling them: FunEtys)!

Today, we go into the depths of darkness… today’s word is night!

From Old English niht, pronounced [nixt] ([x] is the sound found in Scottish “loch”), West Saxon neaht, Anglian næht, neht. This word means simply “night” or “darkness” from Proto-Germanic *nahts, from PIE *nekwt-, also meaning “night”. The PIE root is also source of Greek nuks “a night”, Latin nox, Old Irish nochd, Sanskrit naktam “at night, Lithuanian naktis “night,” Old Church Slavonic nosti, Russian noch’, Welsh henoid “tonight”).

In English, the modern vowel indicates that the word came from the oblique cases of Old English and the -gh- spelling is actually due to a Middle English scribal habit: before -t, hard H, that is [x] here, often came to be represented by scribes as gh (though the no-longer-used letter yogh (ȝ) could also be used)!

That’s all for our little “time-related” theme! Next week, join us for something that, if you’re unlucky, comes to you at night…..

See you then!

Der, das, die….. I give up!

Welcome back to the HLC!

Did you enjoy last week’s book review? We sure did, so we understand that you’re now occupied with your very own copy of Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, but just in case you do find some time: remember that we promised you a discussion on grammatical and natural gender systems in our post on gender-neutral pronouns two weeks ago? Well, we always keep our promises! Before getting deep into that particular discussion though, let’s first establish something about what we mean when we say gender.

When talking about gender in linguistic study, we’re often talking about a category of inflection. Inflection, in turn, is the modification of a word to express grammatical categories – like gender (but also tense, case, voice, aspect, person, number, and mood – let’s not go there right now). The grammatical category gender includes three subcategories (or classes), typically described as masculine, feminine and neuter. A language that uses grammatical gender doesn’t necessarily need to use all three however: in Swedish, for example, you find only two: common (which includes both masculine and feminine, which have merged together to become one) and neuter. Anyway, in a language which inflects for gender, i.e. a language that uses a grammatical gender system, every single noun must belong to one of the gender classes of that language (though a few, a very few, may belong to more than one class). The grammatical category is thus reflected in the behaviour of the words that belong to the subcategory, or the article which belongs to that subcategory. Easy, right?

Okay, maybe not.

Let’s use an example. In German, there are three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. Each noun in the German language belongs to one of these genders but it is not necessarily the same as the expected gender of the referent. For example, ‘Mädchen’, meaning ‘girl’ in German, is a grammatically neuter, not feminine. While you can’t see that on the noun itself, when taking definite form Mädchen always occurs with the article das, which is the neuter definite article in German, while ‘Junge’, meaning ‘boy’, always occurs with the masculine article der (but then, so does ‘table’).

In a grammatical gender system, the gender of the noun itself is thus not always readily evident. This has often lead people, even those whose job it is to study language, to assume that the gender is arbitrarily assigned and native speakers simply remember it, noun by noun. However, do you know how many nouns the, for example, German language has? We don’t, but we bet you that it’s quite a lot. Yet, native speakers rarely make a mistake when it comes to using the right gender. Is it probable, or even the least bit likely, that a native speaker simply ‘remembers’ the correct gender of all these nouns?

Nah, not really. But how does it work then? Well, like many other things, we don’t know exactly! Corbett has suggested a number of factors that play in when it comes to gender assignment. Among these, we find meaning and form to be the most important ones. Form can further be divided into two types: morphological and phonological. If a language doesn’t assign gender on the basis of these criteria, the gender of a noun might also be based on mythological association, concept association, or marking of important property.

Woof, that got complicated real fast, right? Let’s sum it up by saying that there are really three main ways by which a noun gets its gender: based on (1) semantic criteria – the meaning of the noun decides its gender; (2) morphological criteria – the form of the noun decides its gender; and (3) so-called lexical criteria – the seemingly arbitrary assignment of gender, sometimes due to historical reasons.

Now that we know that, we can move on to natural gender systems.

In a natural gender system, a noun is ascribed to the gender that would be expected based on the word itself. That is, a woman is female, a man is male. On the basis of that, you might expect one of the languages to use natural gender to be English, which of course is true. Unlike most of the Germanic languages, English has shrugged off the yoke of grammatical gender (which is just one of the ‘oddities’ of the English language), but it certainly isn’t the only one! As we’ve already said: in Swedish, for example, you’ll find only two genders: common and neuter; in Dutch, there can be either three or two genders depending on geographical area and speaker!

It might be easy to think that a language that uses grammatical gender cannot have natural gender, or the other way around if you prefer. That, however, is not quite true: the two aren’t mutually exclusive! Spanish, for example, uses a grammatical gender system, yet adjectives and nouns are sometimes inflected for natural gender, that is: el pequeño niño the little boy’ but la pequeña niña ‘the little girl’!  

As you can clearly see, grammatical and natural gender is not an easy thing to explain!

via GIPHY

We’ve made an honest attempt at trying to explain these two topics in a way that (hopefully) makes sense to you! If you want to read more about this, though, we suggest our primary source for this post:

Corbett, Greville G. 2012 [1991]. Gender. Online ed. Cambridge University Press. doi: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139166119

If you want to check out other accounts, you might enjoy Jenny Audring’s section on Gender in Oxford Research Encyclopedias, found here.

Questions, thoughts, amazingly inspired outbursts? Let us know!

Fun Etymology Tuesday – Evening

Ladies and gents! We did promise to keep it up and up we shall keep it!

Today is Tuesday and it’s time for another Fun Etymology! Today’s word is “evening”!

From Old English æfnung, meaning “the coming of evening, sunset, time around sunset” from æfnian “become evening, grow toward evening” from æfen “evening”. Originally, evening was a synonym of the noun “even”, also from æfen, which had lost its final -n somewhere around the 13th century and show up around the year 1200 as, you guessed it, “eve”! Now, “eve” referred specifically the time between sunset and darkness but has, of course, become superseded by evening nowadays while “Eve” has undergone a semantic narrowing, meaning that it now refers only to very specific evenings (Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, etc.).

You might notice something lacking in our etymology! If you did, we’re sorry! We would love to go further back than Old English but, as a matter of fact, we can’t! We know that this word comes from a Common Germanic base as we find cognates in most Germanic languages (Swedish “afton”, German “Abend”, Dutch “avond”, etc.) but the Proto-Germanic word itself remains elusive (though several hypothesis have been studied throughout the years).

As you know by now, that sometimes happens in historical research: things become lost to us. So, the next time you consider throwing out that book on current language use in your native language (or even just a really bad fictional tale – hey, we’ll take what we can get!), just think of the poor linguist 500 years or more from now, pulling their hair while trying to figure out that little odd thing that the English/German/Faroese/Indian/etc. language did in the 21st century and maybe think again. (Though, of course, this might never be a problem simply because languages are significantly more documented nowadays). But still!

Welcome back next week when we take a look at the darkest of times…… We’re referring to the word “night” of course! See you then!

Review: Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue

And now for something a little different! This week, we’re bringing you a book review. As in other fields, the volume of literature on the subject of linguistics can be daunting. (That’s volume-the-amount, not volume-a-book-in-a-series.) We’re not going to tell you how to spend your time, but there’s a whole lot more to explore about language than we can cover on a humble blog like ours (though we’re sure going to try!). With our reviews, which we’re going to start sneaking in from time to time, we hope we’ll be able to share what you absolutely must check out and what you shouldn’t waste your time on.

To kick things off, I recently listened to John McWhorter’s Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English, read by the author (also available in print, but infinitely harder to consume while commuting in America—I recommend the format that works best for you).

Broadly speaking, there are two types of works written on linguistics: those written by linguists for linguists, and those written for the general public, i.e. pop linguistics1 (a merely categorical label that is by no means derogatory). Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue is the latter.

Like many linguistic books written for a broader audience, OMBT tells the history of English. As a peopled narrative full of kings, revolutions, dusty manuscripts, and Vikings, it’s a much more accessible topic than, say, syntactic theory, which perhaps explains and excuses the greater percentage of mainstream publications devoted to the history of English. While OMBT is another addition to this delightful genre, it does a few things that set it apart from the crowd (I mean, even beyond its snappy title).

First, McWhorter explicitly eschews telling an etymological history, both because there are many works on the subject and because boiling the story of a language down to a series of lexical vignettes paints an incomplete picture. Instead, he tackles the much harder task of explaining the evolution of some uniquely English grammatical features, such as our dependence on the word ‘do’ when forming questions and negative statements. To make his points, McWhorter must explain some basic syntax, how the constructions work in English, and how they work in other languages. Admittedly, I am at an unfair advantage for understanding such discussions, but even so, the examples felt well-chosen, and the explanations should be accessible even to casual readers.

OMBT is also notable for its tone. Where many books present their facts and call it a day, McWhorter invites the reader a little into the world of academia. He doesn’t just state his assertions; he explains the prevailing opinions and then proceeds to argue his side, authoritatively stating his conclusions. (Oh, yes, indeed. We don’t know everything about linguistics yet, including about the development of English. We’re still hashing out the whereto’s and the whyfor’s.) One of the main points he argues for is the influence of language contact over internal factors in syntactic changes that took place in English. For linguists, it should be an interesting read on alternate theories. For non-linguists (our own darling wuggles), it’s a thought-provoking place to start. I would warn against taking either the author’s views or the prevailing views he fairly lays out as immutable gospel; rather, think of this as a jumping off point to investigate more and draw your own conclusions.2 While this is a book that could be enjoyed for its own sake, the tone seems to invite further discussion.

My general impression of this book is a favorable one, but there are some quirks I find a bit perplexing. While I love the tone of discussion and debate, it’s a curious choice for a book written for the mass public rather than a paper for a conference of like-minded language enthusiasts. Was the goal really to spark thought (as I generously concluded above), or is the book a soap box to draw innocent bystanders over to one side of an argument they didn’t know anybody was having?

I also found myself wishing that the topic of the book was more tightly focused. The first two thirds of the book explore syntactic changes and argue for the influence of language contact. Now, obviously not all changes in a language can be explained by a single force (just as not all problems are nails, and they can’t all be solved with a hammer), but I was still taken aback when the last two chapters jumped to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and Grimm’s Law, respectively. McWhorter does use these topics to make some interesting points and observations, but their inclusion at all came as an odd surprise given the talking points and goals laid out in the introduction. Don’t be put off, though. The inclusion of Sapir, Whorf, and Grimm doesn’t truly hinder the book’s broader mission, and their chapters are worthy reads both in their own right and in the grander scheme of the rest of the text.

It’s not the one book I wish was required reading for humanity. It’s probably not even the first book on linguistics or English I would recommend, but I truly, deeply enjoyed OMBT, and I think you might, too. 3

Notes

1 Like our blog.
2I’ve been working with fifth graders lately (10-year-olds). Does it show?
3You know, since you’re at least interested enough in the topic to be reading this blog.

Fun Etymology Tuesday – Noon

Philosophical question: Is the Fun Etymology on time if it’s still technically Tuesday for one-fourth of the HLC? Or is it not?

Speaking of time, though, today’s word is ‘noon’.

It’s an iconic, evocative word. You don’t have to be American to recognize the tension of a duel at high noon: the streets tensely still, a saloon door creaking, and a tumbleweed rolling by as the sun blazes down from directly over the worn Stetsons of two coiled gunfighters. And you don’t have to be a hobbit to appreciate a quiet little midday nuncheon.

In English, short, everyday words like this tend to be part of the language’s core Germanic heritage, but in a surprising twist, this one isn’t. ‘Noon’ ultimately comes from the Latin word ‘nonus’ meaning…’ninth’. ¿Dice qué?

The term ‘non’ was borrowed back in Old English (hence its native-seeming skin) from the Latin phrase ‘nona hora’, meaning the ninth hour of daylight. In both Latin and Old English, the term referred to the hour of 3:00 PM, an important canonical prayer hour (called nones).

Beginning around the 12th century, the sense started to shift towards its current meaning of 12:00 PM. There are several hypotheses for why the meaning changed. It could have been the unreliability of timekeeping in the medieval period, or it could have been due to the dramatic seasonal differences in daylight hours in Northern Europe. It may even have been driven by food in some way: religious fasts traditionally ended at nones, so the time may have inched earlier to end the fasting earlier, or it may have come out of a secular societal shift in the timing of the midday meal. Whatever the reason, it became the ‘noon’ we know by the 14th century.

Whoever said monosyllabic words were boring?

Otto Jespersen – Patron Saint of February, 2019

Welcome to the month of February, dear followers! This is the first weekend of a new month and you know what that means! Let us introduce you to another Patron Saint!

As you know, our Patron Saints are individuals that have contributed a lot to the field of historical linguistics and today is certainly no different! Let us introduce you to Otto Jespersen!

The famous Danish linguist is the author of the spectacular encyclopaedic work of 7 volumes called “Modern English Grammar” but that is far from everything that Jespersen accomplished during his career as a linguistic scholar.

Born in 1860, professor Jespersen was reportedly inspired by Rasmus Rask, another famous Danish linguist (we’ll get there, don’t worry!), and became a professor of English at Copenhagen in 1893 (he also had a masters in French and knew both Spanish and Icelandic).

Professor Jespersen not only focused his efforts on linguistic study, in the field of which he published extensively on language structure, linguistic evolution and phonetics, but also on how to properly teach it! During his years at Copenhagen, he led a movement for basing foreign-language teaching on the use of conversational speech rather than on textbook study of grammar and vocabulary. He published on theoretical considerations of language teaching in 1901, a little number called “How to Teach a Foreign Language” and wrote a good number of textbooks which were used both in Denmark and abroad.

On top of all this, he also devised his own language! Meant to work as an international language for speakers who did not share a native tongue, the vocabulary of the language itself, called Novial, is based on a mix of Romance and Germanic words and its grammar is influenced by English. Unfortunately, the language didn’t really catch on and in 1943, when professor Jespersen passed away, the language became dormant. Thanks to the internet though, some rediscovered it in the early 90s.

From revolutionising language teaching to devising your very own language, professor Jespersen did it all and his (still very influential) linguistic works means that we simply had to make him February’s Patron Saint!

Want to know more? Check out our source for this little piece as well as Omniglot’s post on Novial! Enjoy!

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Otto-Jespersen

https://www.omniglot.com/writing/novial.htm

Gender neutral pronouns – yay or nay?

‘Gender-neutral pronouns, do they exist?’ you might be saying to yourself at home, in front of whatever device you’re reading this on.

Well, yes. Of course they do. In many languages. In English, you have two: it and one. However, it isn’t really used to describe a person, right? Kinda disrespectful since it traditionally is used on a non-human entity – tables, chairs, pets (and, admittingly, some even dislike the use of it for pets, present writer included), etc. You could use one but it doesn’t really work in certain constructions and might seem a bit formal, wouldn’t you say?

Now, though we could make a list of languages that do have gender-neutral pronouns referring to human beings, that requires us to get into a discussion on grammatical versus natural gender. We don’t want to do that just yet (you’ll have to wait for two weeks! The horror!), and so, we will focus on the Germanic languages, in which it is quite uncommon. As far as we know, only one of the Germanic languages has a recognised, widely used, gender neutral third person pronoun: Swedish!

A couple of years back (and I’m now talking from personal experience since I am Swedish and remember this quite well), around 2010 to be specific, a new pronoun started to make its way into books, magazines and newspaper articles: hen, a pronoun used when the gender of the person is unknown or if it is not relevant or desired to specify the gender of the person. (The gendered pronouns in Swedish are han, ‘he’, and hon, ‘she’)

The pronoun raised a massive debate, and a good number of jokes, both in Sweden and abroad. The main objections to it, in Sweden, seemed to be that it was not necessary, nor desired. However, despite a rather massive resistance, this little word stuck around – and how it grew! In 2014, the language periodical Språktidningen concluded that hen had grown from occurring once for every 13,000 uses of han/hon in 2011, to occuring once for every 300 hon/han in 2013. That’s a pretty massive upswing and in 2014, hen was included in Svenska Akademiens Ordlista – pretty much the Swedish equivalent of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Where does this idea of hen come from, you might wonder? Well, it certainly wasn’t a new idea: it had been proposed as a gender-neutral pronoun in 1966 and then again in 1994 but it didn’t stick – perhaps because we weren’t ready for it. While we could do a long section on gender equality, I think we’ll stick with the linguistic side of things and, in this, the addition of hen is a big thing! You see, pronouns are often considered an integral part of the grammar of a language and they rarely change – or, as the linguists say, they are a closed word class.

Think of language like an onion with multiple layers: when you peel an onion, the first couple of layers are going to be bendy and soft, right? You can twist them this way or that and it’s fine. This is the ‘open class’ vocabulary of the language, the parts of language that can easily change: we might borrow from other languages, some words might fall into disuse or completely change their meaning, etc.

However, the closer to the ‘core’ of the onion you get, the stiffer the layer. Try twisting one of the inner layers of an onion and it is more likely to break into bits in your hand than bend. This is the grammar of the language, and it is here, in this stiff, unyielding part that you’ll find pronouns (remember how we said that the borrowing of they, them and their was so fascinating because of the integral part pronouns play in a language’s grammar?)

So, adding, changing, removing… All of these things tend to be (very) uncommon in the pronoun-category of a language. In Swedish, the pronoun han (he) goes all the way back to Proto-Norse, spoken around the 2nd to 8th centuries, and hon (she) goes all the way back to Proto-Germanic! During all this time, the pronouns remained pretty much the same in Swedish (spelling changed a little bit – han used to be spelt hann, for example).

The word hen itself is often referred to as a Swedish equivalent of the Finnish pronoun hän, which is also a gender-neutral pronoun. In Swedish, the word can have a different meaning too (though very few people know it since it is pretty much extinct), equivalent to the Swedish word brynsten, meaning ‘whetstone’ (you can see why most people wouldn’t know it?).

Why are we going on and on about these pronouns you might ask? Well, it was really to lead us here: you see, like we’ve said, pronouns rarely change. Generally speaking, we don’t add to them, we don’t change them, we don’t ‘delete’ one. Yet, Swedish did exactly that: it added one – and what makes this addition all the more remarkable is that this was a deliberate addition to the language! And in terms of language development and change, that is spectacular.

Can you imagine? About 2500 years of, pretty much, unchanged pronouns and then, in 2010, Swedes deliberately decided to add one – and the Swedish language, eventually, came to include yet another pronoun! In case you were ever in doubt, this is rather clear evidence that the speakers control what a language includes, not the other way around (thus kind of putting the whole idea of ‘there is a right way to use language’ on rather thin ice, wouldn’t you say?). Isn’t that just amazing?

There has been debate on whether other Germanic languages will follow suit, though that has not really happened (yet).

Tell us what you think – gender-neutral pronouns: yay or nay?

Fun Etymology Tuesday – Morning

Running a bit late today, ladies and gents! We’re blaming the fact that our little writing-mouse has managed to catch a cold and was, to be quite honest, napping.

Anyway, it’s Tuesday, isn’t it? You know what that means, it’s time for another Fun Etymology! Today’s word is “morning”!

“Morning” actually consists of two elements. Can you think of what they might be?

Well, one of them is the suffix -ing. So the other must be simple “morn”. You might not recognise that as an actual word nowadays but it used to be! Or a contraction of one anyway: the Middle English word “morwen” from the Old English, Mercian dialect to be specific, dative case of “margen” (dative “morgne”), meaning morning, forenoon or sunrise.

This Old English word comes from Proto-Germanic *murgana, meaning simply “morning”, from PIE *merk-, possibly from the root *mer-, meaning, interestingly enough, “to blink” or “twinkle”.

The Proto-Germanic form, it turns out, got around quite a bit and we thus find Old Saxon “morgan”, Old Frisian “morgen”, Dutch “morgen”, German “morgen”, Swedish “morgon”, and so on. Remember what forms that share an origin are called? Cognates, right? Then you might be interested to know that, looking at the PIE form, we may find yet another cognate to English “morning”: the Lithuanian word mirgėti, meaning “to blink”! Didn’t expect that? Well, like we’ve said before, words may change their meaning significantly and words that appear unrelated may sometimes show us that they have a distant relative or two.

Welcome back next week!