Fun Etymology Tuesday – English

Hello hello hello, good friends!
It’s Tuesday, and long tradition dictates a new Fun Etymology is waiting for you, fresh and crispy!

Today’s word is the first in a mini-series we’ll be doing in the following weeks about country and language names, and where else to begin if not with our own lovely English?

The word “English” comes from Old English “Englisc”, the adjectival form of the noun “Engle”, which is the name the Angles, one of the Germanic tribes who came to Great Britain and colonised it in the fifth century AD, called themselves.

Now you might think the word Angle sounds suspiciously the same as the word “angle”, i.e. what you get when two lines intersect, but they couldn’t possibly be related, could they?

Well, it turns out that they are! The Angles named themselves after their original homeland Angul, located on the Jutland peninsula in what is now the German state of Schleswig-Holstein (how cool are German state names, by the way?). The name Angul comes from Proto-Germanic *angul, “hook”, which itself comes from the PIE root *ank- “to bend”, which gave us the words “angle” and “ankle” (the part of the foot that bends), amongst others. They called their land that way because it sort of looks like a fish hook.

Another interesting aspect of this word is that by all accounts it should be pronounced “Anglish”, not at all how it is pronounced today. The explanation for this irregularity is that by the 14th century, the sound “e” before “ng” had become very rare, and the influence of the far more common “ing” combination resulted in the pronunciation shifting that way.
In some Middle English and Scots texts, the spelling “Inglis”, which reflects the modern pronunciation, can be found relatively frequently, but over time the archaic spelling prevailed, and here we are.

So, my dear Fish Hook People and other Fish Hook Language speakers, let me wish you a very nice week while you wait for our next foray into the history of words.

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