I am a heavy user of the English language. If it carried a usage fee or royalty, I always would be over-budget (according to my husband).
I spend much of my day using English to write, talk and sing — although only my dogs and my 3-year-old granddaughter seem to truly appreciate that last one.
Of course, over the last five years, I have had to add “American English” to the “English English” I grew up speaking, but I am grateful that when the pilgrim fathers inhabited the new world that became the United States, English became — and remains — the dominant language.
As an avid reader and history lover, it’s fascinating to me to see how the English language evolved, like how it has changed when comparing the words and sentence structure used by some of history’s greatest English-language writers: Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and John Steinbeck.
According to englishclub.com, the English language started to form when three Germanic tribes — the Angles, Saxons and Jutes — invaded Britain during the fifth century. These tribes came by boat from Denmark and northern Germany. The native tongue of Britain at that time was Celtic, but many of these indigenous people were pushed west into Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The Angles came from “Englaland” and their language was called “Englisc,” which eventually became “England” and “English.”
A large dose of French was injected into this mix in 1066 when William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy (part of modern France), conquered England. These conquerors, the Normans, spoke a dialect of French, which became the language of the ruling and business classes, as well as the royal court. For a while, the two languages — Norman French and English — competed for supremacy, but in the end, English won out, albeit with a number of new, French-based words.
One of my favorite websites is www.dictionary.com. It not only is practical for spellings and definitions, but it also can be just plain interesting, if a little weird.
For example, in the site’s recent feature “Five English Words That Are Utterly Unique,” these strange words are highlighted:
* Syzygy (pronounced siz-i-jee) — The only word in the English language with three Ys, it describes a rare astronomical alignment involving three celestial bodies, commonly the Earth, sun and moon.
* Dreamt — This word, which means the past tense of dream, is the only English-language word that ends with “mt.”
* Tmesis (tuh-mee-sis) — The only word to begin with “tm.” It means a word inserted to make a compound word, such as “so” in “whatsoever.”
* Hydroxyzine – The only word in English with an X, Y and Z in it. It is a medicine that prevents sneezing and calms you down.
* Queue – It means a waiting line in British English, but it used to mean the tail of a beast in medieval pictures.
I try hard not to be a doryphore (an annoyingly persistent critic of others) or guilty of gasconade (extravagant boasting), but I do hope that my own command of the English language is luculent (clearly expressed).
I leave you with a thought from the witty, widely quoted Wisconsin columnist Doug Larson: “If the English language made any sense, lackadaisical would have something to do with a shortage of flowers.”
God bless America!
Lesley grew up in London, England, and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009 with her American husband, Carl, and English dogs.
Email Francis at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.lesleyfrancispr.com
Editor’s note: This article was posted on Wednesday, but there were typographical issues involving long dashes, which in the layout process were converted to question marks and escaped the editor’s attention before the article was posted. It is being posted again for posterity.