May We Borrow Your Language? by Philip Gooden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
One billion other people around the world speak my language; except it isn’t really my language as English is famous for purloining and absorbing other peoples words and making them its own. This melding of languages has been happening for thousands of years. People have arrived in our island, stayed for a while, and left only smudges in the soil and a handful of words in the vocabulary. Careful searching in our language can uncover Celtic and Roman and Saxon words deep in our language. More than that, we have shamelessly stolen words and phrases as we have travelled the seas and oceans for places as far away as Hawaii and Australia, and claimed them as our own.
In this lovely book Gooden brings us a mere dusting of some of those words that are familiar and unusual, ancient and strange, but all looted from other languages. Each carefully selected word has details on its origin as well as a date when we misappropriated it into English, along with anecdotes and the story behind the word. There are nuggets of information in here on all his chosen words and each is written with wit and aplomb as he reveals the history and details on words as diverse as cwen, lust, delphinan and bathos. It is more than that though as these words mark the expansion of our language as we absorbed words into it, sometime taking the meanings, sometimes not. The ages of some of the words is fascinating too, I would have put juggernaut as a modern word; turns out it isn’t. It is a worthy addition for anyone with an etymological collection of books, and if you like Mark Forsyth this is right up your street.
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