Origins of some daily words

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stack_of_booksstack_of_books“She’s such an angel! She gave me such good advice.”

“I’ve always hated Algebra. It’s not as if we’ll die from not doing it.”

“I had to beg my mother to give me some money before going to school.”

“I think I need something bigger than just a sandwich. Otherwise I’ll surely starve to death.”

We’ve all said these sentences at some point in our lives. We use most of these even now.

Have you ever wondered about the origins of the language or languages that you speak? Or, how often you come across words with similar sounds in different languages. Even more, have you ever wondered how exactly the words you use in your day-to-day lives came to be so?

All these various facets of the languages are studied under a branch of linguistics known as “Philology”.

Simply put, philology is the study of words. Yes, you read that right. Even words have a separate branch of studies dedicated to them. Everyday we use so many words which have originated from faraway countries. The fact that they have settled in so snugly within the English language only strengthens the character of the language being highly dynamic.

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The study of languages is a fascinating and interesting one. Once you try to listen carefully to the sounds, you’ll realize how different they are from each other and how minute differences in a sound can create big confusions. If you’ve read Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, you’ll understand well enough.

Did you know that when the French invaded England back in 1066(also known as the Norman conquest), most of the words related to fine cuisine, military and government infiltrated the English language. And since the English were technically losers, they had to obey the rulers. But as a result of this, the language itself was on the winning side, with a huge influx of new words that were to be firmly embedded within the very structure of the English language.

Of the sentences quoted right at the beginning, how many foreign words do you think they contain? Well now that you’ve read a bit about it, you might start questioning the very authenticity of the English language as a whole. There are as many as 10 words, borrowed from other languages, in the sentences quoted at the top. These “borrowed” words are called “loan words”. Now let’s check out the origins of these loan words…

Angel: Now we’ve usually associated this word with all things holy and Jesus Christ even, but this word is actually a pre-Christian Latin borrowing, even before the early English settlers had converted to Christianity.

Advice: We all need some at some point in our lives, or really have to give some of it to those in need. But do you know the origin of the word? This is an example of a French loan word assuming its original Latin form owing to the later Renaissance influence. Yes. You read that right. French, Latin, English all in one. Actually, the original French word was “avis” or “avys”. But that later Renaissance influence restored the original Latin prefix “ad” to the English borrowing. Phew. So much history in one word.

Algebra: This was a blessing to some and like a death grip to others. This word comes from the Arabic article “Al” meaning ‘the’ and “Jebr” meaning ‘reduction’. By a process called “Metanalysis”, the Arabic article coalesced with the noun and the result was the modern form Algebra. Who knew that even Arabic was there in English!

Die: This comes from the Scandinavian verb “deya” meaning “to die”. Incidentally the Old English noun and adjective form is “death” and “dead” respectively, with their corresponding verbs being “steorfan” and “sweltan”. Since “deya” was easily associated with Old English “death” and “dead”, probably because of the similarity of the initial sound, it quickly replaced the earlier verbs.

Beg: Now this is an example of a process called “back formation”. The new word “beg” has been formed by subtraction of “ar” from the original word “beggar”. The word “beggar” isn’t an agent noun originally, but the “ar” in “beggar” was mistakenly supposed to be an agent-forming suffix, and, therefore a new verb, “beg” has been formed.

Money: This is a very important word and we often use it innumerable times in a day even without realizing it. This word is derived from Latin “moneta”. In Old French, the Latin word moneta became “moneie” and the Modern English word “money” is a medieval borrowing from Old French “moneie”.

School: We all have a love-hate relationship with this particular institution. The original source of the word is the Greek word “schole” meaning “leisure”. Now the Greeks devoted themselves to the study of literature during the leisure they had after their pursuit of war and politics. This leisure was obviously employed in reading and often in discussions and lectures. Thus “school” travelled very far from its original sense of “leisure” and finally came to mean the place where such lectures were given. Now I’m pretty sure school-haters will understand why was there always so much to read and study back then.

Sandwich: Ah! The very word makes us hungry. Do you know how this word entered the English language? It came from the name of the 18th century Earl of Sandwich, who was such a gambler that sometimes he spent the whole day at cards with nothing but a slice of meat between two loaves of bread, for food. Since then the word has come to mean two slices of bread with meat or other relish in between. It has also given rise to the verb “to sandwich”.

I’m pretty sure that not all of you knew about this multicultural aspect of the English language. Words and languages are a lot like people. They carry so much of fascinating information with them, which is have been hard to understand otherwise. This is exactly the reason why children should be exposed to books from a very young age. It develops their language, their vocabulary and prepares them to step into the world of literature and cultural studies.














Believer. Reader. Brooder.