Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday Trivia 11

English is a language fond of borrowings. As James Nicoll once said, "The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary." By most estimates, only a quarter of modern English words have Germanic roots. About 30% are French, 30% are Latin, 5% are Greek, and the remaining 10% are from other languages. (Of course, many of the most common words are Germanic, so this statistic can be misleading.)

But people are resistant to change, and throughout the history of English there have been movements to avoid borrowings and stick to words of Anglo-Saxon origin. The resulting constrained language has been called Anglish, Saxonised English, and even Blue-Eyed English. Understandably, it can get a little hairy. Terms like birdlore to replace ornithology or tonesmith to replace composer are cringe-worthy even though they're analogous to handbook and manual, which we use interchangeably. My favorite piece of Anglish writing, and a great example of why it's so hard in modern English, is the essay "Uncleftish Beholding" by Poul Anderson. (Uncleftish beholding means atomic theory.)

Your trivia question today concerns borrowings of the most impure sort. Name a word that modern French has borrowed from English and which English originally borrowed (in part) from Norman French.