23 June 2013

Triviality IX: Romance vs. Germanic Words

This was going to be its own thing because I was planning on writing some articles on writing, but in the end I decided this seemed rather interesting because I haven't done etymology before and besides it could be pretty useful to some people on its own. This was slated for Tuesday but I'm in the mood for teaching so here you go.

I'll use the index cards today, though not as liberally as I did with Dr Johnson, and just to highlight some examples, figuratively and literally.
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I was reading this article on Listverse on great writing, and one of the tips said that to make sentences better, words with Germanic origins should be used instead of Romance words. That is, instead of using a word with a Latin root (you know, the ones they teach you in school that sound a lot like Spanish, like aqua is water) use words that came from German.

English came from German. It really did. Then why do we have all these words from Latin and why does our language have a lot of words from Spanish (and somewhat French)? Because...conquest.

In the olden days a French king, William the Conqueror, came and, well, conquered England. And so he introduced French into the language of the people. Old English. And so that is why many words (especially in Middle English, JUST READ CHAUCER) sound so French. But as time wore on and Shakespeare came and Shakespeare went and pronounciations changed some of the French words were phased out.

But then came the 1600s (well, it started quite a bit before that, but I need to move up with history) and Latin was all the rage. People would translate books written in Latin to English. Which doesn't make ANY SENSE.

It'd be like translating your book that you're writing to Ancient GREEK, making all these changes to make it sound cool in Ancient Greek, then changing it BACK into English, despite the fact that all your nouns and verbs are in the wrong place (among other things) and KEEPING IT THAT WAY.

Which is why we have so many crazy grammar rules about infinitives and stuff that gives you and me headaches. So blame English writers around 1450-1700.

There you go: English is a language from old German that is mostly from Latin and its derivatives (Spanish, French, Italian). So that is the argument. Now, let me present to you index cards with different examples of synonyms with words from Germanic origins (on the left), and from Romance (on the right)

And here, an example of how two sentences can sound very different using different words:

Hope you found this interesting. What do you think - Germanic words or Latin-based words? Sound off in the comments. :)


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