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Evergreen

18 EVERGREEN Autumn

18 EVERGREEN Autumn Shaping the English Language The English language is a rich tapestry of words that have been garnered over centuries — from many different languages and cultures. Its luxury is its constant evolution. Remember your favourite books and how, through words, they transport you to another world, maybe another time, with their depth and descriptions. Much of our language has been derived from Latin, some from French (cul-de-sac), others from India (bungalow). But have you ever given much thought to how words have come about, or to some of the individuals who have helped shape our language? Today most new words or meanings are appearing via technology, such as the internet and social media, but in the 16th and 17th centuries the English language was still relatively new, fresh and less rigid. Then it was ripe for the authors of the age to create new words, phrases and expressions which have today become commonplace. We accept these for what they are, but we give little thought to their origins. It is thought that there are now more than one million words in the English language of which the Oxford English Dictionary lists over 170,000 current, together with more than 47,000 which are obsolete. However, the average English person will probably use only about 25,000 to

2017 EVERGREEN 19 John Milton John Donne Ben Jonson 30,000 of these, although they will probably know more, but just not use them regularly — if at all. Words are essential tools for life, but they have also evolved over the years, some in quite interesting ways. Back formation has created: laze from lazy and beg from beggar. Imitating the sounds made brings us: quack, hiss and buzz. Another form comes from contracting phrases: goodbye is a contracted form of “God-be-with-you” and hello stems from “whole-be-thou” (from Old English). You can have “day’s eye”, which became daisy, whilst “fourteen-night” became fortnight. Many words are named after people connected with something (these are called eponyms) — one of the most famous probably being the sandwich, named after the Earl of Sandwich. Others have undergone quite an evolution to become the words we use today — a good example was the Arabic word “naranj” which, through a quite convoluted evolution, became the Old French word “pomme d’orange” and, finally, our own orange. More incredibly, though, are those words that have completely changed their meanings over time. Nice originally meant foolish or stupid, only taking on its current pleasant meaning during the 18th century; brave once meant cowardice; and counterfeit used to mean a legitimate copy! When looking back to words’ creation it is to the great writers of the 16th and 17th century that we look. At this time new words were being introduced with great frequency in literary works, together with new forms of existing ones, new negative forms, new compounds and new meanings. The greatest English wordsmiths of the time were John Milton who, it was said, created more than 600; Ben Jonson upwards of 500; John Donne over 300; and William Shakespeare in excess of 200. These neologists (wordsmiths) can be seen to have created about 1,700 words. So where

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