Archive for words in English

Thursday, January 18th, 2018

The Rise of Middle English – with a little help from the French

April Anderson

Following the Norman Conquest of 1066, the English language underwent a drastic change. It was at this time that the shift from Old English to Middle English began to occur. The Middle English period saw many new linguistic phenomena take hold around 1150, and continue to shape this new form of English until about 1500 (OED s.v. Middle English, n, sense A). However, there is evidence that the catalyst for these changes began in the years between 1066 and 1200 (Baugh and Cable 98), leading to phonological and lexical changes in the English language.

Figure 1. Bayeux Tapestry – Scene 57: the death of King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

After King Harold was killed during the Battle of Hastings in 1066 (see fig. 1), much of the English nobility was replaced by the Normans. This was because a majority of King Harold’s nobles had either been killed in battle or perceived as traitors, leaving many positions of authority available for the taking (Baugh and Cable 101). These positions were inevitably filled by the Norman nobility because they remained noblemen under the new king, William. Because they gradually took over these positions of power, the Normans gained more control in areas of legislation. Despite the presence of the French in these new governments, many of the new nobility did not live in England (Liu C.39). Due to their absence, many of the English-speaking citizens would not learn French right away.

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Tuesday, January 16th, 2018

“What’s a skill?”: A Look at the Etymology of Skill

Sam  Campling

Throughout my childhood, I was a competitive figure skater, and as with most other competitive athletes, I fought to be the winner at every competition. However, there was always someone who was better than me, hence why I am not presently a competitive skater. When someone beat me, I found myself wondering; are they naturally gifted at this sport? Or, did they work tirelessly to become the best? I mostly just told myself they paid off the judges, even though that was obviously false. Many people are lucky enough to be proficient in an activity naturally. Some people are not as lucky, but at least have a work ethic strong enough to push through and become proficient in an activity of choice. Either way, these people who are proficient have what you would call a skill.

Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night (1889). One of his most popular paintings.

In the present, the term skill refers to the “capability of accomplishing something with precision and certainty; practical knowledge in combination with ability; cleverness, expertness. Also, an ability to perform a function, acquired or learned from practice”. (Oxford English Dictionary) As examples, Sidney Crosby is skilled in the sport of hockey, Vincent Van Gogh was skilled in the art of drawing and painting, and Shania Twain is skilled in the art of singing. These three mentioned excel in their respective activities.

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Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

I Literally Can’t Even: The Figurative Use of the Word Literally

Jordana Lalonde

Picture this: A family of four sits at a restaurant. The daughter pours over the menu and pauses at the words “yam fries”, scanning for the option to add a delicious dipping sauce. She sees no such condiments and announces, “I’m literally jumping off a bridge if this restaurant doesn’t have garlic aioli.” Her mom retorts, “literally? You’re literally going to kill yourself over aioli?” Her dad chuckles and continues reading the menu, adding, “you mean figuratively.” Her brother nods in agreement. The waitress walks up during the conversation and jokes about the “big grammar lesson going on at the dinner table!”

That girl is me. And on the inside, she is ready to jump atop the table and scream to the world that the word literally has went through a semantic change and correcting people on its usage does not mean you have a better understanding of the English language but rather a weaker one! That those who correct the figurative use of literally are ignoring the simple fact– literally does not mean “literally” anymore.

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Wednesday, November 8th, 2017

Cipher? I Don’t Even Know Her:” The History of Zero and its Philosophical Implications

Emily Huel

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From the Old English form nan þinc, the word nothing, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, is “no part, share, or quantity of a thing; no aspect, evidence, or quality of a thing or person” (OED s.v. nothing, n. sense 2a). The first written evidence of the word was in the Vitas Patrum, which was written in Old English: “þa ne gefredde he ne naþinc þæs brynes for þam miclan luste” (OED s.v. nothing, n sense 2a). Since first written records in English were composed during this time (Liu A.45), it is safe to assume that nothing pre-existed the Vitas Patrum. While the terms zero and nothing are used within similar contexts by native English speakers, the two terms originally had different meanings and origins.  However, the mathematical function of a third word – cipher, or <0> – has subtly changed the definitions of both words in such a way that transforms the absence of existence into an object in its own right.

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