Posts Tagged ‘languages’


A gold pendant reliquary from the 17th century Cheapside Hoard to be shown at the Museum of London this autumn. Photograph: Museum of London

I was already musing on words beginning with chap and cheap before, by chance, an exhibition featuring the 17th century Cheapside Hoard was announced. Read about the treasures here.

Cheapside is in the City of London and was the site of a Medieval produce market. At that time it was known as Westcheap, to distinguish it from Eastcheap, near London Bridge. The word “cheap” broadly means “market”.

You also find the word in (more…)

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The defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 - a painting completed by Philipp Jakob Loutherbourg the Younger in 1796...

Well, I’ve “done” English words from Anglo-Saxon, Latin, Celtic, Scandinavian and Indian roots, so now it’s the turn of Spanish…

According to that old favourite book of mine, The English Language – Grammar, History, Literature by Professor Meiklejohn, printed in 1905, “The words we have received from the Spanish language are not numerous, but they are important”.

How wrong could he be! In 2011 modern English abounds with Spanish-based words, many of them, admittedly, coming to us through American English – largely through Hollywood movies, especially westerns.

But (more…)

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Fuchsia in a container in my garden - the variety is called Lambada

As you walk around a garden, you are surrounded by living memorials to people long dead. Mahonia and Camellia in winter, Forsythia and Magnolia in spring, Buddleia and Escallonia in summer, Dahlia and Fuchsia in autumn – all are named after people.

No wonder the Latin names of plants are so varied and sometimes difficult to pronounce – I’m thinking Kniphofia here (named after Kniphof), Fuchsia (named after Fuchs), and Choisya (named after Choisy)… I’ve only just realised that last one, and now I’ll never spell it wrongly as “Choysia” again. That’s the thing – I’m a stickler for spelling and knowing where names come from helps.

When botanists started giving Latin names to plants and ran out of folk names or descriptive names to Latinise, they turned to their friends (more…)

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Snake's head fritillaries - including the white form, painted by Rachel McNaughton

It always annoyed me that a fritillary could be both a flower and a butterfly, but now I know where the name came from I feel much easier about it…

This week I took a picture of our often forgotten snake’s head fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) in the garden.

Every year it’s the same. I almost pull it out because I think it’s just some self-seeded grass – in all honesty I would have, if it hadn’t been slightly out of my reach on a raised bed.


Snake's head fritillary in the garden this week...

Then suddenly it’s in flower, so delicate, its purple pattern so chequered. Clever, that. Although it looks better en masse in grass, as it is in Oxford’s Magdalen Meadows…


Fritillaries in great number at Magdalen Meadows, Oxford, pictured by Alison Ryde

Then there is the butterfly – in fact a whole bunch of fritillaries, in the family known as Nymphalidae, which includes nymphalids and browns as well as the fritillaries.


Marsh fritillary (Eurodryas aurinia) photographed by Brian Stone

You can tell the fritillaries because they have a chequered pattern and that’s the connection between flower and butterfly – (more…)

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Surely everybody has heard of the James Cameron movie Avatar - but how many know the original meaning of the word?

Avatar? Juggernaut? Who’d have thought that words from ancient Indian religion would have such currency in the English language today?

I’ve already blogged about Latin words, Celtic words and Scandinavian words in the English language, but now (more…)

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Blossom and fruit of the orange (Citrus aurantium), by Ellen Levy Finch

Although I am not going to takes sides in any debate on religion or politics or football, the word ORANGE seems a topical one, since it relates to the kit of the Netherlands football team who lost in the World Cup final and to the name of the protestant Orange Men of Northern Ireland during this the Protestant “marching season”.


The orange strip of the Netherlands football team in the 2010 World Cup Final, which they lost to Spain, 1-0 after extra time...

It’s the word “orange” itself that interests me. It is often (more…)

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A Viking family - the sea was never far away - image from the York Jorvik Centre

I’ve already blogged about Latin words and Celtic words in the English language, but now it’s the turn of the Scandinavian languages.

These contributed to our language during the 9th and 10th centuries, according to (more…)

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This blog post gives me the opportunity to use this lovely illustration of King Nuada from the Celtic Book of Conquests, by Jim Fitzpatrick (Paper Tiger, 1978)

I’ve already blogged about Latin words in the English language, but now it’s the turn of the Celtic languages such as Gaulish, Scots Gaelic, Irish and Welsh (but let’s also put in a good word for Cornish).

These have contributed to our language on several occasions, according to (more…)

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The Romans are coming... the Ermine Street Guard are a society dedicated to the accurate reconstruction of Roman armour and drill

Discipuli Picturam Spectate – pupils look at the picture…

Every chapter in that old schoolbook Latin For Today started with those words. I almost feel a thrill when I remember (more…)

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A wonderful old book on the English language by Professor Meiklejohn

I have a wonderful old book called The English Language – Grammar, History, Literature by Professor Meiklejohn. It was printed in 1905.

It is full of interesting stuff about the making of the English language and I dare say I will return to it several times to share some of its gems.

There is a fascinating section on the effect of Norman French on the language used in Britain after William the Conqueror (1066 and all that). We often see lists of the new words given to the language by the invaders, but we don’t so often hear about the losses from the previous Anglo-Saxon vocabulary.

To paraphrase the book, before the coming of the Normans, the English language was in the habit of forming new compounds with ease and effect, but afterwards this power disappeared and (more…)

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