Tag: Old English

October 10, 2018

100,000 Words Whose Pronunciations Have Changed

We all know that language changes over time, and one of the major components of language change is sound change. Many of the words we use today are pronounced differently than they were in Shakespeare’s or Chaucer’s time. You may have seen articles like this one that list 10 or 15 words whose pronunciations have […]

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Historical linguistics, Phonology 4 Replies to “100,000 Words Whose Pronunciations Have Changed”
November 15, 2016

Whence Did They Come?

In a recent episode of Slate’s Lexicon Valley podcast, John McWhorter discussed the history of English personal pronouns. Why don’t we use ye or thee and thou anymore? What’s the deal with using they as a gender-neutral singular pronoun? And where do they and she come from? The first half, on the loss of ye […]

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Grammar, Historical linguistics 5 Replies to “Whence Did They Come?”
March 28, 2016

The Taxing Etymology of Ask

A couple of months back, I learned that task arose as a variant of tax, with the /s/ and /k/ metathesized. This change apparently happened in French before the word was borrowed into English. That is, French had the word taxa, which came from Latin, and then the variant form tasca arose and evolved into […]

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Historical linguistics, Phonology 9 Replies to “The Taxing Etymology of Ask
February 11, 2015

Why Is It “Woe Is Me”?

I recently received an email asking about the expression woe is me, namely what the plural would be and why it’s not woe am I. Though the phrase may strike modern speakers as bizarre if not downright ungrammatical, there’s actually a fairly straightforward explanation: it’s an archaic dative expression. Strange as it may seem, the […]

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Grammar, Usage 32 Replies to “Why Is It “Woe Is Me”?”
December 1, 2014

Celtic and the History of the English Language

A little while ago a link to this list of 23 maps and charts on language went around on Twitter. It’s full of interesting stuff on linguistic diversity and the genetic relationships among languages, but there was one chart that bothered me: this one on the history of the English language by Sabio Lantz. The […]

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Grammar, Historical linguistics 37 Replies to “Celtic and the History of the English Language”
January 13, 2014

Lynne Truss and Chicken Little

Lynne Truss, author of the bestselling Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, is at it again, crying with her characteristic hyperbole and lack of perspective that the linguistic sky is falling because she got a minor bump on the head. As usual, Truss hides behind the it’s-just-a-joke-but-no-seriously defense. She starts by […]

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Descriptivism, Prescriptivism, Rants 20 Replies to “Lynne Truss and Chicken Little”
August 29, 2012

Relative What

A few months ago Braden asked in a comment about the history of what as a relative pronoun. (For my previous posts on relative pronouns, see here.) The history of relative pronouns in English is rather complicated, and the system as a whole is still in flux, partly because modern English essentially has two overlapping […]

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Descriptivism, Semantics, Varieties of English 9 Replies to “Relative What
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