Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Queen's (and Everybody Else's) English

(ETA: Neither I nor Cable One, apparently, heeded the soothsayer's warning to beware the Ides of March; I left this post window open on my computer so I could post it yesterday evening and Cable One decided that would be a good time for a multi-hour service outage).

Over at Quartz Magazine, Oxford professor Simon Horobin offers a quick etymology of five different words that illustrate some of the ways in which English went from being a what a 16th century educator called a "tung of small reatch" to a language spoken by almost a seventh of the world's population everywhere around the globe.

The words, including the very one naming the language, show how English has adopted words from other languages as its users traveled the world and interacted with other civilizations. Nothing could seem more quintessentially English than tea, for example, but Horobin notes that both the drink and its name come from a particular dialect of Mandarin in China.

The process continues, as modern texters now make use of "emojis" as ways of communicating moods. The word is about 20 years old and while it started out describing characters on pagers owned by kids in Japan, it's now considered the more expressive successor to the "emoticon" used in e-mails or text messages to help convey a writer's mood and intention.

Horobin doesn't say it, but of course we all know that the development of a language does not imply that it is put to any worthwhile use. Which is how we wound up with a Donald Trump candidacy and The View.

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