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A ONE SENTENCE ETYMOLOGICAL RULE

Posted: Mon Jun 14, 2010 8:01 pm
by HHHPUZZLES
I am not an expert in Anglo-Saxon but I took Anglo-Saxon courses many years ago in graduate school. I remember my professor gave a one sentence rule which I have used many times in my life. Here is a fun challenge to all of you: If you have two English words which mean basically the same thing, and one is derived from Anglo-Saxon and one is from French, what is a one sentence rule that will help you decide which word is from Anglo-Saxon and which is from French? (You do not have to go to an etymological dictionary to make the initial call. The rule works almost all the time.There are exceptions but not too many!)

Re: A ONE SENTENCE ETYMOLOGICAL RULE

Posted: Mon Jun 14, 2010 9:10 pm
by Phil White
The bulk of the lexis of the English language comes from languages other than Anglo-Saxon. Of the lexemes that do come from Anglo-Saxon, the bulk are structural words (prepositions, conjunctions, modal verbs, etc.) and commonplace verbs, nouns and adjectives. (The majority of the most common words in the language are Anglo-Saxon in origin). There are often no alternatives for these words. To answer your question, however, where there are two lexemes with similar meanings, one from AS and one from Norman, the latter is often associated with higher status in some way.
Peasants tend and milk cows, but the aristocracy eat beef.
Peasants live in houses (if they're lucky), the aristocracy in mansions.
"Stink" is from AS, "aroma" is from OF.

That tendency applies analogously to the perceived register of lexemes, particularly verbs, e.g. "observe/see", where the Romance-derived word is perceived (seen?) as "fancier", and this has persisted into much later times with lexemes that only came into the language after the invasion (e.g. "underwear/lingerie").

Re: A ONE SENTENCE ETYMOLOGICAL RULE

Posted: Mon Jun 14, 2010 10:31 pm
by HHHPUZZLES
You gave examples of the rule I was referring to. The rule is: When there are two words in English which mean basically the same thing, the word which is monosyllabic will be from Anglo-Saxon and the one which is polysyllabic will be from French. Your example of HOUSE and MANSION are examples of this rule just as MEAL and BANQUET would also be examples. Of course, there is a corollary rule about the commoner versus the aristocratic meaning but my professor used the monosyllabic/polysyllabic version. Two ways of saying the same thing!

Re: A ONE SENTENCE ETYMOLOGICAL RULE

Posted: Mon Jun 14, 2010 10:51 pm
by Erik_Kowal
On the other hand, 3H, 'cows' and 'beef', 'pigs' and 'pork', 'calf' and 'veal' are all monosyllables. Your rule is at best a guide.

Personally, I'm not so concerned with the origins of the words I use as their suitability for the purpose I have intended.

Re: A ONE SENTENCE ETYMOLOGICAL RULE

Posted: Mon Jun 14, 2010 11:50 pm
by christinecornwall
I agree with Erik. Now pardon me while I suckle the beef err .....exploit the livestock....err milk the cows.

Re: A ONE SENTENCE ETYMOLOGICAL RULE

Posted: Tue Oct 25, 2016 10:15 am
by BeverlyEldridge
Hey there! If you are not an expert in Anglo-Saxon but took Anglo-Saxon courses many years ago in graduate school, you must know and remember important rules about modal verbs: http://getessayeditor.com/blog/importan ... in-english It's never late to learn!