Monday, November 24, 2008

Who doesn't love the Norman French?

They were French-speaking Vikings who conquered England --and that reminds me of a quip and a reversal of that quip (and then a fundamental, too-obvious-to-notice fact about the quip that undermines the whole enterprise) that delights me, probably because I learned it in Jon Dayley's History of the English Language class, which I loved.

But first I want to say that I fully intended to return to Richard Baker's sentences this weekend but UPS jealously sequestered my "Welcome Package" from Qwest, in which was housed the activation code for internet service in my new abode. Thus I am reminded how much I hate UPS's 'signature required' delivery services. Many thanks to both companies; I hope they get what they deserve during the upcoming New Depression.

Well, that was more animus than required. Sounds like somebody's got a case of the Mondays.

Right, the Norman French. So I'm sure you've heard, from a member of the Freedom Fries, the French are (ahem . . .) sissies crowd, that 'we' --which in this case means the English language, rather than the US armed forces as it usually does when these people say it-- learned the word 'surrender' from the French. As in "We saved their asses (note the special use of 'we') in Dubya Dubya Two and therefore only French people have a word like 'surrender.'"

Okay, I've created a Straw Man argument, but I hope you'll pretend that you've experienced a similar scenario.

So, 'we' did get the word from the French, but (as I'm sure you're well aware) not so recently as 70 years ago --oh no-- it was closer to 1000 years ago, in 1066, when William the Bastard, a Norman Frenchman, began a conquering which would eventually cover every inch of English soil, not to mention so much of English vocabulary that whatever word it was that the Anglo-Saxons he conquered used to indicate that they yielded to his French bootheel was forever replaced by the word he gave them: surrender.

But. This whole enterprise (and now we come to the undermining I mention earlier) is an example of linguification, a term that I believe I learned from Mark Liberman, but on Language Log anyway, that refers to the tendency we have of talking about facts about language as though they were facts about the state of the world --as in "I don't know the meaning of the word 'failure.'" Maybe so, and that's probably true of most people who don't speak English, but that has nothing to do with whether you can fail. It's a very common figure of speech, or rhetorical device, or something, but it can lead to some pretty bad reasoning.

And. I haven't checked the facts of when English borrowed 'surrender' so everything you've read so far has been bullshit at best and, perhaps, totally worthless. Haha, joke's on you.

Oh, now I'm insulting my faithful readership. What has gotten in to me? I do apologize.

Ah, so that was the digression. Now to the reason I started this post in the first place: Norman French loanwords and their cognates in English vocabulary. There are two pairs of words with much the same meaning, one of which 'we' got from Norman French and the other from regular French: Guard and Ward and Guarantee and Warranty. Remembering that those 'gu-' words have Norman French (w-) siblings helps me remember (or at least understand) their weird spelling. AHD4 calls Norman French 'Old North French' which I like a lot. I think I'll set my drums up in the Old North French style tomorrow.

Oh, and there's a new word 'guerdon' (dictionary.com's word-of-the-day today) that, because it means 'reward,' looked like it was part of the same family. But it's not, though it does come from Old High German (by way of Latin and French) from a w- word: 'widar' which I would bet is the source of the widder- in widdershins, as it means 'back, against.'

Yep, it is. I checked --no more bullshit this time.

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