Root Words and Dirty Etymology
There has been something doing the rounds of the internet for a while, you may have seen it. It’s called English is a Crazy Language and is, essentially, a humorous, lovingly written ‘rant’ by Richard Lederer.
He comments on confusing prepositions, eg; when the stars are out, they’re visible, but then the lights are out, they’re invisible; on plurals that don’t make sense – one goose, two geese, but not one moose, two meese; and verb forms like teach/taught/taught, but preach/preached/preached. All of the stuff that drives learners of English absolutely crazy.
He also talks about strange words, and the lack of logic to them; ”there is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger … and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.” (But an eggplant is a plant in the shape of an egg, hamburger is named for its place of early origin (Hamburg) and there are several possible explanations as to how guinea pigs got their name. In German, funnily enough, they’re called Meerschweinschen … a sea piglet … süß!)
(Of course, we know why English can be so higgledy piggledy – we watched that fantastic ten minute video last week that explained so much. Didn’t see it. Go and watch it now. I’ll wait.)
Reading through English is a Crazy Language – and thinking about eggplant and guinea pig – got me thinking about etymology; the origin and development of words. Of course, if you’ve ever studied Latin or Ancient Greek, you’d be an old hand at root words and etymology – so many words in most languages belonging to the Indo-European family spring from Latin and Greek. Having an idea of ‘root words’ can really help your comprehension (and assist in answering questions on Who Wants to be a Millionaire.)
English has had a wild ride to get where it is today, with our vocabulary filled with words from many different languages. It can be a lot of fun to learn where words come from, and to compare whether your mother tongue and learning language share a lot of etymology, or not. Look at a video like this (another one that has done the rounds). Here are examples of where English uses the Latin or Ancient Greek, like the romantic languages, but German doesn’t – and, of course, therein lies the ”humour”.
Being aware of where words come from and how they have developed, will help you understand English on a deeper level. Here are some articles for you guys to read and think about. Do you use the same words in your language?
And here are the previous EMS posts to catch up on.
- Englisch is Fun
- A Phrasal What?
- Tenses in Pairs Part 1
- Tenses in Pairs Part 2
- The Future
- More Future Possibilities
- British & American English
- Tricks of the Trade: Idioms
- The Bandage was Wound around the Wound
- A Short History of the English Language