Saturday, June 03, 2006

When Words Are Outlawed

In a cross-post today at American Street, Clif of Outside the Tent expresses preemptive outrage on behalf of the less-literate cracker-barrel hate mongers, who probably didn't even realize that the winning word in the latest national spelling bee was not English, but German. Horrors! In the Street comments our suburban neighbor Fearguth of bildungblog asks "What if all words assimilated into English over the centuries from other languages were eliminated? Wouldn’t be much of a spelling bee, would it?"

Well, let's look. "Bee" comes from Old English, so that's okay, but "spelling" as used here comes from Old French. [The Old English "gespelia" was used in the sense of "spelling" someone from a job.] How about "lettering"? Nope -- Latin. And of course you know about that Greek "alphabet" word. Let's try "puzzle out". Great! "Puzzle" is "origin unknown", That'll work. And "out"? Bingo! Plain Old English. Ah, but what are they puzzling out? Words? Right on target -- Old English again.

All tight, then, henceforth we'll hold "Puzzle Out Word Bees". That should satisfy all the linguistic chauvinists.

Of course, we can't call them that, since "linguistic" and "language" are both from Latin, and "chauvinism" is named after a Frenchman. How about "redneck windbags"? Let's look up the four origin words making up that description. The first three, "red", "neck", and "wind" are all patriotic Old English, but there is a problem with "bag". It's Old Norse. Now that might be Caucasian enough to satisfy the Klanners that just led a march against immigrants in Alabama, but it's just not proper exclusionary use of the mother tongue.

How about "sack"? Horrors, no. It does come from Old English, but before that it was from Latin, and before that from Greek, and before that from Hebrew. I don't think I need to tell you what using a word of Jewish origin will do to the no-foreign-word Coalition of the Spelling Puzzling Out, especially the ones in the white sheets. How about "vane"? Wonderful, it's another Old English origin-word.

So, now, we will have "Puzzle Out Word Bees", to satisfy all the redneck windvanes. Good night, Dickens, and sleep well, Thackeray.


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