Borrowed Words

My eighth grade teacher once told our class that we don’t speak English, we speak American. Actually, she was my “Challenge I” teacher. And my class was seven people large. We met once a week. What can I say, I was homeschooled.

I suppose she meant to convey an “oh how the great have fallen” message. Despite this, the effect her words had on me was that I felt considerably better about saying things like “a little ways back”, “yes, they’ve got some”, and, well, “like.” After all, I wasn’t speaking bad English, I was actually speaking fantastic American.

I’m fairly certain this was not the intent of my teacher’s quip, but it did serve to remind me that English as we speak it is not just from England. We have morphed it almost into a separate language, if you consider what qualifies as correct in spoken word. A language is “correct”, in my opinion, when people make it correct. To elaborate, anyone learning a foreign language would do well to learn it the way people actually speak it. If you learn the grammar of a language that its people neither use nor understand, who is really speaking it correctly? I mean really, we say things are “cool” and “hot”, “nice” and “sick”. Or maybe people don’t, but at least our parents probably did.

In addition to this, English has been altered in another way, and that is from the phrases we have borrowed from other cultures. Really, borrowed phrases are how English was created, and how languages in general seem to form: from being mixed with each other, and then developing from there. The history of English is really quite fascinating. It began as the same base-language as the Celtic, Slavic, Italic, Germanic, and many other languages, called the Proto-Indo-European language. The people who spoke it didn’t call it that (thankfully), just people who went back and studied it. It is theorized that it originated above the Black Sea in Europe. In short, as the people spread, so did the language, until some people who spoke it arrived in what is now England, and so there Celtic began to be spoken. Then, the Romans conquered that area (just like pretty much everywhere). Latin and Greek were mixed in under the Roman influence, because the Romans utilized much of Greek culture.

Next came the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes from across the sea to help fight off the Romans, speaking Germanic, and they stayed there once they’d done their job. The result was that Celtic was no longer used in Britain. Danish and more Latin words were tossed into the speech. Then came the Normans, who spoke French. When they took over, French began to be spoken alongside English, and Norman-French words were added into English. English regained power as the King lost it with the Magna Carta in 1215, and was solidified with Caxton’s printing press in 1476. In a nutshell, when different people gained influence over one piece of land, the language came to reflect their culture. Not to mention, the way grammar rules functioned and words were pronounced fluctuated as well. Over time, Old English turned into Modern English, which turned into New English, which we speak today.

As you can see, many, many different tongues contributed to ours, and that’s not even all of them. (Think, taco). But I’m going to focus on one of my favorites: Latin. Our everyday words are so based off of Latin and Greek that we can see and hear root words at every turn. In some areas of our culture, such as in law and science, we didn’t even bother to change the foreign phrases. Instead, we grafted them into our language and use them as part of English. Not to drone on ad nauseum, but this is a bona fide quality of our status quo here in America. (Et cetera, et cetera.)

Here are some of my favorite Latin phrases:

Vice versa

Literally: ”the positions being reversed”

I find this phrase very useful, although I don’t hear it employed much by others.

“You know, I think Batman’s real problem with Superman is costume envy, and vice versa, actually.”

Argumentum ad baculum

Literally: “Appeal to the stick”

This is actually the name of a logical fallacy one can commit when trying to prove a point. You commit this error when you give a threat rather than a response to a question. Another, similar fallacy is ad hominem, or “to the man”, which means attacking your opponent rather than the argument they’re presenting. I always just thought this one was a bit humorous.

“So, why is it necessary to stir this boiling wax for five hours? Because it’ll end up poured over my head if I don’t? Pardon me, but I think that was an argumentum ad baculum.”

Quod Erat Demonstrandum

Literally: “That which was to be demonstrated.”

This phrase, abbreviated Q.E.D., is written at the end of logic proofs, which, if you haven’t seen one, are basically mathematical proofs (which they’re also at the end of), but with words. I find it very satisfying to write that at the end of a proof.

“If the sun turned to ice, we would die. The sun has turned to ice. Therefore, we have died. Q.E.D.”

Disiecta Membra

Literally: “Scattered remains”

This was on a Latin classroom wall in the form of a poster. I thoroughly enjoy this piece of knowledge.

“Try that thing without the harness and I’m telling you they’ll be recovering your disiecta membra in ten seconds flat.”

As a note, if you are ever learning a language, I personally recommend Latin, because it is useful, exciting and, above all, clean. Unlike, say, Spanish, it has a total of one truly irregular verb that I have learned, that being the verb for “to be”. Not to be misleading, any takers of this challenge will find the irregularities of third conjugation verbs annoying, but they are not truly irregular. Being unique is normal in that conjugation. So irregular is actually regular there. Q.E.D.

I hope this article has both entertained and informed you.There are tons of languages that turned out to be English, but Latin resides at its core, and does deserve a special shout-out, I believe. Until next time, Deus Vobiscum!

-T.D.