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  • The History of English In Ten Minutes

  • Chapter One Anglo-Saxon

  • Or "Whatever happened to the Jutes?"

  • The English language begins with the phrase "Up Yours Caesar!"

  • as the Romans leave Britain

  • and a lot of Germanic tribes start flooding in,

  • tribes such as the Angles and the Saxons

  • who together gave us the term Anglo-Saxon,

  • and the Jutes -- who didn't.

  • The Romans left some very straight roads behind,

  • but not much of their Latin language.

  • The Anglo-Saxon vocab was much more useful

  • as it was mainly words for simple everyday things

  • like 'house', 'woman', 'loaf' and 'werewolf'.

  • Four of our days of the week

  • were named in honour of Anglo-Saxon gods

  • but they didn't bother with Saturday, Sunday and Monday

  • as they had all gone off for a long weekend.

  • While they were away,

  • Christian missionaries stole in

  • bringing with them leaflets

  • about jumble sales and more Latin.

  • Christianity was a hit with the locals

  • and made them much happier

  • to take on funky new words from latin

  • like 'martyr', 'bishop' and 'font'.

  • Along came the Vikings,

  • with their action-man words

  • like 'drag', 'ransack', 'thrust' and 'die',

  • They may have raped and pillaged

  • but there were also into 'give' and 'take'

  • two of around 2000 words that they gave English,

  • as well as the phrase 'watch out for that man with the enormous axe.'

  • Chapter Two The Norman Conquest

  • Or "Excuse my English"

  • True to his name, William the Conqueror invades England,

  • bringing new concepts from across the channel

  • like the French language,

  • the Domesday book

  • and the duty free Galois's multipack.

  • French was de rigeur for all official business,

  • with words like 'judge', 'jury', 'evidence' and 'justice'

  • coming in and giving John Grisham's career a kick-start.

  • Latin was still used ad nauseam in Church,

  • but the common man spoke English

  • able to communicate only by speaking

  • more slowly and loudly until the others understood him.

  • Words like 'cow', 'sheep' and 'swine'

  • come from the English-speaking farmers,

  • while the a la carte versions

  • - 'beef', 'mutton' and 'pork' -

  • come from the French-speaking toffs

  • -- beginning a long running trend for restaurants having completely indecipherable menus.

  • All in all the English absorbed about ten thousand new words form the Normans

  • though they still couldn't grasp the notion of cheek kissing.

  • The bonhomie all ended

  • when the English nation took their new warlike lingo of 'armies', 'navies' and 'soldiers' and began the Hundred Years War against France.

  • It actually lasted 116 years

  • but by that point no one could count any higher in French

  • and English took over as the language of power

  • Chapter 3 Shakespeare

  • As the dictionary tells us about 2000 new words and phrases were invented by William Shakespeare

  • He gave us handy words like 'eyeball', 'puppydog' and 'anchovy'

  • and more showoffy words like 'dauntless', 'besmirch' and 'lacklustre'

  • He came up with the word 'alligator' soon after he ran off of things to rime with crocodile

  • And a nation of tea drinkers finally took him to their hearts when he invented the 'hobnob'

  • Shakespeare knew the power of catch phrases as well as biscuits

  • Without him we'd never heard our flesh and blood out of house and home

  • we'd have to say good riddance to the green eyed monster

  • And breaking the ice would be as dead as a doornail.

  • If you tried to get your money's worth you'd be given short shrift

  • and anyone who laid it on with a trowel could be hoist with his own petard

  • of course, it's possible other people used these words first

  • but the dictionary writers liked looking them up in Shakespeare,

  • because there was more crossdressing and people poking each other's eyes out.

  • Shakespeare's poetry showed the world that English was a rich, vibrant language

  • with limitless expressive and emotional power

  • and he still had time to open all those tea rooms in Stratford.

  • Chapter four The King James Bible

  • Or "Let there be light reading"

  • In 1611 "the powers that be" "turned the world upside down" with a "labour of love"

  • a new translation of the bible.

  • A team of scribes with the "wisdom of Solomon" "went the extra mile"

  • to make King James's translation

  • "all things to all men",

  • whether from their 'heart's desire'

  • 'to fight the good fight'

  • or just for the 'filthy lucre'.

  • This sexy new Bible went "from strength to strength"

  • getting to 'the root of the matter'

  • in a language even "the salt of the earth" could understand.

  • "The writing wasn't on the wall",

  • it was in handy little books

  • and with "fire and brimstone" preachers

  • reading from it in every church,

  • its words and phrases 'took root' 'to the ends of the earth'

  • well at least the ends of Britain.

  • The King James Bible is the book that taught us that

  • "a leopard can't change its spots",

  • that "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush",

  • that 'a wolf in sheep's clothing'

  • is harder to spot than you would imagine

  • and how annoying it is to have 'a fly in your ointment'.

  • In fact, just as "Jonathan begat Meribbaal;

  • and Meribbaal begat Micah",

  • the King James Bible begat a whole glossary of metaphor and morality

  • that still shapes the way English is spoken today.

  • Amen.

  • Chapter V The English of Science

  • or how to speak with gravity

  • Before the 17th century, scientists weren't really recognized

  • possibly because labcoats had yet to catch on.

  • But suddenly Britain was full of physicists: there was R. Hooke

  • R. Boyle and even some people not called Robert, like Isaac Newton.

  • The royal society was formed out of the invisible college

  • after they put it down somewhere and couldn't find it again.

  • At first they worked in Latin. After sitting through

  • Newton's story about the 'pomum' falling to the 'Terra'

  • from the 'arbor' for the umpteenth time, the bright sparks realized

  • they all spoke English and they could transform our understanding

  • of the Universe much quicker by talking in their own language.

  • But Science was discovering things faster than they could name them:

  • words like 'acid', 'gravity', 'electricity' and 'pendulum' had to

  • be invented just to stop their meetings turning into an endless game of charades.

  • Like teenage boys, the scientists suddenly became aware of the human body

  • conying new words like 'cardiac', 'tonsil', 'ovary and 'sternum'

  • and the invention of 'penis' and 'vagina' made sex education classes

  • a bit easier to follow, though 'Clitoris' was still a source of confusion

  • Chapeter VI English and Empire

  • Or "The sun never sets on the English Language"

  • With English making its name as the language of science, the Bible and Shakespeare,

  • Britain decided to take it on tour.

  • Asking only for land, wealth,

  • natural resources, total obedience to the crown

  • and a few local words in return.

  • They went to the Caribbean looking for gold and a chance to really unwind

  • discovering the "barbeque", the "canoe"

  • and a pretty good recipe for rum punch.

  • They also brought back the word 'cannibal'

  • to make their trip sound more exciting.

  • In India there was something for everyone.

  • 'Yoga' -- to help you stay in shape, while pretending to be spiritual.

  • If that didn't work

  • there was the "cummerbund" to hide a paunch

  • and, if you couldn't even make it up the stairs without turning "crimson"

  • they had the "bungalow".

  • Meanwhile in Africa they picked up words like 'voodoo' and 'zombie'

  • kicking off the teen horror film

  • From Australia,

  • English took the words 'nugget', 'boomerang' and 'walkabout'

  • and in fact the whole concept of chain pubs.

  • All in all between toppling Napoleon and the first World War,

  • the British Empire gobbled up around 10 millions square miles,

  • 400 million people and nearly a hundred thousand gin and tonics,

  • leaving new varieties of English to develop all over the globe.

  • Chapter VII The age of the dictionary

  • or the definition of a hopeless task.

  • With English expanding in all directions, along came a new

  • breed of men called lexicographies

  • who wanted to put an end to this anarchy, a word they defined

  • as what happens when people spell words slightly differently from each other.

  • One of the greatest was dr. Johnson whose dictionary

  • of the English Language took him nine years to write.

  • He was 18" tall and contained 42773 entries meaning that even

  • if you couldn't read, it was still pretty useful if you wanted to reach an high shelf.

  • For the first time when people were calling you a

  • 'pickleherring', a 'jobbernowl' or a 'fopdoodle', you could

  • understand exactly what they meant and you'd have the

  • consolation of knowing they all used the standard spelling

  • Try as he might to stop them, words kept being invented

  • and in 1857 a new book was started

  • that would become the Oxford English Dictionary.

  • It took another 70 years to be finished

  • after the first editor resigned to be an Archbishop,

  • the second died of TB

  • and the third was so boring that half his volunteers quit

  • and one of the ended up in an Asylum.

  • It eventually appeared in 1928 and has continued to be revised ever since

  • proving the whole idea that you can stop people making up words is complete snuffbumble

  • Chapter VIII American English

  • Or "Not English but Somewhere in the ballpark"

  • From the moment Brits landed in America they needed names for all the plants and animals

  • so they borrowed words like 'raccoon', 'squash' and 'moose' from the Native Americans,

  • as well as most of their territory.

  • Waves of immigrants fed America's hunger for words.

  • The Dutch came sharing 'coleslaw' and 'cookies'

  • probably as a result of their relaxed attitude to drugs.

  • Later, the Germans arrived selling 'pretzels' from 'delicatessens'

  • and the Italians arrived with their 'pizza', their 'pasta' and their 'mafia', just like mamma used to make.

  • America spread a new language of capitalism

  • getting everyone worried about the 'breakeven' and 'the bottom line',

  • and whether they were 'blue chip' or 'white collar'.

  • The commuter needed a whole new system of 'freeways', 'subways' and 'parking lots'

  • and quickly, before words like 'merger' and 'downsizing' could be invented.

  • American English drifted back across the pond

  • as Brits 'got the hang of' their 'cool movies', and their 'groovy' 'jazz'.

  • There were even some old forgotten English words that lived on in America.

  • So they carried on using 'fall', 'faucets', 'diapers' and 'candy',

  • while the Brits moved on to 'autumn', 'taps', 'nappies' and NHS dental care.

  • Chapter IX Internet English

  • Or "Language reverts to type"

  • In 1972 the first email was sent.

  • Soon the Internet arrived, a free global space to share information, ideas

  • and amusing pictures of cats.

  • Before then English changed through people speaking it

  • but the net brought typing back into fashion

  • and hundreds of cases of repetitive strain injuries.

  • Nobody had ever had to 'download' anything before, let alone use a 'toolbar'

  • And the only time someone set up a 'firewall',

  • it ended with a massive insurance claim and a huge pile of charred wallpaper.

  • Conversations were getting shorter than the average attention span

  • why bother writing a sentence when an abbreviation would do

  • and leave you more time to 'blog', 'poke' and 'reboot' when your 'hard drive' crashed?

  • 'In my humble opinion' became IMHO, 'by the way' became BTW

  • and 'if we're honest that life-threatening accident was pretty hilarious!' simply became 'fail'.

  • Some changes even passed into spoken English.

  • For your information people frequently asked questions like

  • "how can 'LOL' mean 'laugh out loud' and 'lots of love'?

  • But if you're going to complain about that then UG2BK.

  • Chapter X Global English

  • Or "Whose language is it anyway?"

  • In the 1500 years since the Roman's left Britain,

  • English has shown an unique ability to absorb, evolve, invade

  • and, if we're honest, steal.

  • After foreign settlers got it started, it grew into a fully-fledged language all of its own,

  • before leaving home and travelling the world, first via the high seas,

  • then via the high speed broadband connection, pilfering words from over 350 languages

  • and establishing itself as a global institution.

  • All this despite a written alphabet that bears no correlation to how it sounds

  • and a system of spelling that even Dan Brown couldn't decipher.

  • Right now around 1.5 billion people speak English.

  • Of these about a quarter are native speakers, a quarter speak it as their second language,

  • and half are able to ask for directions to a swimming pool.

  • There's Hinglish which is Hindi-English,

  • Chinglish which is Chinese-English

  • and Singlish which is Singaporean English

  • and not that bit when they speak in musicals.

  • So in conclusion,

  • the language has got so little to do with England these days

  • it may well be time to stop calling it 'English'.

  • But if someone does think up a new name for it, it should probably be in Chinese.

The History of English In Ten Minutes

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The History of English in 10 Minutes

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    VoiceTube posted on 2013/03/18
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