ReadableBlog

Readability tips, literacy news, and English writing advice

A Brief Introduction to Folk Etymology

Some words in English just ... appear from nowhere, absent any obvious lineage or rhyme or reason. Luckily for amateur etymologists, some come via far more obvious, traceable routes. Sometimes this is via what at the time would be considered mistakes, but that eventually became accepted parts of the English language.

When Do Linguistic Mistakes Matter?

It's very easy to get worked up about people getting things wrong. Sometimes maybe too worked up ...

But languages do evolve over time, and today's mistakes are tomorrow's Shakespeare's new words. What is important is whether or not the person listening to, or reading, the words understand them. If they do, then you have communicated successfully, and that is the goal of language. If the mistake introduces confusion, it's worth correcting. Otherwise, when you hear a mistake that might just be an opportunity to get on a bandwagon before anyone else, like a sort of linguistic hipster.

Rebracketing: Napples and Nuncles and Ewts and Doodles

One of those routes for new words is rebracketing. Rebracketing is where words are changed over time due to misinterpretation of their parts. Sometimes it means losing letters to neighboring words, or stealing letters from them. Sometimes it means splitting a word into constituent parts incorrectly. Sometimes it is the merging of multiple words into one.

The most well-known examples of this are words where an "n" has moved between the word and its indefinite article - a or an. So what once was a napple became an apple, a nuncle became an uncle, and an ewt became a newt, and an ekename became a nickname. An umpire comes from the word noumpere, and an apron used to be a napron.

This can happen with suffixes too. Consider the Labradoodle, the offspring of a Labrador and a Poodle. The "d" at the start of "-doodle" clearly comes from the Labrador. And yet, the suffix "-doodle" has made it to other Poodle crossbreeds like the delightful Goldendoodle. Something similar happened with the Hamburger. It is named after Hamburg, where it originated, but the word burger became such a common abbreviation that to many it appears as though burger came first and hamburger has been formed by adding ham to the front of it.

Incidentally, Hamburg is a delightful name for a city. Ham is a city and Burg also means city, so its name is effectively ... Citycity.

Sometimes the entire article moves into the word, or two words completely fuse into one. The modern word alone derives from all one, which means the expression all alone is effectively all all one. This is even more common in loans words, where misunderstandings about where word boundaries are can lead to words being joined. The Arabic al-jabr is the origin of the modern algebra, but the al in Arabic is the, and words like alcohol and alchemy also absorbed the Arabic the. The same is responsible for alligator, which comes from el legarto in Spanish, where el again means the.

Back-Forming: Peas and Edit and Statistic and Bicep

The first cousin of rebracketing is back-forming, where a word is borne out of assumption. It can be where a word is assumed to be plural because it ends in an "s" sound, and therefore the same word without an "s" is the singular. For example, once upon a time a pea was called a pease, and peas were peasen. However, lots of people heard the "s" sound at the end of pease and thought that the singular must be pea. And so, one pease became one pea, and many peasen became many peas. Dinners must have been confusing for a while.

Similarly, statistic comes from the misinterpretation of the field of statistics as a plural word ... which then generated its own plural, statistics. The muscle at the top of your arm - singular - is your biceps. But as with pease, it has been mistaken for plural and the singular has become bicep. The plural is bicipites.

The word editor gave rise to the verb edit, when people assumed the "-er" sound at the end meant it was a person who did the verb, so an editor must be someone who edits in the same way that a writer is someone who writes. The origin of lase is even stranger, and happened extremely quick in linguistic terms; what started as the acronym LASER turned into the simple noun laser, which then back-formed the verb lase.

Predicting Future Words

While there is no way to be certain what the future holds for any language, one way to see what might happen in future is to look at common mistakes today. Today's a napple is tomorrow's an apple, after all. I think these words are likely to be a formally recognised correct part of English in the next few decades, so if you want to look cool to the linguists of the future, make sure to use these as often as possible:

  • Apart. This is a no-brainer, it's already happening. It's effectively apart of the English language already, however much it may infuriate most readers.
  • Barbwire. Barbed wire is the original term, meaning wire that is barbed. However, barb wire and then barbwire have become more common, and seem set to take over as the more common term.
  • An Hospital, Hotel, or History. This is a common mistake, where people think words beginning with "h" should be preceded with an instead of a.
  • Kudo. Kudos is taken to be plural, despite being singular, and a new singular is back-forming as a result.
  • Alot. A lot of people join a lot into alot, so it won't be long before this makes it into officially accepted English.
  • Should/Would/Could Of. Personally I can't help but bristle when I see this written, but it is easy to understand where it comes from. Should've sounds like "should of", and so eventually that's likely to become an accepted way of writing it.
  • Wensday. The incongruity between how Wednesday is written and how it is pronounced means that, eventually, it will quite possibly change into something closer to how it is said.
  • Card shark. It might be card sharp but card shark is also commonly used (and not a mistake) and sounds like it makes sense. Funnily enough, the word sharp in this context actually derives from shark. Card sharp will disappear from common use, because the sharks always win in the end.
  • Expresso. It's espresso in Italian, but it's such a common mistake in English to call it expresso that it's likely to replace the original sooner or later. Sorry Italians, but this loan word is changing.

Verbs of Motion

There are as many ways to get from A to B as there are Bs to get to from A. Here is a collection of them, verbs to get you moving.

A

  • advance
  • aim (for)
  • amble
  • angle (towards etc)

B

  • back (out, away etc)
  • barrel
  • beetle
  • belt
  • bluster
  • bolt
  • boogie
  • bounce
  • bound
  • bumble

C

  • canter
  • careen
  • career
  • chacha
  • charge
  • crawl
  • creep

D

  • dance
  • dart
  • dash
  • dawdle
  • dive
  • dodder
  • dogtrot
  • drag
  • drive

E

  • emerge (from)
  • enter
  • escape
  • exit

F

  • file (in)
  • flee
  • flex
  • flit
  • flop
  • flounce
  • fly
  • footslog
  • forge (on, ahead)
  • foxtrot

G

  • gallop
  • gambol
  • glide
  • go

H

  • hare
  • hasten
  • head (towards, for, to etc)
  • hightail
  • hike
  • hobble
  • hop
  • hurry
  • hurtle
  • hustle

I

  • inch
  • issue (from)

J

  • jaunt
  • jitterbug
  • jive
  • jog
  • journey
  • jump

K

  • kick

L

  • labor / labour
  • lag
  • leap
  • leg (it)
  • limp
  • lollop
  • lope
  • lunge
  • lurch

M

  • march
  • meander
  • mince
  • mooch
  • mosey
  • move

N

  • nip (into, across, over etc)

P

  • pace
  • pad
  • parade
  • pass
  • patrol
  • patter
  • pelt
  • perambulate
  • pirouette
  • plod
  • pootle
  • pop (in, to, over etc)
  • potter
  • pound
  • prance
  • press
  • proceed
  • progress
  • promenade
  • prowl
  • pull
  • pulse
  • push

Q

  • quickmarch
  • quickstep

R

  • race
  • ramble
  • regress
  • return
  • rhumba
  • roam
  • roll
  • romp
  • rove
  • run
  • rush

S

  • sail
  • samba
  • sashay
  • saunter
  • scamper
  • scarper
  • scoot
  • scram
  • scud
  • scuff
  • scurry
  • scuttle
  • seethe
  • shuffle
  • sidle
  • skedaddle
  • skip
  • skitter
  • slide
  • slink
  • slip
  • slither
  • slope
  • sneak
  • speed
  • spin
  • split
  • sprint
  • stagger
  • stalk
  • stampede
  • steam
  • step
  • stomp
  • streak
  • stretch
  • stride
  • stroll
  • strut
  • stumble
  • swagger
  • sway
  • sweep
  • swim

T

  • tango
  • tank
  • tiptoe
  • totter
  • traipse
  • tramp
  • trample
  • travel
  • tread
  • trek
  • trip
  • tromp
  • troop
  • trot
  • trudge
  • trundle
  • tumble

U

  • undulate

W

  • waddle
  • wade
  • walk
  • waltz
  • wander
  • wend
  • whizz
  • wobble

Y

  • yawl

Z

  • zip
  • zoom

Bonfire Night Cryptic

Politician organised treason (7)

Answer: SENATOR


Why English needs The Subjunctive Tense

For those of you who speak one of the romantic languages, you might be familiar with the term "Subjunctive." For the English only speakers out there, the subjunctive is a verb mood used to express moods, wishes, possibilities, and a host of other subjects relating to emotions. Many of English's sister languages like French, Spanish, and Italian have the subjunctive, and while English technically has a subjunctive, it's less prominent than in other romantic languages. Here are four reasons why English could benefit from the subjunctive.

1. Emotional expression: As English speakers, we are a quite dull set of people. We only need to look at foreign language films to realize the speakers of our sister languages are more passionate about their speech. Well, a primary use for subjunctive in a language is the expression of emotion. Wouldn't it be wonderful to tell a person's emotion by the type of verbs they use? Wouldn't it be wonderful to spice up your vocabulary by adding in a bit of passion when you make a request?

2. Dropping hints: How many times have you tried to subtly suggest someone purchase a gift? Or drop a hint to a significant other about a particular date night. Since the subjunctive expresses desires, terms like "I wish," or "I strive," maybe even, "It'd be wonderful," would require a different verb form. That means no more grey areas or mixed messages.

3. Adding spice: Let's face it, English can be a dull language when compared to French or Spanish. With the subjunctive, we could spice up our sentences by adding certain key phrases to trigger use of the subjunctive mood. For example, in French one might say il est évident qui'il m'aime.Translation, it's obvious he loves me. That has more flavor than just saying, he loves me. If the use of the subjunctive in English were more prominent, it would go a long way to improving the average English speakers vocabulary.

4. Learning a foreign language would be simpler: Anyone who's taken a university, or high school foreign languages course knows learning a new language is an uphill battle. Not only do you need to learn new grammatical concepts, but also vocabulary and pronunciation. If English had a defined subjunctive mood, it might go a long way in helping students understand concepts in other foreign languages.

At the end of the day, languages are fluidly evolving things, and while we might not be able to revive or deepen the English subjunctive mood, we could all make an effort to use the subjunctive by learning new languages. Exploring new horizons, discovering new ways to convey our emotions, and deepening our understanding of other cultures would go along way in helping us all.


World Students Day Cryptic

Pretty funny story after daughter's become learner driver (6)

Answer: COMELY


Talk Like a Pirate Day Cryptic

Cost of hiring detective is criminal (6)

Answer: PIRATE


Verbs of Pain

Sometimes you need to express pain, and these are some handy verbs to help you do so.

A

  • abuse
  • agonize

B

  • belt
  • bite
  • blaze
  • bleed
  • break
  • bruise
  • burn

C

  • cauterize
  • chafe
  • char
  • cramp
  • cremate

D

  • damage
  • decimate
  • disable

F

  • flail
  • flog

H

  • harm
  • hurt

I

  • incinerate
  • inflame
  • injure
  • itch

K

  • kick

L

  • lacerate
  • lash

M

  • mar
  • maul
  • melt

N

  • nag

P

  • pinch
  • prick
  • prickle
  • pummel
  • punch
  • puncture
  • punish

S

  • scorch
  • singe
  • smart
  • snap
  • spank
  • stab
  • sting
  • suffer
  • swell

T

  • tear
  • threaten
  • toast
  • torment
  • torture

W

  • whack
  • whip
  • wound

How To Recognize Passive Voice

It's no secret that varying the sentence structure in your writing keeps your reader engaged; however, the conciseness of your writing is just as important, ensuring that the reader stays focus and thoroughly understands the content. This is typically achieved by using active voice, as opposed to passive voice. Distinguishing between the two voices may seem difficult, but these titbits should clarify what constitutes as being passive voice in writing.

Passive voice appears when an object is present in a sentence, and that object is placed at the beginning rather than at the end of the sentence. This creates a bit of obscurity in your writing, which will confuse the reader as to what the sentence is saying.

An example of passive voice would be as follows:

The car was driven by my sister.

Although this sentence may not cause much confusion, it could definitely be more clear, direct, and lively. The car is the object of the sentence, being placed at the beginning instead of "my sister," which is the true subject of the sentence. To create a more active sentence, it is appropriate to place the subject at the beginning, followed by the verb and then the object, which is the car.

In active voice, the sentence would then be:

My sister drove the car.

An important characteristic of passive sentences is the insertion of a "to be" verb, such as is, are, was, and were; however, it is important to note that this does not guarantee the sentence is passive. Active sentences can have "to be" verbs in them.

Although passive voice can be used in writing and speaking, it is generally discouraged and should not be overused. Next time you are proofreading your compositions, make sure to establish a clear voice to fully engage the reader.


Another Four Words That English Really Needs

The English language has a long and colorful history of appropriating words from other languages—bildungsroman, cliché, bon voyage—to name just a few, but English is an ever-evolving language as well, and these four words from other languages are just what English really needs:

Bueno, from Spanish, literal meaning: good

Bueno is just a good all-around word that can be used in many conversational scenarios, for example: "I'm coming over right after work," she said, and you can reply "Bueno!" meaning, "That sounds good to me!" Or perhaps you want to communicate that you feel good in general, bueno is a great word to choose because it has an upbeat sing-song rhythm that the Germanic-derived "good" lacks.

Lagom, from Swedish, literal meaning: sufficient

Lagom is, at first glance, a short, simple declarative word, but it contains multi-faceted meanings very efficient for English language usage. Modern humans constantly strive for balance in their hustle-bustle existence and this is where lagom is useful. A deeper look at the word reveals it means "just the right amount" or "perfect-simple." That's balance, that's lagom.

Sturmfrei, from German, literal meaning: having the house to oneself

In its native language, this word applies to children, specifically children being allowed the freedom to enjoy unstructured time without the control or supervision of their parents. Overscheduled kids raised by helicopter parents could certainly benefit from more sturmfrei in their lives. Can you imagine the creative forces that could be unleashed with sturmfrei? Plus, it is very fun to say.

Itadakimasu, from Japanese, literal meaning: I receive this food

For the English-speaking family that does not say grace before meals, itadakimasu is a worthy consideration. It conveys respect for the food that is before you, and is said before meals. A moment spent considering the origin of the meal, and respect for the person(s) or prepared the meal and made it possible for you to eat, as well as an acknowledgement of good fortune it is to be able to feed oneself, for all these reasons, itadakimasu would be an excellent word to add to our vocabulary.

These are just four words from other languages that English really needs. Given the wide breadth of languages still spoken in this world, choosing just four words isn't easy. Countless words, and languages for that matter, are being lost from underuse all over the world, including English, so adding new ones is forward-thinking, as well as fait accompli (colloquial American) "done deal."


Towel Day Cryptic

We must shelter in group about to get drier (5)

Answer: TOWEL

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