If you asked me, I hate reading long boring writeups but i trust this will interest you. I’m sure you are aware that English is a borrowed language, not by Africans but they are borrowers themselves. The reason the English language is constantly changing and growing is because words are borrowed from other languages, and old words take on new meanings. The vocabulary we use today, I mean while speaking or writing English can best be described as a melting pot. Don’t ask where i got that…my great grand ma was a potter. Anyway, the term itself is defined as a country or city in which people of various races or nationalities are brought together and assimilated. My high school teacher did a great job while teaching me about kingdoms and colonialism, right? As i was saying, the melting pot has brought together words from an enormous number of tongues, left them as they were or adapted them, and assimilated them.
Now here’s what i mean…
English Words From Other Languages
We use ‘borrowed’ English words everyday that come to us not only from Latin or German or French, but also from such exotic tongues as Tamil, Arawak, Sanskrit and Turkish. I’m sure some of you had never heard of Arawak but no worries, you are not alone. I was also shocked when i discovered its existence. The average African and English man is probably aware of the fact that the shelves of our local supermarkets are filled with items whose names are derived from these and many other languages.
BREAD is Old Norse in origin, SALT and EGGS are Old Norse too, but the BACON to accompany the eggs comes from the french. COFFEE is Arabic and TEA is Chinese. TOAST is French, but the BUTTER we put on it comes from the Latin. YOGURT is Turkish and GINGER comes from the Sanskrit. How about BARBECUE SAUCE? Well, that seemingly American word BARBECUE comes from the Arawak, a language of people who come from Greater Antilles. You may google that out. SAUCE comes from the French and of course, SPAGHETTI was borrowed from the Italians. All these words are now completely accepted as English, but the truth is that they were just borrowed.
Did you know that languages change in meaning over time? Well, My native language doesn’t, but English does. Many English words have changed in meaning over the centuaries/centuries. Below are examples of words which mean one thing today and meant other things in the past.
- The word HYBRID is a colorful example. Today it means something of mixed origin, but this word, which came from the Latin, once meant the offspring of a tame sow and a wild boar. And before that, in Greek, it meant arrogance or ruthlessness.
- A PEST today is a nag or nuisance, a troublesome person. But originally, this word, which came from the French Peste, was something far more serious, since it meant an epidemic. It wasn’t merely irritating, as is today’s pest; it was deadly.
- A DEER was a general term for any animal.
- A WIFE was any woman, not necessarily a married one.
However, a number of words acquired broader meanings when the English language got into contact with American soil.
- The word MAD, which meant insane in England, came to mean not only that, but angry as well when it was taken to America.
- In England, a ROCK was a large mass of mineral material; in America, the term was applied to small stones as well.
Huh! Lest i forget, there are those English words whose meanings have either been lowered or elevated in status. Confused right? Well, keep on accumulating that confusion. It shows we are heading somewhere.
- A VILLAIN was once a serf or peasant and not someone evil; its meaning has been lowered.
- Today’s PIONEER is a person of courage and vision; a pioneer was once nothing more than a common infantry soldier who specialized in digging trenches.
- NICE is a complimentary; yet in the past, it meant ignorant, then foolish, then shy, and finally discriminating, before its current definition as agreeable or pleasant.
Pioneer and Nice have been elevated or enhanced in meaning.
Chauvinist, Atlas, Panic, are these real English words by origin? The answer is no. These were names of people who had achieved a certain fame, or they were names of gods.
- Nicolas Chauvin was a very patriotic man. He was a soldier in Napoleon’s army, he loved his leader and country to hell and back. He was so devoted to them that all people who showed excessive love for their country became known as CHAUVINISTS. Today, a Chauvinist also refers to people who believe their group is superior to others. Amen?
- ATLAS was one of the giants of Greek mythology, whose duty was to hold up the sky. A flemish mapmakes published a book of maps in the sixteenth century with a drawing of Atlas on the title page. He titled this collection of maps ATLAS and before long, an atlas was any book of maps.
- PANIC was ancient Greek god who instilled fear and terror in those who saw him.
Finally, I’m not an English teacher. I’m just an ordinary proud African marketeer whose curiosity won’t let her be. Sources – TAPESTRIES, GOOGLE, OXFORD DICTIONARY.
Positive Vibes, till next time…
Photographer: Victor Etekamba – Nigeria