LEXICAL DARK MATTER.

One of Languagehat’s favorite lexicographers, Erin McKean, has a post at the NY Times Opinionator blog expanding on her ideas about the dictionary not being the be-all and end-all of the lexicon (see this 2006 LH post), including a startling statistic with which I’ll begin my excerpt:

Scholars recently analyzed more than five million digitized books, about 4 percent of all the books ever printed. Publishing their findings in “Science,” the researchers discovered that, by their estimation, “52 percent of the English lexicon – the majority of the words used in English books – consists of lexical ‘dark matter’ undocumented in standard references.” Some of the undictionaried words in the article were more or less morphologically transparent ones, like aridification or deletable, but others, like slenthem (a musical instrument), can’t be puzzled out from recognizable roots.
Writers constantly add to the lexical dark matter of the linguistic universe, either by writing about things so new that the terms used to discuss them are still hot from the mold, or just through pure wordsmithery, the coining of words that need to exist for evocative, rather than technical, reasons….
Even words that seem as if they would have been around for the dawn of the language can be traced back to writers who felt a need for them and didn’t stop to do an existence proof: Samuel Taylor Coleridge used the word agasp (meaning “eager”) way back in 1800. Emily Dickinson is cited for resituate more than 80 years before it was found in the Lubbock Morning Avalanche, and Charles Dickens used scrunched in “Sketches by Boz,” in 1836: “He had compromised with the parents of three scrunched children, and just ‘worked out’ his fine, for knocking down an old lady.” Now, these words are all found in the OED.

I think slenthem is an excellent example of a word that’s unquestionably necessary (pronounced /’slʌntəm/ [SLUHN-tuhm], it’s the name for an instrument in a gamelan orchestra, and discussions of Javanese music are full of statements like “the slenthem plays the demung part delayed by a quarter of a balungan beat”), and if gamelan music were as popular in English-speaking countries as jazz, it would be in dictionaries just like saxophone (and would lose the itals), but as things are, it’s such a specialized word that it’s unlikely to find a place in any but the OED (which will probably add it when they get around to revising S). I was initially startled by the “th,” but Wikipedia explained that “Javanese, together with Madurese, are the only languages of Western Indonesia to possess a distinction between retroflex and dental phonemes…. These [retroflex] letters are transcribed as ‘th’ and ‘dh’ in the modern Roman script.” So now I know.

Comments

  1. marie-lucie says:

    The topic has come up before, but I find it amazing that a word like Javanese slenthem, known by an infinitesimal portion of the English-speaking population, is considered part of the English lexicon!

  2. If it’s used in an English sentence as a word for an object (rather than as an example of a foreign word), how can it not be considered part of the English lexicon? If you search Google Books, you will find lots and lots of books using it to talk about that kind of orchestra. There is no other word for it in English. Why is it not an English word, even if still unassimilated? Is samovar not an English word? It too is only used in discussions of a foreign object.

  3. As in many other languages with a world-wide scope, the frequency distribution of words in the English lexicon has a “long tail” of loanwords, from completely “naturalized” ones such as “pizza” or “tofu” to increasingly obscure ones. On Wikipedia, the discussion of whether a particular loanword is “an English word” or not – which somehow has a bearing on how articles ought to be named – may sometimes get remarkably lively. (On that occasion, editors who have happened to read books on Japanese architecture etc. felt that shaku (a traditional Japanese measure of length, about 1 foot) is an English word, while chi (a related unit in China) isn’t, while those who mostly have read on Chinese history may have felt otherwise).

  4. Garrigus Carraig says:

    I read recently that in Spanish there are two types of borrowings: extranjerismos crudos and extranjerismos adaptados. The former retain their original spelling and pronunciation (e.g. apartheid); the latter get a Castilianized spelling and pronunciation (e.g. eslalon for slalom). (There are also words whose spelling and pronunciation are already sufficiently Castilian, e.g. kit, and left unmentioned are words borrowed from languages with non-Latin scripts.)
    @marie-lucie – Maybe, since English has borrowed the majority of its vocabulary, and borrowed so from so many sources in so many centuries, it is willing to call a word like slenthem part of the English lexicon, even before it has become assimilated. And I think the fact that English has no Academy is another factor. I suppose that French, e.g., is more resistant. Albanian’s history of borrowing, AFAIK, is similar to English’s in quantity and scope… but they’ve had an Academy since 1972. And now I’m just musing.

  5. I’ve played a slenthem. More surprising is that the OED still doesn’t have ‘bodhran’. Nor Coleridge’s ‘Estecean’. But on the plus side, it does have Beckett’s ‘prostisciutto’.
    FW must have thrown off the statistic, though.

  6. dearieme says:

    … from completely “naturalized” ones such as “pizza” or “tofu”…
    In our house “pizza” is naturalised. Not so “tofu”.

  7. mollymooly says:

    “bodhran” is unquestionably English, assuming it exists. I would have said it was a misspelling of “bodhrán”, whose anglicity is less clearcut.

  8. Bathrobe says:

    I think that describing slenthem as unquestionably a part of the English lexicon is being a little overenthusiastic. As Tumbleweed Farm pointed out, English has a rather long tail of loanwords, and I think there would be plenty of people who would feel uncomfortable putting slenthem in the same category as give or high or water.

  9. marie-lucie says:

    the OED still doesn’t have ‘bodhran’. Nor Coleridge’s ‘Estecean’. But on the plus side, it does have Beckett’s ‘prostisciutto’.
    I have no idea what bodhran is or was. But who beside Coleridge used Estecean, or beside Beckette used prosticiutto? are the words of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky (slithy, frabjous, etc) in the OED?

  10. I think that describing slenthem as unquestionably a part of the English lexicon is being a little overenthusiastic. As Tumbleweed Farm pointed out, English has a rather long tail of loanwords, and I think there would be plenty of people who would feel uncomfortable putting slenthem in the same category as give or high or water.
    If you think it’s not part of the English lexicon, you need to provide a principled reason why (i.e., not “I’m not familiar with it and don’t have a use for it”). My test is very simple: if one English-speaker uses it in an English sentence and expects another English-speaker to understand it, it’s an English word, at least within that speech community. Now, a speech community can be very small; plenty of families have developed words they understand but no one else does. They’re still (in my view) English words, simply with limited circulation. I don’t know at what point you move from words of such tiny circulation they can be ignored by lexicographers (like family words) to words of limited but significant circulation that should at least be considered as dictionary entries, but I’m quite confident in my own mind that words for foods, utensils, orchestra instruments, and the like fall into the latter category. Again, if you disagree, I’d be interested in hearing why and what your criteria are. (And note that Conrad says “I’ve played a slenthem” just as he would say “I’ve played a sarrusophone”; what, pray tell, is the distinction? Most English-speakers are equally unfamiliar with either.)
    As for “putting slenthem in the same category as give or high or water,” who suggested any such thing? The latter three are basic, high-frequency English words. As Tumbleweed Farm pointed out, English has a rather long tail, and therefore there are far more unfamiliar, low-frequency words. I’d say slenthem is in good company.

  11. are the words of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky (slithy, frabjous, etc) in the OED?
    Yes, and why wouldn’t they be? They’re far more widely known to English-speakers than, say, sarrusophone.

  12. frabjous, adj.
    Pronunciation: /ˈfræbdʒəs/
    A nonsense-word invented by ‘Lewis Carroll’ (C. L. Dodgson), app. intended to suggest ‘fair’ and ‘joyous’; used vaguely by others in various contextual senses.
    1871 ‘L. Carroll’ Through Looking-glass i. 24 O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
    1899 R. Kipling Stalky & Co. 144 Oh, you frabjous asses!
    1937 D. L. Sayers Busman’s Honeymoon iv. 96 Oh, frabjous day!‥ All my life I have waited to hear those exquisite words, Peter darling, The sweep’s come.
    1970 New Yorker 10 Jan. 6/1 A frabjous sort of place in a somewhat vorpal neighborhood.

  13. Greg Lee says:

    I have always been rather sympathetic to C. F. Hockett’s thesis, advanced in The State the Art, that human languages are not especially well-defined systems. He compared the codified game of baseball, as we watch it played by pros in a baseball park, and sandlot baseball, where the question of whether someone has struck out, e. g., has as much to do with the prestige of disputants or who owns the ball as it has to do with devotion to some ideal of what the game baseball is like. And Hockett’s contention was that human language is much more like sandlot ball than the baseball park game, and that it was a basic misunderstanding of Chomskyan linguistics that it takes human language to be a formal game with codified rules. It’s not like that at all, says Hockett.
    So on the question of whether slenthem is a word of English, if you’re a Hockettian, you might say that there is no authoritative master list of English words, and never can be — you have to ask, what street are you on, who owns the ball, and, generally, confront local questions about the people who are talking and the context.
    (Those of you of a certain age will know Hockett as the author of one of the two standard introductory texts in linguistics, the other being by Henry Gleason. Hockett’s little book The State of the Art was popularized, sort of, through being criticized by George Lakoff in a rather devastating review “Empiricism without Facts”.)

  14. Lewis Carroll is perhaps not the best example, as some of his inventions have become so common that their origin has been forgotten, most notably ‘chortle’. There aren’t many personal coinages of this sort in the OED: one thinks of ‘gas’, ‘gnome’, ‘blurb’, but it’s a rare honour.
    Bodran (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bodhran) strikes me as a much less contentious case than slenthem.
    I once wrote about the farther limits of the OED’s lexicon here:
    http://vunex.blogspot.co.uk/2009/02/on-neologism-part-two.html

  15. Incidentally, if you’re wondering (as I was) about the New Yorker quote, it’s from a “Goings On About Town” item about Slug’s, the Bowery saloon where the great jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan would be shot and killed by a jealous lover two years later. After the quoted sentence, the item continues: “A long wooden bar, some tables, and, beginning at nine, music by the McCoy Tyner quintet. On Tuesday, June 9, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers will come in.” Morgan had played with the Jazz Messengers from 1958 to 1961. It’s a funny old world.

  16. gnome?

  17. OED also lacks ‘ekphrasis’, as I’ve just remembered: a word with 192k hits on Google Books (and about 10k before 1989, the date of the last edition), including many book titles. That’s a pretty shocking omission.

  18. OED: “The term… may possibly be a mere arbitrary invention, like many others found in Paracelsus.”

  19. That was in reference to “gnome.” I can’t keep up with you people!

  20. Man, Google Books is really starting to annoy me. I just searched on “Lasus of Hermione, Pindar and the Riddle of S” (in quotes, it’s the name of a 2007 article by James I. Porter) and the first hit is Georges Perec, A Void, in which (needless to say) there is no mention of the article. Anybody know what gives?

  21. SFReader says:

    –I don’t know at what point you move from words of such tiny circulation they can be ignored by lexicographers (like family words) to words of limited but significant circulation that should at least be considered as dictionary entries
    When it’s printed in an English language book?

  22. I’m actually in the market for a sarrusophone! No kidding. And it’s been in my vocabulary for over 50 years.

  23. marie-lucie says:

    John, googling sarrusophone I found two of them for sale on eBay (I forgot to check the date).
    There is a detailed article on Wikipedia. I was surprised to find that the sarrusophone (which comes in several kinds, like the saxophone), had been invented in France and named after a French musician. I had never heard of either the instrument, the maker or the player. Later variants are the rothphone and the saxarrusophone, the latter a hybrid. The text is quite dense: I got lost in the details of tuning, transposing, etc which would have required much more concentration than I wanted to devote to the topic. There are a few pictures.

  24. marie-lucie says:

    When does a word qualify as an English word?
    SFR: When it’s printed in an English language book?
    That seems to be it. In my opinion, just because a word is printed in a book written in French or German does not mean that it is indeed a French or German word. I can see why such a word would make it into a dictionary, since the main purpose of consulting a dictionary is to find out the meaning (and often the usage) of a new or insufficiently familiar word. But to me that does not make it automatically part of the French or German, or English, or whatever language.
    When I was young, the Petit Larousse Illustré, a dictionary which had long been a fixture of middle class French households (before Robert got into the act) had a section on foreign words, many of them English, and indicated the proper pronunciation. A word like slenthem would have been included in that section: a word which was found in a French text, and therefore required a definition, but did not ipso facto qualify as a French word.
    I remember the word walkover as in the example given: Ce cheval a fait walkover – something which could be said by someone who often went to the races (I never found out exactly what it meant). I think I remember the word because in addition to the unfamiliar topic, I found it hard to reconcile the spelling with the pronunciation (that is before I started to learn English at about 10 years old).

  25. marie-lucie says:

    GLee: Those of you of a certain age will know Hockett as the author of one of the two standard introductory texts in linguistics, the other being by Henry Gleason.
    Well, since I am not only (as we say in French) d’un certain âge but even d’un âge certain, I well remember Hockett and Gleason, once the two pillars of introductory linguistics in America. I read Hockett heppily (on my own) until I got to the section on historical linguistics, which defeated me. I was far from imagining that this would become my specialty. I subsequently took two courses with Hockett in person. Hockett was nearing the end of his career when Chomsky started his own, so there were bound to be clashes between the two approaches, in print if not in person.

  26. Greg Lee says:

    Oh, and “dark energy” might be a more suitable metaphor for the relation of words to language than “dark matter”. Words effervesce and stretch language out, as dark energy mysteriously expands our universe, rather than grabbing disparate parts to contain them and make them more coherent, like dark matter.

  27. Bathrobe says:

    I think the key word is “lexicon” here. It is, after all, possible for a word to be in the English “lexicon” (we are obviously talking about dictionaries here, although I do wonder about the distinction between “lexicon” and “dictionary”) without actually being an “English word”.
    As for defining what belongs to the English vocabulary, I’m with Greg Lee and Hockett. There are obviously many gradations involved, and providing a black-and-white cut-off point (“one English-speaker uses it in an English sentence and expects another English-speaker to understand it”) fails to catch these gradations. There will never be a single criterion, nor will there ever be a hard-and-fast boundary between what is an English word and what is not.
    When I used je ne sais quoi at another thread, I did so knowing that it is a French expression that happens to be used by English speakers. As far as I am concerned, even if it is part of the “English lexicon” (as defined) it is not an English word or expression; it is French. For the purpose of English-language lexicography, of course, it needs to be included in an English-language dictionary, but my judgement that “it’s not English” is just as valid as your criterion of membership of the lexicon of English.
    There are, in fact, many approaches to lexicography. English takes a very descriptivist approach, which is highly laudable, but there are languages where the approach to lexicography is much more normative. It seems very clear, for instance, that much of the controversy in modern Turkish is caused precisely by an unwillingness to accept that what “one Turkish-speaker uses in a Turkish sentence and expects another Turkish-speaker to understand” is ipso facto in the Turkish lexicon. You and I know that this is a great loss to modern Turkish, but I would suggest that your very generous descriptivist approach to the concept of lexicon is not one that is universally shared.

  28. Conrad: OED also lacks ‘ekphrasis’, as I’ve just remembered
    It’s there, but spelled “ecphrasis”.

  29. Marie-Lucie:
    Amusingly, d’un certain âge appears at merriam-webster.com as a distinct entry, though its calque of a certain age appears only as an idiom under certain. It’s an interesting contrast between the two; I hadn’t met it before, though I did know about le bel âge ‘infancy, youth’ and le bel âge ‘old age’, and even used them to illustrate for a francophone the difference between don’t care for ‘object to’ and don’t care about ‘be indifferent to’.
    A walkover is a contest in which there is only one contestant, who is awarded the prize by merely walking around the track, in the case of horse races.
    Hat: Sometimes Google will return a hit where the phrase appears in another page that links to the hit. That may be the case with A Void.

  30. Arrgh! The second le bel âge should be un bel âge. Hattic powers to the rescue!

  31. Noetica says:

    but Wikipedia explained that “Javanese, together with Madurese, are the only languages of Western Indonesia to possess a distinction between …”
    I was so alarmed to see “Javanese, together with Madurese, are” that I copyedited it and the entire article.
    In my immediate circle celempung counts as English. I lugged one across Java by filthy maniacally speeding bus in 1991 (me with diarrhoea, followed some time later by dysentery and an immobilised week in Ubud), and much-delayed ferry to Bali. It gathers Australian dust to this day. I swore then that I would leave Indonesian artefacts gracefully reposed in Indonesia. But from my latest trip, in March this year, I brought back a transcendentally refined mahogany carving of Kwam Yin [sic; it's Balinese] very similar to this one. A metre tall. I had to make the box for transporting it myself (too delicate to entrust to anyone else), which tested both my ninja woodworking skills and my capacity for negotiating with Balinese hardware retailers. Nursed it into Australia intact, where it is admired by all.
    The Train Set of Venus. What goes around comes around, however slowly.

  32. mollymooly says:

    When it’s printed in an English language book?
    The OED originally used this criterion and added lots of words like “pancakewards” with the label “nonce-word”, which was itself coined by the editors. Eventually they adopted a stricter criterion, at least for more recent words; I think it requires evidence of usage across a minimum span of five years.

  33. the dictionary not being the be-all and end-all of the lexicon
    isn’t it the publisher/editor who sets the number of words/entries for a dictionary? There are 150, 50, 30 thousand entries dictionaries, there are smaller ones. If you are allowed a 1.5 mln. entries dictionary, you’d fill it, for sure?

  34. marie-lucie says:

    JC: I did know about “le bel âge” ‘infancy, youth’ and “le bel âge” ‘old age’ … Arrgh! The second “le bel âge” should be “un bel âge”.
    Rather than ‘the beautiful age’, this phrase rather means ‘the best age’, therefore ‘youth, young adulthood’, not infancy, at least in my experience.
    This phrase is often said jocularly as la belle âge (with feminine article, because of the confusion in the pronunciation of the adjective, which is identical in masculine and feminine forms before an initial vowel in the noun). Many is the time I have heard my mother (a schoolteacher) say Ah, c’est la belle âge! to comment on the energy and follies of young people. She knew very well that âge is a masculine word, and used it as such in other contexts, but that’s the way she had always heard the comment.
    As for le/un bel âge for ‘old age’, that euphemisms is news to me! Google citations for this meaning appear to be most if not all from French Canada (I live in English Canada). As explained on the website of a retired persons’ club, members chose the name Club Bel Âge because they did not want to be considered “old people”.
    In France, an extended number of years of life can be called le/un grand âge, but the phrase would not be used to name a club or a nursing home!

  35. A word like slenthem would have been included in that section: a word which was found in a French text, and therefore required a definition, but did not ipso facto qualify as a French word.
    I think that has more to do with the paranoia of French-speakers regarding foreign intrusions into their beautiful/logical language than with any scientific approach to the linguistic facts.
    As for defining what belongs to the English vocabulary, I’m with Greg Lee and Hockett. There are obviously many gradations involved, and providing a black-and-white cut-off point (“one English-speaker uses it in an English sentence and expects another English-speaker to understand it”) fails to catch these gradations. There will never be a single criterion, nor will there ever be a hard-and-fast boundary between what is an English word and what is not.
    I’m with Greg Lee and Hockett, too, but I don’t understand the argument you’re trying to make based on that. Definitions are arbitrary but necessary. We don’t stop having separate men’s and women’s bathrooms just because it’s impossible to draw a clear line between the genders, and there are purposes for which you need to separate English from non-English words. You’re free to disagree with my rule of thumb and prefer another, but it makes no sense to say that since there are no hard-and-fast boundaries, therefore we have to throw our hands in the air and say that there is no such thing as an English word.

  36. J.W. Brewer says:

    This thread is now the first google hit for “pancakewards,” which does suggest that it’s rather a nonce word (and not even a famous/standard example of such!). I am reminded of the Dylan Thomas poem beginning “altarwise by owl-light.” I’m not sure what is accomplished by regarding those as English words. They are kinda/sorta decodable in context by proficient readers of English (although esp in poetry one can shortcut that and just sort of let the sound wash over one – it’s not like a set of instructions where something bad will happen if you misinterpret). Similarly, I’m not sure what is accomplished by taking “English” to include all specialized trade jargons and the like – especially those (like discussions about gamelan music) where the specialized vocabulary is by the nature of the subject going to be borrowed from a particular foreign language. How much use, in what sort of context, is necessary for such a borrowing to be domesticated? By way of parallel, there are lots of fixed phrases from Latin that have been fully lexicalized into English (per se, for example) and others routinely used in specialized jargons like lawyer’s English (although I’m not sure how many lawyers these days could work backwards from “NOV” to “non obstante veredicto”). But precisely because for a long time a high percentage of educated Anglophones had also had some reasonable amount of exposure to schoolboy Latin, there are no doubt lots and lots of Latin words or phrases that have been used once (or at least a small number of times) in published English prose. Do they all count as “English words”? Does it matter whether they were originally typeset in italics or within quotation marks otherwise graphically indicated as distinctive?

  37. Treesong says:

    Googling “owl-light” -”by owl-light” gets 8770 hits. Most are chance collocations, lights in the shape of owls, or Owl-Light Terrace in Santa Rosa CA, but it’s ‘in the dictionaries’ (merriam-webster.com and thefreedictionary.com, at least) and there are uses by Sebastian Barry and Ford Madox Ford in the first five pages.
    The New International 2nd ed. was friendly to hapax legomena in literature; it and the Century both contain my favorite, ‘ising-star’ (a bit of shining mica), which I like even better than ‘rump-fed’ and ‘ronyon’. It’s the invention of poet J.R. Drake, who I never heard of.
    There can be no principled sharp breakpoint between ‘English’ and ‘foreign word in English text’, but I think that in practice dictionaries use the (still vague) criterion of having a sufficent(!) number of citations–unitalicized, if the word is not to be marked as foreign.
    In the National Puzzlers’ League we speak of a word or phrase as having ‘dictionary nature’ if it would call for definition in an indefinitely large dictionary (with all of English writing as the assumed corpus). Thus ‘owl-light’ has dictionary nature but not ‘motorcycle-light’. Add the requirement of not being marked by italics, quotemarks, or the like, and you have my personal criterion for Englishitude.

  38. Treesong says:

    I must admit, though, that I’m a litle hesitant about calling, say, ’2,2-Dimethoxy-2-phenylacetophenone’ (as opposed to DMPA) an English word.

  39. m-l: My authority is Larousse online, which defines the terms (s.v. beau, belle) thus:
    Le bel âge, les belles années, l’enfance, la jeunesse.
    Un bel âge, un âge avancé.
    Bathrobe: I don’t know what Thomas meant by it (I rarely do know what he means by anything), but altarwise is a standard term in the Anglican Church meaning ‘of a communion-table, positioned with its long axis parallel to the long axis of the church’, as opposed to tablewise ‘with its long axis perpendicular’. The orientation of the communion-table was a proxy for Anglo-Catholic vs. Protestant views and practices; debate raged in the 1630s about it.

  40. marie-lucie says:

    LH: the paranoia of French-speakers regarding foreign intrusions into their beautiful/logical language
    You would not know about this paranoia from reading French popular magazines, or even Le Monde online, or listening to casual conversations. I was in France a few months ago and took in a gathering of some alumni of my high school, most of them in my age range, therefore not people likely to be using the latest youth argot. Several times I had to ask people to repeat words I did not understand. Without exception, it turned out that those words were English! I knew them very well, but did not expect English words in the middle of French conversations about ordinary topics (eg, not about American elections or British royal weddings), and the strong French accents made those unexpected words unrecognizable within French sentences.
    (About my own accent: when I hear my voice speaking English on a tape I think I sound very obviously French, but people most frequently ask me if I am German or Dutch, and hardly ever guess the truth. Another linguist said to me “It’s because your stresses are always in the right places.” I hope she was right.)

  41. I think Cowan means ‘in the 1830s’.

  42. I take it back; he did mean the 1630s. I was confused by his use of ‘Anglo-Catholic’, an anachronism which appears more widespread than I realised.

  43. marie-lucie says:

    JC:
    Le bel âge, les belles années, l’enfance, la jeunesse.
    L’enfant means ‘child’, which could be from birth to adolescence, but l’enfance normally means ‘childhood’ (after age 3 or 4 at the earliest), never ‘infancy’. For the period about 1 to 4 or 5 years you might use la petite enfance.
    Un bel âge, un âge avancé.
    Well, I don’t know this phrase, but I am an expat, so that may explain it.

  44. Bathrobe says:

    I don’t understand the argument you’re trying to make based on that
    Well, for a start, I think we need to define our terms. You talk about the “English lexicon”; m-l’s first comment is about the “English lexicon”; your first comment then brings up “English words”. It seems to me these are different things. The English lexicon probably contains more than just “English words”. Je ne sais quoi is not an English word, but it should probably be included in the English lexicon.
    I’m also wondering whether the “English lexicon” is the same as an “English dictionary”. An “English dictionary” is a very practical thing you need to look up. There is no need to be methodologically rigid or strict about it. The more encyclopaedic it is, the more useful a dictionary will be. But whether everything you put in a dictionary belongs to the “English lexicon” is another question. How about Old English? Does it go in the English lexicon? There might be an argument for including cwēne in a very comprehensive English dictionary, but whether it belongs in the “English lexicon” I’m not so sure, even though it satisfies your criterion (well, maybe, since you haven’t provided any kind of cutoff point).
    At any rate, if you are just talking about what should be included when compiling dictionaries, that is fine, the more the merrier. But if you are putting forward some kind of theory that “it’s all English”, then I’m afraid I disagree. It’s not “all English”, and if your theory is going to lead you to tell me that, for instance, je ne sais quoi is an English word (or expression), I’m sorry, I’m going to tell you straight out: It’s not. There are plenty of words or expressions in any language that are “in the language” but are not regarded as “of the language”, and to disregard this kind of distinction is counterintuitive and fails to represent the reality of the language.

  45. Bathrobe says:

    @JC
    ‘Altarwise’ was J.W.Brewer. I’ve never heard the word in my life!

  46. Garrigus Carraig says:

    I’m not sure what is accomplished by taking “English” to include all specialized trade jargons and the like – especially those (like discussions about gamelan music) where the specialized vocabulary is by the nature of the subject going to be borrowed from a particular foreign language. How much use, in what sort of context, is necessary for such a borrowing to be domesticated?

    Domestication of a word like slenthem has to do with popularity, I think. Sitar, for example, is an English word, solidly enough for sitarist to have been derived from it. So is bongo. So slenthem is at the very least a potential English word.

    By way of parallel, there are lots of fixed phrases from Latin that have been fully lexicalized into English (per se, for example)

    I think of such phrases as English, but not necessarily the individual words. I don’t know if that makes sense.

  47. I’m not sure what is accomplished by regarding those as English words. … Similarly, I’m not sure what is accomplished by taking “English” to include all specialized trade jargons and the like – especially those (like discussions about gamelan music) where the specialized vocabulary is by the nature of the subject going to be borrowed from a particular foreign language.
    I honestly don’t understand this attitude. It’s as if “English” were some sort of high honor that had to be reserved for particularly worthy applicants. To me it seems obvious that if I, an English-speaker, say to another English-speaker “I’d sure like X about now,” and my interlocutor understands what I mean, then X is probably to be considered an English word.
    Je ne sais quoi is not an English word
    Why not? English-speakers use it all the time. Just yesterday I said to my wife that something “lacked a certain je ne sais quoi,” and this is such a common thing to say I’m pretty sure it’s a cliché. Yes, it’s originally a French phrase; “habeas corpus” is originally a Latin phrase. Are you going to deny that “habeas corpus” is English? If not, how do you make the distinction?

  48. Bathrobe says:

    If not, how do you make the distinction?
    Of course you make a distinction. That is the point of the Hackett quote. As a rule of thumb for inclusion in a comprehensive dictionary, your guideline is great. As a definition of what an ‘English word’ is, it’s totally ham-fisted.

  49. Bathrobe:
    Sorry about my misreading of altarwise.
    The lexicon is a technical term of linguistics for all the words and idiomatic phrases of a language, along with certain information about them like irregular inflections. It’s an abstract mental object, not a physical object like a dictionary. Ox is unquestionably part of the English lexicon along with its plural oxen; fghjwlllppt is unquestionably not; cwēne is not either, because people may mention it when discussing Old English, but they don’t use it to mean ‘queen’ or anything else.
    Of course, people’s individual lexicons vary. Tolkien’s final words to the University of Oxford as Professor of Anglo-Saxon were: “But now when I survey with eye or mind those who may be called my pupils (though rather in the sense ‘the apples of my eyes’): those who have taught me much (not least trawþe, that is fidelity), who have gone on to a learning to which I have not attained; or when I see how many scholars could more than worthily have succeeded me; then I perceive with gladness that the duguð has not yet fallen by the wall, and the dream is not yet silenced.” Presumably he meant the last two OE words to be understood by at least some of the audience. On a draft manuscript for the speech, he glossed them expansively as ‘the noble company (in a king’s hall)’ and ‘the sound of their glad voices and the music of their feasts’ respectively.
    On French in English, a recent Zompist blog post begins thus: “I have to say, the permadeath thing adds a certain je ne sais quoi to Dungeons of Dredmor. Actually, je sais exactly what it adds. It adds terreur.” I would contend that je ne sais quoi belongs to the English lexicon, but je sais and terreur do not; they are ad hoc (another entry in the lexicon) borrowings from French. However, even though I have no French, as is evident from my misunderstanding of enfance (not in the English lexicon), yet another faux ami (in the lexicon, maybe; the four big AmE dictionaries don’t list it), those like me who do know the etymology of je ne sais quoi, should be able to figure outje sais and even terreur.

  50. marie-lucie says:

    JC: I would contend that “je ne sais quoi” belongs to the English lexicon, but “je sais” and “terreur” do not; they are ad hoc (another entry in the lexicon) borrowings from French
    I agree that je sais and terreur here do not belong to the English lexicon, but I would not call them “borrowings”. They are French words used ad hoc by the writer to make a bilingual pun which demonstrates his/her knowledge of French beyond the “borrowing” je ne sais quoi (a phrase that many non-French speakers who use it probably do not know quite how to interpret – the writer in question obviously does). A “borrowing” needs more than one ad hoc instance to qualify for the term.

  51. Oh, and “dark energy” might be a more suitable metaphor for the relation of words to language than “dark matter”. Words effervesce and stretch language out, as dark energy mysteriously expands our universe, rather than grabbing disparate parts to contain them and make them more coherent, like dark matter.
    Unlike say, baseball which is ALWAYS played with a ball, a bat, a base and “outs”. Not much time for effervescing at the ballpark when the beer is flat (or spilled on your neighbor) and the only mysterious expansion going on is the gut on the bleacher bum.

  52. I think that has more to do with the paranoia of French-speakers regarding foreign intrusions into their beautiful/logical language than with any scientific approach to the linguistic facts.
    Hat, if one French-speaker uses it in a French sentence and expects another French-speaker to understand it, should slenthem be considered a French word? Count me confused, I thought it was an English word?

  53. m-l: I meant “ad hoc borrowing” to have a meaning distinct from the historical linguist’s sense of the term borrowing. In that sense I agree that terreur is not a borrowing, whereas not only obvious gallicisms like terroir are borrowings in the technical sense, but also assimilated words like brush (against native broom) and puppy (against native whelp).
    Hozo: There’s no reason why words with the same phonology, syntactic function, and semantics should not appear in the lexicon of more than one language, like the word terroir I just mentioned. Whether you call them separate words or the same word is up to you.

  54. As a rule of thumb for inclusion in a comprehensive dictionary, your guideline is great. As a definition of what an ‘English word’ is, it’s totally ham-fisted.
    I would say just the reverse: my guideline is great for deciding what an English word is, but useless as a rule of thumb for inclusion in a dictionary.

  55. Of course you make a distinction. That is the point of the Hackett quote.
    It is? So how do you make it? I think one of us is confused.

  56. marie-lucie says:

    JC: assimilated words like “brush” (against native “broom”) and “puppy” (against native “whelp”).
    Indeed, so thoroughly assimilated that I did not know these words had a French origin. To distinguish them from terroir etc, I would call them “early borrowings”.

  57. Count me confused, I thought it was an English word?
    It didn’t cease to be a word in its original language when it became an English word. Get it?
    Just as a fastball doesn’t cease to be a ball when it’s a strike. No, wait, it’s not a ball if it’s a strike. Oh help, now I’m confused, too, …

  58. Hat, if one French-speaker uses it in a French sentence and expects another French-speaker to understand it, should slenthem be considered a French word? Count me confused, I thought it was an English word?
    I thought, too, that that was what you were saying, LH. I don’t understand the insistance on making obviously foreign words automatically “English”. There doesn’t seem to be any necessity for it.

  59. How do anglophone oenophiles usually pronounce terroir?

  60. There doesn’t seem to be any necessity for it.
    This seems like a phony debate. There’s clearly a gray (or grey) area here.

  61. Bathrobe says:

    Hat, m-l, I am aware that je ne sais quoi is an English usage and not necessarily a French one. My point is that Hat is trying to redefine native-speaker intuitions to fit his own definition. Just because you want to introduce the definition that ‘if one English-speaker uses it in an English sentence and expects another English-speaker to understand it, it’s an English word’ because you think it’s a neat definition, or you think it simplifies complex matters in a way that you find satisfying, doesn’t make it true. If a speaker of English says ‘Yes, non sequitur is a Latin expression, although we commonly use it in English’, then damn it, it’s a Latin expression, no matter how desperately you may want to redefine it as ‘English’. It’s actually important to follow native speaker intuitions here. It’s undoubtedly part of the English lexicon, but it’s still regarded as not being an ‘English word’. I also have no doubt that there are words that some people now regard as having totally become English words (non sequitur may be one of them) whereas other people don’t. That is fine. That is what Hockett was all about. The point is that there are words and expressions that are in common use in English that are not regarded as English words, and that perception is important. I have no objection to including a lot of things in the English lexicon, but words that are used as foreign words by English speakers are ipso facto foreign words.
    Hat’s definition is an unhelpful simplification of a nuanced situation, a one size fits all solution for something that has many different shapes and sizes, a black-and-white definition for something with many shades of grey. It actually does a disservice to the lexicon of English by riding roughshod over subtle but real distinctions and perceptions. The very fact that certain words are treated as ‘guests’ in the language, even though they may be very long-term guests, is important. Deciding that you personally don’t want to worry about these nuances because you want a simple classification (like male and female toilets) is an ideological decision of your own making. Anything can be included in the English lexicon, but deciding that everything included is ‘an English word’ is an unjustified extrapolation. Hat, you challenge other people to come up with criteria for not including such expressions as ‘English words’, but you yourself have no other justification other than that you’ve decided you want it that way. Sorry, you are the one who has to prove his case here.

  62. Bathrobe says:

    My point is that there are quite a few words which are consciously used by native speakers in full knowledge that they are ‘foreign words’. As long as native speakers use them as foreign words then we should respect that judgement. To grant them instant citizenship as ‘English words’ on the grounds that ‘an English speaker uses them and expects them to be understood’ is to ignore the status that speakers have assigned them. If they are commonly used, of course they should be in the dictionary, but that is not grounds for regarding them as ‘English words’ if that is not how they are used and perceived by English speakers. The English lexicon is a very large house. Surely there is room for the naturalised, the non-naturalised, and the ‘naturalised but still foreign’ without simplistic judgements that ‘if they’re in the dictionary, they must be English’.

  63. Empty: ODO makes it /tɛrˈwɑː(r)/, with anglicized /r/s but otherwise basically French.
    Bathrobe: But what does French/Latin expression mean? In context, it must mean ‘word/phrase of French/Latin origin commonly used in English’. Otherwise, what are we to do with things like double entendre, which is not (modern) French at all; nostalgie de la boue, which is grammatical French but doesn’t have its specific English meaning ‘attraction to what is unworthy, crude, or degrading’ (m-w.com) in French; and jeu d’esprit and port(e)manteau, which mean different things in French and in English?
    Furthermore, it’s not clear that the native-speaker intuition of which you speak accords with the facts, any more than it always does in other parts of the language. Probably most people would say that hors d’oeuvres and avant-garde and nouveau riche are “not English”, but then what of the sentence which forms the title of Antoinette Renouf’s paper on the subject, “Shall we hors d’oeuvres?” (PDF), taken from live use? As a verb it is certainly cannot be French. Another she cites is “Contemporary art has avant-garded itself”, where an adjective phrase is not only verbed, but given a regular English participial inflection. Yet another operates at the level of syntax: “the exuberance of the nouveau very riche indeed”, which treats nouveau as an English adjective and riche as a deadjectival noun, a calque on English rich.
    In short, Empty is right: it’s a gray area, and the best line to draw is the one most suitable for one’s current application of the term.

  64. marie-lucie says:

    Bathrobe: I like your metaphor of obviously foreign words as “guests” in the language. Like human guests, they may eventually become integrated in one’s social/linguistic circle, or remain foreign, but they don’t automatically become part of the family.
    “je ne sais quoi” is an English usage and not necessarily a French one
    Oh yes, it is definitely in use in French. The literal meaning is “I don’t know what”, and the sentence is used as a noun referring to a ‘subtle, undefinable, intriguing quality’ (it is often preceded by an adjective, as in un certain je ne sais quoi or un petit je ne sais quoi). In standard French it is pronounced with three syllables, not four: Je ne/sais/quoi (with two schwas in the first two words, the first one is pronounced as a full vowel, but the second one is normally dropped).

  65. It’s actually important to follow native speaker intuitions here.
    I disagree utterly with this and with your most recent comments in toto. I had written a long analysis which I just deleted because the cursor magically covered my whole response instead of a single word, so I’ll just say that you are confusing “native speaker intuitions” for “what I think” (a common error), and that it is pointless to ask native speakers for their judgments on whether words are “English” because everyone’s answer will differ based on their random life experiences. My rule is simple and straightforward; I’m sorry it gives results you dislike, but I don’t think getting all mystical about “shades of grey” is at all useful.

  66. The very idea that “non sequitur” is not part of the English language, to take one example, is self-evidently absurd and should show your whole approach to be wrong.

  67. Bathrobe says:

    @JC
    Yes, Empty is right, it’s a grey area. So is Hockett. One thing is for sure, though: the simple division into male and female toilets doesn’t cut it.

  68. Bathrobe says:

    The very idea that “non sequitur” is not part of the English language
    But I didn’t say that it’s not part of the English language. I said it isn’t necessarily an ‘English word’ (although I notice you’ve wilfully ignored my later suggestion that it may now have come to be regarded as an English word).

  69. Bathrobe says:

    Your continued confusion over “being part of the English language”, “being in the English lexicon”, and “being an English word” keeps getting in the way of rational discussion.

  70. grackle says:

    I would consider slenthem as a jargon word: with jargon all things are fair,it goes with the territory. I would never consider it an English word, with the caveat that English graciously allows the use of foreign words. I think it only truly becomes an English word when it has become house-trained or domesticated as it were. When I see “…slenthem toward Bethlehem to be born,” I’ll recognize its Englishicity.

  71. Bathrobe says:

    I wish I had seen LH’s long analysis. If it’s mainly about “native-speaker intuitions”, then we’re in for a long hard haul. I am sure that native speaker intuitions about many things is subtly different, including judgements as to what is slang, colloquial, or language suitable for use in respectable prose. That is no reason for throwing all judgements out the window.
    I would suggest that most English speakers would regard mutatis mutandis (for instance) as a Latin phrase (Wikipedia says: “Mutatis mutandis is a Latin phrase meaning “by changing those things which need to be changed” or more simply “the necessary changes having been made”). If you want to insist that it’s not a Latin phrase but an English word, then I’m afraid I must beg to differ, and I suspect most English speakers would agree with me. In fact, I have no objection to including mutatis mutandis in an English dictionary; my problem is simply with describing it as an ‘English word’.

  72. Bathrobe says:

    @JC
    I agree that there are ‘foreign words’ in English (like double entendre) that are strangely enough found only in English. But they are still marked and perceived by English speakers as ‘foreign words’ (or phrases) for all that.
    If a foreign speaker asked you what double entendre meant , and you told them that it was an English expression meaning “a phrase that can be understood in two ways, one of them risqué or ironic”, without telling them that it is usually understood (perhaps incorrectly) as a borrowing from French, then you would be doing the person asking the question a great disservice. I think it’s rather important to keep in mind that not all words in the ‘English lexicon’ are necessarily regarded as ‘English words’. I should think that this is also an important part of descriptive linguistics.

  73. jamessal says:

    If a speaker of English says ‘Yes, non sequitur is a Latin expression, although we commonly use it in English’, then damn it, it’s a Latin expression, no matter how desperately you may want to redefine it as ‘English’. It’s actually important to follow native speaker intuitions here. It’s undoubtedly part of the English lexicon, but it’s still regarded as not being an ‘English word’. I also have no doubt that there are words that some people now regard as having totally become English words (non sequitur may be one of them) whereas other people don’t. That is fine. That is what Hockett was all about. The point is that there are words and expressions that are in common use in English that are not regarded as English words, and that perception is important. I have no objection to including a lot of things in the English lexicon, but words that are used as foreign words by English speakers are ipso facto foreign words.
    Hat’s definition is an unhelpful simplification of a nuanced situation, a one size fits all solution for something that has many different shapes and sizes, a black-and-white definition for something with many shades of grey. It actually does a disservice to the lexicon of English by riding roughshod over subtle but real distinctions and perceptions. The very fact that certain words are treated as ‘guests’ in the language, even though they may be very long-term guests, is important. Deciding that you personally don’t want to worry about these nuances because you want a simple classification (like male and female toilets) is an ideological decision of your own making. Anything can be included in the English lexicon, but deciding that everything included is ‘an English word’ is an unjustified extrapolation. Hat, you challenge other people to come up with criteria for not including such expressions as ‘English words’, but you yourself have no other justification other than that you’ve decided you want it that way. Sorry, you are the one who has to prove his case here.
    Bathrobe, I’m not sure why the onus is on Hat to provide an argument for what makes a word or phrase part of the English language. In the paragraphs quoted above, you claim several things to be important without explaining why, and you make assertions about native speakers’ intuitions without providing any evidence for them. That hundreds of writers have written English books using certain words as English, and that all the people involved in the books’ publications have regarded the underlying assumptions to be reasonable, seem to me decent criteria for considering the words English; and I don’t think belief in that criteria evinces the frankly hyperbolic simplification of which you’ve accused Hat, even if they (the criteria) don’t necessarily provide a neat yes or no for every candidate. Why isn’t it you who has to explain why words have to jump all these hurdles to be considered English words, even if they’re in a dictionary? I ask that question sincerely: there may be a philosophical debate involved of which I’m simply not aware; the books alluded to in this thread indicate that there probably is. But what are the ramifications of this debate? In what way are they important? If the debate is — to use another word recently discussed at LH — moot, then you’re the one with the case to prove, because Hat’s argument isn’t as simplistic as you claim. His quote you’ve picked out, about English speakers assuming others will understand them, simplifies (for the sake of time and space) what’s already gone into this discussion — including the post itself — not the entire subject.
    Now, over the years, obviously both you and Hat have proved yourselves knowledgeable about language, and I’m sure that if the two of you were to continue this discussion, not only would I learn a lot, but you’d also have a shot at bringing me over to your side (as of now I don’t understand why the things you claim to be important should supersede what seems to me Hat’s common sense approach); I’m also sure you both respect each other. I just wish you’d be generous in your interpretations of your respective arguments rather than churlish: not that you guys have blown your tops or anything, or that the occasional knock-down drag-out isn’t good for the soul, but this stuff is actually interesting! This post and thread touches on lexicographical perspectives prescriptive and descriptive which both have real merit — with McKean clearly on the descriptive end, arguing that dictionaries should be all inclusive, that bound books impose utterly arbitrary restraints on lexicography, and that the internet has rendered those restraints on the profession obsolescent (all fascinating ideas I’d pay to hear you guys chew over) — whereas I’ve been considering anti-depressants over the last few weeks because a magazine as ostensibly sophisticated as The New Yorker is still publishing the equivalent of flat-earth linguistics: articles which, even if they don’t persuade their readers that linguists are all stupid hypocrites, will certainly propagate the notion that there’s a real philosophical debate to be had between those who study language for a living and those who bloviate about it every once in a while for a newspaper (or write influential yet fatuous usage guides).
    All of which is to say, 1) considering the propinquity of this argument to linguistic arguments of this sort that are actually interesting (as opposed to the usual prescriptivist poppycock), I have a hunch that what you and Hat could be discussing here — e.g., the potential importance of distinguishing English words from words in the English lexicon — would be fascinating if you actually discussed it instead of arguing about whose turn it is to do the heavy lifting; and 2) from what I’ve read in this post and thread — and please, Bathrobe, tell me if I’ve missed something crucial (it is a longish thread) or if I’m just not aware of something I should be — I think it’s your turn to get this ball rolling. Again, Hat’s approach just makes sense to me, and though I appreciate your attempt to convey a degree of complexity that he (and I) may have missed, I thought you made assertions in service of doing so which you didn’t back up with data or arguments.

  74. Bathrobe says:

    jamessal, there isn’t as large a gap here as may appear. What we have is probably a difference in philosophical approach.
    Hat takes the view that ‘if one English-speaker uses it in an English sentence and expects another English-speaker to understand it, it’s an English word, at least within that speech community’. That’s a pretty enthusiastic approach. His approach seems to be: ‘Haul ‘em in, all of ‘em! They’re all English and they’re all good!’ It’s because Hat is so interested in and welcoming of words — any words — that this blog is what it is.
    What I’m saying is: “Hold on, Hat, they aren’t all English words. There are words and there are words.” People other than myself have already shown reservations about this approach, pointing out that some words (esoteric, specialised) haven’t really made it into the English lexicon yet. The implication is that it takes a while for words to become established as English words.
    My point is a slightly different one. There are words that are commonly used in English, and can be regarded as belonging to the English lexicon, but aren’t actually regarded as ‘English words’. I’m not talking about excluding them from the English lexicon; merely pointing out that they are not ‘English words’ from the point of view of native speakers.
    I think that the question of what words to admit into the vocabulary of a language is an interesting one and that there are nuances that are missed by Hat’s very liberal and welcoming approach. For instance, the existence of ‘permanent guests’ in English is an interesting phenomenon in itself. There are words that many people know and use, but aren’t regarded as English. There are words like double entendre, which don’t occur anywhere but English itself, and are still not actually regarded as ‘English words’!
    If you look at other languages, some of the contrasts are quite startling. Theoretically, Chinese can accept as legitimate words just about anything that has occurred in its thousands of years of written tradition. Turkish, on the other hand, has actively expelled large numbers of words from its vocabulary for particular reasons, mainly purism and modernisation. These languages are not English and obviously have quite different backgrounds, but personally I do think that looking at the subtleties in the status of words (in this case we’re mainly talking about loanwords) in the vocabulary of a language is at least as interesting as Hat’s fascination with amassing more and more words.
    I hope that this explanation, broad-brush as it is, helps throw some light on the situation.

  75. Bathrobe,
    “Double entendre” might not be the best example. I think a lot of native English speakers use it without thinking of it as a French phrase. It is also often pronounced “də-bəl-an-ˈtand-rə”. Heck, I don’t think of that expression as French, and I speak French. And of course it isn’t really French – the French is “double sens” or “à double entente”.

  76. When “Turkish expels a word”, what happens exactly? Is this a matter of Turkish law? The word is removed from the next edition of the (?) dictionary, I assume. Does it become illegal to write it? To publish it? To publish it without italicizing? To teach it?

  77. Noetica says:

    This thread is now the first google hit for “pancakewards, …”
    Really? When I Google that word I get a 2008 LH thread coming up first, and this thread not at all. Since both “Trainset of Venus” and “Train Set of Venus” draw a complete blank, I must assume that this thread has so far not been Googlassoed.
    Ø:
    I have been holding off on posting further at a certain other thread, because I did not know whether {} had finished with his other obligations and was ready to receive something further on hyp[er[o],o]nymic puzzlements. An update on status?

  78. There are words that are commonly used in English, and can be regarded as belonging to the English lexicon, but aren’t actually regarded as ‘English words’. I’m not talking about excluding them from the English lexicon; merely pointing out that they are not ‘English words’ from the point of view of native speakers.
    Having gotten some sleep, I’m feeling less churlish, and I have no desire to wield any clubs, so I’ll just state that I literally do not understand this argument, and the fault may very well be mine. I do not understand how something can be part of the English lexicon and yet not be an English word. And the point of view of native speakers is basically worthless when it comes to matters linguistic, because native speakers know less than nothing about language and how it works. Asking native speakers about “foreign words” is like asking them about foreigners—their prejudices and misunderstandings swamp their actual knowledge.
    If a foreign speaker asked you what double entendre meant , and you told them that it was an English expression meaning “a phrase that can be understood in two ways, one of them risqué or ironic”, without telling them that it is usually understood (perhaps incorrectly) as a borrowing from French, then you would be doing the person asking the question a great disservice.
    Again, I don’t understand this. What disservice? Why is it so important to know where a word or phrase comes from? Obviously I’m not saying it’s not interesting—this blog is evidence for that—but it seems to me a pretty specialized field of knowledge, not of much importance to the average person, who needs to know what a word means, not where it originally came from.

  79. J.W. Brewer says:

    I think part of the metaphysical/set-theory problem here is that there are lots of Englishes, including not only regional etc. dialects but specialized jargons used in particular technical/hobbyist circles (whose speakers, if self-aware, will have some sense of which vocabulary will or won’t be comprehensible to an outsider). Hat’s assumption seems to be that any word which is usable and used in any variety of English (even if it is a variety unknown to 99.9999% of the world’s Anglophones) is ipso facto an “English word.” Because AustEng, or GamEnthEng (= “Gamelan Enthusiast English”) is a subset of English, whatever they do lexically is necessarily part of “English” as a whole. Without even getting to the line-drawing problem of how far away from some sort of core English an English-affiliated creole or pidgin can get and still be usefully thought a variety of “English,” or the sorts of issues presented by bilingual speech communities (where you know your interlocutor also knows the same non-English language, so if you stick lexical items from that language into your mostly-English conversation are you bringing loanwords into your variety of English or just code-switching mid-sentence?), something seems wrong or at least oversimplified about this view. There must some way of describing GamEnthEng (or AustEng) words that no one should expect to be comprehended by speakers who do not have command of that particular variety of English without getting stuck with a binary decision of is/isn’t an “English word.”

  80. Bathrobe says:

    I do not understand how something can be part of the English lexicon and yet not be an English word.
    Is it really that subtle? Is it conceptually too difficult to understand that the English lexicon might be made up of 1) English words and 2) certain words that are established in the English vocabulary but are still conventionally regarded as foreign?

  81. Bathrobe says:

    Empty: Turkish has been covered at other Languagehat threads, although I’m having great difficult finding anything.
    Noetica: Is this one of your sentences? “There are Javanese speakers also in neighboring countries such as Singapore and Malaysia (where it is concentrated in the states of Selangor and Johor).”

  82. Noetica,
    I tried to make it clear that I did not want to play the heavy parent by pulling strings to remove temptation from {}’s way–that I preferred to treat my so-grown-up offspring as an adult by letting him make his own choices. But thank you for your consideration.
    Yes, he’s all done with schoolwork. Today they rehearse and then go to the beach; tomorrow they graduate and he gives a speech. Then a seemingly endless round of parties.

  83. Is it conceptually too difficult to understand that the English lexicon might be made up of 1) English words and 2) certain words that are established in the English vocabulary but are still conventionally regarded as foreign?
    Yes, because your “conventionally regarded as foreign” seems to me meaningless. There are no such conventions, aside from “what does not have its own entry in an English dictionary,” which obviously depends on the dictionary and which does not appeal to you anyway (cf. “non sequitur” above). My strong suspicion about all such arguments is that they boil down to “what I think of as English is English, and what I don’t isn’t,” which I need hardly say is not a useful criterion for general use.

  84. There must some way of describing GamEnthEng (or AustEng) words that no one should expect to be comprehended by speakers who do not have command of that particular variety of English without getting stuck with a binary decision of is/isn’t an “English word.”
    Why? Again, I simply don’t understand this argument. Isn’t it good enough, in any particular case, to say “this word is largely confined to Australian English” or “known to gamelan enthusiasts”? Why must there be some sort of catchall term?

  85. marie-lucie says:

    If a foreign speaker asked you what “double entendre” meant , and you told them that it was an English expression meaning “a phrase that can be understood in two ways, one of them risqué or ironic”
    If I were the foreign (non-French) speaker in question, I would say “I know double, but what does entendre mean?”
    Is double entendre listed in an English dictionary under “double”, and is entendre listed as well?

  86. Bathrobe says:

    your “conventionally regarded as foreign” seems to me meaningless.
    Is it because you sincerely can’t see any difference, or you just refuse to recognise it?
    I can assure you that if I use an expression like le mot juste I’m quite aware I’m not using an English expression. But maybe I’m just another native speaker whose point of view is basically worthless. If people in your universe drop words like le mot juste without even realising that they’re slipping into a different idiom, it’s not much use pursuing this any further. Let’s just drop it.

  87. Treesong says:

    And the point of view of native speakers is basically worthless when it comes to matters linguistic, because native speakers know less than nothing about language and how it works. Asking native speakers about “foreign words” is like asking them about foreigners—their prejudices and misunderstandings swamp their actual knowledge.
    I agree completely. It is a fact, and one worth acknowledging, that many (most?) English-speakers would call ‘slenthem’ a foreign word. But this would be based on ignorance, not a reasoned judgement. If ‘slenthem’ is used like a native word by a significant number of English-speakers, then (to revert to LH’s early example), it’s as much an English word as ‘sarrusophone’; it’s a rare word, but that doesn’t per se make it non-English. Joe Blow, who couldn’t define the English word ‘gamelan’ if his life depended on it, or tell you what hemisphere Java is in, doesn’t think it’s English? Well, so what? He probably also thinks Pluto is a planet and ‘terror’ is not a noun because it’s not a thing.
    Since English is the de facto lingua franca, it’s only natural that it should be more open to borrowings than, say, Turkish.
    Actually, we’ve only seen one citation for slenthem besides Conrad’s post, and that italicizes it, so maybe it is considered foreign even by most of those who use it. In which case I’d call it foreign.

  88. Treesong says:

    I can assure you that if I use an expression like le mot juste I’m quite aware I’m not using an English expression.
    That goes for me too, as is shown by the fact that I don’t pronounce it ‘lamott just’. But when I se an expression like ‘double entendre’ I’m not aware that I’m not using an English expression. I do say ‘on-tondra’ rather than ‘en-tender’, but that doesn’t feel any more foreign to me than ‘on-velope’. Also, no nasal vowels. (What about ‘shez long’ for ‘chase lounge’? Hm, I’ll have to think about that.)

  89. marie-lucie says:

    vanya: “Double entendre” … It is also often pronounced “də-bəl-an-ˈtand-rə”. … that expression … isn’t really French – the French is “double sens” or “à double entente”.
    I would use un mot à double sens myself. I am not aware of à double entente, which seems to me to be old-fashioned, since entente usually refers to how two people relate to each other, rather than to understanding in general.
    I think that the English double entendre probably results from a misunderstanding of double entente. In colloquial French the verb entendre, like other words ending in Cre (where C is a consonant), lose the re (so that the prominent “rə” in “an-ˈtand-rə” simply does not exist). I think that some people (whether French or English) mistook entente for entend(r)e and the phrase was borrowed into English with the verbal form, now carefully enunciated as “an-ˈtand-rə”.

  90. Is double entendre listed in an English dictionary under “double”, and is entendre listed as well?
    No to both questions, at least in the six dictionaries I checked (m-w.com, NID3, RHD2, AHD4, OED, ODO “World English”). All six have a separate entry for double entendre.
    The Wikipedia article mentions triple entendre ‘expression with three meanings, typically at least one of them risque’ and even single entendre ‘racy expression, no additional meanings’ (Benny Hill is called “the master of the single entendre”). These are rare compared to the original (1500 kghits for double, 94 for triple, 44 for single), but I’d think that a comprehensive dictionary should now have an entry for entendre ‘one meaning of an expression, specifically a suggestive one’.

  91. Why? Again, I simply don’t understand this argument. Isn’t it good enough, in any particular case, to say “this word is largely confined to Australian English” or “known to gamelan enthusiasts”? Why must there be some sort of catchall term?
    But surely it is you who is using a catchall term of “an English word”. It seems to me that what Bathrobe and others are saying is that there are words that are clearly foreign in origin that may or may not be included in dictionaries, but are not therefore “English words” to the majority of English speakers. I happen to speak French, and if when in talking to another native English speaker whom I know speaks French, I mention a “poubelle” (garbage bin, trash can), and they understand me, that surely cannot make “poubelle” an “English word”.

  92. marie-lucie says:

    I think that Paul makes a good point with “poubelle”: he can use the word in an English conversation when he knows that his fellow English speaker knows the word as well as he does. He would not use it with a monolingual English speaker, or if he did, he would immediately either translate it (as he did here) or use another means of conveying the meaning.
    There would have been no point in first using double entendre, non sequitur, Weltanschauung, hasta la vista, ciao, and many others, in front of people not familiar with the languages of these words. The borrowing of such elements started, not with a name for a new thing (as in tomato, chocolate, pizza, couscous, bok choy, sarrusophone, etc), but among people who knew the sayings in question and either could not think of an English equivalent or just enjoyed using the foreign words, especially if this use was a means of displaying their shared cultural knowledge. Eventually, frequent repetition caused the sayings to be heard or read by other people and to spread among those less and less familiar with the languages in question.

  93. I think that Paul makes a good point with “poubelle”
    I agree and add to the point: Two speakers of L1 who also know L2 may on occasion not only insert an L2 word or phrase into an L1 conversation; they may insert clauses and whole sentences too. Further, if those two L1 speakers are talking about the country where L2 is the official language, they may well refer to institutions in that country by their name in L2.
    On a humorous note: When I read ‘poubelle’ I immediately thought of the Russian (and Polish) Pobeda car. I’m sure it was.

  94. That hundreds of writers have written English books using certain words as English
    Speaking of assertions, this one is about as slipshod and slovenly as they come. The first book within reach has Auden’s poem Compline including “Whose name one’s forgotten: libera Me, libera C (Dear C). Shame we couldn’t ask W.H. if he composed this line so his “certain words” could be understood as English.

  95. will certainly propagate the notion that there’s a real philosophical debate to be had between those who study language for a living and those who bloviate about it every once in a while for a newspaper (or write influential yet fatuous usage guides).
    Careful, that’s a prescriptivist point of exclusionary view you sure-mindedly advance. You would impose “arbitrary restraints” on amateur lexicographers BUT not on bound books of lexicography (provided, no doubt, they adhere to your dogma). Best to review your bona fina de fide credenda before disparaging others’.

  96. Garrigus Carraig says:


    Since English is the de facto lingua franca, it’s only natural that it should be more open to borrowings than, say, Turkish.

    Except that one of English’s heaviest borrowing periods, maybe the heaviest, was its period of lowest prestige, between Hastings and Bouvines.

  97. Garrigus Carraig says:

    Ugh I might have my dates wrong there, but the point is, the bulk of the borrowing predates the achievement of lingua franca status. I think the heavy French borrowing I envisioned occurred after Bouvines, which makes more sense.

  98. Tim May says:

    Bathrobe, Hat: would you say that you have a substantive disagreement over the linguistic facts, or is your dispute purely over terminology? I’m not sure, but I wonder if the two are not being confused here.
    Speaking for myself, it certainly feels as though there is a cline of foreignness, with code-switching between bilinguals at one end and thoroughly integrated loanwords at the other.

  99. jamessal says:

    But surely it is you who is using a catchall term of “an English word”.
    Actually, it was Marie-Lucie, in the very first comment in this thread, who said she found it amazing that a rare word like slenthem could be considered part of the English lexicon. Hat’s response couldn’t have been more sensible, couldn’t have been less the proposition of a catchall term: he pointed out that, though unassimilated, the word has been used in many English books; that (or at least this is the way I understood his argument) because we have so many ways of describing English words — we call them rare, literary, archaic, unassimilated, dialectical, etc. — there’s no reason to set the bar especially high when considering what is and what isn’t an English word. He neither began this conversation of inclusion and exclusion nor, as he’s been accused of endlessly and to the extreme, over-simplified it.
    Bathrobe said it’s important to distinguish between English words and words in the English lexicon, suggesting the intuitions’ of native speakers as one way of doing so, but he has provided a cogent argument for neither A) why such a distinction would be important in the first place nor B) why the intuitions’ of native speakers would be of any use to anybody but descriptive linguists’, like lexicographers, responsible for classifying words in an English dictionary (in the very manner Hat did in his first comment!). Since then, various commenters have called Hat’s argument “black and white” and “one size fits all,” even though, as I’ve shown, from very beginning it wasn’t; they’ve invoked an irrelevant percentage, “99.99,” for no other reason than to make Hat’s position look sillier than it is; and they’ve sloppily pulled out the old reductio ad absurdum (an assimilated English word in my book, and Webster’s collegiate), fabricating a conversation in which two polyglots speaking English switch — for one word — to French and understand each other, as if that could possibly fit the criteria Hat has in mind.
    And yet, for all the ridicule, I have not seen one persuasive argument for why a word used in English books and appearing in at least one English dictionary — the criteria, after all, that Hat initially proposed when another commenter (Marie-Lucie) first brought up the subject of potential exclusion . . . I have not seen one persuasive argument why such a word, if it sounds foreign to some ears, should not be considered English.
    If people in your universe drop words like le mot juste without even realising that they’re slipping into a different idiom, it’s not much use pursuing this any further.
    I use that phrase often, and usually I consider it to be a change in my speech — usually but not always: some of my conversations are indeed a wee bit hoity-toity — but I consider it a change register (often ironic), certainly not a change in language. I don’t even speak French. That said, I do appreciate your taking the time earlier, Bathrobe, to catch me up on where you were coming from. Obviously, you haven’t changed my mind, but reasonable people can disagree. And if my tone is at all aggressive above in this comment, it’s only because I didn’t think people had been disagreeing with Hat reasonably. But of course I’m not surrounded by such delicate folk that they wilt at the first hint of a snarl in prose, and you’re probably right anyway: unless you — or anyone else — thinks it’s worth taking issue with something I’ve written here, I’m happy to move on to another subject.

  100. Ms. Lay Woman says:

    When I use the word guacamole I never think to myself, “I am not speaking English,” and then when I go on to use the word chips I don’t then think, “Oh, I’m now back my native tongue, thank goodness.”
    So, I would humbly suppose this bar be set quite low.

  101. He would not use it with a monolingual English speaker, or if he did, he would immediately either translate it (as he did here) or use another means of conveying the meaning.
    And therefore it is not an English word. My whole point is that if a word can be used with a monolingual English speaker (or an English speaker not familiar with the language the word is from) with the expectation of its being understood, it is an English word. I continue to be unpersuaded by those who feel it of vital importance to segregate out a class of not-really-English words used by English speakers, and I thank those who have dropped by to agree with me (Treesong, Ms. Lay Woman) for helping me to keep from feeling too far out on a limb; special thanks to jamessal for explaining what I mean in a far more reasonable way than I seem to be capable of today.

  102. …that (or at least this is the way I understood his argument) because we have so many ways of describing English words — we call them rare, literary, archaic, unassimilated, dialectical, etc. — there’s no reason to set the bar especially high when considering what is and what isn’t an English word.
    I don’t understand why it seems so important that a word used in English should be assigned to the category of “English word” – though this may be a technical linguistic argument I am not equipped to follow. As you say, there are many descriptions. Why not then, in this case, “foreign words sometimes used in English texts or conversations”.
    And to go back to the start of the thread, as you did, Hat said this : If it’s used in an English sentence as a word for an object (rather than as an example of a foreign word), how can it not be considered part of the English lexicon? If you search Google Books, you will find lots and lots of books using it to talk about that kind of orchestra. There is no other word for it in English. Why is it not an English word, even if still unassimilated?
    Well, until it is assimilated, surely it isn’t an English word, by definition ?
    I would argue that slenthem is exactly a foreign word used to describe an object that has no native English name, and that that does not makes it an “English” word. And he says : Is samovar not an English word? It too is only used in discussions of a foreign object.
    No, samovar is not an English word. It is a russian word used (fairly) widely in English, but it is still a Russian word.
    Like my poubelle example…
    Thirdly (or something)I have not seen an answer to the proposition that if two French speakers use slenthem, why is it not then a French word ?

  103. I don’t understand the point of Paul’s last question. Did Hat indicate that slenthem would not be a French word if that happened? That his criteria apply only to deciding what’s an English word, and not to what’s a French word? Is the suggestion that if Hat’s criterion makes slenthem both an English word and a French word then there must be something wrong with the criterion?
    I did wonder what Hat meant by “unassimilated”.
    But I take it for granted that there is a continuum from “foreign word sometimes used in the midst of English discourse among anglophones who happen to speak the language in question” to “foreign borrowing now totally assimilated into English”.
    In my view a native speaker is free to call a given word of foreign origin an English word or not according to his/her experience of that word and according to his/her understanding of what “English word” means. Reasonable people may differ on this.
    I mean, linguists may perfectly agree, for all I know, on what they mean by “English word”, but I don’t quite think they should dismiss as ignorant anybody else’s idea of what “English word” means.
    On the other hand, a uniform definition of “English word”, a definition useful to linguists, should not be some sort of average or amalgam or mashup of lay people’s non-technical senses of the expression.
    Here is a somewhat parallel case: As a mathematician, it would irritate me if someone derailed a discussion of differential calculus by saying “Gee, that’s not what the expression ‘continuous function’ means to me! Let me explain what I mean by that.” I remind myself that mathematicians do not have a monopoly on the word “continuous” or the word “function” or the combination of the two, but while using the words in a technical sense I will ignore the other (and less precise) senses, except to the extent that I have to be aware of them in anticipating miscommunication.

  104. Linguists don’t even have a technical definition of word, never mind English word. It’s a pre-theoretical term. For that matter, biologists don’t have a technical definition of life. Peter Medawar once silenced a room of them arguing the point (at least according to Carl Sagan) by saying that he supposed they all knew the difference between a live horse and a dead one, and that they should “cease flogging the latter”.

  105. J.W. Brewer says:

    To restate to some extent one of my points above, do we have a definition of “English”? If the question were “are sentences of the form ‘I might could do that’ syntactically well-formed in English?” I assume most here would accept that that was not a simply yes/no question, but requires an answer like “only in some varieties” or “no, as to the standard/prestige variety, but the construction is acceptable in certain regional dialects” or something like that. Why can’t “is ‘slenthem’ an English word” be analogous to that sort of question?

  106. marie-lucie says:

    I did not mean to open a can of worms with my opinion of slenthem as a English (or perhaps potentially English) word (the discussion would be the same if it was proposed as a “French word”), and I certainly did not expect to stir up animosity among faithful Hatters. Jamessal has very ably summarized the points of view. Surely by now we can agree to disagree on the topic, switch to another one, and remain friends.

  107. Noetica says:

    Noetica: Is this one of your sentences?
    Well, er … a bit. I modified many sentences, and removed many glitches. That one remained logically defective as you cite it. It is now changed to this:
    “There are speakers of Javanese in Malaysia (concentrated in the states of Selangor and Johor) and Singapore.”
    A little better. And I did not check for truth throughout; I mainly just copyedited. If they want work at my professional standard, they can pay. :)
    Ø:
    Yes, he’s all done with schoolwork.
    Good. I’ll get back to that thread, then. Rather concerned about zealous young people being sidetracked from core pursuits. Been in your situation myself.

  108. Linguists don’t even have a technical definition of word, never mind English word. It’s a pre-theoretical term. For that matter, biologists don’t have a technical definition of life.
    Well, to hell with them, then.
    Surely by now we can agree to disagree on the topic, switch to another one, and remain friends.
    Sure. Or possibly argue about it some more. But definitely remain friends.

  109. Bathrobe says:

    Having said let’s drop it, I’m not going to keep arguing for the point I was making. However, there are three things I would like to say:
    1) I consider Hat’s ‘definition’ of an English word the equivalent of signs that say ‘Any child over one metre tall will pay full fare’. Of course the intent is to provide an ‘objective’ definition that the authorities can work with, instead of engaging in interminable wrangles over whether the child is at a (n equally arbitrary) cut-off age for paying children’s fare. The fast grower will be penalised; the slow grower will gain an advantage, but at least there is an objective standard for a very specific purpose — but not much more.
    2) Why is it so important to know where a word or phrase comes from?
    Actually, the point is not the etymology of a word (which is a specialist’s department), but how it is assigned to categories by native speakers (which is a real-world judgement that speakers make, often wrongly, but still a judgement about language).
    At any rate, I will admit that I can’t prove that I have any basis for assuming that native speakers identify Latin expressions as ‘Latin’ or French expressions as ‘French’. For instance, jamessal has pointed out that he doesn’t identify le mot juste as a ‘French expression’, although he does feel it is a different ‘register’. I was projecting my own assumptions and knowledge onto the language at large.
    3) And the point of view of native speakers is basically worthless when it comes to matters linguistic, because native speakers know less than nothing about language and how it works.
    I was surprised and slightly disappointed at the note of contempt for ordinary speakers of English that can be felt from this sentence. I can understand that Hat is bitter about widespread prescriptivism in language (we all are), but I don’t think that this is one of his better pronouncements about the people who actually use the object that is the subject of this blog. It is true that native speakers may be ignorant about matters linguistic, but their social judgements about language — high flown usage or ordinary, down to earth or insulting, appropriate for different settings, etc. — are actually the stuff of language in use. It’s rather disconcerting to see these judgements so summarily dismissed.

  110. Bathrobe says:

    at least there is an objective standard for a very specific purpose — but not much more.
    I take that back. I think any standard for including words in a dictionary of English is highly useful. I think my original objection was to calling all such words ‘English words’. But I’m not going to go there again.

  111. why such a distinction would be important in the first place
    Perhaps for the same reason that dictionary compilators and editors, from decades past, made a linguistic distinction between English words and those of foreign origin which had crept into the English lexicon. Feel free to sweep all that onto the catch all, revisionist shag rug. The place where crumbs, once the staff of life, join language’s disregarded leavening minutiae in increasing de-crumbitude.
    I have not seen one persuasive argument why such a word, if it sounds foreign to some ears, should not be considered English.
    “The testimony of those who doubt the least is not unusually that very testimony that ought most to be doubted” – C.C. Colton

  112. No, samovar is not an English word. It is a russian word used (fairly) widely in English, but it is still a Russian word.
    Does anyone else agree with this? I adduced samovar as uncontroversially an English word, and frankly I’m astonished that someone disagrees (which reinforces my point about the value of native-speaker intuition).
    I have not seen an answer to the proposition that if two French speakers use slenthem, why is it not then a French word ?
    Like Ø, I am puzzled by this recurring theme. Of course it would be a French word (by my criterion), and I never said or implied that it wouldn’t. (Surely you’re not implying that if it’s an English word, it’s ipso facto not a word in any other language? See telephone, chocolate, and about a zillion other international words.)
    I was surprised and slightly disappointed at the note of contempt for ordinary speakers of English that can be felt from this sentence.
    Oh, come now. I am very fond of English speakers; without them, one of my favorite languages wouldn’t exist! All I’m saying, quite emphatically because popular ignorance of the findings of linguistic science is one of my bugaboos and a continuing theme of this blog, is that while they may know their language quite well in the intimate way they know their bodies, they have no more understanding of how their language works from a scientific point of view than they know how their bodies work on a biological level, unless of course they’ve studied biology—which, sadly, is considerably more likely than their having studied linguistics. I am pointing out that a native speaker saying confidently “This is an English word and that isn’t!” is to be taken no more seriously than the possessor of a spleen trying to point out where it is or describe how it works.

  113. I should add that I’m not arguing with anyone or holding anyone’s views against them; I trust everyone knows by now that I have affection and respect for commenters here. I’m just trying to make my views clear and understand those of others. There’s something basic about this disagreement that I think is worth trying to dig out and examine. I’m not trying to convert anyone, just figure out what’s going on with this business of “Is it English”?

  114. I think that the English double entendre probably results from a misunderstanding of double entente.
    It’s in the Supplement to Littré as an occasional alternative, with a 1688 citation. Perhaps English took it over before it fell out of use.

  115. possessor of a spleen trying to point out where it is or describe how it works

    Historians aren’t constantly confronted with people who carry on self-confidently about the rule against adultery in the sixth amendment to the Declamation of Independence, as written by Benjamin Hamilton. Computer scientists aren’t always having to correct people who make bold assertions about the value of Objectivist Programming, as examplified in the HCNL entities stored in Relaxational Databases. The trouble is, most people are much more ignorant about language than they are about history or computer science, but they reckon that because they can talk and read and write, their opinions about talking and reading and writing are as well informed as anybody’s. And since I have DNA, I’m entitled to carry on at length about genetics without bothering to learn anything about it. Not.

    —Mark Liberman

  116. Exactly!

  117. Bathrobe says:

    There’s something basic about this disagreement that I think is worth trying to dig out and examine.
    Since our host has now expressed a conciliatory interest in discussing this topic a little further, I will take the opportunity offered to reverse my decision to ‘drop it’ and try to explain a little further what I meant. (I think this is a little different from what JW was talking about, which is a slightly different area.)
    Two of Hat’s statements contained basic errors for a linguist:
    1) Why is it so important to know where a word or phrase comes from? … it seems to me a pretty specialized field of knowledge, not of much importance to the average person, who needs to know what a word means, not where it originally came from.
    2) the point of view of native speakers is basically worthless when it comes to matters linguistic, because native speakers know less than nothing about language and how it works.
    For the first, I want to reiterate that I’m not talking about ‘etymologies’, in the sense of “Isn’t that interesting! ‘Beserk’ comes from Old Norse and ‘amok’ comes from Malay’!” Knowing these etymologies is indeed a specialised area of study and knowledge. What I’m talking about is vocabulary belonging to a couple of well-known subsets of the English vocabulary: Latin phrases, and French phrases. There may be others (for example, Italian, especially in music, maybe Spanish in the US), but these two are, I suggest, the best known in English in general. They include words or phrases that are used in English, but are self-consciously French or Latin. Wikipedia even has glossaries for French and Latin phrases used in English. This is totally different from etymology. There are literally thousands of words in English that are etymologically French or Latin but are not regarded as being “Latin phrases” or “French phrases”. So it is not a matter of knowing the etymology of words; it is a matter knowing about the use of words and expressions in an English context — specifically, using words while being perfectly conscious that they are not English words. This is not esoteric knowledge of word etymologies; it is conscious knowledge and use of words within the larger lexicon of English.
    The second error is that of dismissing the point of view of native speakers as worthless. In fact, people who use Gallicisms and Latinisms are likely to be better educated than most and are perfectly aware what a French phrase or a Latin phrase is. It is rather an insult to their intelligence to suggest otherwise. For example, a lawyer who uses mutatis mutandis is, I suggest, perfectly aware that this is a Latin phrase, one that is used in English while retaining its identity as a Latin phrase. That is not to say that such phrases can’t become almost native English words (e.g. a priori), but in general, when they are used, the speaker is quite conscious that he/she is using ‘Latin phrases’, not English ones. Furthermore, I would find it hard to believe that a person who is educated enough to use expressions like mutatis mutandis would be lulled into the belief that they are ‘English words’, to the extent of gasping in amazement at seeing the same Latin phrase in a French or German text and crying out “Oh my God! They’ve borrowed our English word mutatis mutandis!” (which is the reductio ad absurdum of Hat’s thesis that these are all ‘English words’).
    I certainly don’t deny that there are shades of grey, including expressions (for example, e.g., and i.e.) which have been almost completely anglicised. But I have to admit I take cum grano salis the assertion that such expressions as mutatis mutandis or le mot juste are now merely a matter of ‘technical jargon’ or ‘register’ — in the latter case presumably meaning that it is a ‘hoity-toity English expression’. I could imagine someone taking the ideological position that ‘If it’s used in English it must therefore be English’, but to be totally oblivious to the presence of non-English words like le and mot (juste is close enough to ‘just’, so I’ll let it pass) is something of a stretch.
    This is the category of word (or phrase) that I was referring to as being in the English lexicon but not conventionally regarded as ‘English words’.
    I mentioned that it’s useful to tell non-native learners that such-and-such a phrase is a “French phrase” or a “Latin phrase”, because it helps them make sense of the vocabulary of English. It’s useful to tell someone who wants to know “what is this ‘lemojust’?” that this is a special case in English, a French phrase of the type that some people like to use, made up of le, mot, and juste. The knowledge that English does have this category of expression is useful knowledge to have, and not just a matter of etymology.
    Finally, I hope that Hat will forgive me for suspecting there was something Freudian about the body part that he referred to when dismissing the knowledge native speakers have of their language…

  118. Treesong says:

    No, samovar is not an English word. It is a russian word used (fairly) widely in English, but it is still a Russian word.
    Speaking of reductionibus ad absurdum, this is an attitude I have only encountered in English English speakers and I wonder if there’s a transoceanic difference. It literally makes no sense to me. ‘Samovar’ is pronounced like an English word (with the ‘a’ of ‘Samuel’), inflected like an English word, used like an English word by millions of English speakers, in dictionaries with no indication of foreignness. If an English-speaker had invented the samovar in 1923 and its use had spread particularly among Americans of Russian descent who liked how it made tea, nobody would say it was therefore Russian. How can it not be an English word? Is this another form of the etymological fallacy?
    If you want to say it sounds foreign to you, OK. (It would sound foreign to a Russian if they heard it.) If you want to say it’s foreign, that it must wear a scarlet ‘R’ on its chest forever, be my guest. But by any reasonable and consistent definition of ‘English word’, ‘samovar’ is an English word. Period. And if an educated and intelligent person like Paul can say it isn’t, I’d say that reinforces LH’s claim that you can’t trust the raw intuitions of native speakers.
    I revert to LH’s example of ‘sarrusophone’. Someone who knows nothing of sarrusophones is not competent to judge whether ‘sarrusophone’ is an English word. Someone who knows nothing of slenthems is not very competent to judge whether ‘slenthem’ is an English word, though the pronunciation is evidence. If enough English-speakers use it as an English word, it stops being Javanese and becomes English jargon.
    Who’s to say what ‘enough’ is? Well, I’m inclined to go with the people whose profession it is to make such judgements, and who make those judgements on the basis of actual recorded English usage, particularly edited prose. (And that usage includes the use of italics to indicate foreign words.) In the Merriam-Webster Ninth Collegiate Dictionary, ‘mutatis mutandis’ is listed among the English words, ‘mot’ meaning ‘a pithy or witty saying’ likewise. Mutato nomine de te fabula narratur is in the foreign words and phrases section, and (le) mot juste isn’t listed at all. Sounds good to me.

  119. Bathrobe says:

    I’m inclined to go with the people whose profession it is to make such judgements, and who make those judgements on the basis of actual recorded English usage, particularly edited prose
    Ironic given that this thread is about the shortcomings of dictionaries — Lexical Dark Matter that isn’t listed in dictionaries at all…

  120. Bathrobe says:

    I think there are a couple of problems with the examples that Treesong found in dictionaries.
    (1) Mutatis mutandis: Where the dictionary lists it will depend on a number of things, mostly pragmatic. In this case I suggest it is listed in the main body of the dictionary because (1) there is no doubt that it belongs to the English lexicon and (2) it is used frequently and needs defining for ordinary dictionary users (unlike Mutato nomine de te fabula narratur which is seldom encountered and can be safely tucked away in an obscure list). Neither of these affects my point.
    (2) The meaning of mot in le mot juste is not ‘a pithy or witty saying’. It means that in bon mot, but not in mot juste. This merely demonstrates that mot has been partially naturalised in a specific meaning.

  121. marie-lucie says:

    Treesong: In the Merriam-Webster Ninth Collegiate Dictionary, ‘mutatis mutandis’ is listed among the English words, ‘mot’ meaning ‘a pithy or witty saying’ likewise. … (le) mot juste isn’t listed at all.
    Then someone seeing le mot juste might think that this means ‘just pithy or witty saying’, instead of simply ‘(th) right word’.
    The French for ‘a pithy or witty saying’ is (un) bon mot, not just (un/le) mot. This bon mot does not have to be a well-known phrase, it can be uttered quite spontaneously by a witty person.

  122. marie-lucie says:

    Bathrobe had not yet posted when I started my own comment – I am glad we agree.

  123. I’m curious how stable these intuitions about this feature of items in the English lexicon are.
    If you know from reading that a bodhran is some kind of musical instrument and it’s +foreign or +Irish and you know someone who plays the bowron and you’ve seen it and it just looks like a drum and is -foreign, although jargon, what happens when you learn that those are the same word?
    If you know that hookah is +Arabic and you find out that it’s only the whole thing in Urdu, does it become +Indian?
    Is tofu +Japanese or +Chinese or both?

  124. marie-lucie says:

    MMcM, thanks for looking up French double entendre. So the confusion started in French, which I thought was likely.

  125. Bathrobe says:

    ‘Tofu’ appears to have become reasonably established in English, although it sorely pains some Chinese that the Japanese name has been adopted for something that was originally Chinese. Predictably, this was at one time a bone of contention at Wikipedia. I noticed the other day that the local English-language “Beijing Time-Out” used ‘tofu’, which suggests that for local foreigners, at least, ‘tofu’ is acceptable for both Japanese and Chinese tofu (or doufu). For many years I myself called it ‘bean curd’ in English because that’s it was called in dictionaries and it wasn’t popular enough overseas for people to know what ‘tofu’ was. How times change!

  126. Treesong says:

    Bathrobe, if ‘mutatis mutandis’ is in the English lexicon, why isn’t it an English phrase? If it’s in the main body of 11C, that’s not simply because it’s frequently encountered; the foreign section includes au fait, bon appetit, c’est la guerre/vie, dies irae, en garde, hasta la vista, nyet, et caetera.
    This merely demonstrates that mot has been partially naturalised in a specific meaning.
    Of course. I’m just saying that 11C does make (principled) distinctions between native and foreign words, as shown by different treatments of mutat* and mot lexemes. It doesn’t dump everything into an ‘English word’ pile. And why ‘partially’ naturalized? Because it has a silent ‘t’ as in ‘depot’?

  127. michael farris says:

    I think a distinction needs to be made between words used in English almost entirely in discussions/descriptions of non-English speaking cultures and words that refer to originally foreign items but which many or most English speakers (or a very sizeable subset of same) are familiar with on a daily basis (guacamole).
    Slenthem and samovar remain foreign in a way because the great majority of English speakers have no direct contact with them.
    Guacamole on the other hand, will be familiar to almost every speaker of American English (and many other varieties).
    There’s some grey area in the middle (futon? miso) but words restricted to non-angloph

  128. jamessal says:

    Jamessal has very ably summarized the points of view. Surely by now we can agree to disagree on the topic, switch to another one, and remain friends.
    Thanks, Marie-Lucie; that was kind of you and, at the time, seemed a good idea (agreeing to disagree) — though I’m sure we’d agree now how it fortunate it is, and how much it speaks to the good nature of LH denizens, that it turned out not to be necessary and that the tone could be changed so quickly.
    Bathrobe: you’ve written a lot since then which I may not have time to digest today (my car was impounded earlier in the week, and I have to go to the DMV, blah, blah, blah); but I’ll try to return to this thread, and your comments and particular, when I get the chance. Thanks for sticking it with it!

  129. “For example, a lawyer who uses mutatis mutandis is, I suggest, perfectly aware that this is a Latin phrase, one that is used in English while retaining its identity as a Latin phrase.”
    i think people use foreign expressions to emphasize what they want to say, a thought or just how it sounds to bring more attention to what is said, bc it could be said perfectly okay in all native english words, but they choose to use the foreign expression however old is the tradition to use them in their language just bc it’s a foreign expression and maybe it’s shorter and more like laconic to say that and be understood
    i recalled how in some french or other european movies the final song of the movie soundtrack they use is some american song in english, always sounds as if like moving, usually it’s after some really as if like cathartic ending scenes, as if the movie makers wanted to convey something more by a song in english when they could use any other song in their native language, something like the other side is greener or america is the land of the free or to express just some kind of longing in general like thinking works there, i guess
    so i mean that that an expression is foreign is maybe important in its usage, not how it got naturalized as english
    it’s one thing to say tofu and mean some healthy asiatic pretty exotic maybe even food, for example, or say bean curd and make it sounding pretty like prosaic or uninteresting, if the word could be translated of course, though after some time of adopting, tofu also would sound just tofu, perhaps

  130. Empty: By “expels a word from Turkish” is meant that the semi-official Turkish Language Association (which has no enforcement powers even over Turkish government publications, but is highly respected) removes the word from its dictionary if it was there before, and puts out press releases discouraging people, especially authors and publishers, from using it. These days they mostly try to get people to use transparent Turkish compounds instead of English borrowings. One of the major themes of the Turkish language reform was morphological and semantic transparency, as if in English we got rid of realm and royal in favor of kingdom and kingish.
    Bathrobe:
    Furthermore, I would find it hard to believe that a person who is educated enough to use expressions like mutatis mutandis would be lulled into the belief that they are ‘English words’, to the extent of gasping in amazement at seeing the same Latin phrase in a French or German text and crying out “Oh my God! They’ve borrowed our English word mutatis mutandis!” (which is the reductio ad absurdum of Hat’s thesis that these are all ‘English words’).
    No, I’d say “Hmm, so these languages also have the same word (or rather mot[*]) of Latin origin that English does.” I certainly wouldn’t assume it was borrowed directly from English. Nor, if it had been so, would that be at all surprising: many languages borrow English words, whether originally from other languages or not.
    I still agree with Empty that there is a cline, but what varies is not the degree of Englishness, but the degree of assimilation, which in turn is related to style and register. If we talked of hausfraus (note the English inflection) as often as of hamburgers, nobody would doubt that the former word was an English one.
    Anyway, a challenge to all (except Hat and Treesong). Here’s the list of French words in English (but not phrases, which are by nature more contentious) that Wikipedia provides. It excludes older borrowings like art, competition, force, machine, police, publicity, role, routine, table, etc. that are fully assimilated by anyone’s definition. I have stripped all diacritics, so that no one (except our francophones) will be biased by unusual-looking spellings.
    Used in more or less the same sense as in current French: abattoir, accouchement, adieu, aide-memoire, amour-propre, apercu, aperitif, arete, armoire, arriere-pensee, attache, avoirdupois, baguette, ballet, banquette, belle, belles-lettres, billet-doux, blase, bourgeois, bouquet, bric-a-brac, brioche, brunette, cache, cachet, cafe, calque, canard, chanteuse, charlatan, chauffeur, driver, chez, chic, stylish, chignon, cliche, clique, commandant, communique, concierge, concordat, contre-coup, contre-jour, contretemps, coquette, cortege, couture, couturier, creche, crepe ‘thin pancake’, creperie, critique, croissant, cul-de-sac, debacle, declasse, decollete, decor, decoupage, depot, demi-glace, demi-sec, denouement, derailleur, derriere, deshabille, detente, divertissement, dossier, doyen, dressage, ecarte, echappe, eclair, eclat, ecorche, elan, ennui, entente, entree, entremets, entrepreneur, escargot, snail, escritoire, etude, etui, extraordinaire, facade, faux, feuilleton, fiance, fiancee, fils, flambe, flambeau, flaneur, fleur-de-lis, froideur, gaffe, blunder, garcon, gauche, gaucherie, genre, glissade, grenadier, habitue, hauteur, impasse, insouciant, ingenue, laicite, laissez-faire, laissez-passer, lame ‘metallic fabric’, liaison, litterateur, louche, macrame, mademoiselle, malaise, manque, marque, materiel, melange, melee, metier, milieu, mirepoix, montage, motif, moue, mousse, new, oeuvre, omelette, omelette, panache, papier-mache, parkour, parole, parvenu, passe-partout, pastiche, patois, pied-a-terre, pince-nez, piste, poseur, pot-au-feu, pourboire, pret-a-porter, prie-dieu, protege(e), provocateur, raconteur, rapport, rapprochement, reconnaissance, renaissance, reportage, restaurateur, riposte, role, roue, roux, sabotage, saboteur, sang-froid, sans, without, sans-culottes, saute, savant, savoir-faire, savoir-vivre, silhouette, sobriquet, soi-disant, soigne, soiree, sommelier, soupcon, tableau, tenne, tete-a-tete, toilette, touche, tricoteuse, trompe-l’oeil, venue, vinaigrette, vis-a-vis, voila!, volte-face, voyeur.
    Used in different senses from current French: accoutrement, applique, apres-ski, artiste, auteur, boutique, boutonniere, chanson, claque, connoisseur, corsage, debut, decolletage, demarche, depanneur ‘convenience store (in Canada)’, emigre, encore, epee, escritoire, expose ‘exposure of a scandal’, femme, forte ‘strong point’, marquee, outre, passe, peignoir, potpourri, precis, premiere ‘first performance’, raisonneur ‘authorial viewpoint character’, recherche, rendezvous, reprise, resume ‘CV, document giving qualifications for employment’, risque, and vignette.
    Not in current French at all: aide-de-camp, apres-garde, cinquefoil, demimonde, homage, negligee.
    Now which of these count (or do not count) as English words? Note that “I don’t know what it is, so it isn’t English” should not pass. I had never seen several of these until today, and certainly never knew that gaffe was French.
    [*] It’s very inconvenient that English does not have a word or phrase for ‘word or phrase’ less clunky than word or phrase.

  131. Are there items in the English lexicon that are neither English words nor foreign words? Brand names?
    Which are English words: bodhran, digeridoo, dundun, piano, piccolo, slenthem, sousaphone, theremin, zeusaphone? The ones in common usage? The ones the browser’s spell checker didn’t underline?

  132. Treesong says:

    It’s very inconvenient that English does not have a word or phrase for ‘word or phrase’ less clunky than word or phrase.
    Lexeme?

  133. I understand Bathrobe’s arguments and agree with him; I understand (I think) the Hat’s arguments, but can’t quite agree. I am Canadian, as the commercial rant says. Is the root of disagreement to be found in the very different education systems of America on the one hand, and Commonwealth countries on the other?
    Clarification might begin if we were to use the phrase ‘educated English speaker’.

  134. I see that discussion has continued since I began reading the comments. I’m pressed for time right now, but I’ll continue reading later.

  135. ‘Samovar’ is pronounced like an English word (with the ‘a’ of ‘Samuel’), inflected like an English word, used like an English word by millions of English speakers
    The same holds true for ‘Volkswagen’, but ask anyone the world over, it’s still a German car.

  136. narrowmargin says:

    The French have adopted the English word weekend into their language as, if I recall correctly, le weekend. Does this mean le weekend is a French word (in the way rendezvous is an “English” word)?

  137. anyone the world over
    Anyone? People who build Passats in Chattanooga? Judges who chose the Hyundai Elantra over it for North American Car of the Year?

  138. If an English-speaker had invented the samovar in 1923
    IF an English-speaker invented a similar apparatus in 1923 he would NEVER have named it ‘samovar’, that’s the critical point. He would have called it any imaginable number of things, pursuant to his English-speaking constituents being able to understand what the contraption was! Just as, at its origins, no one would have thought to call it by the English name ‘tea cooker’, the name ‘samovar’ being perfectly understandable as a “native” word to Russian-speakers. How can an indigenous word then, become an English word now?

  139. How can an indigenous word then, become an English word now?
    Narrowly speaking, it cannot. But it is much too hard to write (still less to speak) English while putting forth only words that have been in English from the beginning, though this post almost gains that end. So unless we are to say that tower and wall and store are not English words, we must hold that some un-English words do become English words in time, though maybe we cannot say when.

  140. The same holds true for ‘Volkswagen’, but ask anyone the world over, it’s still a German car.
    ——
    Anyone? People who build Passats in Chattanooga? Judges who chose the Hyundai Elantra over it for North American Car of the Year?
    Is a Mack truck American even if the company is owned by Volvo trucks? And an example at hand was built at a plant in Australia? Mack was for a period owned by Renault, so maybe Macks were French at that time. In fact, Renault slapped a Mack badge on one of its mid-weight trucks and sold it as such in the States. Was that vehicle French or American?
    Rules of Origin make grown bureaucrats cry. Lexicographers beware.

  141. J.W. Brewer says:

    Well, I’ve been told the new Passat is really not a German car and you shouldn’t buy one if that’s what you expect . . . (this by a VW salesman trying to justify the higher prices of the VW’s manufactured in the Vaterland). Has anyone heard the rumor that one major multinational auto manufacturer is going to name its next-generation small SUV the Hyundai Samovar?

  142. Treesong says:

    IF an English-speaker invented a similar apparatus in 1923 he would NEVER have named it ‘samovar’, that’s the critical point.
    It’s also false. Why wouldn’t he? Why wouldn’t he have picked that name out of the air like ‘zoot’ or ‘dongle’ or ‘xerox’? Why wouldn’t he have asked his Russian-speaking neighbor for a word for ‘self-heater’ to make his invention sound exotic and intriguing?
    He would have called it any imaginable number of things, pursuant to his English-speaking constituents being able to understand what the contraption was!
    Or not.
    How can an indigenous word then, become an English word now?
    The same way most or all of abattoir, accouchement, adieu, aide-memoire, amour-propre, apercu, aperitif, arete, armoire, arriere-pensee, attache, avoirdupois, baguette, ballet, banquette, belle, belles-lettres, billet-doux, blase, bourgeois, bouquet, bric-a-brac, brioche, brunette, cache, cachet, cafe, calque, canard, chanteuse, charlatan, chauffeur, driver, chez, chic, stylish, chignon, cliche, clique, commandant, communique, concierge, concordat, contre-coup, contre-jour, contretemps, coquette, cortege, couture, couturier, creche, crepe ‘thin pancake’, creperie, critique, croissant, cul-de-sac, debacle, declasse, decollete, decor, decoupage, depot, demi-glace, demi-sec, denouement, derailleur, derriere, deshabille, detente, divertissement, dossier, doyen, dressage, ecarte, echappe, eclair, eclat, ecorche, elan, ennui, entente, entree, entremets, entrepreneur, escargot, snail, escritoire, etude, etui, extraordinaire, facade, faux, feuilleton, fiance, fiancee, fils, flambe, flambeau, flaneur, fleur-de-lis, froideur, gaffe, blunder, garcon, gauche, gaucherie, genre, glissade, grenadier, habitue, hauteur, impasse, insouciant, ingenue, laicite, laissez-faire, laissez-passer, lame ‘metallic fabric’, liaison, litterateur, louche, macrame, mademoiselle, malaise, manque, marque, materiel, melange, melee, metier, milieu, mirepoix, montage, motif, moue, mousse, new, oeuvre, omelette, omelette, panache, papier-mache, parkour, parole, parvenu, passe-partout, pastiche, patois, pied-a-terre, pince-nez, piste, poseur, pot-au-feu, pourboire, pret-a-porter, prie-dieu, protege(e), provocateur, raconteur, rapport, rapprochement, reconnaissance, renaissance, reportage, restaurateur, riposte, role, roue, roux, sabotage, saboteur, sang-froid, sans, without, sans-culottes, saute, savant, savoir-faire, savoir-vivre, silhouette, sobriquet, soi-disant, soigne, soiree, sommelier, soupcon, tableau, tenne, tete-a-tete, toilette, touche, tricoteuse, trompe-l’oeil, venue, vinaigrette, vis-a-vis, voila!, volte-face, voyeur, accoutrement, applique, apres-ski, artiste, auteur, boutique, boutonniere, chanson, claque, connoisseur, corsage, debut, decolletage, demarche, depanneur ‘convenience store (in Canada)’, emigre, encore, epee, escritoire, expose ‘exposure of a scandal’, femme, forte ‘strong point’, marquee, outre, passe, peignoir, potpourri, precis, premiere ‘first performance’, raisonneur ‘authorial viewpoint character’, recherche, rendezvous, reprise, resume ‘CV, document’, vignette, aide-de-camp, apres-garde, cinquefoil, demimonde, homage, and negligee did. Who locked the door against all foreign borrowings, and in what year?

  143. Treesong says:

    ‘Samovar’ is pronounced like an English word (with the ‘a’ of ‘Samuel’), inflected like an English word, used like an English word by millions of English speakers
    The same holds true for ‘Volkswagen’, but ask anyone the world over, it’s still a German car.

    And even if true, the relevance of this to anything is what?

  144. Volkswagen is a German car. ‘Volkswagen’ is the German name of that car. ‘Volkswagen’ is also the English name of that car.

  145. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that there are people who think samovar isn’t English. How about hamburger? Isn’t it obviously German?

  146. This is not, by the way, the faux naïveté so commonly used as a tactic in arguments; I genuinely don’t understand how samovar could be seen as anything but an English word. I’m quite sure there are speakers of English who have no idea it’s originally Russian; they saw an interesting object in a store one day, asked “What’s that?,” were told “That’s a samovar,” and went away thinking “I’d like to have a samovar in my house.” What is the relevance of the word’s history, even if you happen to know it?

  147. Treesong. And if an educated and intelligent person like Paul can say it isn’t, I’d say that reinforces LH’s claim that you can’t trust the raw intuitions of native speakers. Thank you for the description ! But it obviously better fits my English wife, who says firmly that samovar has been assimilated as an English word now. Clearly, I have to stand corrected …
    But I echo Bathrobe’s disappointment at the contempt shown to the lowly “native speakers” by the linguisterati here.
    Because (typical me) I can’t really understand the passion aroused by the distinction between calling something an “English word” or “a foreign word used occasionally in English”.
    And, incidentally, no one has answered my question about the following:
    There is no other word for it in English. Why is it not an English word, even if still unassimilated?
    Well, until it is assimilated, surely it isn’t an English word, by definition ?

  148. It seems the One World movementeers wish to enroll in their utopian vision of faux universality, the concept of One World wordism. Words no longer need to carry passports or subscribe to linguistic tradition, historical precedence or native speaker intuition. The wall of identifiable distinctness just another open-air tourist trap with “English spoken here” being the convenient, denuded denominator.

  149. It’s also false. Why wouldn’t he? Why wouldn’t he have picked that name out of the air like ‘zoot’ or ‘dongle’ or ‘xerox’? Why wouldn’t he have asked his Russian-speaking neighbor for a word for ‘self-heater’ to make his invention sound exotic and intriguing?
    We are in rural, peasant, utilitarian early 20th century Russia, NOT the offices of Madison Ave.

  150. Hat: “Vy you call dem Hamburgers und Frankfurters? I yam from Wiesbaden!”

  151. Hat wrote: I genuinely don’t understand how samovar could be seen as anything but an English word.
    I’d take a fright if I saw that sentence in isolation.
    Wiki has entries for samovar in 28 languages, all pretty much spelled that way in all the Latin-based writing systems. The entry in Bulgarian says it is used to make tea in Russia, Persia and other countries. The entry in Farsi calls the device a samovar ( سماور ) and has photos of some truly grand ones made in Iran.
    Maybe we should just agree that many words that started life in one language became Wanderwörter and leave it at that.

  152. Bathrobe says:

    One thing about these kinds of words is how a person might explain them to someone who didn’t understand them. If you were explaining mutatis mutandis, you might find yourself saying “It’s a Latin phrase meaning ‘”by changing those things which need to be changed’”, or ‘après guêrre is French for “after the war”‘. On the other hand, I suspect that few people would say guacamole is a Spanish (?) word for an avocado-based sauce, or that a lingerie is a French word for sexy undergarments (although I’m sure the French atmosphere helps!), because these aren’t used qua foreign phrases.
    As michael farris points out, objects that are unfamiliar because they are a part of foreign culture get different treatment. A samovar isn’t ‘a Russian word for a container to heat water’; it’s a ‘container that they use in Russia to heat water’. Similarly for didgeridu and even slenthem.
    Mind you, I’m not offering this as a diagnostic, merely an indicator of the fact that some words are consciously marked as foreign.
    Thanks, Treesong, for coming up with that culled list. When I saw the Wikipedia list I realised that someone had got very enthusiastic and included everything they could lay their hands on. ‘Abattoirs’, for instance, is virtually the only word for ‘slaughterhouse’ in Australia (‘slaughterhouse’ isn’t the ordinary word for that establishment any more), with the optional boorish pronunciation ‘abbators’ to boot.

  153. Bathrobe says:

    Come to think of it, ‘meatworks’ is probably more commonly used than ‘slaughterhouse’ for abattoirs.

  154. jamessal says:

    But it obviously better fits my English wife, who says firmly that samovar has been assimilated as an English word now. Clearly, I have to stand corrected …
    Well, Paul, I’ve of course always been fond of you and, (though we’ve disagreed trivially in this thread) as a relatively recent married man myself, I like you all the more for disposition just displayed!
    But I echo Bathrobe’s disappointment at the contempt shown to the lowly “native speakers” by the linguisterati here.
    Why, I thought Hat explained quite clearly why their ignorance is understandable, and is also thus not contemptible; and I also thought he — and I — explained that whereas their native intuitions are certainly valuable in many ways, and that linguists would do well to keep track of them, there’s also no reason to consider their intuition relative to this debate.
    I can’t really understand the passion aroused by the distinction between calling something an “English word” or “a foreign word used occasionally in English”.
    There wasn’t really all that much passion aroused by the question itself, at least not on my part, but rather by the way the argument was being conducted. I thought people were people being unfair to Hat’s argument, simplifying to the point of stupidity, and I take issue when people imply that my friends are being stupid — sometimes even they are! — let alone when they clearly aren’t, as Hat certainly has not been in this discussion. That’s all been worked out, however. We’re all friends, as far as I’m concerned, and everyone of note moved quickly past the little contretemps — “a word for Treesong’s list,” I was going to add but then saw that it was already three (what a list!). A commenter (or two), who will be left unnamed, tried to fan the flames with some cryptic, supercilious, fatuity; but such is the quality of the average LH denizen that these comments were either ignored or the rudimentary questions in them, intended to be rhetorical, were answered kindly and generously and at length.
    One last note (or at least possibly the last): although my own attitude is inclusive, like Hat’s, I don’t have strong feelings as to whether a phase like nostalgie de la boue should be considered a French phrase used sometimes in English or an unassimilated English phrase (hence the itslics) of obvious French origin. (There’s no reason “unassimilated” has to mean “not English,” BTW — to answer your other question — or whichever language is being talked about; it could mean instead that it’s an English phrase not yet common enough to be used without some indicator, like italics, that it’s still recherché: your definition would very nearly mean that there could be no inkhorn English words.) Considering, as John Cowan pointed out, that linguists don’t even have a solid definition for word, I see no reason not to set the bar low as to what counts as English; but given a cogent argument — and this stuff about samovars is far, far from cogent (I, like Hat, literally don’t see how anyone with any understanding of how languages change could consider samovar un-English) — I would be happy to change my mind and set the bar a little, or even a lot, higher.

  155. jamessal says:

    Wiki has entries for samovar in 28 languages, all pretty much spelled that way in all the Latin-based writing systems. The entry in Bulgarian says it is used to make tea in Russia, Persia and other countries. The entry in Farsi calls the device a samovar ( سماور ) and has photos of some truly grand ones made in Iran.
    Maybe we should just agree that many words that started life in one language became Wanderwörter and leave it at that.

    Yeah, exactly. No one is saying samovar is *exclusively* English.

  156. A commenter (or two), who will be left unnamed
    Hozo, are you ToS? you sound a bit like him
    i think you wanted to say England not Russia in” We are in rural, peasant, utilitarian early 20th century Russia, NOT the offices of Madison Ave.”
    “but such is the quality of the average LH denizen that these comments were either ignored or ..etc”
    i think this is a strange and as if like “off-putting” principle to utilize in an internet discussion, to assume whoever not agreeing with you or majority as just simply a troll and ignore or treat them with condescension
    isn’t it more fair to answer and pick up a fight, for what people come to comment to blogs if not just to procrastinate, talk and exchange opinions
    not, as if like, proclaim some universal truth to be born in the discussions and to which everybody has to agree and maintain that, comity

  157. jamessal says:

    Believe it or not read, but I wasn’t thinking of you. And I have no problem with people disagreeing with me; I certainly don’t think I’m being benevolent or something if I ignore people who do. I was just saying I admire commentators who have the temperament either to not snap back at obviously hostile comments, or the patience to answer disinterestedly rudimentary questions that have been posed with attitude, even rhetorically. But again, I really wasn’t thinking of you. And I wish you well.

  158. For the record, Treesong’s list is the same as mine (as he obviously intended it to be), which is exactly Wikipedia’s list with the phrases removed.
    Alas, escritoire appears in two different sub-lists, and omelette appears twice consecutively (because the Wikipedia page defined omelette as ‘omelette’, and I missed that when stripping it). With those duplications removed, there are 239 words.
    I have removed these problems from the Wikipedia page.

  159. jamessal says:

    I’m sorry, there should have been a comma before “read” and “commentators” should have been “commenters.”

  160. jamessal says:

    Oh, in that case I withdraw my congratulations form Treesong (sorry!) and give them to you, John Cowan, both for finding them at Wikipedia — though I’d initially thought, not having read the thread carefully enough, that Treesaong came up with in on the fly! — and for emending the Wiki entry. I shall have this notarized tomorrow. Carelessness notwithstanding (we do know the way of the world), I am, after all, extremely important and influential.

  161. i was talking about other commenters who were as you declared being ignored, their opinions could be wrong or right, doesn’t matter, just it seems unfair to simply ignore or converse with them the way you described, any fight is better than that imo
    one can of course react in any possible way, at one’s will, ignore or fight or explain your views, just declarations of as if like some policy for all to do this or that, as opposed to others, the “unnamed”, singling out them just because their views are different or are perceived hostile, seems strange, so i disagreed with that attitude and said so, sorry, sure, it was not to derail the thread as if like deliberately

  162. Bathrobe says:

    @JC My apologies, I was somehow under the impression that Treesong had stripped out some of the words from the list (it looked somehow more familiar!) whereas he had just cut and pasted the lot.
    @jamessal Actually, I was the one who first linked to the page. It was JC who did all the hard work of stripping out the phrases and diacritics and presenting it on this thread.
    @read You are right, it was naughty of jamessal to imply that it’s ok to judge comments by their author. In fact, while I almost always disagree with Hozo, in this case I understood what he was getting at. For the record, I don’t think anyone has been unfair to the Hat in this thread. He staked out an extreme (and I personally believe untenable) position on what can be defined as an ‘English word’. No one misrepresented what he said when setting out points of disagreement. Perhaps nobody has changed their mind as a result of what has been written here, but the issues were tackled fairly and squarely from different angles, which is as it should be.

  163. Treesong says:

    But I echo Bathrobe’s disappointment at the contempt shown to the lowly “native speakers” by the linguisterati here.
    I’m not sure who counts as a linguisteratus, but I can say I have no contempt for ‘native speakers’. My opinion about the Englishness of, say, ‘slenthem’ is based totally upon the opinions of native speakers. Hozo’s belief that ‘samovar’ has some irremovable Platonic Slavonic essence to it is so ridiculous that I’m ashamed of myself for treating it as debatable. But the point, which we of the Hatterati keep trying and trying to get across, is that native speakers are not all equal.
    You were NOT competent to decide whether ‘samovar’ was an English word because you had no idea of the actual extent of its usage as a fully assimilated English word, though checking dictionaries could have given you some idea. All you were entitled to say was ‘looks foreign to me’. Now you know better. Though it may still look foreign to you; fine.
    And you are NOT competent to decide whether ‘slenthem’ is English.
    For that matter, neither am I. All I know about the word I’ve learned in this thread, and I’ve seen one italicized use and one unitalicized. If I had to bet, though, I’d bet that among those who actually know something about gamelan music it’s about as English as ‘chassepot’ or ‘ravelin’.
    And if you want to say ‘I think it’s foreign’, that’s your privilege, but it has zero relevance (well, maybe .00000001) to anyone who has to make an actual decision based on its status, such as a lexicographer deciding whether to mark it as foreign or not.
    Incidentally, I’m not aware that anyone has offered a principled answer to John Cowan’s question about which words on his French list are English. ‘The ones that I think are English’ is not what I call a principled answer. My answer, of course, is that actual usage, as far as we can determine, is what decides. That’s what dictionaries try to provide.
    It’s also false. Why wouldn’t he? Why wouldn’t he have picked that name out of the air like ‘zoot’ or ‘dongle’ or ‘xerox’? Why wouldn’t he have asked his Russian-speaking neighbor for a word for ‘self-heater’ to make his invention sound exotic and intriguing?
    We are in rural, peasant, utilitarian early 20th century Russia, NOT the offices of Madison Ave.
    As you know perfectly well, we’re in 1923 Anglophonia, about a decade before the zoot suit. And weird word inventions were entering English long before then. ‘Yahoo’ is English, not Houyhnhnmian.
    And the principle would be the same if the word had been invented by BBDO in 1993; I just wanted to give it time to spread.

  164. Bathrobe says:

    Incidentally, I’m not aware that anyone has offered a principled answer to John Cowan’s question about which words on his French list are English… My answer, of course, is that actual usage, as far as we can determine, is what decides. That’s what dictionaries try to provide.
    That’s a principled answer? Are dictionaries infallible? What principle do you follow when dictionaries don’t agree?

  165. any fight is better than that imo
    A love of fighting is, of course, a common feature of the internet, but I do not want it to become a feature here. If you enjoy fighting (as opposed to discussing), you can do it elsewhere.
    it was not to derail the thread as if like deliberately
    And yet you almost always derail every thread you enter. You might want to think about that.
    That’s a principled answer? Are dictionaries infallible? What principle do you follow when dictionaries don’t agree?
    In order: Yes; No; You use your best judgment. Whatever the problems of dictionaries (and nothing human is perfect), they are several miles above the random judgment of the man on the street. And please don’t pull that “ooh, Hat despises ordinary people!” nonsense again; I’m as big a democrat (small d) as you’ll find, and I’ll take the judgment of the man on the street over that of the great and good on matters of public policy. But science is different, it requires specialized knowledge to make informed judgments, and it is sheer demagoguery to imply otherwise. Lexicographers spend their working lives studying words and deciding when words have become established in the language; do you really think that’s just mystification, and any ordinary joe could do their jobs just as well?

  166. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that there are people who think samovar isn’t English. How about hamburger? Isn’t it obviously German?
    I’m not going to take any sides in this debate about what is or is not an “English word”, but this doesn’t seem too amazing to me. The only place I have ever seen or heard the word samovar is in English translations of Russian literature (and on this blog, I suppose). Even though I’ve looked it up, I have only a vague idea of what a samovar is and how it works (obviously it has something to do with making tea).
    If you’ve only seen the word in this context, it doesn’t seem so clear-cut that samovar is an English word, as opposed to being a Russian word left untranslated because there is no English word for such a foreign, unfamiliar device.
    Is Narzan an English word?
    (Greatcoat is another word I have come across only in English translation of Russian. It’s obviously an English word, but is always a quite strange word to me. Carrick would have been no more unfamiliar, though greatcoat has the advantage that you can guess at the function of the object by the word itself.)

  167. “you can do elsewhere”- i am suggested this so many times i might do that as well cz it’s boring, if your discussions turn into bullying and you enjoy that as scientific discussions, i have no interest entering into them, i wonder would you say so and this frequently to anybody else disagreeing with you or this priviledge is reserved for me only, thank you, i’ll stay where i am, disagreeing though
    my point was everybody has a right to say their opinion, w/o being persecuted as the” unnamed”, i am glad jamessal apologized for his saying so, if only to me, but it’s not about me, i have no interest in this discussion, all the french words in the lists are borrowed french words in english for me and if i can recognize them as such any native english speaker can do that
    it’s just curious everywhere i go people always so like to divide people to us and them, with you being here the privileged languagehatters who just have to have such indisputable ignoring or lecturing rights and a few others who just shouldn’t stand by their opinions and should go elsewhere if would dare to do that, this inability to stand the slightest disagreement, even in this kind of innocent discussions, is really must be a feature of blogs in general,
    “communities” as such they are

  168. jamessal says:

    You are right, it was naughty of jamessal to imply that it’s ok to judge comments by their author.
    I did what now? I wrote: “A commenter (or two), who will be left unnamed, tried to fan the flames with some cryptic, supercilious, fatuity.”
    I was judging comment(s) by the(ir) content — and implying absolutely nothing. I was, and continue to be, ambiguous about the author(s), because I’d thought there’d been enough fighting in this thread; no one who knows me, even me casually — even just casually just online — thinks I’m not as eager to throw down as the next drunk angry guy. But my main goal, in that one comment, was to change the tone in this thread for the positive. I probably could have done it without using anonymous nasty commenters as foils, but some people had written some mean-spirited stuff, and I was annoyed. FWIW, I regret it, though I certainly don’t think anyone deserves an apology. (Not that I’m withdrawing the one I issued read for the confusion.)

  169. Bathrobe says:

    I don’t expect you to apologise and there’s absolutely no reason why you should. I’m not going to say any more than that because Hat is already cheesed off, and really, it’s not worth going on about.

  170. jamessal says:

    The second error is that of dismissing the point of view of native speakers as worthless. In fact, people who use Gallicisms and Latinisms are likely to be better educated than most and are perfectly aware what a French phrase or a Latin phrase is. It is rather an insult to their intelligence to suggest otherwise. For example, a lawyer who uses mutatis mutandis is, I suggest, perfectly aware that this is a Latin phrase, one that is used in English while retaining its identity as a Latin phrase. That is not to say that such phrases can’t become almost native English words (e.g. a priori), but in general, when they are used, the speaker is quite conscious that he/she is using ‘Latin phrases’, not English ones. Furthermore, I would find it hard to believe that a person who is educated enough to use expressions like mutatis mutandis would be lulled into the belief that they are ‘English words’, to the extent of gasping in amazement at seeing the same Latin phrase in a French or German text and crying out “Oh my God! They’ve borrowed our English word mutatis mutandis!” (which is the reductio ad absurdum of Hat’s thesis that these are all ‘English words’).
    To take the last point first, that reduction only works if Hat is claiming these words and phrases to be *exclusively* English. And he obviously isn’t. And — cousin to the slippery slope — reductios are often bad arguments; they do demonstrate the danger of following principles too far, but people are generally not excessively principled creatures: at a certain point down the slope, or toward the the absurd, people begin to take other factors into account; or other principles themselves start to conflict. Despite the prestige lent to them by their Latin etymology, reductios are mostly flashy arguments without much substance.
    Regarding native speakers’ intuition, I still think you’re making assertions without really backing them up; these speakers, like Hat and I, apparently, could think they’re using Engilsh words and phrases of (in some cases — unlike non sequitor) recent foreign origin, some of which haven’t been fully assimilated into the language.
    For the record, I don’t think anyone has been unfair to the Hat in this thread. He staked out an extreme (and I personally believe untenable) position on what can be defined as an ‘English word’. No one misrepresented what he said when setting out points of disagreement. Perhaps nobody has changed their mind as a result of what has been written here, but the issues were tackled fairly and squarely from different angles, which is as it should be.
    Again, reasonable people can disagree, but I wrote a long comment on June 7th at 3:04 AM arguing some of these issues in detail, and neither you nor anyone else has taken them up (details of course being the meaningful part of an argument — the part the qualifies as argumentation — as opposed to mere opinions). I explained Hat’s position to be more nuanced than others allowed, and he agreed with my summary of his argument. To keep accusing him staking out an extreme position and to assert sans argument that no one misrepresented his position, without yourself having taken up my comment in detail, is not disagreeing reasonably but just being stubborn.
    Now, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I may have missed something (this is now a downright long thread), and if I have — if you’ve taken on my points, or Hat’s actual argument, and the ball was in fact in my court — then I’ll readily apologize and knock the ball back. But until then, although I wouldn’t go nearly as far as to accuse you of fatuity of even hostility, I’m having trouble understanding the confidence with which you’ve been restating your opinions.

  171. Lexicographers spend their working lives studying words and deciding when words have become established in the language
    At last I start to understand why this “English word” thing is apparently so important to some professional people. Gives us unwashed native speakers in the basse cour an idea of what this is all about !
    But it does seem that even the folks leaning out of the castle windows up above are far from being in agreement on specific cases.

  172. Treesong says:

    That’s a principled answer? Are dictionaries infallible? What principle do you follow when dictionaries don’t agree?
    In order: Yes; No; You use your best judgment. Whatever the problems of dictionaries (and nothing human is perfect), they are several miles above the random judgment of the man on the street…. But science is different, it requires specialized knowledge to make informed judgments, and it is sheer demagoguery to imply otherwise. Lexicographers spend their working lives studying words and deciding when words have become established in the language; do you really think that’s just mystification, and any ordinary joe could do their jobs just as well?
    What Hat said. And I quote myself: ‘That’s what dictionaries try to do.’ (Emphasis added.)
    I would take issue with the appeal to the expertise of lexicographers, though. Their judgements are to be trusted less because of their expertise than because of their methodology: they don’t judge just by their own intuitions, they judge by the actual usage of actual English speakers and writers, so far as it can be determined. With qualifications like ‘edited prose’ to filter the random or ignorant mistakes we all make.
    In the case of the word that started all this hoo-ha, ‘slenthem’ is presumably not in the general-usage dictionaries because (1) there’s insufficient attestation of its use to justify its inclusion or (2) it generally appears italicized and so is judged to be a foreign word used occasionally in English.
    And if they did decide to use it, the citations they used would not be those of people bloviating in blogs, but those of people who actually have something to say about slenthems. You no playa the game[lan], you no maka the rules.

  173. Treesong says:

    If you’ve only seen the word in [English translations of Russian literature], it doesn’t seem so clear-cut that samovar is an English word, as opposed to being a Russian word left untranslated because there is no English word for such a foreign, unfamiliar device.
    Which, again, is why the raw intuitions of single English speakers are not necessarily to be trusted. If you Googled ‘samovar’ in English-language pages, finding that you got 2,540,000 hits, might your opinion change? (‘Slenthem’, by the way, gets 10,400 in English pages.) Not all the hits are relevant, of course (not all are even English), but even if only an unlikely 10% were, I’d call that pretty conclusive.

  174. Bathrobe says:

    I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be answering. You said:
    That hundreds of writers have written English books using certain words as English, and that all the people involved in the books’ publications have regarded the underlying assumptions to be reasonable, seem to me decent criteria for considering the words English.
    Could you be more specific? “Hundreds of writers” “certain words”? What are we talking about here? As for, “all the people involved in the books’ publications have regarded the underlying assumptions to be reasonable”, perhaps you’d like to (1) explain what you mean and (2) how you know this to be true.
    I went on to explain what I meant with regard to foreign words consciously used as foreign words. All I got for my efforts was a quote from Treesong to show that mot is in the dictionary (meaning ‘pithy saying’), so that’s good enough for him. (Treesong later came back several times basically saying that if it’s in the dictionary it’s good enough for him — so I assume that if it’s not in the dictionary it’s good enough for him, too? Come on! Hat opened this thread precisely because he wants to see more lexical dark matter in the dictionary!)
    His quote you’ve picked out, about English speakers assuming others will understand them, simplifies (for the sake of time and space) what’s already gone into this discussion — including the post itself — not the entire subject.
    This is not a quote that I’d ‘picked out’. It was Hat’s criterion for inclusion in the English lexicon. Full stop. This is, after all, a thread about words that aren’t in the lexicon but should be. Hat’s criterion is not, as far as I know, the standard criterion for inclusion in a dictionary. Sorry, I haven’t got have any references, but there has been plenty of discussion about the naturalisation of loanwords, etc. in the literature about English. As far as i know (I could be wrong), none of them takes the view (which you call a ‘commonsense approach’) that ‘if one English-speaker uses it in an English sentence and expects another English-speaker to understand it, it’s an English word, at least within that speech community’. As I said, it’s not an accepted definition, and other people at this thread have expressed discomfort at it. That is why I said it is up to Hat to justify his position.
    In fact, Hat said ‘If you think it’s not part of the English lexicon, you need to provide a principled reason why’. I gave a principled reason why there might be words that are part of the English lexicon but are not ‘English words’ — i.e., when they are consciously used as ‘foreign words’. You can accept or reject my arguments, but I would appreciate it if you would not make the claim that I haven’t addressed the question.

  175. jamessal says:

    it generally appears italicized and so is judged to be a foreign word used occasionally in English.
    Or an English word not wholly assimilated and thus in need of some sort of marker, like italics. To repeat a point Hat and I have already made, a point that goes to the heart of the main argument in this thread: because lexicographers takes such pains to distinguish between different kinds of English words (and phrases), there’s no reason — or at least no one here has provided one — that the bar can’t be rather low as to what is or isn’t an English word (or phrase), though of course not an exclusively English word (or phrase).

  176. Bathrobe says:

    My reductio ad absurdum was merely making the point that a lawyer who knew mutatis mutandis would be aware that it is ‘a Latin phrase we use in English’. Someone else has already pointed out that even if such a person wasn’t aware that it was Latin, they wouldn’t necessarily assume that it was an English word borrowed into French or German; rather they would assume it is a word from the same outside source. Which I acknowledge.

  177. My reductio ad absurdum was merely making the point that a lawyer who knew mutatis mutandis would be aware that it is ‘a Latin phrase we use in English’.
    Maybe this sentence should read:
    My reductio ad absurdum was merely making the point that a lawyer who knew mutatis mutandis would be aware that it is ‘a Latin phrase we sometimes insert into an English sentence’.

  178. I would just like to say that as an American English speaker, I agree 100% with Bathrobe. I could probably greet most of my monolingual friends with “Hola, compadre, como estas?” and they could reply with “Wunderbar.” These words are known by most English speakers where I live, and are sometimes used in casual conversation. There is no scientific way I can think of to differentiate them from words that are undeniably English but much rarer.
    Words for foreign objects or institutions do not become quite English just because they are used in English sentences. They function as English words, but are not always perceived as such. There is a difference between saying that an Eskimo speaking Inuit would use the word ‘didgeridoo’ and that ‘didgeridoo’ is an Inuit word. According to your views, Hat, would all concrete nouns describing objects unique to a certain culture be regarded as words belonging to any languages that use them, even if only rarely and in reference to the cultural practices of a foreign people? This may be true on one level, but there is clearly a degree to which it is false
    The language you are using is less a scientifically determinable fact than a matter of one’s perception.

  179. If you Googled ‘samovar’ in English-language pages, finding that you got 2,540,000 hits, might your opinion change?
    My post was not about my opinion at all. Hat and jamessal said that they were surprised that anyone could consider samovar as an un-English word, so I tried to explain why this seems not at all surprising to me.

  180. Hat is already cheesed off
    Eh, a little annoyed at having my positions cartoonishly oversimplified for the purpose of easy dismissal, but basically just bemused at the strong resistance to the idea that the English vocabulary is a lot more capacious than we give it credit for. The idea that “if I ain’t familiar with it, it ain’t English” is obviously deeply rooted. But don’t worry, I’m in a perfectly good humor.

  181. Treesong says:

    I went on to explain what I meant with regard to foreign words consciously used as foreign words. All I got for my efforts was a quote from Treesong to show that mot is in the dictionary (meaning ‘pithy saying’), so that’s good enough for him.
    Bullshit. As I explained when you didn’t get my point, I was saying out that dictionaries like the Merriam-Webster Collegiate do in fact make distinctions between English words and foreign words occasionally used in English, and this is not merely a matter of their frequency.
    (Treesong later came back several times basically saying that if it’s in the dictionary it’s good enough for him — so I assume that if it’s not in the dictionary it’s good enough for him, too?
    Bullshit. I’m saying that because dictionaries are based on the actual attested usage of actual English speakers and writers, they’re a better guide than Joe Blow’s ignorant ipse dixit. Or Joseph Blow III, MBA’s, for that matter. And if a word is not in the dictionaries, well, to quote an earlier dialogue on a related point:
    Robe: … Are dictionaries infallible? What principle do you follow when dictionaries don’t agree?
    Hat: … No; You use your best judgment.
    To which I add that if your best judgement is based on ignorance of the actual usage of the lexeme by actual English speakers and writers, particularly if you have crazy ideas about words belonging forever to their language of origin and never being assimilable, then your best judgement may not be all that good.
    If it makes you happier, I will stipulate that dictionaries do get things wrong sometimes, and that there are borderline cases where reasonable persons disagree about the facts of usage and the dictionaries, lacking room to present the details, have to come down on one side or the other.
    Nonetheless, I say that the methodology and ideology of dictionaries is superior to anything else that’s been proposed in this thread, and their evidence (if available) is the best starting point for a discussion of a word’s status.

  182. Treesong says:

    If you Googled ‘samovar’ in English-language pages, finding that you got 2,540,000 hits, might your opinion change?
    My post was not about my opinion at all. Hat and jamessal said that they were surprised that anyone could consider samovar as an un-English word, so I tried to explain why this seems not at all surprising to me.
    I was aware of that; I considered switching to the stilted ‘one’ but decided to stick with ‘you’, as in your post. Irregardless, I missed your point, which is a good one; sorry. Having been familiar with the word ‘samovar’ before I ever saw the thing, even before I belonged to the Samovar Club in high school 45 years ago, I find it hard to remember that I may not be typical. (Though I doubt that I’m terribly atypical, either.)

  183. “FWIW, I regret it, though I certainly don’t think anyone deserves an apology.(Not that I’m withdrawing the one I issued read for the confusion.)”
    again i said it’s not about me, and you regarding my objection about the general and it seems accepted attitude in here described as ” A commenter (or two), who will be left unnamed, tried to fan the flames with some cryptic, supercilious, fatuity; but such is the quality of the average LH denizen that these comments were either ignored or the rudimentary questions in them, intended to be rhetorical, were answered kindly and generously and at length.”
    doesn’t it sound like dividing people as them stupid and us enlightened attitude in there, no?
    so regarding my objection to that as just some confusion on my behalf, implying that i just don’t understand the discussion or your next comments, that makes your apology more objectionable to me, why should i (alone) be issued an apology then, bc i don’t understand and am confused obviously, doesn’t it sound like that, a little condescending, no?
    but i’m okay with your regretting your words, so let me drop this, if only it won’t induce another round of uninviting me from here
    “The idea that “if I ain’t familiar with it, it ain’t English” is obviously deeply rooted.”
    people use foreign words bc those are foreign words symbolizing foreign objects, terms, concepts whatever, it’s not about their not knowing what those words mean or are

  184. Treesong says:

    There is a difference between saying that an Eskimo speaking Inuit would use the word ‘didgeridoo’ and that ‘didgeridoo’ is an Inuit word.
    Quite so. But what Hat said about English is true, mutatis mutandis, of Inuit.
    If one Inuit-speaker uses it in an Inuit sentence and expects another Inuit-speaker to understand it, it’s an Inuit word,
    —***!!!AT LEAST WITHIN THAT SPEECH COMMUNITY!!!***— (Emphasis added.)
    That does not mean it is an Inuit word, tout court. But if didjeridooo playing spreads through Alaska, and players start using the word dijeridukaluqsigsuaat to mean ‘my new didjeridoo over there’, then it will be an Inuit word. (And Eskimos will have 200 words for ‘didjeridoo’.)

    (And no, those aren’t real Inuit suffixes. But the polysynthetic principle is the same.)

  185. jamessal says:

    Could you be more specific? “Hundreds of writers” “certain words”? What are we talking about here?
    I’m not sure what you’re having trouble understanding. By “certain words” I meant the types of words we’ve been discussing throughout this thread, words used in English speech and prose, albeit in some cases rarely or within limited speech communities, words whose foreign borrowings (sometimes recent) are manifest; e.g., slenthem, the word that touched off this debate, and nostalgie de la boue (well, that’s a phrase) — the first of which get nearly 2,000 GBHs, the second around 30,000. (I think that covers the other NP you found troublesome).
    As for, “all the people involved in the books’ publications have regarded the underlying assumptions to be reasonable”, perhaps you’d like to (1) explain what you mean and (2) how you know this to be true.
    Okay. 1) The relevant underlying assumption is that a word in a given English book would be understood by its intended audience. Books are produced by more than one person; for the past hundred years a good portion have been edited and copyedited, and even the books that haven’t been edited in any rigorous manner have usually been read by people other than the author (friends, spouses, colleagues, etc.). Although sure, in some cases an author may have disregarded all misgivings about the intelligibility of a certain word, it’s unlikely that this was the case in the production of the vast majority of these books (note that I said “hundreds” whereas even the exceedingly rare word slenthem, which started this debate, gets about 2000 GBHs.) 2) I know this all to be true through experience in the publishing industry and as the friend of several authors, through reading, and through commonsense.

    His quote you’ve picked out, about English speakers assuming others will understand them, simplifies (for the sake of time and space) what’s already gone into this discussion — including the post itself — not the entire subject.

    This is not a quote that I’d ‘picked out’. It was Hat’s criterion for inclusion in the English lexicon. Full stop.
    No, it wasn’t — and isn’t — Hat’s full criterion. As I said in the very sentence you just quoted, Hat’s criterion included what had already gone into the thread and he was merely saving himself time and energy by putting it, perhaps, too succinctly in the sentence you did indeed pick out, full stop or no. Soon afterward thanked me for articulating his position for him, his criteria. I’m not sure why you were, and continue to be, so intent on reading him so stingily. Perhaps if you hadn’t been, others wouldn’t have simplified his position further to the point of stupidity, and I wouldn’t have gotten annoyed. Even if he did oversimplify his own position in that one sentence, why not be generous and take into account what he had written before? I was able to suss out his position, and I was a latecomer to this post.
    you call[ed it] a ‘commonsense approach’ [. . .] that ‘if one English-speaker uses it in an English sentence and expects another English-speaker to understand it, it’s an English word, at least within that speech community’.
    I did not; I set the bar higher than that, and Hat agreed with me.
    I gave a principled reason why there might be words that are part of the English lexicon but are not ‘English words’ — i.e., when they are consciously used as ‘foreign words’. You can accept or reject my arguments, but I would appreciate it if you would not make the claim that I haven’t addressed the question.
    Well, then you should appreciate it, because I never made such a claim. I said you hadn’t addressed the question sufficiently, at least not sufficiently enough to supersede Hat’s actual criteria for what is and isn’t an English word, admittedly liberal criteria, of course — that’s it’s been published in, say, 500 English without an accompanying definition, or that it’s used with some frequency in an English speech community — but criteria more to the point than the intuitions of English speakers, let alone your intuitions of their intuitions. In fact, not only did I not pretend you hadn’t addressed something you had, but I also admitted for one thing that I may be unaware of a relevant philosophical debate, which if you could explain might change my mind, but for another thing that I might have missed something you had written, in essence preemptively apologizing. I don’t know why you’re so eager to take umbrage. I’ve been careful to treat your arguments generously.
    For my part, I would appreciate it if you didn’t accuse me of being “naughty” when I hadn’t been, and then ignore my response.

  186. jamessal says:

    doesn’t it sound like dividing people as them stupid and us enlightened attitude in there, no?
    No, it doesn’t. Smart people can say stupid things; brilliant people can say stupid, mean, supercilious, fatuous things; and veritable geniuses can issue haughty rhetorical questions that in fact have simple answers they haven’t considered. That some LH denizens can ignore these lapses in judgment indicates the quality of the blog. And pointing this out is nothing more than a compliment to a blog I admire. It is not a code to separate some groups of winners from some group of losers.
    so regarding my objection to that as just some confusion on my behalf, implying that i just don’t understand the discussion or your next comments, that makes your apology more objectionable to me, why should i (alone) be issued an apology then, bc i don’t understand and am confused obviously, doesn’t it sound like that, a little condescending, no?
    I apologized for the confusion the way I would apologize for some polite herky-jerky before a doorway. That’s all.

  187. so i am still the confused one there, well then your apology is, i’m afraid, not acceptable for me even more, if you didn’t mean it too, as some “herky-jerky before a doorway”
    “pointing this out is nothing more than a compliment to a blog I admire. It is not a code to separate some groups of winners from some group of losers.”
    admiration of the blog quality = bullying of a few disagreeing commenters, it sounded like, so you might want to consider how you sound too, maybe it should not be all only me to hear advices how to conduct myself

  188. marie-lucie says:

    I don’t think there have been winners and losers in this discussion. There have been different opinions, vigorously debated, but nothing about winning and losing. In the end, “we have to agree to disagree”.
    … an Eskimo speaking Inuit …
    Many people traditionally living around and above the Arctic Circle dislike the word “Eskimo”, which is still used in Alaska and the US but no longer (at least not officially) in Canada. The language family spoken in the area (from the shores of the Bering Strait to Greenland) is called “Eskimo-Aleut” and the “Eskimo” part is composed of several languages. Most of the names of these languages start with “Inu” which is the base for the words for ‘human being’, as in Inupiaq (in Alaska) and Inuktitut (in Northern Canada). In Inuktitut, “Inuit” is the plural meaning ‘human beings’, the singular being “Inuk”. Therefore, no one “speaks Inuit”.

  189. marie-lucie says:

    Wikipedia’s list of French words in English: I am tempted to go one by one and to make comment about the uses of those words in both languages, but there must be around 150 such words, and the task is daunting! Also, they vary enormously in their frequency of use.
    I can see why JC would have wanted to omit the diacritics, as they are often omitted in English texts, but that must cause many misunderstandings of both pronunciation and spelling, as in “roue”: is it la roue ‘the wheel’ (pron. [ru]) or le roué ‘the cad/rotter/pervert/etc’ (pron. [rwe])? Several times I wondered what the word was doing in the list, before remembering that the borrowed word would have needed a diacritic, as in seeing recherche ‘research, search’ which was probably meant to be recherché ‘carefully thought out or arranged’. Etc. As for cinquefoil, if sounds like a borrowing from Old French, like trefoil (Mod.Fr trèfle ‘clover’), while the vast majority of the words in the list are more modern. (A list of OF and Middle Fr words would be even longer).

  190. Bathrobe says:

    @ jamessal Just to save any more confusion and further fruitless to-and-froing, could you set out now, in full, Hat’s criterion for inclusion in the English lexicon.

  191. Bathrobe says:

    strong resistance to the idea that the English vocabulary is a lot more capacious than we give it credit for. The idea that “if I ain’t familiar with it, it ain’t English” is obviously deeply rooted.
    I hope you are not including me in this characterisation.

  192. jamessal says:

    @ jamessal Just to save any more confusion and further fruitless to-and-froing, could you set out now, in full, Hat’s criterion for inclusion in the English lexicon.
    Sounds like a good idea, this being a worthy conversation that’s gotten needlessly complicated and personal; just let me set out what I take to be Hat’s, and my (though not strongly held), criteria tomorrow: today is my wife’s birthday, and I shouldn’t spend the night debating online. So . . . fresh start tomorrow, with an interesting conversationalist; I was going to say “worthy adversary,” but let’s make this argumentation in the best sense of the term. I wish you a good evening and night, and apologize for any confusion or ill temper I may have added to this attempt. I consider our hands thoroughly shook, Bathrobe. Talk soon.

  193. (I fear jamessal probably has a better idea of my criteria than I do, by this point…)

  194. Tim May says:

    I will now try to set out what I was trying to get at in my question to Hat & Bathrobe three days ago (which seems to have sunk without a trace).
    We are considering lexemes used in English. Bathrobe divides these into two sets based on native speaker intuition of whether a word is “foreign” or not; those not marked as foreign are to be considered “English words”, while those which are are not, though they are part of the “English lexicon”. Hat, on the other hand, classes them all as “English words”. I hope this is a fair summary of the positions?
    The point I want to make is that there are really two questions here:
    a) Is the boundary Bathrobe draws (between “English words” and “foreign words in the English lexicon”) a real boundary? That is, is it a meaningful, objectively identifiable distinction which linguists, lexicographers and language teachers might legitimately want to pay attention to?
    b) If this boundary is real, should it be regarded as delimiting the set of “English words”, or is it rather a distinction within the set of “English words”?
    Now, if your answer to a) is “yes”, then you can still disagree on b), but it’s just a matter of terminology. You agree on the linguistic facts but you disagree on how you want to define “English word”. Whereas if your answer to a) is “no”, you can clearly never agree with someone who answers “yes” to b).
    My feeling is that people may be getting so invested in their answer to b) that this is obscuring the question of whether they really agree on a). So it might be best to try debating a) without dragging b) into it; if you disagree on a) then there’s no point trying to debate b), while if you can establish that you agree on a), b) may no longer seem so important.

  195. Bathrobe says:

    Jamessal, hope it was a nice birthday!
    Regarding lexicons and dictionaries, there is a nice introduction to Types of Dictionaries at this Introduction to Lexicography at the Central Institute of Indian Languages site. I suggest this because it might be useful at this point to consider exactly what we have in mind when we use the word “dictionary”.

  196. Bathrobe says:

    Tim, you’ve hit the nail on the head!
    At a), while I think there is a meaningful distinction, I’m doubtful that there is an “objectively identifiable distinction” that all native speakers would agree on, which is why Hat and others have (perhaps understandably) been dismissive of my claim.
    As for the use of dictionaries, I admit that I became frustrated with Treesong (sorry Treesong!) because of the continued appeal to dictionaries, when “Referential or overall descriptive dictionaries” (see referenced article) may not be set up to answer such questions or to be used as the ultimate authorities. And the reason is probably because it is so hard to define the boundary. (I’m also wondering whether dictionaries might not have gradually retreated from drawing such distinctions, but I haven’t got any old paper dictionaries here to confirm this. Perhaps my “native-speaker intuition” dates from an older, more fuddy-duddy approach to the English lexicon. Sorry, pure speculation here.)

  197. jamessal says:

    Yes, Tim, it’s a shame you were overlooked; I’m not sure if I’d entered the thread by the time you;d left your comment, but if I did, then I’ll be hanging my had in shame. You made a few of the same points I was trying to make, but better — much better: you’ve now organized the discussion, such that Bathrobe and I should be able to articulate our positions, and thus where we agree and disagree, in mere minutes tomorrow, when I’ll try my head back to the topic, and away from my wife, for an hour or so (it will still be her birthday weekend). Bravo! And thank you!

  198. I agree with Tim May.
    Suppose you asked 1000 random speakers of English a multiple choice question about the word samovar.
    Suppose 900 said “I’ve never heard of it” and 50 said “it’s an English word borrowed from Russian” and 50 of them said “it’s not an English word; it’s a Russian word, used untranslated because there is no English word for that object”. And suppose that in all of the latter 50 cases the person knew the word from encountering it in the midst of English prose, unitalicized and without explanatory notes.
    Someone might conclude from this that for a significant number of speakers the word is a foreign, not an English, word. But (and this brings us back to Tim May’s point) there would be something muddled about this conclusion, because it may well be that the disagreement between the first 50 and the second 50 is not about what kind of word samovar is but rather about what is meant by “English word”.
    If you’re trying to learn whether the word samovar is in the English lexicon, and what its role is in the English lexicon, you should pay attention to the actual usage of this word by actual English speakers and writers.
    If you’re trying to learn what sense(s) the phrase English word has in the English language, you should pay attention to the actual usage of this phrase by actual English speakers and writers.
    But if you want to know whether samovar is an English word you should not do this by asking speakers of English whether this is the case. This may look wrong at first glance, may seem to fly in the face of “descriptivism”, but I think it’s right, and I think it’s basically the same point that Tim May is making.

  199. To take the last point first, that reduction only works if Hat is claiming these words and phrases to be *exclusively* English.
    The reasoning Bathrobe advances concerns English exclusively. Whether Hat wants to conceive mutatis mutandis as a word in the language of the month is entirely irrelevant to the very convincing refutation of it’s ‘Englishness.
    they do demonstrate the danger of following principles too far, but people are generally not excessively principled creatures
    There are language ‘principles’ and there are unprincipled people. One has nothing to do with the other.
    at a certain point down the slope, or toward the the absurd, people begin to take other factors into account; or other principles themselves start to conflict. Despite the prestige lent to them by their Latin etymology, reductios are mostly flashy arguments without much substance.
    You’ll only burn the pot by attempting to reduce this unsubstantial gruel of a phrase.

  200. Which, again, is why the raw intuitions of single English speakers are not necessarily to be trusted. If you Googled ‘samovar’ in English-language pages, finding that you got 2,540,000 hits, might your opinion change? (‘Slenthem’, by the way, gets 10,400 in English pages.) Not all the hits are relevant, of course (not all are even English), but even if only an unlikely 10% were, I’d call that pretty conclusive.
    You’re fixation with Google “hits” is short-sighted, limiting and troublesome in the academic-sense extreme. Homme has 113,000,000, does that make it English? Geez…

  201. Or an English word not wholly assimilated and thus in need of some sort of marker, like italics.
    We have a new, revolutionary definition of italicized words! Ever the descriptivist, making up the rules as they go.

  202. Thanks very much indeed, Tim May! I really think the issues have been laid out so clearly there’s little more to argue about, though one can always have fun trying to pin down the elusive concept of “English word.” I’m quite happy to shake hands with Bathrobe and consider my thought process about these issues considerably sharpened (I tend to shoot from the hip and refine my ideas later, which is one reason the discussions here are so useful to me).
    Oh, and a word to the wise: DNFTT.

  203. jamessal says:

    Sorry I missed your kind comment last night, Bathrobe; I was a little drunk. But at least A) I stayed hydrated, B ) I can relay the birthday wishes you sent my wife and thank you for them myself, and C) I can also thank you again for giving me something to do before the coffee comes to save the day (i.e., peruse that sight). Although I agree with Hat that the discussion will now probably be short and sweet — thanks to Timy May’s clear-eyed analysis — but still, even if we do end up agreeing, it’ll only help to have a shared vocabulary. Thanks again for the the birthday wishes!

  204. jamessal says:

    I don’t expect you to apologise and there’s absolutely no reason why you should.
    Shit, I missed this too. Which makes something else I wrote you downright wrong. I know we’ve all moved past this, but I’d be remiss not to apologize anyway.

  205. read, I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean you.

  206. marie-lucie says:

    read: abattoir, for example, people use it bc it sounds less explicit than slaughterhouse, i guess if it elicits exactly the same emotional or other response with slaughterhouse then it became an english word, perhaps, if it didn’t happen yet, it is still a foreign word
    This is a very good point. Many times a word is borrowed from another language not because it is needed to fill a void (as with a new object or concept) but because the foreign word does not carry the emotional burden of the native word (see for instance the use of Latin words for body parts whose English counterparts have long been unmentionable in “polite society”). To an English speaker encountering the word for the first time in an English text, the word abattoir does not carry any negative connotations , but as a French word it is definitely relatable to the verb abattre ‘to bring down (eg a tree), to kill (with one stroke or bullet), to slaughter’.
    Another thing about borrowed words is that although the original may have multiple meanings (often related, as with abattre), it is usually borrowed with a single meaning or connotation. For instance, lingerie has a wider, more prosaic meaning in French than in English. Le linge originally referred to washable (especially boilable) textiles made of linen (including sheets, towels, etc as well as shirts, undergarments and socks or stockings), and la lingerie was the collective word for the personal items of this kind that a person might own (in modern French it is mostly used for women’s items, but less specifically than in English). The word can also refer to a store or department selling such items, and also to the room in an institution such as a hospital or boarding-school where washable items are sorted, mended and ironed, by women called lingères.
    For another point, I think that perhaps a criterion for “nativization” of a word is whether it adapts easily to the morphology of the borrowing language. In English, this means plural of nouns and past tense of verbs. Is the plural of octopus “octopi” or “octopuses”? is bacteria the plural of “bacterium” or a singular word? “the media” is rarely considered as the plural of “medium”, and “the medias” sometimes occurs. As for verbs, when I see debuted I want to say “de-butted”. In French, “début” has preserved a final letter “t” because the sound [t] is heard in the verb “débuter” ‘to start (in an undertaking, in a skill, in life)’, the noun “débutant(e)” ‘beginner’, etc. This word does NOT adapt easily to the phonology/morphology interaction reflected in the spelling. To pronounce “debuted” properly, the reader has to be aware of the French origin of the noun “debut”, along with a special rule that the “t” should not be pronounced in any form of this word in English. Same with “crochet” (Fr ‘hook’) and “crocheted” which I want to pronounce like “crotchety”. How do teachers of “language arts” deal with these exceptions in “English” words?

  207. Bathrobe says:

    Well, I guess this very stressful but in retrospect entertaining (perhaps the word is ‘rivetting’) thread is drawing to a close. Several times I just wanted to drop it but somehow got yanked right back in again. But now it is ending almost in an anticlimax. I’m very grateful to Tim for clarifying matters so precisely and elegantly, by which he succeeding in deflating the entire thing like one huge overwrought balloon. (I did notice your earlier comment, by the way, but it was lost in the torrent of passion.) I am also quite happy to shake on it with the Hat and anyone else I engaged with here. During the thread I also clarified a few of my own ideas, especially about the unspoken ideological nature of ‘dictionaries’ (which I’m not going to spell out here). Let’s just say that the OED seems to me to be one of the greatest explicitly descriptivist enterprises in the history of language.
    Oh well, Monday, and it’s back to work.

  208. Bathrobe says:

    Also, that Central Institute of Indian Languages site looks rather interesting, Mr Hat, if you ever run out of things to blog about.

  209. Bathrobe says:

    One last comment, I also appreciate the fact that a lot of people brought interesting and useful comments from both sides of the ‘divide’, but especially the people who supported some of the things I was saying. I thought I had wandered into a parellel universe and was starting to lose my sanity.

  210. Bathrobe says:

    @ m-l There now seems to be a whole class of English words that end in silent ‘t’! Buffet, crochet, ballet, sachet, debut, depot, cachet. Not to mention the silent ‘s’ in debris, and I’m sure quite a few I can’t think of at the moment.

  211. Treesong says:

    As for the use of dictionaries, I admit that I became frustrated with Treesong (sorry Treesong!) because of the continued appeal to dictionaries, when “Referential or overall descriptive dictionaries” (see referenced article) may not be set up to answer such questions or to be used as the ultimate authorities. And the reason is probably because it is so hard to define the boundary. (I’m also wondering whether dictionaries might not have gradually retreated from drawing such distinctions, but I haven’t got any old paper dictionaries here to confirm this. Perhaps my “native-speaker intuition” dates from an older, more fuddy-duddy approach to the English lexicon. Sorry, pure speculation here.)
    Well, I have five dictionaries here in my room. NI2 (New International, 2nd ed.) does make the distinction; page 1000, for example, has foy pour devoir, fraile, and Fraktur, Fractur. NI3 made no attempt to make such distinctions, which is one of the things I don’t
    like about it. The 11th Collegiate segregates foreign lexemes into a separate section. The Encarta doesn’t mark them; it says ‘foreign words and phrases are included in the A-Z list as entries if they have established English pronunciations and are used without being explained in contemporary literature, journalism, general writing, or general conversation. Thus it has ‘lingua franca‘ italicized on pages xxvii and xxxi but gives no special marking on its entry. And The Chambers Dictionary, 1993 edition, adds ‘(L)’ or ‘(Fr)’ or the like to foreign-word entries. The American Heritage 5th ed. online doesn’t seem to distinguish, listing ‘auf Wiedersehen’, ‘bon mot’, ‘jeu d’esprit’, and ‘mutatis mutandis’ without any indication of foreignness. So maybe the trend is away from giving that information. For the record, NI2 marks all four foreign except ‘bon mot’, 11C includes them all in the main body, and CD marks them all foreign.
    And, for the record, I don’t regard any dictionary as an ultimate authority on general questions like this. But because their judgements are based on the actual usage of lexemes by actual English speakers and writers, their evidence (if available) is the best starting point for a discussion of a word’s status, not one’s intuitions or one’s intuitions about other people’s intuitions.
    Tim May asked, ‘Is the boundary Bathrobe draws (between “English words” and “foreign words in the English lexicon”) a real boundary?’ I think it is, but it is a fuzzy and fluid one, and in practice I think it only matters if you want to know how to spell a lexeme (including italicization), pronounce it, or inflect it. Nobody’s going to come up and ask you if ‘slenthem’ is a foreign word and laugh at you (or refuse to hire you) if they disagree with your answer. For those jobs, what better tool do you have than dictionaries? And if the dictionaries don’t help, the best thing to do is what dictionaries do: go by the actual recorded usage of actual English speakers and writers. Not your intuitions, except insofar as they reflect your experience of the actual recorded usage of actual English speakers and writers. Well, also your intuitions about what will best get your message across to your intended audience.
    For example, I can’t offhand think of a situation where I’d want to italicize ‘slenthem’ (any more than I’d italicize ‘gamelan’) or pluralize it ‘slenthem-slenthem’, and I’d likely pronounce it ‘sluntum’ but without the retroflex ‘t’, so until I learn otherwise, that inclines me to the ‘slenthem is English’ camp.

  212. Bathrobe says:

    Let’s just say I intuit your intuition about dictionaries is slightly off :)

  213. Treesong says:

    @ m-l There now seems to be a whole class of English words that end in silent ‘t’! Buffet, crochet, ballet, sachet, debut, depot, cachet. Not to mention the silent ‘s’ in debris, and I’m sure quite a few I can’t think of at the moment.
    John Cowan’s list adds accouchement, avoirdupois, billet-doux, bouquet, contre-coup, contretemps, and so on.

  214. jamessal says:

    I am also quite happy to shake on it with the Hat and anyone else I engaged with here.
    I’ll take you up on that shake; I wish I could have participated today, but I was just too busy, and now that Tim has isolated the key points, all that’s really left is to polish our opinions** and then share them — the least interesting part — although I do plan to do it eventually, maybe even tomorrow, especially now that you’ve provided links to those lexicography sites, which look interesting (and useful for our discussion). I once read, or actually skimmed, Howard Jackson’s Lexicography: An Introduction, but I forgot most of it, and though I’d like to return to it, or tackle another book or two on the subject (the book itself may have been the problem, or at least part of it), I have a lot of research to do for an upcoming project (one I’m actually really pumped about): I have to read a lot of the bible (the KJ would be most interesting, though I may have to toggle back and forth for time), books on the bible and its interpretive history (James Kugel’s How to Read the Bible is outstanding), books both on Shakespeare’s language (Frank Kermode’s, David Crystal’s) and on his plays (Mark Van Doren’s), some of the plays themselves, Maugham’s Of Human B0ndage, and more, I’m sure — it’s a big project. And I won’t have time to get sidetracked by whole books on lexicography, though those sites look perfect, for a brief read tonight and tomorrow, and for breaks later. Thanks you for them. And for the birthday wishes for Robin.
    **It’s funny, I was going to write lapidate, thinking it was the verb form of lapidary — a more accurate metaphor, I think, for what’s left to be done with our opinions, seeing as mine at least still needs to be carved a bit, not just polished — but that, as most here probably already know, is not what lapidate means; apparently, it means “pelt with stones or stone to death.”

  215. marie-lucie says:

    @ m-l There now seems to be a whole class of English words that end in silent ‘t’! Buffet, crochet, ballet, sachet, debut, depot, cachet. Not to mention the silent ‘s’ in debris, and I’m sure quite a few I can’t think of at the moment.
    Not every one of these words functions as a verb: as far as I know, only crochet and debut do, so there is hardly a definite pattern. Buffet and “to buffet” are accidental homophones: there is no spelling indication that buffeted (by the wind, etc) pronounces the t while crocheted does not. Bathrobe earlier used the word “rivetting” (usually written riveting, I think), perhaps the double tt was meant to unambiguously indicate the pronunciation? The noun rivet is another French borrowing, with a spelling (or perhaps older) pronunciation for this technical – as opposed to cultural – term. The French verb meaning “to rivet” is river.
    John Cowan’s list adds accouchement, avoirdupois, billet-doux, bouquet, contre-coup, contretemps, and so on.
    This is a hodge-podge as concerns final written consonants, with not a verb among them, and apart from bouquet “bo-kay”, the words are not very common. I have yet to hear or read an English-speaking woman using accouchement when talking or writing about her experience of giving birth (or “birthing”). I don’t think that maternity hospitals have signs pointing to the accouchement rooms.
    Avoirdupois is medieval Anglo-Norman, a word associated with the local system of weights. It is not used in modern French except in the phrase la livre avoirdupois, referring to the English pound as a measure of weight (“pois” ‘weight’ has been written poids in French since around the time of Rabelais, but this respelling did not affect the already established English word).

  216. Bathrobe says:

    Yes, Oxford dictionaries say not to double the ‘t’, but a Google of web pages in Australia finds ‘rivetting’ outnumbers ‘riveting’ by three to one. I still find the rules in this area confusing.

  217. Accouchement was a 18th/19th-century euphemism. The OED3 first records it in 1730, and has only three 20th-century citations for it:
    1914 Pop. Sci. Monthly Sept. 254 Legislation should be enacted forbidding the employment of mothers in industrial establishments at least six weeks before and after accouchement.
    1955 Times 23 Aug. 9/4 Feelings of relief at a safe accouchement.
    2000 Daily Tel. 23 May 27/4 At the time of her accouchement she was 38.
    As for avoirdupois, the OED2 (OED3 has not reached it) is quite sniffy:
    A recent corrupt spelling of avoir-de-pois, in early Old French and Anglo-Norman aveir de peis ‘goods of weight,’ avoir, aveir, property, goods, de of, pois, peis (= Provençal pes, pens, Italian peso) < Latin *pēsum, pensum, weight. The first word had the variant forms of the simple aver n., and the pronunciation remains ˈaver; the Norman peis was from 1300 varied with, and c1500 superseded by, the Parisian pois. The best modern spelling is the 17th cent. averdepois; in any case de ought to be restored for du, introduced by some ignorant ‘improver’ c1640–1650.

  218. marie-lucie says:

    Bathrobe, perhaps the Australians are more logical in this respect.
    Another -t- word is “to billet”, past tense “billeted” with [t]. (Nothing to do with “billet-doux” except etymologically).
    JC, apparently the 20th century had less need for a euphemism about giving birth! Thanks for the history of “averdepois”.

  219. Bathrobe says:

    read is a very eloquent protester

  220. “Rivetted” to me would suggest a penultimate stress: English usually doesn’t bother with double consonants following a reduced vowel (with the usual historical exceptions), since there is no long/short distinction to be made.

  221. English usually doesn’t bother with double consonants following a reduced vowel
    American English, you mean. This is one of those US/UK splits.

  222. Treesong says:

    English usually doesn’t bother with double consonants following a reduced vowel
    American English, you mean. This is one of those US/UK splits.
    That’s mostly final ‘l’, though, isn’t it? Thus Eng/Amer travelled/traveled, but both would use ‘visited’ or ‘riveted’. Though I see the (unreliable) Google counts are
    visited -visit 502,000,000
    visitted -visited -visit 718,000
    riveted -rivet 14,100,000
    rivetted -riveted -rivet 346,000
    So about .14% doubled for ‘visit’ but 2.5% for ‘rivet’.
    And while I’m at it:
    bouqueted -bouquet 7470
    bouquetted -bouqueted -bouquet 379
    for a 5% ratio, stressed vowel before silent(?) ‘t’.

  223. Huh. You may be right.

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