An interesting visual take on etymology from mkinde of Ideas Illustrated, Visualizing English Word Origins:

Using Douglas Harper’s online dictionary of etymology, I paired up words from various passages I found online with entries in the dictionary. For each word, I pulled out the first listed language of origin and then re-constructed the text with some additional HTML infrastructure. The HTML would allow me to associate each word (or word fragment) with a color, title, and hyperlink to a definition.

It produces some striking, if predictable, results. (Thanks, Paul!)


  1. Neat. I’ve also been trying coming up with ways of detecting etymological facts in literature, especially etymological tropes in poetry, using OED. I discussed some of this work in a presentation at Digital Humanities 2012. Slides are here: (the second half of the presentation describes an etymology search program and some metrics).
    Also random discussions collected here:

  2. dearieme says:

    It’s a pity that he didn’t test Churchill’s “fight them on the beaches” speech, in which – it is alleged – the only word of French origin is “surrender”.
    (I suspect that the allegation is as untrue as it is unkind, but I’d be mildly interested to know.)

  3. The first ten words of the Churchill speech are: ‘From the moment that the French defences at Sedan and …’, which, not counting “French” and “Sedan”, already contain two words out of Old French.

  4. Jeffry House says:

    It would be very surprising, since a lot of military terminology is French in origin, from general to colonel to lieutenant to manuevre.

  5. The word “French” is Anglo-Saxon < Frencisc, umlauted and palatalized from Franc, an inherited tribal name..

  6. It’s not the whole speech that is meant, just the famous sentence from the peroration: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” I suspect Churchill was more interested in stressed monosyllables than in etymology.

  7. dearieme says:

    Thanks, D-AW, John.
    Aye, it’s probably the peroration that’s meant. It’s an unkind remark because people of Churchill’s generation remembered the doggedness of the French on the Western Front in the Great War. For them the French collapse in 1940 was a horrible surprise. It’s youngsters and others ignorant of history (is that indirect enough, Hat?) who enjoy sneering at French military prowess.

  8. These popular characterisations are always a bit unfair. I learnt when I was a youngster that Italian tanks have six gears: two forward, four reverse (or something like that).

  9. Well, I see it’s been applied to the French as well:
    Q: Did you hear about the new French tanks?
    A: They have 5 gears…4 in reverse, and one forward gear just in case they’re attacked from behind!

  10. I thought “baseball” was the Cornish name for the sport before becoming the American name? So shouldn’t it be British English instead of American English?

  11. Base ball is a plain English expression, and the game was played in England (with different rules) before coming to America. It’s referred to in Jane Austen.

  12. marie-lucie says:

    the new French tanks
    Like the US, France is a great exporter of military hardware. Not that I find this anything to brag about.

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