A few months ago I had a post on “Uncleftish Beholding,” a Poul Anderson piece written entirely in words of Germanic origin. You can see the crazed nineteenth-century origin of this idea at Inscape & Outlandishness, a LiveJournal post that opens with a fusillade from William Barnes’s An Outline of English Speech-Craft (1878):

Some of the small word-endings end themselves with a dead breath-penning… [These] seem to betoken, mostly, an ending or shortening or lessening, in time or shape… of their body-words… Flap, flip, a quick flying; heap, hop, hip, small highenings or humps; pop out, to poke out quickly; clap the hands, to close them quickly; stub, a small stump; wallop, to wallow or well (roll) lightly… We may think that we have two very fine words in envelope and develop, whereas they seem to be nothing better than the Teutonic inwallop and unwallop….

It continues with a description of Barnes (“Barnes’s passion was the rootedness of English, its power to create ungrafted words, of its own thorny and inalienable stock. A quickset tongue, hedge-English: tough and insular, flowering and thorny…”), Joseph Wright (author of the English Dialect Dictionary), and others, including my man Charles Montagu Doughty, whose one-of-a-kind masterpiece, Travels in Arabia Deserta, deserves more readers than it has. The post ends with a list of Barnes’s suggested word-equivalents in purified English:

abrade, To forfray, forfret.
absorb, Forsoak.
accelerate, To onquicken.
accessary, A bykeeper, deedmate.
adulation, Flaundering, glavering.
adverb, An under-markword.
adversative, Thwartsome.
alienate, To unfrienden.
allegory, A forlikening.
altercation, A brangling…

(Via Making Light.)


  1. This sort of thing is interesting after a fashion.
    Your use of the expression “purified English” hints at a darker side to this ideal of going back to the “English speech-craft of yore.”
    That darker side is the bizarre Social Darwinism of the late 19th Century and early 20th Century with its crank obsessions about “racial purity” and the ideal of the “Nordic type” as the avatar of human evolution.
    As you know, this sort of language “reform” was echoed elsewhere: for example, by German purists and nationalistic Romanians determined to purge their language of non-Latin-based words.
    It was one part of a grab-bag of various nostrums and notions about race that all ultimately led to Adolf Hitler and Nazism.
    The other aspect is that creating a more “English-sounding” language is itself an entirely artificial process; in the eyes of those like Barnes, a harkening back to a language that never was but should have been.
    Barnes’ suggested word equivalents in “purified English” are no less phoney-baloney because they sound rustic and redolent of country lanes and snug cottages in the Cotswolds.

  2. JJM – I like your illogical leap from harmless language games to the holocaust. It’s so cute, I might just go out and vilify something for the fun of it.

  3. alienate, To unfrienden
    Maybe Barnes is smiling in his grave, as to unfriend has become a thing (and to unfriend someone even can be alienating)… 😉

  4. David Marjanović says

    It was one part of a grab-bag of various nostrums and notions about race that all ultimately led to Adolf Hitler and Nazism.

    But the fun thing is that the actual Nazis had remarkably little interest in this sort of thing. They even outlawed associations that intended to threaten their Propagandaministerium (or even Ministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda).

    I guess it makes sense as a more Sun Theory approach to language: German is whatever the Party says it is.

  5. Rarely has Godwin’s law been so immediately exemplified as in this thread! I remember my mild astonishment at the time.

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