Dinesh sent me a link to an online version of Poul Anderson‘s essay “Uncleftish Beholding,” a discussion of atomic theory that “shows what English would look like if it were purged of its non-Germanic words, and used German-style compounds instead of borrowings to express new concepts.” It begins:

For most of its being, mankind did not know what things are made of, but could only guess. With the growth of worldken, we began to learn, and today we have a beholding of stuff and work that watching bears out, both in the workstead and in daily life.

The underlying kinds of stuff are the firststuffs, which link together in sundry ways to give rise to the rest. Formerly we knew of ninety-two firststuffs, from waterstuff, the lightest and barest, to ymirstuff, the heaviest. Now we have made more, such as aegirstuff and helstuff.

I’m pretty sure I’d seen it before, in my sf-fan days, but it was great to have it available, and I was even more delighted when I found it posted by José Beltrán Escavy, this time paired with a pair of short speeches by professor Xenophon Zolotas at meetings of the International Bank using only words of Greek origin (apart from the necessary connectives):

I eulogize the archons of the Panethnic Numismatic Thesaurus and the Ecumenical Trapeza for the orthodoxy of their axioms, methods and policies, although there is an episode of cacophony of the Trapeza with Hellas.

With enthusiasm we dialogue and synagonize at the synods of our didymous Organizations in which polymorphous economic ideas and dogmas are analyzed and synthesized.

Our critical problems such as the numismatic plethora generate some agony and melancholy. This phenomenon is characteristic of our epoch…

The other languages one could use as a basis for such texts are Latin and French, and I imagine someone has done so.


  1. DamagedGoods says

    Anderson’s neat little whatsit was first put out in “Analog”, better’n a dozen years back–not sure when. I liked it then too. In “La Ton Beau De Marot”–I forgot who wrote it–are a few more tries at showing us how the world works, that wield some mighty odd word choices and still light up your knowing. Check it out.
    By making home things seem faraway for a short spell, a good wordsmith can bring some faraway things closer to home…

  2. “La Ton Beau de Marot” is by Douglas Hofstadter, who — in the vein of this post — also includes a description of general relativity using only Anglo-Saxon monosyllables.

  3. Thank you so much for posting this. I looked for “Uncleftish Beholding” online after reading Le Ton beau de Marot*, but I couldn’t find it anywhere.
    *Note the French-style capitalization, which Hofstadter actually mentions at one point. (Incidentally, I wish you (languagehat) would read the book and tell us about it. Hofstadter’s style may be playful, but I do think he appreciates the importance of the topic. I didn’t really find him convincing on the translation of poetry, but I’d like your opinion of where he goes wrong. And it contains much of interest, regardless.)

  4. How about ‘welkinish’ for universal?

  5. William Barnes would have been well impressed by this. (Now how about a discussion of quantum mechanics in Dorset dialect?)

  6. As would Robert Bridges!

  7. Since this is the most recent post to mention Greek language, I figured I’d post the sad news here: linguist Anastasios-Phivos Christidis (Αναστάσιος-Φοίβος Χριστίδης) has suddenly passed away at age 58. Here is the Eleftherotypia obit I just had the bad surprise to see in print.
    Sometimes I wish it were less easy to buy Greek newspapers in Paris.

  8. Allan Beatty says

    Le Ton beau de Marot: I took this to be library catalog capitalization rather than French style. That is, normal English sentence capitalization, plus if the first word is an article ignored in alphabetizing, capitalize the next word.

  9. How about ‘welkinish’ for universal?
    How would that be good? “Welkin” basically means “cloud”, doesn’t it? (This goes right back to Proto-IE “uelg”, Pokorny 1145: “wet”.) Alternatively and secondarily it means “sky”, “firmament”, or “heavens”: but that shouldn’t warrant its being adopted for “universal”. “Universal” is not equivalent to “uranic”.
    Carl Darling Buck (in A Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages, 1.1, p. 13) distinguishes three different themes associated with “world”: the physical world generally; the known world, of mankind; earthly life, as opposed to “the world to come”. In a footnote he explicitly excludes from his main discussion technical terms importing “universe” (like Latin “universum” itself, and current German “Weltall”). The Anglo-Saxon words “middangeard” and “weorold” are themselves unsatisfactory bases for a native word meaning “universe”, even though the first (=”mid-yard”) was used in a more extended way than its primary sense suggests. They just don’t seem to have had the concept!
    I’d go for “allyard” as “universe”, myself; and “allyardly” for universal. But then we’d have “allyardlily” for “universally”, and get into all sorts of strife…

  10. Ingeborg S. Nordén says

    My own Germanic-only substitutes for “universal” would be “all-spanning” if cosmic space were not implied from the context, and perhaps “every-worldly” if that meaning *were* implied. I’d probably recast the adverbial equivalent as a phrase (e.g., “in/throughout all worlds, in/throughout all things”).
    Regarding the “Ander-Saxon” chemistry article, though: “Round” and “ordinary” are both Latin-based words. I’d probably replace the latter with something like “widespread” or “often-seen” if a pure Germanic vocabulary were needed. Finding a native “around” word to construct an equivalent of “periodic”, though, is nearly impossible in English. (It could be done in Poul Anderson’s native Danish, where the equivalent preposition/adverb is a Germanic doublet of “ring”.) Perhaps another way of describing the elements’ recurring traits might work; “to-and-fro” is the least awkward Anglo-Saxon that comes to mind.

  11. “Welkin” basically means “cloud”, doesn’t it?
    *uelg and wolcen may have meant “cloud”, but I’ve checked three dictionaries and none of them offer “cloud” as even a secondary meaning of welkin in Modern English, just “sky” “firmament” “vault of heaven” etc. Not that this detracts from your argument.

  12. “Round” was well spotted, Ingeborg.
    An Anglo-Saxon word for the proposition “around” or “about” was “ymbe”, frequently occurring as a prefix. It is cognate with Latin “ambi” and Greek “amphi”. It survives in “unbethink”, and is also the source of our “by”, via the short form “be”.
    If “by” does not mean exactly “around”, why not use simply “about”? So:
    and about it one or more light motes with backward ladings
    And perhaps:
    called the *aboutboard of the firststuffs*
    But I also like “ring”, and see nothing wrong in:
    and ringing it one or more light motes with backward ladings
    Or in:
    called the *ringboard of the firststuffs*
    Has a ring to it, hmmm?
    “Ordinary” might be changed to “daily”, “day-to-day”, or something plain like that. “Slight” (cognate with German “schlicht”) has some claim, but is more Norse than Anglo-Saxon, and would be misleading.
    The suggestions for universe are interesting. From the introduction of “thing”, suddenly “allthingly” looks viable.

  13. Yes, Tim May. “Welkin” no longer means “cloud”. SOED gives that meaning for OE to ME, as sense 1. It goes on to these:
    2 a The vault formed by the sky, the firmament. OE. b spec. The abode of God or the gods; the celestial regions, heaven. M16.
    [dagger]3 In Ptolemaic astronomy: a celestial sphere. Only in ME.
    4 The upper atmosphere; the region of the air in which the clouds float, birds fly, etc. LME.
    Many “cloud”-words came also to mean “sky” – including “sky” itself. I hate to be monotonous, but SOED starts with:
    sky /…/ n.ME. [ON ský cloud, rel. to OE sceo, OS scio and (more remotely) OE scuwa, OHG scuwo, ON skuggi shade, shadow, Goth. skuggwa mirror.]
    [dagger]1 A cloud; in pl., the clouds. ME–M16.

  14. How would Alfred the great have translated Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, with its many universal and cosmic terms, unless there were, at that time or earlier, borrowing of such words from Latin? This may have foreclosed the possibility of germanic words for many of these concepts, so that one erroneously concludes that Anglosaxon literature did not have those concepts.

  15. I don’t think anyone’s denying that Old English had Latin loanwords; it’s just fun to try to construct a de-Latinized form of the language.

  16. I agree, LH. There is influence from a Celtic and Latin subtratum in Old English, and of course continuing borrowings from Christian Latin and other sources. Then consider the complexities of the Norse involvement. Fun, as you say.
    Compare the situation of Latin itself, and its relations with Greek, Etruscan, the languages of conquered regions, and so on.
    I’m reminded of non-IE words turning up in Sanskrit, against our normal assumption of it as paradigmatically a purified IE-Indic standard (almost embodied in the very word “Sanskrit”, whose meanings and motivations we could explore, could we not?).

  17. Yes, when I took Sanskrit the professor repeatedly drummed it into us that Sanskrit was basically a Middle Indic language with plenty of borrowings (including, if I’m remembering correctly, borrowing from the Prakrits), but gussied up to look like “a purified IE-Indic standard.”

  18. Ingeborg S. Nordén says

    From what I can tell, Anderson did not intend to rule out borrowings from Old Norse, or from other Germanic languages (his allusion to Norse gods in some “translated” element names seems to prove that). His only constraint seems to be “exclude anything non-Germanic”…which he handled very well other than the “round” and “ordinary” goofs.
    One nitpick, though…for the sake of clarity, I would have used “tally” to translate “number”, since “tale” has a very different meaning in standard English (despite the fact that other Germanic languages do use “tale”-cognates in that sense).

  19. Ingeborg S. Nordén says

    P.S. to Noetica: your suggestion of using “about” as a Saxon equivalent must have escaped my mind when I first read the article. Great thinking…I’d probably translate “periodic” as something like “ringwise” or even “ring-shifting” if a separate adjective were preferred, though.

  20. “Ringwise” appeals to me, Ingeborg. Ringwise board of the firststuffs! I like it. Sounds like proper Ringlish (if you’ll excuse an exaggerated intervocalic rhotacism).
    And I take your point about Norse.

  21. You know guys, Poul Anderson didn’t try to get rid of EVERY single non-Germanic word. That would be stupid. He, like William Barnes, got rid of the foreign-sounding non-Germanic words. Thus “round” is perfect English. 🙂
    John S. Bolton: I can see that you’ve never studied Anglo-Saxon, then. 🙂 Anglo-saxon was full of learned compunds and words. These learned words, however- such as in matters of law, government and science- were replaced by Latinate and Greek words after the Norman conquest.
    The number of Latin words in old English is estimated at a few hundred (out of a recorded lexicon of 35,000+). In Modern English the number of non-Anglo-Saxon words is about 2/3 (altho’, for “everyday” words, the figure is about 1/3).
    Come to my website: I have a couple of pages on this kind of thing. I am in the process of editting them, but geocities is being a little funny with me… come along, anyway, because there is still stuff up online.

  22. In my academia.edu feed the other day (subscribe; you don’t need to be an academic, and you get to read lots of free papers) popped up an article by Angelika Lutz called “When did English begin?”. The paper argues that in addition to the traditional division into Old, Middle, and Modern on morphosyntactic grounds, there also needs to be a division on lexical grounds into “Anglo-Saxon”, with its predominantly native lexicon, and “English”, with its extremely mixed lexicon. The dividing line is roughly the 14C, when a huge rush of (mostly Central) French words came into English as the elite of England abandoned French and began to speak an English full of loanwords from their former language.

    Lutz quotes two passages of Early Modern English that, because of their strongly but not rigidly Germanic vocabulary, clearly still belong to “Anglo-Saxon”. I thought I would update their morphosyntax, style, etc. to Modern English while leaving the vocabulary alone, thus creating a reasonably authentic “Modern Anglo-Saxon”, not as fanatically Germanic as Ander-Saxon. (For the originals, see the paper or ask Dr. Google, as the paper contains some errors.)

    Here is the beginning of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Peterborough edition) for the year 1137, half a century after the Conquest. I have italicized the French words.

    This year King Stephen went overseas to Normandy and was underfangen [received] there, forthy that [because] he wend [expected] he should also be as his eme [uncle] was, for he yet [still] had his treasure. But he todealt [shared] it and scattered it soothly [foolishly]. (King Henry had gathered mickle [a lot of] gold and silver, and did no good to anyone for his soul by it.) Then King Stephen came to England and made his gathering at Oxford, and there he nam [took] Bishop Roger of Sarum and Bishop Alexander of Lincoln and the chancellor Roger his nephew, and did [put] them all in prison until they gave up their castles.

    Then the swikes [traitors (who had gone back on their oaths to support Stephen as king contrary to Henry’s will)] undergotten [perceived] that he was a mild [gentle] man, soft and good, and did no justice, so they all did wonders [atrocities]. They had made him manrede [done him homage] and sworn oaths, but they did not hold troth [keep faith]. They were all forsworn and their troths forlorn [abandoned], for every rich [powerful] man made castles and held them against him, and filled the land full of castles. They swith [severely] swinked [oppressed] the wretchmen [miserable people] of the land with castle-works, and when the castles were made, they filled them with devils and evil men. Then they nam [took] the men that they wend [supposed] had any goods [property], both by night and by day, churl [plain] men and women, and did [put] them in prison for their gold and silver, and pined [pained, tortured] them with untellingly [indescribable] pining, for there were never any martyrs so pined as they were.

    And here is the start of Henry III’s trilingual proclamation of 1258 in its English form, the first and last attempt to use English for legal purposes for many centuries:

    Henry, with God’s fultom [support] King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, and Earl of Anjou, sends greetings to all his holders [vassals], his learned [clergy], and his lewd [laity] in Huntingdonshire. You wit [know] well all that we will [desire] and unn [grant], that our redesmen [councilors] (or the more deal [majority] of them that were chosen by us and by the land’s folk [people] of our kinrich [realm]) have done and shall do for the worthness [glory] of God and on our troth [faith], for the freme [benefit] of the land through the besight [advice] of the aforesaid redesmen, be steadfast and lasting in all things but [without] end.

    And we hight [call on] all our true men by the troth [loyalty] that they owe us, that they steadfastly hold and swear to hold and to wear [defend] the setnesses [agreements] that were made and are to be made by the aforesaid redesmen (or the more deal of them, also as was said before), and to help each other to do [hold] by the same oath, to do and to fang [grasp] the right as against all men, and not to nim [receive] any lands or anything through which this besight can be let [hindered] or worsed [prejudiced] in any wise [manner].

  23. Stefan Holm says

    Since you choose to explain some words of the texts in brackets, they were perhaps easier for me to read than for a native. Through their counterparts in modern Swedish I instantly understood at least the following ones:

    forthy that: förty att = because.
    wend: väntade = expected, waited.
    todealt: tudelade = separated into parts.
    mickle: mycket = much.
    swikes: svikare = traitors, betrayers.
    troth: tro = faith, belief.
    forlorn: förlorad = lost, missing.
    pined: pinade = tortured.
    wit: vet = know(s).
    will: vill = wish(es), desire(s), want(s).
    unn: unna = grant, not grudge.
    redesmen: rådsmän = councilors.
    deal: del = part.
    kinrich: kungarike = kingdom.
    freme: främja = (verb) support, promote.
    wear: värja = protect, defend.
    fang: fånga = catch, capture, grasp.
    wise vis = way, manner.

    (The ’kin-’ part of kinrich is debated concerning it’s connection to ‘king’ but rich, Sw. ‘rike’, Ger. ‘Reich’ is definitely ‘realm’ and the adjective (rich) is originally ‘mighty’, ‘powerful’. So the name Eric/Erich/Erik means ‘forever mighty’.

  24. Yes, it’s wonderful for an anglophone, used to being so definitively separated from every other language (excepting Scots), to see how Germanic the language still remains when separated from its French vocabulary. It’s an interesting fact, whether from that paper or another I don’t recall, that while Latin and other non-native words are concentrated in the less-used parts of the word-hoard, the proportion of French words is about the same in all but the most common words; French words are not merely typical superstrate words, but are used throughout the language. Or as Tom Shippey cracked wise (to an Icelandic audience, originally) in his essay on Tolkien and the North called “The Philology of Envy”: “Really, if Icelanders would just learn to palatalise their consonants like sensible people, we would all be speaking the same language” (with reference to Gunnlaugs saga Ormstunga).

    No survivors of hetan (G heissen) or niman (German nehmen) in Swedish? I’m surprised.

  25. Stefan Holm says

    Strangely enough I can’t find any reminicenses of niman in Swedish other than in obvious borrowings from German. But it surely was present in Old Norse, just think of the Icelandic Landnámabók, ‘Book of Settlements’ (lit. Land-take-book), which makes every person, who has ever lived on that volcanic island traceable genetically and a paradise for researchers in epidemiolgy, genetics etc.

    But as for hetan it’s the, I dare say, only way in Swedish to express “my name is” or “I’m called”. So jag heter Stefan and du heter John.

    Funny to hear a NYC resident feeling separated from any other language. Well, phonetically you may be with all your diphtongs but ‘finger’, ‘hand’ and ‘arm’ are perfect Swedish (and German) words and the leap from ‘toe’, ‘foot’, ‘heel’ and ‘knee’ to ‘tå’, ‘fot’, ‘häl’ and ‘knä’ is not a giant one. In fact, among the few everyday words you use, that aren’t of Gmc origin, I’ve only reacted upon a few like ‘mountain’, ‘river’ and ‘valley’. You should have made them ‘berg’, ‘flood’ and ‘dale’.

    A peculiarity is that the Norman invaders just 100 years earlier had been speaking Old Norse during the (Norwegian) viking conquest of Normandy in 911 A.D. So William the Conquerer just like the vikings had a Scandinavian ancestry.

  26. But it surely was present in Old Norse

    Yup, it’s nema (nemr, nam, numinn).

  27. David Marjanović says

    kinrich [realm]

    Kin-? Not king- as in German Königreich?

    forthy that: förty att = because.

    That’s one of a few I’d never have guessed.


    Works perfectly in German as *Landnahmebuch; Landnahme is in actual usage.

  28. David Marjanović says

    Oh. Landnahmebuch has 2860 ghits.

  29. Stefan Holm says

    David: Kin-? Not king- as in German Königreich?

    The origin of the word ‘king’is a debated issue, at least in Sweden. I’ll quote for you (in my humble translation) what the Swedish Academy’s Wordbook says:

    “According to an earlier commonly accepted meaning from a Gmc. kuningaz (kunungaz), derivative of the stem in Icel. konr, descendant, son, kyn, clan, offspring (…), and with an original meaning: offspring of a noble clan or the like;

    According to Otto von Friesen … from an ON. kwenungaR, derivative of ON. kwen, woman (c.f. queen and Sw. kvinna = woman), in this case denomination of the fertility goddess (Nerthus or Frigg or Fröja), whose priest has been considered her husband and in some places recieved political power over larger areas than the single cult community; the word should in such case have been borrowed from Scandinavia into WGmc and from there further to non-Germanic peoples.”

    The von Friesen interpretation ‘belonging to the (goddess) woman’ is consistent with the Swedish word for ‘queen’, drottning, which means ‘belonging to the drotten’. The ‘drotten’ is an old Gmc title of a clan or realm leader. The OE word I believe is ‘dryden’. It appears in Beowulf as ‘drihten’, stanza 1385:

    þæt he his freond wrece, þonne he fela murne.
    Ure æghwylc sceal ende gebidan
    worolde lifes; wyrce se þe mote
    domes ær deaþe; þæt bið drihtguman
    unlifgendum æfter selest.

    The last piece þæt bið drihtguman unlifgendum æfter selest.roughly means (word by word): That + would be + for the man belonging to the dryden + not alive + after + happiest. (I.e. that’s the happiest for a warrior when he is no longer alive). In ‘drihtguman’ the ‘-gum-’ part is the same as in modern English ‘bridegroom (belonging to the bride) and the ‘-an‘ part is the dative case marker (as is ‘-um’ in ‘unlifgendum’).

  30. Funny to hear a NYC resident feeling separated from any other language.

    Well, yes, hundreds of languages are being spoken (or rather babbled) around me every day, but I understand exactly one of them. There is no experience for an anglophone (or a francophone, for that matter) of going to another country where they speak another language that nevertheless we understand, or partly understand, or can adjust to understanding. There aren’t even dialects like that, unless we go to just the right parts of the British or the Caribbean islands. No, understanding is mostly binary, and other languages are reachable only by full-on language learning: if some are easier in the beginning and harder as we go on, like German, others are hardest in the beginning and easier as we go on, like French.

    From outside it’s a different story, of course: the connections to English from other languages are more obvious, Great Vowel Shift aside.

    Not king- as in German Königreich?

    Well, there is a connection for sure between kin (OE cynn) and king (OE cyning), but the word in the original is kunerich. The fact that cyning > cing didn’t become ModE ching shows Norse influence right there (ON konungr with a back vowel; King Kong, that greatest of all great apes, is known in Scandihoovian as Kong King). Kind < OE gecynd also belongs here, though it has no exact cognates: Hamlet’s line “A little more than kin and less than kind” (I:ii) is one of Shakespeare’s many etymological or semi-etymological plays on words.

    I found the statistics on word origins that I mentioned above. The 200-word Swadesh list is 88% native, 4.5% French, 6.5% Scandinavian, 0.5% Latin, and 1% other[*], unless I have blundered somewhere. Going up by a factor of 20, the General Service List of 3984 common words is 47% native, 38% French, 10% Latin, 3% Scandinavian, and 2% other. Going up by a factor of 20 again to the whole Shorter OED wordlist (which omits everything obsolete or nearly so by 1700 unless Shakespeare, Spenser, Milton, or the KJV uses it), we get a mere 22% native, 28% French, Latin way up at 28%, 2% Scandinavian, and 20% other (including 5% Greek). So Latin is concentrated in the low-frequency words in a way that French and Norse are not; unsurprising, as the English were never conquered by Latin-speakers.

    [*] As I read Etymonline, because, count, flower, fruit, lake, mountain, person, push, river are French (though be- is native by); animal is Latin; bark, big, cut, die, dirt, egg, fog, husband, root, rotten, skin, sky, they are Scandinavian; and split, rub are Germanic of non-Scandinavian or doubtful origin.

  31. Drihten outside Beowulf, and in some places within it (according to the traditional interpretation) means the One God, like ModE the Lord.

  32. Stefan Holm says

    Maybe off topic (chop this of if you like, Hat) but speaking of the Germanic languages I came to think of our different rendering of the letter “r”. It’s a trill in most European languages but a retroflex approximant or a flap in English and a guttural in German, French and Danish.

    What triggered my mind was listening to the original recording of the song, which propbably is the most well known of all German ones (at least among commoners). Disliked by Goebbels but beloved by the English as well as the German troopers during WWII the singer clearly to my ear uses a trill. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j47THUNGuIY

    But when Lale Andersen in 1969 sang the song (in a Bavarian environment as far as I can judge – trink, Brüderlein, trink), she used the guttural “r” – unless in the final verse, where she seems to have reverted. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mp2qzmQBRGM

    That can’t be said of Lolita (Edith Zuser) who in 1960 got a mega hit all over Europe (and I think also on the western shore of the pond) with the song Seemann http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sailor_(song) Lolita came from Austria (funny enough a country without a coast) but her “r”:s in this James Bond like video are all trilled, making me instantly understand every word of the song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ggDbPAPtNs

    In one of her come backs in 2005 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vm-iwIrMxuc she hadn’t changed her “r”:s.

    David: Ich rufe dich an – bitte erkläre!

  33. David Marjanović says

    David: Ich rufe dich an – bitte erkläre!

    That means you’re phoning me. 🙂 The shift from [r] to [ʀ] and/or [ʁ] happened mostly during the 20th century. [r] persists in scattered places in Austria, my grandma switches back and forth at random, and there are still a few newsreaders who use it; in Bavaria it has become a symbol of Bavarian tribal identity – much like in Flanders, apparently. Most Alemannic dialects retain their [r], which is apical like in Spanish and Slavic (and very conservative French), not laminal like in the remaining [r]-using kinds of German as well as Italian and Finnish.

  34. David Marjanović says

    I’ve attributed the persistent /k/ in kin, kind, king to the fact that they had y, rather than i, figuring that /k/ remained unchanged in front of /y/, so that the Middle English unrounding of /y/ brought the sequence /ki/ back. Have I overlooked something?

    In Old High German, drihten shows up as truhtin, again meaning “the Lord” in most or all cases. No idea what happened to the first vowel, maybe they’re from different ablaut grades. – It also shows up in Finnish: ruhtinas.

  35. True enough that /ky/ did not palatalize, but the short OE form was cing not (or not usually) cyng, as in this 971 example: “He wæs to cinge ongyten [understood] & gehered [praised].” The spelling ching is in fact seen in late OE per the OED’s orthographical headnote, but what it meant is not clear to me.

  36. David Marjanović says

    Interesting. Which dialect is your example in?

  37. It’s from the Blickling Homilies, which are in Standard West Saxon, though their provenance is not known.

  38. Stefan Holm says

    David: Ich rufe dich an … means your phoning me.

    There you see what too close kinship can do. German anrufen was already from MLG anropen borrowed into Swedish as anropa. To us it means ‘call upon somebody’ (and expecting a response) in general, not only on the phone.

    Perhaps echoed also in my ear Rufst du, mein Vaterland (without though the an-prefix), the former national anthem of Switzerland, to the same tune as God Save the Queen.

  39. In my high school German class, we had to translate a sentence about somebody calling somebody else from English into German. The teacher wanted us to use a form of rufen, but he eventually admitted that there was nothing in the problem that precluded the call being on the telephon, so he accepted the version with anrufen as well.

  40. The MS of Beowulf spells kyning sic; also kynn.

  41. Nathan Rasmussen says

    Oh! On reflection, “forthy that” is straight from OE “for þām þe,” isn’t it. Which in turn is exactly parallel to the Russian fixed expression по тому, что ‘because’, lit. ‘by that [fact], that’.

  42. marie-lucie says

    OE “for þām þe,”, … exactly parallel to the Russian fixed expression по тому, что ‘because’, lit. ‘by that [fact], that’.

    and also to French parce que ‘because’ (literally par ce, que ‘by that [fact’, that …’

  43. David Marjanović says

    The MS of Beowulf spells kyning sic; also kynn.

    Huh. I didn’t even know the letter K was already known in the British Isles back then.

  44. marie-lucie says

    The MS of Beowulf …

    Are you referring to a facsimile or to a modern edition with standardized spelling?

  45. I’m referring to the good ole Klaeber edition, which is not normalized.

  46. In fact, checking my Klaeber, he lists kyning but not kynn as a MS form.

  47. marie-lucie says


  48. David Marjanović says

    In a normalized edition I’d expect c throughout; I’ve never seen k used in Old English before this thread. Might the k be another bit of Norse influence?

  49. David: [anrufen] means you’re phoning me … Stefan: There you see what too close kinship can do. German anrufen was already from MLG anropen borrowed into Swedish as anropa. To us it means ‘call upon somebody’ (and expecting a response) in general, not only on the phone.

    David must have just woken up in the wrong register. German anrufen still can be used to say exactly what you expected: das Verfassungsgericht anrufen, jemanden als Zeugen anrufen – but only to/by an educated person, or someone with legal training. Your man in the street, and woman at the window, will first understand train station, and then cellphone.

    There is a minor puzzle in the bible, though, if you’re looking for puzzles there, at 2. Moses, 8:12: “… und [Abram] rief den Namen des HERRN an”. Here’s a rabbi puzzling in German over exactly what that might mean: http://www.juedische-allgemeine.de/article/view/id/3963

  50. anrufen in this sense is “call on”, as should surprise no one

  51. But not “call on” in the sense of “pay a call”, and the latter not in the sense of “pay the telephone bill for a call”.

  52. Most English translations of Exodus 8:12 say something close to “cried out to”, or “cried (un)to”, suggesting loud and public prayer. This fits with Exodus 8:8, where Pharaoh tells Moses to ask the LORD to take away the plague of frogs. Anyhow, it’s Moses, not Abra(ha)m.

  53. Sorry, my typo, should be not 2. Mose 8:12 (Exodus), but 1. Mose 8:12 (Genesis), where Abram is still calling the shots.

    [7] Da erschien der HERR dem Abram und sprach: Deinen Nachkommen will ich dies Land geben. Und er baute dort einen Altar dem HERRN, der ihm erschienen war. [8] Danach brach er von dort auf ins Gebirge östlich der Stadt Bethel und schlug sein Zelt auf, sodass er Bethel im Westen und Ai im Osten hatte, und baute dort dem HERRN einen Altar und rief den Namen des HERRN an. [9]Danach zog Abram weiter ins Südland.

  54. Dammit, 1. Mose 12:8 !!

  55. Níma lives on in the Danish deverbal adjective nem = ‘easy’ < ‘that can be taken’.

  56. January First-of-May says

    A roar of welkome through the welkin
    Is certain proof you’ll find the Elk in…

    I didn’t know before reading this discussion that welkin was an actual English word, with exactly this spelling. After all, How to Tell the Birds from the Flowers, which features the quote above, is extremely pun-heavy.
    However, said quote doesn’t seem to be using it to mean either “universe” or “sky” – and “cloud” doesn’t fit either.

  57. In recent English, welkin is pretty much used only in reference to loud noises outdoors, which are said to make the welkin (= sky) ring, or in this case roar. The meanings ‘sky’, ‘upper atmosphere’, ‘heaven’ (= the home of God or the gods) are archaic, poetic, or dialectal. Even make the welkin ring is rather 19C.

    The male elk (Cervus canadensis) is pretty loud, though; their mating and dominance calls are known as bugling, and can be heard several miles away.

  58. David Marjanović says

    Huh. German Wolken means “clouds”. (Singular Wolke.)

    Die größten Kritiker der Elche
    waren früher selber welche.

  59. Does that mean “were formerly elks themselves”?

  60. David Marjanović says

    Yes. Or “used to be ones themselves”.

  61. I find one ghit for Dutch landnameboek.

  62. größten

    schärfsten, actually.

  63. David Marjanović says

    “die größten Kritiker der Elche” has 15,500 ghits, “die schärfsten Kritiker der Elche” has 36,300, so it’s not surprising I only knew größten – but you’re right, schärfsten is original.

  64. marie-lucie says

    JC: The male elk (Cervus canadensis) is pretty loud, though; their mating and dominance calls are known as bugling, and can be heard several miles away.

    To bugle must be the source of French beugler, the cry of oxen. And perhaps also of the analogical meugler, based on the cry of cows (French cows say “meuh”, not “mouh” as in English).

  65. Bugle is an English borrowing from French (where it is apparently now lost), where its original source was būculus ‘(young) bullock’.

  66. marie-lucie says

    Thanks JC. The original verb then might have been būculare.

    Le bugle is used for the wind instrument.

  67. John Cowan says

    Poul Anderson’s native Danish

    It’s hard to say how native it was. He was born in Pennsylvania in 1926, but his family moved to Texas almost immediately. The language of his family might have been Danish or English; I have no evidence either way. But he didn’t see Denmark until 1936 or even later, and he returned from there sometime during WWII, I’d guess between 1939 and 1941.

    Cf. Tolkien’s distinction between a “native language” (he told Auden he “took to early west-midland Middle English as a known tongue as soon as I set eyes on it”) and a “cradle-speech”. The two need not be the same.

  68. ktschwarz says

    Rodger C: “The MS of Beowulf spells kyning sic”

    I was puzzled by that along with David M and marie-lucie. It was a confusing way of saying that the spelling kyning exists in Beowulf as an uncommon variant of cyning: specifically, (at most) 5 instances of kyning to 51 of cyning. On the use of k in Old English generally, see this comment at /r/OldEnglish:

    The Greek letter-form k was known to Anglo-Saxons from Latin words, such as kalenda, which was used to record dates. There are about 600 occurrences of kyning-, kyng-, kyncg- across the entire OE corpus, most of which appear in late manuscripts, including five times in Beowulf. Other OE words that are occasionally spelled with k include kasere (caesar) and kalice (chalice), both of which are non-native. It seems that king was one of the first native English words to use k widely, but others do occur: forms of cycene (kitchen) and cyll (leather bag) sometimes begin with k- as well as lots of words and names in cyne-.

  69. My statement was indeed too elliptical.

  70. While Uncleftish has been known for a long time, I just found out that Anderson also wrote up a set of minutes for the WSFS using the same sort of language:


    Inwriting Gild: The inwriting gild for outlanders (meaning folk not
    living in North Vinland) shall be one daler, but such out-landers
    shall betale a further two dalers upon coming to the Forgathering.
    The inwriting gild for North Vinlanders shall be Ð2.00,
    but a further Ð1.00 shall be betaled upon their
    coming to the Forgathering.

    (Why not “thaler” or “taler”, Poul?)
    (Oh, maybe he was aiming for “ðaler”, but was stymied by the typewriter he had access to. Or maybe whoever transcribed the text for the web couldn’t quite figure it out.)

  71. The English cognate of T(h)al is dale.

  72. David Marjanović says


    Not betold?

    (…In German both zählen “count” and zahlen “pay”, including bezahlen “pay [with the goods, not the money, as the grammatical object]”, are regular, but that means little.)

  73. PlasticPaddy says

    OE Tellan/tealde (also cwellan/cwealde) are weak verbs, the “umlaut” is due to different treatment of Germanic a or later ae before ll and ld.

  74. On thaler/taler/daler — I keep forgetting that the rules include “Englishify Germanic terms” (hence “Sourstuff” and “Onestone” rather than “Sauerstoff” or “Einstein”). Although I kinda think of thaler/taler as being English. because they both exist on the words list I have for word games (Scrabble, Boggle, and their kin).

    I occurs to me that Anderson wasn’t quite consistent with that rule, since he used “Vinland” rather than “Vineland”.

  75. January First-of-May says

    AFAIK dollar is authentic Scots if maybe not actual English, though probably borrowing rather than cognate. A true cognate would probably indeed have been daler, as in dale + -er.
    (Sure enough, when Shire Post Mint produced coins in the name of the Middle-Earth town of New Dale, the denomination was “daler”.)

    I’m not sure why “September” was left alone; perhaps it wasn’t part of the original text. It could probably easily have been fixed. (“Sunday”, of course, does not need fixing.)

  76. David Marjanović says

    I occurs to me that Anderson wasn’t quite consistent with that rule, since he used “Vinland” rather than “Vineland”.

    Should be Wineland anyway. Vine is French vigne.

    Anderson resorted to Old Norse a lot…

  77. David Marjanović says


    the International Bank

    The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank!


    [r] persists in scattered places in Austria

    …such as, currently, the chancellor’s office.

  78. Anyone else keep seeing this thread-name out of the corner of your eye in the recent posts list and parsing it as Uncle Fish, with background mental processes making sense of things by dropping the t?

  79. Uncle Fish and Uncleftish Beholding are both fine band names, for very different genres.

  80. There is no experience for an anglophone (or a francophone, for that matter) of going to another country where they speak another language that nevertheless we understand, or partly understand, or can adjust to understanding. ….and other languages are reachable only by full-on language learning: if some are easier in the beginning and harder as we go on, like German, others are hardest in the beginning and easier as we go on, like French.

    It is an exaggeration. If I can understand a good half of what Italians say on TV, Romance speakers must be able to understand much more (I won’t perform that well with, say, Sicilian). Then there are Dutch and Frisian. And then French scientific register is accessible (at least in written form) for an Engish speaker. That means, deciphering, but yet it is doable.

    I personally did that: that is, I learned to read in French without using a French-to Russian dictionary. Funnily, German is much harder.

  81. @drasvi: I’ve never really listened to Frisian, but I feel like I am only able to grasp a fair amount of Dutch because of my history of fluency in both English and German. (I can come at Dutch from either side, basically.)

  82. David Marjanović says

    I can read Dutch by knowing German, English, how the Dutch spelling system works* and enough historical linguistics that I don’t stumble over false friends and fall flat on my nose every two sentences.

    Like… in or next to Brussels there’s a place called Drogenbos. “Dry bush”, that is; the German cognate would be Trockenbusch, not Drogenboss “drug lord”.

    * Sanity at last, compared not only to English, but also to German.

  83. David Marjanović says

    Me in 2014:

    Most Alemannic dialects retain their [r], which is apical like in Spanish and Slavic (and very conservative French), not laminal like in the remaining [r]-using kinds of German as well as Italian and Finnish.

    I switched “apical” and “laminal” around there.

  84. I see “Uncleftish Beholding” has a Wikipedia article, which dates it to 1989 and says it’s included in his collection All One Universe. But that collection was published in 1997; the story’s first appearance was, as DamagedGoods suggests in the first comment above, in Analog, Mid-December 1989 issue. Someone should put that in Wikipedia.

Speak Your Mind