One Million Words and Growing: Here’s How English Got All of Those Words
By MM Pollard, editor with Black Velvet Seductions
Number of Words in the English Language: 1,013,913, estimate of number of words on January 1, 2012
Impressive number, isn’t it? Wonder why English has more words than other languages?
Invasions: Romans, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Danes, Norwegians -- all before 1066. These invaders brought their language with them. Over time, these languages mixed to form Anglo-Saxon.
1066: William of Normandy invades England and declares that the official language of England is Norman French. Court and law proceedings are conducted in the French dialect, adding many French words to our language.
The good news for English is that the peasants didn’t stop using Anglo-Saxon or Old English to talk to other peasants.
1399: Henry IV takes the English crown and declares English is the official language of England – we call that language Middle English. By the time Henry embraces English, the language has gone through a process of simplification, dropping most inflections from nouns and adjectives.
Exploration and trade: William the Conqueror was the last to invade England. As England grew in power and prestige, its kings and queens invaded other lands. They conquered first, borrowed words second. The English weren't snobby when it came to foreign words. English absorbed many foreign words with little change in pronunciation. Whom the English couldn't conquer, they traded with. More words flowed into the language.
Renaissance: The Age of Enlightenment brought a renewed interest in Greek and Latin. Many words using Greek and Latin prefixes and roots were added to English during the late 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. Most of these words faded away, though, maybe because scholars created them to sound smart. English already had words that meant the same thing as these new words, so they weren’t needed. Shakespeare added two to three thousand words to the language during this period, also.
Technology: Today new words still enter English through scientific discovery and new technology.
Of all the words I know, my favorite word is "word," because that's where language begins, with a word.
Of all the words you know, what is your favorite word and why?
ABOUT MM Pollard
As a copy editor for Black Velvet Seductions for three years and now acquisitions editor, MM Pollard reads many entertaining and thought-provoking stories. She also finds common mistakes in the fundamental skills of writing.
With fifteen years of experience teaching English serving as a resource of knowledge and a life-time love of teaching and of language, MM began presenting workshops in February, 2011. Her goal is to teach writers what they need to know about the writing craft so that they won’t need an editing service to correct their mistakes in these areas.
MM has helped many writers improve their language and writing skills through her fun workshops. She has presented workshops for many RWA chapters, Savvy Authors, Writers Online Classes, and in her own virtual classroom. MM is sure she can help you, too, master the fundamentals of English.
MM Pollard, editor, Black Velvet Seductions