In the first part of this series, we looked at the various ways how writing compelling prose in English can be such a minefield (though not a literal one). In this, the second of this two-part series, we’ll look at why that might be.
Let’s start with a simple example. When you’re done with your day today, you’re going to go to your home. But you would be going to the same place if you called it your dwelling, domicile, or accommodations.
“Home” comes from Old English (hām), from Germanic origins, as similar words exist in Dutch and German. “Dwelling” is also from Old English, but the modern meaning comes from Middle English by way of Middle Dutch and Old Norse. Domicile comes to us from Old French out of Latin, where as accommodations comes to us directly out of Latin.
So that’s… four words that pretty much all say the same thing, that have roots in (somehow) seven different languages.
That’s just one little tiny four-letter English word, to say nothing of, oh, every other word, their usages, and the often downright nonsensical grammar you must utilize to string those words together into something that makes sense. And the craziest thing is that these frustrations are shared by native speakers and non-native speakers alike. Native speakers are often just as confused about the exceptions to it seems like every English rule (I before E, except after C, or when sounded as a in neighbor and weigh… to cite one common example, that doesn’t you may notice, account for the word “protein,” “height,” or “Science”). So why is English such a difficult language to learn, to say nothing of writing it with fluency, grace, and accuracy?
The answer is hinted at above. English comes to us out of England, of course—or more accurately, the British Isles. But the weird thing is… the early residents of the British Isles had less to do with creating English than invaders like the Romans, Angles, and Saxons. Celtic was only spoken in pockets of the countryside after the Latin-speaking and Germanic conquerors came to fight and trade with the native Britons, resulting in a proto-English language that was a mishmash of Celtic, Latin, and German.
Later, when Christianity came to England (in an around the 7th and 8th centuries) Latin became more common among scholars and the clergy. And even later still, when Viking invaders came to stay, they brought Old Norse into the mix. When the Normans arrived, Norman-French became the language of the aristocracy, but Old English—the mongrel tongue described above—was spoken by all and sundry. Old English took its words from all over the place, and its grammar as well, and its increasing popularity over the centuries made it the dominant tongue of the British Isles, and then their various colonies.
When you think about it, English as we think of it is like the Chimera of the ancient Greeks (a language we take plenty of words from, as well)!
People who love English… love English. They revel in its complexity and strangeness. The idea of cobbling together elegant, pointed prose from that mishmash tongue delights them. If you’re not one of those people, that’s fine! But the thing is, if you’re a small business owner or service provider trying to expand your share in this world where the written word is increasingly more important, hiring people to write for you is a great idea.
Is the written word ever more important? People might argue that point, but with the Web being the place a huge percentage of the population go first to research goods and services, we here at KCWMS believe that’s the case. We’re a company of ghost writers who love English. We live to craft compelling, pointed, fluent, and engaging blogs, white papers, and websites for people who are either not fond of writing, or too busy to do it themselves. Interested? Contact us to get started today!
by Molly T.