April 22, 2012

"The History of English in 10 Minutes."

This video is truly great:

Found via Smithsonian, where I'm finding so much great stuff this morning and wondering why I don't go here all the time.

Somehow I found Chapter 7 "The Age of the Dictionary" the most touching.
Try as [Doctor Johnson] might to stop them, words kept being invented and in 1857 a new book was started which would become the Oxford English Dictionary. It took another 70 years to be finished after the first editor resigned to be an Archbishop, the second died of TB and the third was so boring that half his volunteers quit and one of the ended up in an Asylum.
Well summed up. (Even better with the cartoons running.) And I've read "The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary," which takes much longer than 10 minutes to read, but is also truly great, as is the OED itself. I especially love — I'm madly in love with — the OED website, which requires a subscription.
A piece of writing at the end of a document, e.g. the concluding clause or formula of a letter with the writer's signature, the colophon of a book, etc., the note appended to the epistles in the New Testament, etc.
No, not that. Cash money. You have to go to definition #7 to get to the money stuff and to #8a to get to the idea we're talking about:
A contribution of money for a specified object; spec. the fixed sum promised or required as a periodical contribution by a member of a society, etc. to its funds, or for the purchase of a periodical publication, or in payment for a book published ‘by subscription’ (see 9).
The oldest usage like that comes from 1679 "Had not some of our benefactours been very slow in paying their subscriptions."


CWJ said...

Pretty ironic that our mongrelized language has become so universal. My wife and I host high school foreign exchange students each year. We have had Albaglish, Russglish, Polglish, Italglish (twice), Kyrglish, Germglish, and Hunglish (twice)spoken in our home. Curiously, all our kids have claimed that English is easier than each of their native languages. They come here having been taught English, but they all return home speaking Midwest rican. We know of at least two of their English teachers who were irritated that they were teaching their friends American when they returned.

Jose_K said...

The roman left to the west? And the Juts were from south Denmark so "vikings " too. And did not go until the 8th century an of course from the east.

chickenlittle said...

That is a great little synopsis--many thanks for linking it.

There's a "Publisher's Note" inside my hard copy of The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology which reads:

Dr. C.T. Onions, whose lifetime of learning this dictionary harvests, died while it was still going through the press. He was the last of the editors of the original Oxford English Dictionary and for many years the doyen unquestioned of English lexicography. The publishers would like to take this last opportunity of saluting the man to whom this etymological dictionary will be an enduring monument.

More on Onions' life at Wikipedia: link

John Burgess said...

At $300/yr for individuals, the OED is a pretty pricey proposition. It's great if you can access it through an institutional subscription, but unless it comes as part of the job (or the tuition bill) OED is something for the 1%, I guess.

EDH said...

For an annual rate of $295, you'll have full unrestricted access to the OED Online - including quarterly updates!

The madness continues.

rcommal said...

Great stuff! And "the Professor and the Madmen:..." is one of my favorites.

edutcher said...


Sounds like Dr Johnson should have worked for the Academie Francaise.

Aren't they always the ones trying to maintain the purity of the French language?

Paddy O said...

I discovered Smithsonian magazine in the cheap for-sale bins at my local library. Back issues that were utterly fascinating. Found them right when National Geographic was beginning it's own long downward spiral into becoming less informational and interesting and more into advocacy on environmental and religious stuff.

Smithsonian is a great magazine and a great website, one that I've not visited for a while so thanks for the reminder.

Christy said...

In a scrabble game with my 13 year old nephew last week we ran into considerable frustration because I refused to accept words that were found in an on-line dictionary he was accustomed to using. I was outraged and became fuddy-duddy about the language endorsed by this source, but know in my heart that I'm fighting a losing battle. I'm generally okay with new words, but this was a sloppy spelling of an old word. BTW, the word that kicked off all this was "ya" - used to pre-emtively capture the triple word score at the bottom.

Ken said...


Thanks for posting this. Recently, I started reading Middle English lit (in Middle English) and have thought of taking on the daunting task of learning Old English. These two things got me interested in the history and development of English. And I found this and this a few months ago, which I thought you'd find interesting.

Leigh Fellner said...

..." one of the ended up in an Asylum."

Um, no. (This is not the first of the Smithsonian's gaffes.) One of them STARTED (and remained) in an asylum for the criminally insane, and nobody working on the OED had the slightest inkling about the residence of its most prolific contributor. See Simon Winchester's "The Professor and the Madman" for details, and his "The Meaning of Everything" for the whole story of the OED.

Nora said...

Brilliant! Thanks.

European studies showed that there are much higher occurence of dyslexia among English speakers than any other European language speakers. This cartoon shows why.

Craig Howard said...

all our kids have claimed that English is easier than each of their native languages

That's pretty unusual. In my experience, English is about the hardest language around to speak competently. Part of the reason for that is that we really do speak a couple languages -- the old English version (Mother Goose, small words, what we learn as babies) and the more stylish, Latinate, multi-syllabic version pushed by academics and, ahem, lawyers.

Joe said...

To my knowledge, Dr. Johnson was a descriptivist and didn't try to stop English from changing.