Each and every language is fascinating in its own way. The way it has evolved, words that have been ‘borrowed’ from other languages, spelling and pronunciation quirks… it all adds up to a unique and beautiful whole.
When we work in professional translation, whether specialising in video translation, business translation or any subject, it’s all too easy to let the demands of the day job obscure that core love of language that first prompted us to translate. As such, why not take a minute to sit back and enjoy this collection of fabulous and fascinating facts about the English language before you delve back into your day’s work?
Different languages approach word order in different ways. In English, all you need to do is remember to use the approach of opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose noun. This ordering was defined by Mark Forsyth in The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase. It’s a wonderful part of the English language that very few people could describe, yet which almost all native speakers are able to use without a moment’s thought.
This very particular word order is the reason that we can live in a lovely large old red-brick cottage, rather than a large red-brick old lovely cottage. It’s an essential part of the language, but one that’s almost hidden in plain sight from most speakers.
Words we want to understand
Whether you’re learning English or have been speaking it all your life, it’s unlikely that you know the meaning of every word in the dictionary. Even those working in professional translation won’t know every word. Online dictionaries are a fantastic resource when it comes to clarifying definitions and Merriam-Webster has helpfully shared details of the most-looked up words in its online version.
The top ten most looked up words are:
Words we don’t understand
In a similar vein, Harvard linguist and best-selling author of The Sense of Style, Steven Pinker, has flagged up a list of the words that are most commonly misused in English. Some of the highlights include:
Interestingly, Pinker also flagged up ‘effect’ and ‘affect.’ The fact that these were among the top ten words that people look up online in Merriam-Webster show that at least some English speakers are aware that they are misusing words and are trying to do something about it!
The evolution of English
Of course, one of the most exciting things about the English language is how swiftly it is evolving. Worstest, fungivorous and corporation pop were among the words and phrases most recently added to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). The OED shares its official updates every quarter. The September update included over 1,000 new words, phrases, senses and subentries, reflecting the pace at which our language is reshaping itself around modern life.
70 of those words have their origins in Indian English, highlighting the importance of loan words in the evolution of the language. Some of these – chaudhuri, qila, bada din, haat – date back to the 18th century. Others – the newest is jugaad – originated just before the end of the 20th century.
The evolution of English is a delightful study for linguists, even if some of the latest words to make it into the OED (worstest, seriously?) make those with a fondness for the Queen’s English shudder.
If you have a fondness for linguistic facts of this nature, why not check out the Tomedes Language Facts page? We update this regularly with interesting snippets and you can even add your own facts.
What other elements of the English language do you feel should be celebrated? What are your favourite English words and why? Leave a comment to let us know.