The origin of English words
It is estimated that 41% of everyday English words originated from French and only 33% from Anglo-Saxon, also called Old English. So what we are saying here is that there are more English words of French origin than there are English words of Anglo-Saxon origin. Now that's incredible, isn't it? English is a Germanic language, but if an English speaker looks at a page of German and a page of French, he or she is going to understand much more of the French page than the German page. What the hell happened? Do we speak English or French? In order to find out We need a little historical context.
The Norman Conquests and the Anglo-Saxons
In 1066, William the Conqueror landed at Hastings in England, and within a short time, the Norman invaders had taken the whole country for the next five centuries. French was the language of the ruling class in England. During this time, the nobility were born, lived and died in England. But their language was French and most would have known little or no English. The language of court was French. The aristocracy spoke French. The government, the justice system, the church. Everything was conducted in French or rather Anglo Norman, which was the dialect of French from Normandy. However, the English language, or rather the English languages, as there were various dialects of Anglo-Saxon spoken in England at that time. Continued to be spoken. All across the land in the farms across England, the Lords may have spoken French, but those who toiled the Earth, the peasants spoke English, the craftsmen and the artisans, the butchers, the bakers and the candlestick makers spoke Old English and, as I said, Old English Anglo-Saxon. That's the same thing. The nature of the Norman Conquest of England was different from most of the previous invaders, except perhaps the Romans. When the Romans invaded in 56 A.D., most people on the island spoke Celtic languages. Today, speakers of these languages are still found in the UK. Welsh is spoken across Wales and in the North West and the islands of Scotland. Gaelic can still be heard, by the way. The Romans they invaded left very few words of Latin in our language. The huge number of Latin that came into English arrived many centuries later after the Norman conquests. But that's a subject for a different article. From the fifth century onwards, there were waves of migration and invasions from Germanic speaking tribes. The Angles where the name English comes from, the Saxons, the Jutes and more. And then came the Vikings.
There is much debate about when the Vikings from Scandinavia first invaded. But most historians put the dates of the first invasion AD 793 (or 793 CE) as people say these days when the Vikings attacked and looted the monastery at Lindisfarne. During subsequent centuries, they took control of most of the country, but their influence was particularly strong in the North. Now this article is about the influence of French on English, not Old English or Old Norse. But this point is very important for understanding why English is how it is now. The Angles, the Saxons, the Jutes, the Vikings. When they invaded, they lived among the people and they were the rulers, but they intermarried with local people. They built communities. They toiled the lands. They built towns and villages. The Vikings and the Anglo-Saxon tribes spoke different languages, but they were similar languages. And what happens when people who speak similar but different languages meet each other? For example a Spaniard and an Italian or a Swede and a Dane? They might. You know, simplify the language a little bit, simplify the grammar to help the interlocutor understand. Well, this is kind of a simplified explanation, but explains why English lost a lot of its complex constructions, such as masculine, feminine and neuter nouns that there used to be in Old English, but not anymore. And it's cases. Now, let's return to French.
French vocabulary in English
When the Normans invaded, unlike previous waves of invaders, the Normans, they didn't mingle so much with the people. They didn't intermarry and join every level of society. Instead, they imposed themselves in quite a different way. They were very much a ruling class. They built castles and fortresses across the country to control the local population rather than live with them. This essentially is why the ruling class spoke French, but the peasants and working people in the towns and villages across England continued, speaking English. You can see this, for example, in the names of foods. The French aristocracy ate the food in their castles and called it by the names that they were familiar with. For example, beef from boeuf, veal, pork, mutton, and venison. While the peasants were English, we still use the English names for the animals themselves. Cow Calf. Sheep. Deer. French spoken in England after the Norman invasion is often referred to as Anglo Norman, and it was a different dialect from the Parisian French. However, Parisian French continue to exert its influence on English for centuries. This means sometimes we have the same French words entering the English language twice, once from Anglo Norman and once from Parisian French. So, for example, Warden is from Anglo Norman. French means a supervisor in a certain place. For example, we talk today about a prison warden. But guardian comes from Parisian French, and it means a protector of something, and it has a more lofty. Meaning, for example. You're a priest and you claim to be the guardian of our morals and yet look at what you've done. So it's strange that we have two French words where the French only have one. So sometimes we have more French words than the French. That's strange, isn't it? Other examples of such pairs guarantee and warranty, as you see, the W is from Anglo Norman French Guard and ward, similar to what we just looked at: catch and chase cattle and chattel, charity and cheer. When the Normans came over, they not only brought the French language but also Latin, which was used in government and in the church. The English language at this time became the third language in its own country, even though it was the language of 90% of the population. And the situation would remain like that for 300 years, although it was largely ignored by the French aristocracy. English continued to evolve. The Norman conquest began in 1066 and the first English monarch to speak English as a first language was Henry IV in 1399. However, even after that date, when English became the language of England, finally, French still continued to wield an enormous amount of influence, and French words and expressions continued to be absorbed into English. Have a look at the coat of arms on the British passport. There are two phrases on it, but they are not English. They are French. You have "dieu et mon droit" my God and my right, and the other is "honi soit qui mal y pense" which means shame on those who think bad of it. We'll explain why that's on the passport another time. Strange, isn't it? After all these centuries, French not English is on the cover of the British passport. There are so many words of French and [Anglo-Norman] in English, but here it's just a few examples from governments. We have Monarch, duke, mayor, council government, peasant, realm from church ad religion, ecclesiastical, faith, prey abbey, saint, parish, clergy from the law: Justice, judge, crime evidence, jury, attorney, court From military: war, battle, castle, fortress, combat, navy garrison. From food: Salad, cream, soup, seasoning, casserole, herbs. From education and medicine: Study, surgeon, medicine, art, essay and much, much more. Although in England, we speak English, the French language continued to be a source of words and expressions. Now let's look at a few everyday expressions that we use in English, and I'd like to draw your attention.
Pardon my French
first of all, to one very common English idiom which demonstrates the importance of French. And that is "pardon my French". In English, you say pardon my French when you want to apologize for swearing, saying something bad, using rude words, for example, that Perkins in accounts is a bloody bastard. If you'll pardon my French. Or if you hurt yourself. Oh. f*** pardon my French. OK, so apologizing for swearing and the origin of the item is curious because it didn't always mean that it comes from the late 19th century when English speakers would use a lot of French expressions in conversation and pardon my French or excuse my French was used literally to indicate to the person that you were speaking to that you had switched languages and to apologize if your French wasn't quite right. To this day, we still use a lot of French expressions in English. Now let us have a look with Jon and see how common they still are.
Part 2: French expressions in English with Jon
So, Jon, today we've got some English expressions that come from the French language. What you have to do is say what they mean in English, of course. Give an example. And also, I divided up these expressions into three levels. Level one, everybody knows them. Like c'est la vie oh it's been a terrible day. But c'est la vie, everyone will know that: Level two kind of most people will know them, but a little more unusual. And Level three, very formal and literary expressions that you would only perhaps use in writing or among, you know, very educated and literary-like people: Like yourself - like myself, you wouldn't use them in general conversation. Yeah. So you have to say the level one, level two, level three, that will help you when you're deciding which ones you can use. Also, what about pronunciation? According to Fowler, Fowler's Modern Usage, when you're using a French or any foreign expression in English, you shouldn't pronounce it like French because it's English, but you shouldn't pronounce it as if it's English. That's confusing, isn't it? Yeah. So it's somewhere in between, somewhere in between just to indicate to the listener that it's a foreign language, but not so perfect, because then you're showing off. Yes, my French accent is wonderful. That's true. So, for example, you would say Bon Appetit. . Not Bon Appétit, which would be English, which would sound ridiculous or bon appétit. That would be too French. Well, it's not because I can't really do the French accent perfectly. So somewhere in between. Yeah, that's a challenge for you. Challenge for French people. You have to like not to sound too French. So let's go to the first one here. Here we are. Deja vu. I would say deja vu is definitely a level one. Everyone knows deja vu. Everybody knows that. Yes. What's it mean? Well, so this article seems a little bit like deja vu to me. I'm sure we've done something like this. But yeah, that feeling that it's happened before. Yeah. And we have some. We done the article before I just can't remember where. Me neither. Exactly. I think in French, if he's already seen, doesn't it? That's the literal meaning Yeah, yeah. OK, thank you. Next one. So coup d'état. So there was a coup d'état in a country far away that was unstable. Yes. Rule Ruritannia, that's an imaginary. country There was recently a coup d'état. Ruritania Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah. So the army took over, right? Yeah, that's correct. Well, yeah, yeah. It's a level one, level two? I would say that's probably a level two to me. Yeah. It's not used every day. You'd recognize it. Yeah, definitely recognize that. Yeah, a lot of people shorten it to coup wouldn't they? Yeah, a lot of people would say coup you'd hear that in the news It was a coup in this country. Yeah. Yeah, that's just short for coup d'état By the way, I think they use expression in Japanese. Wow. Because I was in Japan a long time ago and I was sick and I spent all day in bed and I was reading Japanese TV, I didn't understand anything, except I kept saying coup d'état And yeah, so I probably got the expression via English rather than my French. I guess there was a coup d'état there somewhere, and I thought oh know! was it Britain? I return and there has been a coup d'état and I'll be be stopped and arrested at the airport. Interesting. Yeah. So the next one is voila. So voila is like here it is. I'm bordering on one and two. I'm thinking one. But maybe will we move in different circles? It's possible. Yeah, yeah, it's possible. Yeah, you definitely move in high circles it seems fairly common anyway. give an example. So while here's the article. Yeah, you press this button and voila, the machine starts working. Yeah, sure. You want coffee? OK? Press that button. Switch on. Press the button. Voila! Yeah. So a meaning like here it is. There it is. And there you go. I think use the same way in French, isn't it? Yes. Yeah, I would have thought so. because I should say a few of these expressions we use in English, but the French don't use them or they have another expression. Mm-Hmm. We'll get to that later. So bon voyage. I, well, I would say bon voyage is a level 2. people still say they don't they people would do, Yeah, yeah, I guess so. some people would say have a good trip. Some people say, Bon Voyage. Uh, I guess so. It's probably a little bit higher level. Is that in the sense you wouldn't? Yeah, OK. Most everyday people would say, have a good trip or have fun wouldn't they? So that's fine putting it in level 2 to be OK. Alright, level two, OK. au contraire. Au contraire. That means to the opposite, literally the opposite. Yeah. So let me ask you a question, Jon. We're going to the rugby game, but you don't like rugby, so you haven't been invited. Ou contraire. Gideon I love rugby. Oh, you do. OK, well, here's your ticket. Thank you very much. Wow, that's great. So the England game against France, I think we're going to win the next one. This one next one. Esprit de corps Yeah. Esprit de corps I would say. This is definitely a level three because being the the ignorant person I am, I didn't know this before, did I? OK, you have to explain it to me, didn't you? Yeah. So it's the spirit of the body. Is that right? That's right. That's right. I think it's a level three. It's it's it's quite literally. Maybe I can give an example. Yeah. So I know in some countries, the workers, before they start work, they do some exercises together in the morning and this is to build this esprit de corps of the team. one I use quite a lot myself. ah a faux pas. So this is an interesting one. Yeah, I mean, I suppose, you know, I maybe I have my mother in law over and I insult her cooking. Oh, Jon, you made a terrible faux pas. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, that's a bad thing to do. Yeah, and never do that. I remember one of my work colleagues once told me I made a faux pas when I came to work in double denim. Double denim. Yes, denim jeans, denim jacket. And they said, You have made a fashion faux pas. Yeah, you did that yesterday, didn't you? No, never again. By the way, what's that plural faux pas in English? Is there a plural phone you made two faux pas, I guess you would that wouldn't be in French, but English, you'd have to say that that wouldn't you, too? That's very true. Yeah, you would say two faux pas. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But you'd have a bad day if you did to bypass. Yeah, I'm sure like that. I've had those kind of days. Yeah, but those kind of days when you turn up at your mother in law's house and double denim and insult her cooking Oh yeah, it's just not going well today, OK, raison d'etre. Yeah, OK. Yeah, this is an interesting one. I'd say it's a level three. Do you agree That's a level three, which I probably would say that's level three. I wouldn't use it in normal conversation, but you would in some circumstances. Yeah, that's true. Not everyone can understand it. Yeah, you came out with an interesting example about the Brexit Party, who were obviously campaigning for Brexit. And the raison d'etre was Brexit they got Brexit. I hate Brexit, by the way. Am I allowed to say that? I don't know. OK. I said, Okay, well, no. I think it's no secret I'm anti-Brexit anyway. But the Brexit Party, they their raison d'etre was Brexit, and they got Brexit. So why do they exist anymore? That's a good question, that they've more morphed into something new and exciting, right? Yeah, the less said about that the better. anyway, we'll continue savoir faire. I would say this is probably a level 2 one. Would you agree? Yeah, I agree. Yeah, I agree. Most people know even if they don't use it, let's be honest. Yeah, my savoir faire of cooking French pastries you have the savoir faire. I don't know. We should ask John to make our French pastries. Yeah, I can do pain au chocolat without gluten as well. How good is that? OK, I can't wait. Indeed. OK. Yeah. So interesting that I think the French do say savoir faire, but I've I've heard them use know-how know-how, which is the translation The French are using Our expression we're using theirs, you can, you know-how in English of course, It's curious. Yeah, yeah. So next one is creme de la creme. Yeah. Well, this is an easy one. Yeah. So level one, we think a level two. Uh, I think it's bordering on the two more than the one slightly, isn't it? I mean, it would be commonly used, but yeah, perhaps a bit more on the two. Yeah, because I I've got a very good example that go so out of all of your 75 teachers. OK, you're your your English is not true, but I am the creme de la creme. You all depend on it and I am the top teacher. Yeah. Interestingly, though, the French, they don't use creme de la creme. or not so much. They're more likely to think top du top, which is English, we're using the French, they're using the English because that doesn't make any sense in English, doesn't it? It makes those top of the top. No, it doesn't mean. OK, so passé. So something is passé means it's kind of gone is the old fashioned. We don't wear it anymore. We don't use it anymore. We don't do it anymore. Yeah, that's very true. Yeah. Is rock music, passé? Young people aren't listening to to rock. I don't know I'm young, still listening to it. You still that's good me too. double entendre. 00, I like this one. Yeah, I would say this level two. And you have a rather nice lunch box. Well, excuse me, what did you say? You said you have a rather nice lunch. Oh! a lunch box. Oh, because that has two meanings. Yeah, double entendre is like a phrase which has two meanings sometimes one of them is a bit sexual. Yeah, but you're talking literally about my lunch box here. Yeah, indeed. That's a very nice, nice lunch box. And it featured in another article just in a bit. Yes. Check it out. Step up here. Yeah. By the way, double entendre is not used by the French. I don't have that. They don't say that now. OK, well, I think it doesn't make any sense. They say un mot de double sense I'm not sure I'll have to check with a French person. Okay. I'm not French, by the way, speaking. En suite So we would use this in a hotel, wouldn't we? Yeah. Well, if you're buying at home, yeah, you'd have a master bedroom with an en suite, which means your bathroom is connected to the main room. Yeah, I would say this is a level one, isn't it? I think so. I think the French don't use that as well, if not in the same sense anyway. But I think they say, I think that everything is en suite anyway, so that they say additional bathroom or the French accent, something like that. OK, yes, interesting. This is an interesting one especially because of the pronunciation. I think it is used in French, but pronunciation is completely different. You are also a cul de sac. Oh, you say something different to me. I say cul de sac. But just because you come. From somewhere in the Midlands So what does it mean? So it's a road that is not a through road. So typically in a residential area, you would have a cul de sac as it ends. and there is no thorough way to. Yeah, exactly. I think it is used in French, but they would say cul de sac something like that. But if you said cul de sac in England, no one would understand what you're talking about. Don't go down that road. It's a cul de sac. They would say. What are you talking about? Yeah. They'd have no idea. So yes, cul de sac. However, Jon says it. That's the right way. I got one more for you, Jon. Bete Noir So I would automatically say this is a level three. That's level three. But I could say your spelling is your best one. Exactly. The thing that is most difficult and cumbersome and hated by me and in English you use it for things like, I think in French , you just use it for people. I think so, but I think you can use it for things. Your spelling is my bete noire. I keep making spelling mistakes. But it literally means black beast. Yeah. black beast Wow. OK, sounds. Yeah, serious. OK, well, I wonder if we should make this article into a film noir. It could be a murder and there could be, you know, some detective work. and as a detective, you're the crème de la crème. So yeah, yeah. Well, as long as I don't get murdered. Yeah. Yeah. Okay, Jon, thank you for taking part in that. Do you think so? Check out Jon's podcast. Yes, you can check out my podcast, English with Monty and the lovely Gideon is on it as well. And he was most excellent at the time. See you next time.