Two Old Codgers

How the World strikes us

When the Normans invaded England, they ruled the country for more than three centuries, with French as the language of English society's powerful people. French became the language used in literature, in administration and in writing political documents. At the same time, scholars and the church used Latin. As a result, the English vocabulary was enriched by thousands of French and Latin words.

These days most UK adults know between 20,000–35,000 words. By the age of age eight, we already know about 10,000 words. The Shorter Oxford Dictionary holds about half a million.

Normally, words just roll off our tongue without thinking. We don't have to consider if they are nouns, adjectives, pronouns, swear words or even onomatopoeic words. Hang on ! What's an onomatopoeic word!? We use them all the time, they mimic the sounds or actions of the word. Buzz, slap, sneeze, pop, bang, fizz - go on you think of some.

We may think we teach children how to speak but the ability to use the tongue, lips and larynx is born with us. What we teach is a language and unlike teaching a foreign language it is done by simply talking to babies and children. It always staggers me the way they pick up speech from us. After all, unless we are television newsreaders, most of us aren't careful with words and how we speak. Just think of the words we run together without pause. Twirly (It’s too early), eezineer (he’s in here), earyar (here you are), leftit (left it), avyudun (have you done) eetitup (eat it up), bettrad (better had). And how about Emma Chizzit? (Probably with an Australian accent!)

Somehow kids soon know to split up the words they hear. I remember asking my mum what a 'tillisobar' was. On the radio I had heard a sea shanty, I knew what a long boat was but 'A longboat
tillisobar' had me baffled. At Sunday school there was a phrase which also puzzled me, something like 'The land, the air, the sea and all thetinthumis" What the heck is thetinthumis ? A little girl travelling in the car with her family joined in the sing-song and asked if they could sing 'Windy Skies'. You know the one, "If you go down to woods today you'd better go windy skies.

That same little girl was given a hand made teddy bear. Granny had missed a stitch and accidentally given the bear a squint.

She decided to call her new bear 'Gladly'. Why Gladly? At Sunday School they sang a hymn which included the line "Gladly the cross eyed bear”.

I have read that language ‘Comes up’ from the ordinary people rather than ‘Coming down’ from the top people. I guess that is why Norman and French didn’t take over as our language and we virtually reverted to what we now know as English.

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