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Monday, 17 November 2014

How did Latin words first enter English?


Perhaps surprisingly the Roman occupation of Britain had little initial impact on the development of the English language. Only place names like London, Bath & Chester indicate the official language of the occupiers.

It was with the arrival of Christian missionaries in the 6th and 7th centuries that significant numbers of Latin words began entering the lexicon. Latin was  the lingua franca or common language of the Christian world, with the mass or service  being conducted in Latin. 

Other religious words like abbot, altar, apostle & candle gradually came into common use.

The Oxford History of English

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Friday, 14 November 2014

Why are there irregular verbs?

There are thousands of regular verbs (paint, walk) - and less than two hundred irregular verbs. 

Yet it is those awkward irregulars which dominate in spoken in English (see here).

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Grammar Girl has a slightly different take here - and talks about verbs becoming irregular in her most recent podcast.

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Thursday, 13 November 2014

10 most used verbs in English? What do they have in common?


Here are the ten most heavily used verbs in the English language: be, have, do, say, make, go, take, come, see, get. 

Do you notice what they have in common?  They are all irregular.

There are around 180 irregular verbs in English – a small fraction of the many thousands of regular ones. They punch above their weight*, however, making up 70% of the verbs in everyday use.

So how have these tricky customers evolved? And why are they so central to English?

See this post I wrote for the OUP

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Why do we say 'flea market'?

No agreement here about the origin of flea market - other than you won't find fleas for sale if you go to one. There are two (vaguely) plausible theories:

 1. A translation of the March Aux Puces - often used to describe a large outdoor market in Paris that became popular in the 1920s "because there are so many second-hand articles sold of all kinds that they are believed to gather fleas." [E.S. Dougherty, "In Europe," 1922]. 

 2. From the Dutch word for swamp is given as “vlie”, which sounds like flea when spoken in English. The Dutch settlers held markets in the then swampland that was Manhattan Island. 

The OED goes with the French market explanation which, while less cute, is more convincing.

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Word for admirer of American culture?

America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy.
– John Updike
There does not seem to be an agreed term for us admirers of the USA - as you can see from the number of Google references here:

yankophile 945

americanophile 716
americophile 233
americaphile 150
usaphile 14
usphile 1

Contrast this with the words used for fans of French, English, Chinese or Japanese culture
anglophile 102,000, francophile 84,700, japanophile 20,400, sinophile 3450
Why is this? Snobbery, perhaps - a 'new' culture looked down on by traditional ones? Or is it just linguistically awkward - americaphile really isn't a pretty word.

Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving! And no hard feelings from the country you so cruelly spurned ....

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You might want to check out: 
The New American Century * Alistair Cooke's America

Thursday, 6 November 2014

American Politics. What is a Republican? And a Democrat?

The English Language: 100 FAQ

There are only two major political parties in the US; the Republicans & the Democrats. A representative from one or other party has won every presidential election since 1852. The above presentation briefly describes the key differences between them.


How did they get the names Republican and Democrat?

This gets very confusing! 

The Federalist Party of Alexander Hamilton  was opposed by Thomas Jefferson who formed an opposition party in 1792. Jefferson's  party developed into the Democratic-Republican Party (1798) and was the forerunner of the modern Democratic Party.

The  modern Republican Party was founded in the 1850s and  key features included opposition to slavery and a support base in the northern states. Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, while the pro-slavery southern states were largely Democrat.

Where do they stand today?  
Broadly speaking, the Democratic Party is left-of-center and the Republican Party right-of-center As the 2000 Presidential Election spectacularly proved, the American electorate is divided into these two camps. On one side are the Democrat-voting blue states, located primarily on the coasts (California and New York, for example) and in the north-east. They are opposed by the Republican red states of the so-called fly-over heartland and the south.
Registered voters in 2004
The core voters of a party are known as the base. On the Democrat side the base is largely consists of trade unionists and various interest groups defined by race or social outlook. For red state Republicans the unifying issues tend to be pro-life (anti abortion), anti gun control and pro small government. Democrats often describe themselves as progressives and Republicans as values voters.

In the primary, or presidential candidate selection process, candidates appeal to base by emphasising their ideological convictions. Traditionally, candidates then 'pivot to the centre' for the general election in order to appeal to the broader electorate.
How are elections decided?
By what happens to a third group of independent voters in swing (or purple) states like Oregon, New Mexico or Ohio. Independents historically have sided with the winning party. These went with Bush in 2004 and Obama in 2008 and to a lesser extent in 2012. In 2014 they have swung back to the Republicans.
What do independents want? 
This is the key question for electoral strategists. Surveys consistently show that the electorate is more ‘conservative’ than ‘liberal’ or left leaning. That is why there are ‘blue-dog Democrats’ representing many purple districts. Blue dogs define themselves as being more fiscally conservative than the majority of their party and are usually against gun control and – to a lesser extent – abortion.
Republicans also field candidates who are seen as more socially liberal where this better suits the electorate. Examples include Charlie Baker – who became the governor of the Democratic stronghold of Massachusetts in November 2014 or Rudy Giuliani the pro-choice (abortion) former Mayor of New York.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

What is quantitative easing?

Quantitative easing is when a government pumps 'new' money directly into the economy. It does this is by buying assets - usually financial assets such as government and corporate bonds. 


The financial institutions selling those assets (e.g banks) can then boost the economy by lending this new money to businesses.

Why is QE unusual?
The normal way a government stimulates economic growth is by a) reducing the cost of borrowing  b) lowering taxes, particularly on business investment. The problem in the current financial crisis has been that interest rates are already at historic lows. As a result some governments (notably the US and to a lesser extent the UK) have attempted to inject money directly into the economy. 

The European  Central Bank has resisted QE until recently. Some would argue that this has been a factor in the weakness of the European economic recovery


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