Evolution of English

100s | Latin terms in Colonized Brittania

Anchor. Battle. Camp. Civic. Council. Disc. Legal. Inch. Mile. Populus. Scribe. Settlement. Sign. Street. Wall. Wine.

When the pre–Saxon locals were colonized by the Roman Empire, they took on the words necessary to communicate with Romans.


500s | West Saxon (1 of 4 dialects of Old English)

Example: Hwæt we Gar–Dena in gear–dagum þeod–cyninga þrym gefrunon, hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.

Four regional dialects from Central Europe replaced the Brythonic, Insular Celtic, and Latin spoken before the arrival of the Saxons.


600s | Ecclesiastical Greek & Latin

Church. Cathedral. Bishop. Priest. Cleric. Monk. Angel. Devil. Miracle. Cross. Christ. Bible. School. Rule. Psalm. Prayer.

Christianity brought two principle cultural forces to the island—Latin religion and Latin schooling.


700s | Norse Invasions

 Anger. Awe. Bait. Bark. Birth. Bylaw. Call. Choose. Club. Crook. Deer. Die. Dirt. Egg. Elder. Elf. Fellow. Flat. Fog. Get. Gift. Guest. Haggle. Hail. Happy. Hell. Hit. Husband. Ill. Irk. Kid. Knife. Knot. Lad. Leather. Leg. Loan. Loose. Low. Mistake. Odd. Outlaw. Ransack. Rid. Rotten. Run. Saga. Sale. Scare. Score. Scrap. Shake. Skill. Skull. Skirt. Sky. Slaughter. Sly. Snare. Sprint. Steak. Take. They. Thing. Thrust. Troll. Trust. Ugly. Wand. Want. Weak. Wife. Wing. Wrong. Also: the days of the week.

The Anglo–Saxons spent a few hundred years repelling Norse Viking invaders, but many of the short gutteral Viking words stayed.


1000s | Norman (French) Invasion

Accuse. Adultery. Armour. Army. Baliff. Battalion. Camouflage. Candle. Captain. Castle. Cater. Cattle. Cavalry. Chivalry. Dungeon. Fashion. Fork. Garden. General. Government. Liberty. Mail. Majesty. Mayor. Minister. Morale. Parliament. Peasant. Pedigree. Platoon. Poor. Rendezvous. Royal. Siege. Squadron. Surveillance. Terrain. Troop. Villian. War.

In 1066, the French–Norman William the Conquerer became the king of England, and his dialect of French became the source for many of our words found in law, government, and the military.


1200s | Middle English

Example: And specially from every shires ende,
Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke. 

The late Medieval period marks the “middle” point of the English language. We can understand much, but not all, of what is written.  Spelling is not yet standardized, and pronunciation is stranger still. The most significant example of Middle English is Chaucer’s unfinished Canterbury Tales.


1300s | English & the Islamic World

Admiral. Algebra. Algorithm. Alcohol. Almanac. Arsenal. Assassin. Caliber. Candy. Caravan. Checkmate. Chemistry. Cipher. Coffee. Cotton. Elixir. Gauze. Gazelle. Ghoul. Giraffe. Jar. Lacquer. Lemon. Mattress. Orange. Saffron. Soda. Sofa. Tuna. Zero.

When English Christians were called to join the Crusades, they encountered a wholly unique empire of cultures. The Islamic world had existed for nearly 500 years before its first serious engagement with Western Europe. When the English arrived, they encountered concepts (algebra, chemistry), cultural expressions (candy, checkmate), and sophisticated terms of warfare (assassin, caliber) entirely new to them. Many of the animal names (gazelle, giraffe), exotic foods (coffee, lemons, oranges, saffron), new medicinal terms (alcohol, elixir, gauze, [baking] soda), and comforts (mattress, sofa) were brought back to England.


1500s | Modern English

Example: If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die?
And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?

By the 1500s, the spoken English would be generally understandable to a present-day audience. Today about 1/3 of English is of German origin, a 1/3 is French, and a 1/3 is directly from Greek and Latin. But those are rough estimates. At least 10% of today’s English comes from other sources.


1500s | English words William Shakespeare invented

Addiction. Archvillian. Bedazzled. Dishearten. Eventful. Fashionable. Inaudible. Manager. Pageantry. Scuffle. Swagger.

Shakespeare’s additions to the Modern English language rivals that of some continents. He also invented the name Jessica.


1500s | English & the Spanish Navy

Armada. Cargo. Conquistador. Crimson. Embargo. Flotilla. Galleon. Guerilla. Platinum. Renegade. Savvy. Tornado. Vigilante. 

In the 1500s, Spain (allied with the Holy Roman Empire) was the most powerful kingdom in the Western world. England, on the other hand, was confined to a small island in the north. In those days, the oceans were the world’s roadways. And Spain’s navy controlled the entire Atlantic. As a consequence, lots of English naval words, like armada, cargo, embargo, and flotilla are of Spanish origin.


1600s | English & American Colonization

Barbeque. Canoe. Chocolate. Cigar. Cougar. Eskimo. Hammock. Hickory. Jerky. Kayak. Mesquite. Moose. Pecan. Tobacco. Totem.

After the English defeated the Spanish Armada, they set their sights on the New World. This encounter between British colonials and American Indians adds new words to the English language — many of which are either trade items or new species that Europeans had never encountered. Fun fact: most Americans don’t realize that Europeans didn’t have tomatoes or potatoes until they were discovered in the New World (the names of which came from Spanish conquistadors)!


1700s | English & African Colonization

Banana. Banjo. Bozo. Boogie. Cola. Dig. Funk. Gumbo. Hip. Jazz. Jumbo. Mamba. Mojo. Okra. Safari. Tango. Voodoo. Zombie.

The phonemes of several African languages (particualrly West African) enter the English language when British colonists arrive in Africa. The African slave trade brought many new words and concepts to the English-speaking world. For example, New Orleans, a major port city, became the entry point for African words like gumbo, boogie, and jazz. Throughout the slave-holding south, words like okra and banjo were adopted. And the subsequent Afro–Carribean cultures became the source for words like voodoo and zombie.


1700s | English & India

Avatar. Bangle. Bungalow. Cheetah. Cot. Guitar. Khaki. Juggernaut. Jungle. Loot. Pajamas. Shampoo. Thug. Veranda. Yoga.

When the British colonized India, a lot of Hindi words entered into English. Particularly words representing colonial luxury (bungalow, pajamas, shampooveranda), British soldiery (cot, khakijungle), and indigenous Indian resistance (bandanaloot, thug).


1800s | English & Modern Progress

Scientist. Biology. Anasestesia. Natural Selection. Steam Ship. Telephone. Photograph. Communist. X–Ray. Bus. Motor Car.

The 19th century saw a number of intellectual and technological achievements. Because these came from the intellectual community, the new words used to identify these products and concepts were often Greek or Latin based. Telephone, for example is a new word combining the Greek words tele (far away) and phone (sound). Likewise, photograph is Greek for photo (light) and graph (to scrape).


1800s | English & Cowboy Culture

Buckaroo. Corral. Chaps. Desperado. Lasso. Mesa. Mustang. Ranch. Rodeo. Sierra. Sombrero. Stampede.

There may be nothing more thought of as quintessentially American than the cowboy. But the truth is, many (if not most) of the words and concepts we use to construct the image of the American cowboy are from Latin American/Spanish culture. This arises from the cultural exchange between Latin and Anglo settlers in the American Southwest. Buckaroo is a corruption of the spanish word “vaquero,” which means “cowboy.” Lasso means to tie. And rodeo comes from the spanish rodear, meaning, “to go around.” The cowboy hat is simply a small sombrero, and the chaps covering his legs are short for chaparreras.


1900s | English & Pop Culture

Airplane. Blitz. Apartheid. Pogrom. Ninja. Pizza. Macho. Astronaut. Cocktail. Karate. Deli. Taco. Machine Gun. Latte. Bikini.

Throughout the 20th century, Americans encountered people from more and more diverse places. Eastern European immigrants brought Yiddish to places like New York — with words like kosher, schlep, and gesundheit (said after a sneeze). World War II soldiers brought back new German (blitz), Italian (pizza, latte) and Japanese words (karate, ninja). In the southwest, Latin American culture brought us tacoburrito, salsa, piñata, fiesta, macho, and plaza. And lastly, major political movements throughout the world added words to English like apartheid (South Africa) and glasnost (Russia).


English in the last 20 years or so...

Internet. Email. Website. Download. Streaming. Energy Drink. Megachurch. Man Cave. Ginormous. Speed Dating. Prequel.

If you uttered any of the above words during, say, the 1960s, no one would have understood you. English continues to evolve!