- Why does English have so many words?
- Where have they all come from?
- Why do we now have different vocabularies for various activities?
In A History of English Words
, Geoffrey Hughes answers these questions in a comprehensive study of the evolution of English vocabulary which covers words as diverse as anti-disestablishmentarianism to OK, and runagate to Monicagate. His arguments are supported and illuminated through use of numerous maps, word-fields and facsimiles of texts.
This book traces the remarkable reconfigurations that the stock of English words has undergone in the past millennium. From its origins as a pure Germanic language, it acquired in the medieval period a double-layered structure as Norman-French became the 'upstairs' language of power and Anglo-Saxon that of the populace. Subsequent influxes from Latin and Greek in the Renaissance added a third layer, so that every semantic area of the language now has three terms from these sources, as in ask, question and interrogate.
The vocabulary is studied as an indicator of social change and as a symbol reflecting different social dynamics between speech communities, on models of dominance, cohabitation, colonialism and globalization. Sections are devoted to the lexical interchange of imperialism, the effects of America's global dominance on the core groups of the words we use, and politically correct language.