The Murderous English Language

You may have heard English is one of the harder world languages to learn as a second language. The problem is it borrows from too many sources, meaning our grammar and spelling rules are something like the Pirate Code from Pirates of the Caribbean: more like suggestions than actual rules.

It’s how we end up with bough and cough not rhyming, how individual words end up meaning different things, such as bow (bow of a ship, bow and arrow, bow tie, bowing to the queen, etc.) and how some words are spelled different but sound the same, such as bow and bough.

"Ghoti" is pronounced just like "Fish"
Originally from George Bernard Shaw, who presumably spelled pronounced correctly (unlike here)

Seriously, it’s an awful language we speak.

Germanic vs. Romantic

Western Europe has two major language groups, the Germanic and Romantic languages. Germanic languages are things like German, Dutch and Belgian. Romantic languages are the languages that descend from the language of Rome i.e. Latin. Those include Italian, Spanish and French.

While the Roman Empire did occupy the place we now call England for a while, it came late and left early, never ingraining the area with Roman culture like in many other places in Europe. When Germanic tribes moved in (such as the Angles, from which England gets its name as Land of the Angles, and the Saxons), they much more strongly imprinted their culture, including language.

English is rightfully labeled a Germanic language. In fact, if you see references to the Anglo-Saxon language, or to Old English, they both mean the same thing (and look nothing like English).

The Scandinavians

In the 8th and 9th centuries, England was repeatedly invaded by Scandinavians with colorful names like Ivar the Boneless. They dropped their own version of Germanic into the English mix.


Latin was (and still is) the official language of the Catholic Church. Until the 20th century, services were all performed in Latin, even if not a single person in the congregation understood it. Historically, many important documents were written in Latin. And scientific terms largely come out of Latin.

The Damned French

There’s many reasons why the English have long hated the French, and one of the reasons should be because the French ruined the English language.

In 1066, King Edward, now known as St. Edward the Confessor, died without children, and William, Duke of Normandy, claimed the English crown was rightfully his and took it by force at the Battle of Hastings. He eventually becomes known as William the Conqueror.

As an Aside: Which was fortunate for him, as he was previously known as William the Bastard because, well, he was.

Origin of English Words
Origin of English Vocabulary (Source: English Language, Wikipedia)

As Normandy is in France, William spoke French. William continued speaking French even as king of England. William probably never learned English. In fact, he and his near descendants preferred to not be in England, which was backwater and cold and rainy and full of Englishmen. They liked being French (other than being expected to accept the French king as lord, but that’s a totally different topic).

So a whole lot of French got injected into English.

And by a lot I mean a third of our vocabulary. There’s arguably more French than Anglo-Saxon in modern English, although different sources vary considerably in their estimates.

So why are we still considered a Germanic Language? For one, our grammar in German. Even if the words are often French or Latin, the way we use them roughly follows German rules.

Second, among the most common words, almost all of them are Germanic. Latin, in particular, is primarily used for more advanced and, therefore, less used words.

1 Comment

  1. Seriously? English is the easiest language I ever encountered. Try learning Polish, or even German. Try any of the Scandinavian languages – and that’s not even touching the whole “Asia” issue.

    English may have freakish spelling, but that’s it. You don’t have flexion. The word order in sentence is intuitive and flexible. No problem with referentiality. No need to remember and internalize rules before you can start making up sentences. Little word derivation. No declination, and little to none coniugation.

    Your grammar is basic, the only big issue are numerous tenses, but you need, what? four of them, maybe, to speak and understand in most situation? Aside from that, maybe five basic rules, and maybe five grammar tricks for when you want to show off…

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