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Word origins

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  1. Origins and History

One of the consequences of the French influence is that the vocabulary of English is, to a certain extent, divided between those words which are Germanic(mostly West Germanic, with a smaller influence from the North Germanic branch) and those which are "Latinate" (Latin-derived, either directly from Norman French or other Romance languages).

Numerous sets of statistics have been proposed to demonstrate the origins of English vocabulary. None, as yet, is considered definitive by most linguists.

A computerised survey of about 80,000 words in the old Shorter Oxford Dictionary (3rd ed.) was published in Ordered Profusion by Thomas Finkenstaedt and Dieter Wolff (1973) that estimated the origin of English words as follows:

Influences in English vocabulary

Langue d'oïl, including French and Old Norman: 28.3%

Latin, including modern scientific and technical Latin: 28.24%

Other Germanic languages (including words directly inherited from Old English): 25%

Greek: 5.32%

No etymology given: 4.03%

Derived from proper names: 3.28%

All other languages contributed less than 1% (e.g. Arabic-English loanwords)

A survey by Joseph M. Williams in Origins of the English Language of 10,000 words taken from several thousand business letters gave this set of statistics:

French (langue d'oïl), 41%

"Native" English, 33%

Latin, 15%

Danish, 2%

Dutch, 1%

Other, 10%

However, 83% of the 1,000 most-common, and all of the 100 most-common English words are Germanic.

Dutch origin words

Apartheid - from apartheid (via Afrikaans) (="separateness") (meaning: racial segregation)

Boom - from boom (="tree"); cognate to English "beam", German "baum"

Booze - from Middle Dutch busen (="to drink in exess").

Boss -from baas

Brooklyn -called after the town of Breukelen near Utrecht

Cruise -from (door)kruisen (="to cross")

Drill (verb) -from Middle Dutch dril, drille and in modern Dutch drillen

Freight - from vracht

Golf -from kolf (="bat, club", but also a game played with these)

Harlem - called after the city of Haarlem near Amsterdam

Iceberg -probably from Dutch ijsberg (literally ice mountain).

Landscape -from landschap

Leak - possibly from Middle Dutch lekken (="to drip, to leak" )

Loafer -from loper (="walker")

Patroon - from patroon (="patron")

Plug - from plugge, originally a maritime term.

Poppycock -from pappekak (=dialect for "soft dung")

Rover - from rover (= "robber")

Rugsack - from rugzak (= "a back worn bag")

Santa Claus - from Middle Dutch Sinterklaas (="Saint Nicholas"), bishop of Asia Minor who became a patron saint for children. (Dutch and Flemish feast celebrated on the 6th of December, the fest of Sint Nikolaas is celebrated in November)

Skate - to skate from schaats. The noun was originally adopted as in Dutch, with 'skates' being the singular form of the noun; due to the similarity to regular English plurals this form was ultimately used as the plural while 'skate' was derived for use as singular."

Slim - "thin, slight, slender," from Dutch slim "bad, sly, clever," from M.Du. slim "bad, crooked,"

Smelt - from smelten (="to melt")

Snack - perhaps from Middle Dutch snakken (="to long" (snakken naar lucht="to gasp for air") originally "to eat"/"chatter")

Split - from Middle Dutch splitten

Still life - from Dutch stilleven

Stove - from Middle Dutch stove (="heated room"). The Dutch word stoof, pronounced similarly, is a small (often wooden) box with holes in it. One would place glowing coals inside so it would emanate heat, and then put one's feet on top of it while sitting (in a chair) to keep one's feet warm.

Tattoo (military term) -from taptoe (=literally "close the tap"). So called because police used to visit taverns in the evening to shut off the taps of casks.

Trigger - from trekker (Trekken ="to pull")

Tulip - from tulp


Waffle -from wafel

Wagon -from Middle Dutch wagen, waghen (="cart, carriage, wagon")

Yacht - from jacht (=originally "hunt")

Yankee -from Jan Kees, a personal name, originally used mockingly to describe pro-French revolutionary citizens, with allusion to the small keeshond dog, then for "colonials" in New Amsterdam (Note: this is not the only possible etymology for the word yankee. For one thing, the Oxford English Dictionary has quotes with the term from as early as 1765, quite some time before the French Revolution

Words describing the navy, types of ships, and other objects or activities on the water are often from Dutch origin. Yacht (jacht) and cruiser (kruiser) are examples.

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