We know there has been an influence (or attempt at influence) of Latin grammar on English, especially in the 19th century. And of course, many new words coined today in (say) the sciences draw upon Latin sources.

In the opposite direction, I vaguely seem to recall reading about a movement (or several separate movements) in English that championed the use of words derived from Anglo-Saxon, eschewing words from Romance, Latin, and possibly Greek roots. For instance, as in the examples here, "people" would be replaced with "folk", "sense" would be replaced with "meaning", and so on. Does anyone know more details about such movements? Who were the advocates? How well did they succeed? And most importantly, are there examples of works written in (or "translated" into) such English?

Edit: To clarify, the question is not about a mere preference for Anglo-Saxon words, which quite a few usage writers have advocated, but a near-fanatical attempt to expunge every Romance word from writing. I recall reading about some outlandish words coined as part of this attempt.

  • I don't know about a movement, but I have read somewhere that Tolkien in LotR consciously aimed to use Saxon rather than Romance words. Might be a starting point for you to investigate, at least. Mar 10, 2011 at 14:20
  • “Let's undo the sullying of our tongue brought about by the Norman infall, and bring it back to the wuldor and thrum (splendour, OE þrymm) that it once was. Those who gainstand us are but half-wits held thanes, haftlings, to the misbelief that now-time English is some kind of awesome, overworldly tongue. They think that it lords over all other tongues as an outfollow of the broadness and sundriness of its wordstock, and that it is far better that its foretime birth-giver, OE.” ―from David Cowley’s 2009 book, How We’d Talk If the English Had Won in 1066
    – tchrist
    Sep 2, 2012 at 16:47

2 Answers 2


There's an article in Wikipedia about Anglo-Saxon linguistic purism (also known as Anglish), which may be what you're thinking of. An example at the bottom of the page there is replacing the Greek-derived atom with the Germanic uncleft.

  • I'm accepting this. The current version of the Wikipedia page is this, and among its links is the Anglish "Moot". For example, here is its page on "Scorelore": "Scorelore (also called reckonlore) (English: Mathematics) is the lore of scorings, or deals mindful on draughts such as howmuchness, forbuilding, room, and shift, and also the lorewise thewfastness that learn about them." Mar 11, 2011 at 4:48
  • Such as Paul Anderson, whose article on atomic theory is called "Uncleftish Beholdings". groups.google.com/group/alt.language.artificial/msg/…
    – TRiG
    Jun 16, 2011 at 21:10

After posting the question I realised I may be misremembering the following from Fowler's The King's English. Note that "foreword" is common in English now; apparently it wasn't then!

"Prefer the Saxon word to the Romance".

[…] In some sense it is that: the writer whose percentage of Saxon words is high will generally be found to have fewer words that are out of the way, long, or abstract, and fewer periphrases, than another; and conversely. But if, instead of his Saxon percentage's being the natural and undesigned consequence of his brevity (and the rest), those other qualities have been attained by his consciously restricting himself to Saxon, his pains will have been worse than wasted; the taint of preciosity will be over all he has written. Observing that translate is derived from Latin, and learning that the Elizabethans had another word for it, he will pull us up by englishing his quotations; he will puzzle the general reader by introducing his book with a foreword. Such freaks should be left to the Germans, who have by this time succeeded in expelling as aliens a great many words that were good enough for Goethe. And they, indeed, are very likely right, because their language is a thoroughbred one; ours is not, and can now never be, anything but a hybrid […]

Add to this that, even if the Saxon criterion were a safe one, more knowledge than most of us have is needed to apply it. Few who were not deep in philology would be prepared to state that no word in the following list (extracted from the preface to the Oxford Dictionary) is English:—battle, beast, beauty, beef, bill, blue, bonnet, border, boss, bound, bowl, brace, brave, bribe, bruise, brush, butt, button.
It is now perhaps clear that the Saxon oracle is not infallible; it will sometimes be dumb, and sometimes lie. Nevertheless, it is not without its uses as a test. […]

I'm unsure whether this was it or I remember something else, but anyway, the quote seems to be on the same topic and saying that such a movement wouldn't work.

  • 2
    Exactly! This proves once again that Fowler was not a blind pedant, but merely a somewhat pedantic gentleman who knew very well how language worked. I believe it is still considered good style to defend Germanic alternatives against Romance ones, provided that the Germanic ones are still current, of course; I think this "movement" has been with us for at least a century and is still strong. It is a pity that we couldn't just have Latin (my favourite language of all times) replace English, but reality has the uncouth habit of forcing itself upon reformers. Mar 10, 2011 at 12:50

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