Questions tagged [old-english]

Questions dealing with Old English, i.e. the language of the Anglo-Saxons up to about 1150.

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58 votes
9 answers
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Was "book" to "beek" as "foot" is to "feet"?

"Foot" is a curious word in English because it is pluralized in an unusual way; the "oo" in the word is changed to "ee". Did this once use to be a standard way of pluralizing things in English (or a ...
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20 votes
4 answers
7k views

What is the history of adding the a- prefix to form words?

I have always found the a- prefix to words (as in anew, ajar, aside, awake, afoot, a-hunting, etc.) fascinating. The NOAD says on this topic: a- 2. prefix •to; toward : aside | ashore. • ...
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16 votes
3 answers
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Is the word “formulæ” valid English?

Is the word formulæ, written with an æ at the end, valid in English? I stumbled upon this apparently plural form of formula in the Wiktionary. I had no idea the letter æ could occur in English. Does ...
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26 votes
5 answers
10k views

Why do we use the object instead of the subject pronoun in constructions like "stupid me"?

I'm trying to find out how come we say lucky me and stupid us rather than lucky I and stupid we. My understanding is that this is not a recent invention, but a relic from the distant past where it was ...
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63 votes
6 answers
22k views

What we've gelost — why doesn't English use the prefix "ge-"?

The Germanic languages that I'm familiar with all use a prefix similar to ge- on past participles: German: Ich habe mir den Fuß gebrochen. Dutch: Ik heb mijn voet gebroken. But English doesn't do ...
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32 votes
3 answers
17k views

Ye olde english alphabet question: Any other letters lost besides thorn, edh, and yogh?

According to this link, we are missing (in Modern English) at least three letters that used to be in common use in English. These are thorn, edh, and yogh. Are there others that were clearly in the ...
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17 votes
2 answers
4k views

How was the letter -u- written in Old English?

I was reading the etymology for 'come (v.)' when I encountered: [...] The substitution of Middle English -o- for Old English -u- before -m-, -n-, or -r- was a scribal habit before minims to avoid ...
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130 votes
1 answer
14k views

Did English ever have a word for 'yes' for negative questions?

The Germans have doch and the French have si as a word that means "yes" in response to a negative question, such as: Don't you want some ice-cream? Yes [I do]! In English, we only have yes (as ...
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35 votes
4 answers
117k views

Why are there two pronunciations for "either"?

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with an individual who told me that pronouncing the word "either" is wrong when pronounced like \ˈī-thər\ instead of \ˈē-thər\ , but I didn't argue the point ...
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  • 754
27 votes
3 answers
14k views

Why don't English nouns have grammatical gender?

English nouns — other than those with natural gender, e.g. people or animals — do not generally have grammatical gender, and so are referred to as 'it' rather than 'he' or 'she'. However, modern ...
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23 votes
3 answers
6k views

/ð/ → /d/ shift in English

As a result of a /d/ → /ð/ shift, fæder became father, hider became hither and togædere became together, giving us our modern English forms. However, I know that murder and burden have archaic forms- ...
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11 votes
4 answers
9k views

Did the "We shall fight on the beaches" speech mainly use words from Old English? If so, why?

I read today that Churchill's "We shall fight on the beaches" speech mainly used words from Old English. Wikipedia's article states that Melvyn Bragg claimed in "The Adventure of English" that only ...
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10 votes
3 answers
72k views

"Ph" for the /f/ sound; Is Old English responsible for this swap?

Is Old English responsible for creating the /f/ sound from ph, as in Philip, Pharoah, Physics, Sophia, etc? Many European countries keep the f for all of their /f/-sounding letters, as in Sofia and ...
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3 votes
3 answers
2k views

Answering a negative question with one word

There has been talk of how to answer a negative question without ambiguity, most often with a qualifying phrase needed for clarification. (For example, "yes, I do"/"no, I don't.) I've noticed that ...
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108 votes
3 answers
13k views

How did 7 come to be an abbreviation for 'and' in Old English?

According to A History of the English Language: Revised Edition by Elly van Gelderen, p.53, in Old English the numeral 7 was used as an abbreviation for the word and: Abbreviations are frequently ...
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18 votes
2 answers
3k views

What did we gain in return for the loss of phonemic vowel length from Old English?

In Old English, vowel length was phonemic, but stress and certain kinds of consonant voicing were not. In Modern English, that situation is reversed: vowel length is no longer phonemic, but stress ...
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40 votes
4 answers
6k views

Did the English call a fruit “openærs” for 700 years?

There is a small apple-tasting fruit called medlar in English. It looks like a cross between an apple and a rosehip. It has two main curious features: first the fruit must be bletted before it can ...
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16 votes
4 answers
11k views

Silent "e" at the end of words

Back in 2009, a job interviewer sent me a link to a web service that would help me make a free telephone call via the internet... Skype. As a native speaker, I knew "instinctively" to pronounce this "...
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15 votes
2 answers
5k views

Etymology of certain words ending in "-en"

Tchrist's comment here on my answer to an etymology question brought the following to mind: Ox (from Old English oxa) maintains the same vowel in the plural oxen that it has in the singular. But ...
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10 votes
1 answer
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Latin words borrowed from Roman occupation?

English has a lot of words borrowed from Latin. The great majority were borrowed in the 14- and 1500's from Church/Medieval Latin, a huge influx via educated neologism. I'd like to know if there are ...
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5 votes
1 answer
621 views

Is “are” a borrowed word?

I read somewhere that English is the only language to have borrowed a form of its to be verb from another language. I want to say, if memory serves, that it was are that was borrowed from an early ...
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  • 59
5 votes
2 answers
739 views

How/When did English transform to the modern version we use today? [closed]

I know that a language evolves with time and constantly keeps itself up to people's needs. But when I read a bible or a poem of Shakespeare, I can see English was very different by then with sentences ...
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  • 165
0 votes
2 answers
979 views

How did "but" mean "only"?

but (adv., prep.) : Old English butan, buton "unless, except; without, outside," [...] I don't know Old English. From the étymons overhead, how did but change semantically to mean but |...
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0 votes
1 answer
1k views

What is this letter/symbol called?

I found it in an old dictionary and I'm not sure what it means. It looks like the number "3", but the top of the three has been flattened(and slightly curved). I've only seen this in three ...
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29 votes
4 answers
5k views

Why don’t we write poetry like Beowulf any longer?

Beowulf, the Old English epic poem, uses a characteristically Germanic style of poetry in which the number of strong beats per line is what counts. Instead of counting syllables, strong beats alone ...
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  • 127k
23 votes
3 answers
4k views

Old English instead of Latin in early Britain

For almost 400 years, Britain was a Roman province. During that period, naturally, Latin was an important language in the region. When the Germanic tribes invaded the British Isles (around the 5th ...
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28 votes
2 answers
4k views

Irregular verbs: the history of the suffix “-en” in the past participle

Recently I've been helping my home students learn the past participles of some irregular verbs, in a "new" way. Basically, I show that sometimes the suffix -(e)n is added to the PRESENT ...
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23 votes
4 answers
5k views

Why did the F of "sneeze" and "snore" change to an S in English history?

The etymologies of "sneeze" and "snore" suggest that they were once pronounced with /f/. Here is what Wiktionary (from which all the following information also comes) says: From ...
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18 votes
6 answers
4k views

Why "English" but not "Anglish"?

Etymology of English from Etymonline: Old English Englisc (contrasted to Denisc, Frencisce, etc.), from Engle (plural) "the Angles," the name of one of the Germanic groups that overran the island ...
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17 votes
3 answers
2k views

Did Old English (Anglo-Saxon) use contractions?

German uses contractions a lot, including im (in+dem) and zum (zu+dem) to name a few. As an Old English learner, I wanted to know if there were any attested similarities. My research hereto has ...
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26 votes
3 answers
16k views

What were nightmares called before "nightmare" was used in that sense?

Apparently the word "nightmare" has only been used in the sense of "bad dream" since c. 1829. Before then the term referred to the agent causing the dreams—a mare < mera, mære 'goblin, ...
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19 votes
2 answers
2k views

Construction of “woe is me”

The expression “woe is me” (meaning) looks strange. On the surface, it seems to mean “an unhappy event is me”. Sure, it's an old idiom, undoubtedly reflecting vocabulary or grammar that is no longer ...
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26 votes
3 answers
2k views

Send, sent; end, *ent?

The past tense of a number of verbs changes from -end to -ent: bend → bent lend → lent rend → rent send → sent spend → spent wend → went However, most do not, notably end. Granted, I say “I ent up” (...
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19 votes
1 answer
2k views

Did the Tironian "et" ("⁊") have any impact on the ampersand being shift + 7 on English keyboards? [closed]

How did 7 come to be an abbreviation for 'and' in Old English? is a beautiful question about the Tiroian "et", which is now the "⁊" character 1. My question is what impact did the association of this ...
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  • 4,231
11 votes
8 answers
3k views

Is the "wit" in "to wit" the root of any other English words?

...and if not, where'd it go? One obvious venture is that the noun "wit", in the sense of cleverness and general know-how, has an etymological affinity with the Old English witen, "to know", and which ...
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  • 21.3k
5 votes
2 answers
990 views

Has there been an interrogative word to ask for a quantity or amount?

English uses how much/many to ask for an amount or a quantity. Has there been an interrogative word in Old, Middle, or Modern English to convey the meaning of how much/many (i.e., an equivalent to the ...
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  • 1,865
5 votes
3 answers
1k views

How did English end up with names for days of the week like Monday, borrowed from Latin but then also translated?

Learning about the origin of English names for days of the week, I found it curious that some of them had an original meaning borrowed from Latin, but the words themselves were a translation. So ...
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  • 169
4 votes
1 answer
2k views

English words of Latin origin: Did they replace existing words?

According to Wikipedia, the Latin influence on English builds more than half of its vocabulary. The same source furnishes a percentage of 26% for words of Germanic origin. Although I can easily ...
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  • 621
3 votes
2 answers
1k views

Origin of -(e)s in present indicative third singular

I'm aware that it comes from a Northern dialect of Middle English as in: He sing(e)s With the full Northern conjugation being: Ik sing(e) Þu/ou sing(e)s He sing(e)s We/ye/they sings ...
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2 votes
2 answers
10k views

When did Indo-European descendants stop speaking Old English? What were the influencing factors in the shift from Old English to Modern English? [closed]

There is Old English, and there is the English we speak now. When did exactly did the British (or Americans) change from speaking Old English to speaking the current form of English?
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0 votes
2 answers
1k views

When was "it" first used in weather sentences? [duplicate]

It is raining. It's a sunny day. I hate it when it rains. I'm prepared if it snows. It can be mighty cold at night! ... etc. My questions: When did English speakers start using "it"...
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7 votes
1 answer
2k views

Etymology of "duck"

Etymonline and wiktionary don't seem to agree on that one. Many European languages have cognates (Ente, anatra, eend), but duck seems isolated. Where does English take duck from? Edit As Henry ...
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6 votes
1 answer
6k views

Sice, cinque, cater, trey, deuce, ace, and then?

The set of numbers for a six-sided die are: ace, deuce, trey, cater, cinque, sice. They originate from Old French (cf. un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six in modern French). Ace comes from Latin as, ...
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6 votes
2 answers
291 views

Why did some English verbs lose nasal endings?

I saw this ending in many words of Old English origin where a word has -an in Old English but then lost in Modern English. Examples: habban, climban, sceþþan, singan, offrian etc. I noticed another ...
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5 votes
1 answer
887 views

Split infinitives—did Old English have them?

I've read a few articles as well as questions on this site about splitting infinitives. In the Wikipedia article, it claims: In Old English, infinitives were single words ending in -n or -an (...
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  • 416
5 votes
2 answers
1k views

Is the "blue" in "blue moon" a reference to betrayal?

There are some previous questions on this site about the etymology of the phrase "blue moon" (What is the origin of the phrase "blue moon"? Any alternate phrase for it?, Why do we call some ...
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  • 73.3k
0 votes
2 answers
242 views

What is the grammatical name of prefixing a word by "A"?

I've noticed that in English, "some words" (I don't know if it could be used on all words) could be prefixed by the letter "a" to change the meaning, here are a few examples: Side and Aside ...
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-1 votes
1 answer
1k views

Why don’t “snow” and “plow” — well, or “plough” — rhyme? [duplicate]

They (sometimes?) have the same ending when spelt but don’t rhyme when said. Why is that?
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