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Jun 13, 2019

A Brief History of English Vocabulary

Language is no stranger to change. In fact, it reflects everything that happens in life. If it is out there, there must be a word for it. We have witnessed the most amazing number of changes in society in recent decades. Many of them have taken place so rapidly that some of us can scarcely keep up with the speed of change. Join me as we travel back to fish out for the history and changes that have happened to English as a language.
A Brief History of English Vocabulary
An obvious example of how events in a particular country affect language is the effect that the various invaders of what are now the British Isles had on the English language. For example, the Vikings may be best remembered for their plundering and pillaging, but they left behind a useful linguistic heritage. Thanks to them we have words such as law, skill, egg, knife, skate and many more.

The Norman invasion, masterminded by William the Conqueror in 1066, gave rise to even more words entering the English language.

The French influence gave us justice, money, action and village, to name but a few.

English explorers and traders also contributed to the growth of the English language by bringing back words from various places they visited. For example, the language acquired umbrella, granite, and bandit from ITALIAN. Bungalow, cot, shampoo and chintz from HINDI and cigarcork and negro were gotten from SPANISH. This last word (negro) was to cause much controversy in later times and came to be regarded as very offensive.


The Renaissance of the 16th and 17th centuries, with its revival of classical scholarship and a renewed interest in Latin and Greek, had a great effect on the English language. During this time, many Latin and Greek words ended up in English. A few examples include crisis, vital, locate, credible, exclaim, and apparatus.

Over the centuries, there have been many sources that have provided new words for the English language. From Japanese, English has acquired judo, tsunami, karaoke and sushi. From Chinese, the language acquired tea, ketchup and kowtow, and from Yiddish, spielkosher and chutzpah were acquired.

From Russian, English acquired czar/tsarglasnosticon, perestroika and vodka, and Australia supplied it with boomerangbudgerigar and kangaroo. It seems that the English language is like a magpie, forever picking up new shiny items to add to its already rich store. Do not see it as a prostitute.

©Joseph Baidoo
Joseph Baidoo is a Ghanaian and is popularly known on social media as Misty Joe.

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