One of my favourite aspects about English is how it really is a combination of other language families, namely Germanic, Latin, French and, of course, smörgåsbord*-servings of others. This versatility makes English an extremely flexible, but also difficult, language to learn — especially if you don’t already speak a Germanic or Latin language.
— Origins of English, form the English language article on Wikipedia
My favourite demonstration of the mixed nature of English is the article “Uncleftish Beholding”, where Poul Anderson wrote about the basics of atomic theory using only Germanic words.
Since so many scientific and academic terms have Latin and Greek roots, the essay reads very differently… for instance, instead of “atomic theory”, the title is “uncleftish beholding”, where cleft is a Germanic word for “division”.
Here’s an extract:
For most of its being, mankind did not know what things are made of, but could only guess. With the growth of worldken, we began to learn, and today we have a beholding of stuff and work that watching bears out, both in the workstead and in daily life.
Here are some of his replacements:
- "Chemical elements" -> "firststuffs"
- "Hydrogen" -> "waterstuff"
- "Oxygen" -> "sourstuff**"
- "Helium" -> "sunstuff"
- "Molecule" -> “bulkbit”
- "Compound" -> “binding”
**Germanic speakers will be familair with e.g. the terms “Sauerstoff” (German), “zuurstof” (Dutch) and “syre” (Danish), which all have connotations with sourness or sharpness.
Sauerstoff is exactly the same type of word formation as its model Oxygen in Greek; same with Helium and Hydrogen, they both contain the Greek roots for ‘sun’ and ‘water’.