Did you know …?

  • … that soon there will probably be more speakers of English as a second language in China alone than there are native speakers of English in the whole world? This in itself is a powerful indication of the importance of English as a world language. (Janson 2011: 305)
  • … that 96% of the world’s languages is spoken by only 4% of the world’s population? 50% of the world’s population speaks one of only eleven languages. One language alone, Mandarin Chinese, is spoken by 18% of the world’s population. On the other hand, 96% of all languages is spoken by only 4% of the world’s population. Many languages have only a few dozen speakers or so, and there is an increasing likelihood for many of them to die out in the not too distant future. (Deutschlandradio 2004)
  • … that the word grammar is etymologically related to the word glamour? The grammarians, i.e. the people who could read and write and explain language, were also the glamorous people, the people who were set off from the rest, those who were admired and got the limelight. The almost magical quality which was given to literacy is also reflected in the English word spell, which also means ‘words spoken by a wizard’, words which are supposed to have magical qualities. (Gutknecht 62003: 22)
  • … that a bill which was to introduce a new spelling system, NueSpelling, was defeated by only 87:84 votes in the British Parliament in 1949? If the bill had been passed, we would now consider it perfectly normal to write dhat aul men ar kreeated eekwal. (Crystal 1988:79-80) And the present spelling system would certainly strike us as something a bit weird.
  • … that the word sherry is derived from the name of the Spanish town of Jerez? The English thought that Jerez, as it ended in –s, was plural, and thus the word (which was formerly also spelt Xeres) was shortened and then adapted to the English phonological system. (Gutknecht 62003: 47-8)
  • … that India has fifteen official languages and a thousand or so others? (Howard 1986: 75)
  • … that the German word for a cemetery, Friedhof, has nothing to do with Frieden? It is derived from the word vrīthof, which means ‘enclosure’, ‘enclosed space’, and is related to the word einfrieden. The form of the word can therefore be quite misleading.
  • … what the words nicotine, silhouette, and guillotine have in common? They are all derived from the name of a person. Monsieur Nicot was the French ambassador in Lisbon in the 16th century, at the time when the new plants were arriving from the New World. Monsieur Silhouette was, for a short time, Minister of Finances to Louis XIV. Being stingy, he decorated his palace on the River Marne with what later became known as silhouettes. Monsieur Guillotine was a French doctor who recommended the machine, for humanitarian reasons, to the National Assembly at the time of the French Revolution. (Gutknecht 62003: 51-3)
  • … that the words contemplate and balcony used to be stressed on the second syllable? (Crystal 1988: 64)
  • … why the German businessman Gotta, one of the most successful inventors of terms for new products (Kelts, Twingo, Yellow, etc.), failed when he proposed Kinki for a new brand of cat food? The name was rejected as kinky in English means ‘abnormal’, ‘perverse’. (Gutknecht 62003: 55)
  • … that the word nice can be traced back to Old English, where it meant ‘silly’, and then back to Latin nescius, where it meant ‘ignorant’? (Crystal 1988: 42) It underwent several changes before it received its present meaning, and when Locke called Newton a ‘nice’ man, he did not mean that he was amiable, but that he was irritable and touchy. (Howard 1986: 146)
  • … that in the Scottish translation of the New Testament only the devil speaks Standard English? (McCrum 1986: 150)
  • … the town in Northern Ireland which is called Derry by Roman Catholics is called Londonderry by Protestants? (McCrum 1992: 174)
  • … that in everyday conversation, people on average speak about five or six syllables a second, around 300 a minute? (Crystal 1988: 51)
  • … that there are over 1,500 place-names of Scandinavian origin in England? Many of them, like Derby, Grimsby, Rugby, end in –by, the Danish word for ‘farm’ or ‘town’. (Crystal 1988: 157)
  • … that the German word for a hammock, Hängematte, has nothing to do with either hängen or Matte? It is derived from the Spanish word hamaca, originally an Indian word, and later was re-interpreted by the speakers of German to make it more plausible. (Gutknecht 62003: 40-1)
  • … that the meaning of the name of the American states of Kansas and Arkansas, clearly distinguished in English by their pronunciation, is actually the same? They are both Sioux words meaning ‘land of the south wind people’. (Crystal 1998: 227)
  • … why the word Ye appears in the name of many pubs or inns in Britain, as in Ye Old Fighting Cocks or Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese? It is the result of a mistake. The old letter thorn, <Þ>, which was later replaced by <th>, was often confused with <y>, and ye thus just means the. (Crystal 1988: 178)
  • … that Greek inscriptions before the 4th century BC were continuous? Words and sentences were not separated or marked in any other way. Nor was any distinction made between minuscule and majuscule letters. (Howard 1986: 157-8) DONTYOUTHINKTHATTHATMADEREADINGAVERYHARDAFFAIR.
  • … that there are about 1,800 words of Scandinavian origin in Standard English? They include some very common words such as both, get, take or same, many words that use sk sounds such as skirt, sky, skin or whisk as well as the pronouns they, them, their, and forms of the words to be, e.g. are. (Crystal 1998: 157-60)
  • … that the German word for a mole, Maulwurf, has nothing to do with the word Maul? It is derived from the Old German word mūwërf, which meant something like ‘throwing up hills’ and made no reference at all to any part of the body. Actually, the animal does not throw the earth up using its mouth, but using its feet. The form of the word can therefore be quite misleading. (Gutknecht 62003: 41-2)
  • … that in Irish Gaelic there are no specific forms for ‘yes’ or ‘no’? The famous Irish reluctance to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ may be due to this. (McCrum 1992: 179)
  • … that in Black English, He working means ‘He is busy right now’ whereas He be working means ‘He has a steady job’?  (McCrum 1992: 213)
  • … that Benjamin Franklin, a printer by profession, became intrigued by the spelling conventions of English and proposed a reform? (McCrum 1992: 254)
  • … where the colloquial American word for a dollar, buck, comes from? The beaver was at the centre of the American fur trade, and material values were often reckoned in beaver skins or, later, in buck skins or bucks. (McCrum 1992: 272)
  • … that Shakespeare, like Alexander Pope one hundred years later, rhymed tea with tay and sea with say? In Irish English, this is till the case today. Elizabethan English, could we hear it, would probably not sound to us like Standard English, but perhaps like a mixture between West Country and Irish. (McCrum 1992: 106, 181)
  • … that, in the league table of acceptable accents in Britain, Dublin Irish and Edinburgh Scottish are very high on the list, whereas Cockney, Scouse, Birmingham and Glaswegian are very low on the list, with Geordie, Yorkshire and West Country somewhere in the middle? (McCrum 1992: 20)
  • … that the scholarly tradition to write in Latin was so strong that as late as 1678 Newton chose to write his Principia in Latin? (Leith 1983: 47)
  • … that in the University of Oxford an edict of 1340 forbade the use of English? French and Latin were gradually abandoned in favour of English, to such an extent that the academic authorities decided to step in. (Leith 1983: 48)
  • … that in English there can be up to (at least) seven different ways of representing what is for most people the same vowel sound? Take, for instance, tree, these, leaf, field, seize, key, machine. (Leith 1983: 36)
  • … why the sound at the end of grace and grass, although it is the same, is represented in different ways? At the time of the standardisation of the spelling system, two spelling traditions were mixed, the Anglo-Saxon spelling tradition, in which (most of) the Anglo-Saxon words (such as grass) were represented, and the French spelling tradition, in which (most of) the French words (such as grace) were represented. (Leith 1983: 37)
  • … which sound is the most frequently occurring vowel sound in any variety of English? It is not, as people will perhaps assume, the vowel of see or the vowel of kid or the vowel of bed or the vowel of art. It is schwa, the vowel which occurs in the first syllable of about, in the second syllable of opportunity and in the last syllable of manager. This comes as a surprise to many people, including native speakers, because the sound is represented in many different ways in writing and not perceived as one single sound. (Leith 1983: 126).
  • … that cocks, who in German go kikeriki, in French go coquerico, and in English go cock-a-doodle-doo? (Adamzik 2001: 49) Isn’t it funny how what they do in other languages sounds funny?
  • … that what in German is NATO in French is OTAN, what in German is UNO in French is ONU, and what in German is Aids in French is Sida? (Adamzik 2001: 161)
  • … that in Arabic, and in Semitic languages in general, only the consonants are represented in writing? The combination k-t-b, for instance, can stand for kitab, ‘book’, or for kataba, ‘wrote’, or for kattab, ‘writer’ (Adamzik 2001: 153). If this were done in English, just imagine how many possibilities there would be to interpre p-t. On the other hand, Sh pt hr rm rnd hs shldr may illustrate how it might work, given a little practice.
  • … that Derby rhymes with Barbie, Leicester rhymes with jester, Thames rhymes with hems, Slough rhymes with cow, Norwich rhymes with porridge, Reading rhymes with wedding, and Gloucester rhymes with foster? “Doctor Foster went to Gloucester/in a shower of rain/He stepped in a puddle/right up to his middle/and never went there again“ says a nursery rhyme.
  • … why the Lower House of the British Parliament is called House ofCommons? Contrary to popular belief, it does not mean that it is to represent the commoners, the common people, the people without title or rank. It means that it is to represent the communes, the regional communities, i.e. counties and boroughs. (Suerbaum 1989: 142)
  • … that the most important language teaching method of the early modern period in England was translating texts from Greek into Latin, then from Latin into one of the modern languages, and then back again? The modernity of the method consisted mainly in considering Greek besides Latin, in considering the modern languages at all, and in teaching a pure, classical, incorrupt form of Latin. (Suerbaum 1989: 92)
  • … that, at Shakespeare’s time, the name Shakespeare is spelt alternatively Shackspere (27), Shakspere (30), Shackspeare (30), Shakspeyr (35), Shaxpere (38), Shakspeare (46), Shakspear (47), Shagspere (78), Shackespere (238) and occasionally even Shakespeare, all this in official documents, of course (Schoenbaum 1987). The idea of a unified spelling system is a relatively new one and would have struck many people at the time as odd. Shakespeare himself, in the three signatures on his will, uses two different spellings of his own surname (Barber 1993: 201). Moreover, on his wife’s and daughter’s tomb it says Shakespeare, but on his own tomb it says Shakspeare.
  • … that although the goldfish is a fish, the crayfish isn’t, and that although the catfish is a fish, the shellfish isn’t? To make matters worse, the German Schellfisch is, but the Tintenfisch isn’t.
  • … that Welsh originally meant foreigner? This is very odd because wealas, ‘foreigners’, was the name given by the incoming peoples, the Anglo-Saxons, i.e. by the “real” foreigners, to the native population of Britain, and not the other way round (Knowles 1997: 29). The same word stem can be found in the German words Rotwelsch and Kauderwelsch.
  • … that Scotland was originally inhabited, not by the Scots, but by the Picts, and that the Scots were originally the inhabitants, not of Scotland, but of Ireland? (Knowles 1997: 22)
  • … that the first major work on English spelling, written by Sir Thomas Smith, was written in Latin? It appeared in 1568, and its title was Derecta et emendata linguae anglicae scriptione, dialogus. (Knowles 1997: 84).
  • … that John Colet was suspended from office in 1513 for translating the Paternoster into English? (Knowles 1997: 65)
  • … that John Lewis was burnt at the stake in 1583 for heretical and subversive activities which included addressing everybody as thou? (Knowles 1997: 105)
  • … that, while several North Germanic and several West Germanic languages have survived into our own times, all East Germanic languages, Burgundian, Vandal, Gothic, have died out? (Barber  1993: 85)
  • … why there is a <k> in know, a <t> in castle or a <b> in debt, although they are not pronounced? Frequently, the spelling system represents sounds which used to be pronounced but long ago ceased to be pronounced, as in (k)now, cas(t)le, (w)rong, but occasionally there are letters that never were pronounced, as in de(b)t, su(b)tle, recei(p)t or dou(b)t. These are letters that were introduced in the period known as Early Modern English on the grounds that they “ought to be” there because they are there in the Latin words they ultimately derive from. Before this period, in Middle English, you find the words assaut, parfit, aventure, etc. before they were remodelled in the Renaissance under Latin influence. (Barber 1993: 180, 201)
  • … that in (Modern) Greek there are no infinitives? If you look up a verb in a dictionary, you find it under the First Person Singular of the Present Tense. So if it was French, you would find the form veux, with vouloir not appearing because it does not exist. This is odd, but not generally a major problem. What is really a problem is how to form your sentences without the infinitive: “I want to go” is something like “I want that I go”, “You can go now” something like “You can that you go”. I wonder if the Greeks find it as odd to have an infinitive as we find it odd not to have one.
  • … that, while an American puts his trash into a trashcan for collection by the trashman, a Briton puts his rubbish into the dustbin for collection by the dustman?  (Barber 1993: 254-5)
  • … that the Old English word mann was not confined to male persons, but simply meant ‘human being´, irrespective of sex or age? (Barber 1993: 222)
  • … that Arabic numbers are not generally used in Arabic countries? This is very odd, as the story of Arabic numbers is a real success stories, Arabic being used almost all over the world, including countries which have their own number system and use Arabic numbers in addition to their own system. In Japan, for instance, you often get Arabic numbers on coins and bills, which is very practical for the foreign tourist. In Arabic countries, however, a system is used which originally developed in India. The system includes these numbers:  ۳۵۹ They stand for 3, 5 and 9. Oddly, the number which corresponds to “our” 5, sometimes looks rather like “our” 0, and it gives you a funny feeling to be given a coin which seems to be worth 0.
  • … what happened when Jacques Toubon, the French Minister of Culture, announced a law which was to restrict the use of English loanwords in French? When the minister solemnly introduced the measures, he inadvertently used one of the “forbidden” words himself!
  • …what a child asked who was present at George Eliot’s funeral? “Is that George Eliot’s wife who is going to be buried?” (Karl 1995: 640-1)
  • … that Robin can be either a man’s or a woman’s name? The linguist Robin Lakoff of the University of California at Berkeley, is, for example, a woman. Another example is that of the pop singer Robin Beck of “First Time” fame. David Lodge makes use of this potential ambiguity in his novel Nice Work, in which the university lecturer Robyn Penrose is announced at an engineering company. There everyone, staff and management, is baffled when they see a woman turn up at the factory. A similar case is the name of Leslie, which can be male or female as well (although often spelt Lesley when female). The short forms Chris (Christopher or Christine) and Sam (Samuel or Samantha) are equally ambiguous.
  • … why Koofi Annan is called Koofi? He was born on a Friday, and in his Ghanaian language, koofi just means ‘Friday’.
  • … why Boutros Boutros Ghali, one of Koofi Annan’s predecessors, is called Boutros? This is just the Arabic form of Peter. In Arabic, there is no exact equivalent of our /p/. What sounds like a pretty exotic name, is in reality a name which we are all familiar with.
  • -         … that in Czech all words are stressed on the first syllable? (Sampson 1980: 109)
  • -         … that the Red Square in Moscow is quite erroneously called Red Square? The Russian name translates as ‘Beautiful Square’. The Russian words for ‘red’ and ‘beautiful’, красный (krásnyj) and красивый (krasívyj) are very similar, and the modern word for ‘red’ derives from the old word for ‘beautiful’, which was meant when the square got its name. However, Red Square seemed quite appropriate, as the stones for many of the buildings are reddish in colour. Moreover, red being the emblematic colour of communism, the name seemed even more appropriate during the time of the Soviet Union! (Block 1976: 125)
  • … that, although Kurdish is an Indo-European language, Turkish isn’t? (Schendl 2001: 16)
  • … that the word of represents an important exception in English? It is the only word where <f> is not pronounced /f/, i.e. where the grapheme does not correspond to the phoneme. The pronunciation is not /f/, but /v/, i.e. it is voiced (Davis 2004: 27). As the word is extremely frequent, watching out for this may be a simple way for learners of English to improve their pronunciation.
  • … which word, according to a survey of the year 2000, was voted the favourite English word in Britain? – It was serendipity, with quidditch of Harry Potter fame being the runner-up, and onomatopoeia in fifth place. People liked the meaning of serendipity, ‘useful discoveries while looking for something else’, but also took pleasure in the sound of the word, the rather nice assortment of vowels and consonants and its pleasant echoes of serene and serenity. It has an interesting etymology, too. Serendip is the old word for Sri Lanka. The name came into English initially via a Persian story called “The Three Princes of Serendip”, a story in which the heroes always make accidental discoveries. This encouraged Horace Walpole to coin the word. (Burridge 2004: 14-5)
  • … that, according to one calculation, fifty million schoolchildren spend ten million hours a day on learning the English spelling system?  (Burridge 2004: 2)
  • … what learning facilitators are? This is just a superliterate way of saying teachers, used by people whose primary interest does not lie in intelligibility. And what about anti-gravity panties, pavement deficiencies and entry systems? These are just girdles, potholes and doors. (Burridge 2004: 48)
  • … that the second part of the word hatred in its origin  actually meant the colour red? You were “red with hate” so to speak. (Burridge 2004: 82)
  • … that a Bombay duck is not a duck but a fish and that Welsh Rabbit is neither a rabbit nor Welsh? (Burridge 2004: 220)
  • … that Saussure, who is nowadays thought of first and foremost as the scholar who defined the notion of synchronic linguistics, in all his publications and almost all his teaching dealt with historical rather than synchronic linguistics? (Sampson 1980: 35)
  • … that you was the form that survived and not ye, although you was originally only used in object position, whereas ye was the form used in subject position? (Jucker 2000: 85)
  • … that arrive was adopted from Old French ad-ripare and originally meant ‘get to the bank of a river’? Or that an alarm was originally ‘a call to the arms’? (Jucker 2000: 118)
  • … that Latin mus means both ‘rat’ and ‘mouse’ and French singe means both ‘ape’ and ‘monkey’? (Lyons 1981: 148)
  • … that French voler, ‘fly’ and French voler, ‘ rob’ originally were one and the same word? The idea was that birds of prey used for hunting had to fly and flying snatched their prey in the air, took possession of it secretly, illegally, so to speak. (Pelz 121994: 203)
  • … that /«/ is the most frequent and /U«/ the least frequent phoneme in English, whereas /n/ is the most frequent and /¿/ the least frequent phoneme in German? (Dretzke 1998: 186)
  • … that the Canadian Indians are now called the First Peoples? (Bauer 2002: 73)
  • … that the quickest route in the 19th century to get from Wellington in New
  • Zealand to Auckland in New Zealand (500 km away from each other as the crow flies) was by a 4,000 km round trip via Sydney? Nearly all trade and immigration came via Australia in the early days, and it is not surprising that the two varieties of English spoken in Australia and New Zealand became close enough for many outsiders failing to distinguish between them. (Bauer 2002: 75)
  • … that the first English settlement in what is now the US disappeared without a trace? This was the Roanoke settlement in present-day North Carolina in 1584. All the settlers had mysteriously disappeared when English ships returned – much late than expected – with provisions. The Roanoke settlement remains a puzzle to this day. Oddly enough, we know the name of the first English child to be born in America, Virginia, but she disappeared with all the rest. (Bauer 2002: 14)
  • … that William Butler Yeats, the renowned Irish poet, was turned for a professorship at Trinity College, Dublin, because he misspelled the word professor in his letter of application? (Eagleton 2002: 179-80)
  • … how Pitcairnese originated, the creole-like variety of English spoken in certain parts of the Pacific Ocean? It is the result of the mutiny among seamen on the British ship The Bounty, after which nine British mutineers escaped, in 1790, to hide on Pitcairn (which was uninhabited at the time) together with six Tahitian men and twelve Tahitian women.  (Trudgill/Hannah 42002: 114)
  • … that English is the national language of Namibia, although only 0.5 % of the population are Anglophones of British origin? (Trudgill/Hannah 42002: 121)
  • … that English is spoken in what is said to be the most remote permanent human settlement in the world? It is Tristan de Cunha, a territory consisting of six small islands half-way between Africa and America. Its nearest neighbours are 1200 miles away. (Trudgill/Hannah 42002: 119)
  • … that the Channel Islands were Norman French-speaking until the 1800s although they had been under the English and British crown since 1066? (Trudgill/Hannah 42002: 115)
  • … that there is an echo of Old English in the Star Wars film series? One of the characters, a certain Yoda, regularly inverts his sentences, like this: “If a Jedi knight you will become …”. This word order – Object – Subject – Verb – is characteristic of Old English. Interestingly enough, we do not have any difficulty understanding such sentences. (Crystal 2005: 103).
  • … that there was no word for the season between winter and summer in Middle English? The word spring is not recorded until the 16th century, and sumer was used to refer to the whole period between equinoxes, covering the meanings of both modern spring and summer (Crystal 2005: 108).
  • … that money, car, church and letter are all borrowings from other languages? Most English speakers are unaware of this and treat them like any other English word, without any trace of foreign association. Other words preserve foreign association for a very long time, especially ‘Latinate’ words such as obtain. On the other hand, get, its informal equivalent, is considered a fully English word. Nevertheless, get is also a borrowing, in this case one from Old Norse. (cf. Hudson 21996: 56)
  • … that Kannada is a language? It is spoken in a small community in India, along with Marathi and Urdu, which are Indo-European, while Kannada is not. (cf. Hudson 21996: 44)
  • … that the comma did not find its way into English until 1530. This is the date of its first recorded appearance. Until then, the virgule, </>,  was used instead. (Cook 2004: 170)
  • … that the letter <a> corresponds to three different spoken vowels in telegraph, telegraphic and telegraphy? (Cook 2004: 81)
  • … that (excluding inflectional endings) a prefix or a suffix can be found in 40-50% of all the words in the English language (Crystal 2005: 150).
  • … that although there are many French words in English, there are even more Latin words? About 30,000 words (not counting derived forms) have French identified as their origin, the corresponding figure for Latin being 50,000 (Crystal 2005: 155)
  • … that Chaucer was not only a poet but also a civil servant – as well as a soldier, a diplomat, an intelligence officer, and a parliamentarian? (Crystal 2005: 231)
  • … that the apostrophe was, for a long time, only used as a mark of omission? Its modern use as a mark of possession is an eighteenth-century invention. (Crystal 2005: 261)
  • … capital letters, first only used for proper names and verse-line openings, were gradually extended to be used for titles, terms of address, personification, etc.? In the seventeenth century, almost anything that was considered important could be capitalised. A reaction set in in the eighteenth century, and the present system gradually developed. (Crystal 2005: 262)
  • … in the sixteenth century, the linguistic energy of learned men was almost entirely devoted to spelling reform? Some of the proposals were quire radical, and the reformers published whole works in the reformed spelling they advocated, such as Bullokar in his 64,000 words AesopśFablz (Crystal 2005: 266).
  • … that Lindley Murray’s English Grammar of 1795, an early work of what was later known as ‘prescriptivist grammar’,  became the second best selling work in the English speaking world  (second only to Webster’s spelling-book) with 200 editions by 1850, selling over 20 million copies? (Crystal 2005: 396)
  • … a dictionary of abbreviations, Gale’s Acronyms, Initialisms and Abbreviations Dictionary, list a total of 586,000 entries? (Crystal 2005: 457)
  • … that Cleopatra, the classical femme fatale of Antiquity, thought to have been seductive, sly, beautiful (which, for all we know, she wasn’t), was also an excellent language learner and one of the few politicians who did not need interpreters in their diplomatic dealings? (Günther 2003: 368)
  • … that the first edition of Ulysses is believed to contain more than 5,000 typographical errors? (Parody 2004: 110)
  • … that uncopyrightable is the longest word in common use with no letter appearing more than once? (Parody 2004: 162)
  • … that cathedral originally was an adjective? Cathedral were originally known as cathedral churches. Later, the noun was dropped and the adjective became the noun. (Flavell & Flavell 2005: 26)
  • … that the British national anthem was the first to come into existence? It goes back to the 18th century, and the original words were, of course, not ‘God save the Queen’ but ‘God save the King’. Some national anthems, like that of Spain, do not have words at all. The Russian national anthem has the tune of the anthem of the Soviet Union, which was recovered because it was so beloved by the people after it had originally been abolished. It has new words to make it suit the new country. Iraq and Afghanistan have changed their national anthem more than once, Afghanistan being the record holder with 6 changes in 80 years. One national anthem praised the monarchy, another the fact that the country was not a monarchy, another the fact that it was now a socialist country allied with the Soviet Union, another praised Allah, another had no words at all and the latest celebrates Afghanistan as a united country. Under the Taliban there was no national anthem at all.
  • … that a hospital was not originally a place for the sick? It was a place which offered lodging for pilgrims and wayfarers. The word derived from Latin hospes, ‘guest’ or ‘host’, a word which also gave rise to hospice, hostel and hotel. Pilgrims and wayfarers had to endure extreme weather conditions, could be attacked along the way or pick up a disease of some sort. From this, the special application of hospital as a place for the sick gradually developed, but not until the 15th century. The first mention of the word in the modern sense comes with reference to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London, which had been founded by a pilgrim who had safely returned from Rome but had contracted a serious illness. A pilgrim was originally just a traveller, not necessarily one who was on a devotional journey. The word was derived from Latin pereger, which consisted of per + ager and just meant ‘travelling through a (foreign) land’. (Flavell & Flavell 32005: 58-60)
  • … that the word canter, ‘to ride at a comfortable pace’, derives from the name of the town of Canterbury? English pilgrims, travelling long distances to visit the shrine of St Thomas à Becket, did not tire themselves or their horses by galloping but rode at a comfortable pace. This was simply referred to as Canterbury trot, and this was then further abbreviated to canter. (Flavell & Flavell 32005: 60)
  • … that the /æ/of back is shorter than the /æ/of bag and that the /eı/of late is shorter than the /eı/of laid and the even longer /eı/ of lay? (cf. Gramley/Pätzold 1992: 103)
  • … that, in television commercials, it is usually the voice of an unseen man (the so-called voice-over) which confers approval of what is shown? (cf. Gramley/Pätzold 1992: 270)
  • … that map, napkin, nappy and apron all have the same origin? (Flavell & Flavell 32005: 83)
  • … that thru in thruways, designating some limited access expressways, is now becoming an accepted spelling in American English? In general, this type of simplified spelling, as in nite or lite or hi, sometimes called ‘Sensational Spelling’, is restricted to more informal writing or to advertising. (cf. Gramley/Pätzold 1992: 346)
  • … that webster is the word for a female weaver? The ending –ster denotes a female agent, the same as in spinster (a female spinner) and brewster (a female brewer). Since the weaving industry was mostly taken over by men, the word was then transferred, in a process of inversed sexism, to men. Webster also became one of the surnames which witness the importance of the wool industry in the Middle Ages, like Weaver, Webber, Fuller (somebody who makes cloth heavier or more compact during manufacture), Tucker (same as fuller), Sherman, Draper or Dyer (cf. Flavell & Flavell 32005: 90)
  • … that there are communities in America where immigrant languages have been maintained over generations? Examples are German-speaking Amish in Pennsylvania, Russian-speaking Doukhobors in Saskatchewan and French in Louisiana, whose speakers are divided into a metropolitan variety (descendants of French immigrants) and Cajun French (descendants of the Acadians expelled in the 18th century from what is now Nova Scotia (cf. Gramley/Pätzold 1992: 368).
  • … that the majority of Canadians (about three quarters) use (British) zed instead of (American) zee as the name of the letter <z>?  (cf. Gramley/Pätzold 1992: 369).
  • … that third person singular don’t is the norm in some English-speaking communities? In Anniston, Alabama, for example, the rate was 69% in adult urban males and 90% in all working-class groups investigated. It was not the majority in the Anniston upper class, however! (cf. Gramley/Pätzold 1992: 377).
  • … that in Black English the copula be is sometimes left out and sometimes isn’t? This not done at random: She smart describes a permanent state, She tired describes a momentary state, but Sometimes she be sad described an intermittent state, and in these cases the copula is included. (Gramley/Pätzold 1992: 383)
  • … about the Australian newsreader working for the BBC who is supposed to have caused some consternation by reporting the Queen had chattered /«d/rather than chatted /id/ with workers? (Gramley/Pätzold 1992: 399).
  • … about the foreigner travelling in Australia who, when the train was approaching Eurelia, heard one porter going through the cars announcing /juùr«lai«/, ‘You’re a liar’, being followed by a second yelling /juùriùliùaù/, ‘-You really are’? (Gramley/Pätzold 1992: 402).
  • … about the American hearing flight 846 at Wellington Airport announced as ‘Flight ite four sucks’? (Gramley/Pätzold 1992: 406).
  • … the visiting American phoning a New Zealand colleague at his house who got one of the man’s children on the phone and was told. to his bewilderment, ‘He’s dead’ rather than ‘Here’s Dad’? (Gramley/Pätzold 1992: 406).
  • … that the Maoris, the aborigines of New Zealand, as opposed to the aborigines of Australia, have a single language?  (cf. Gramley/Pätzold 1992: 408).
  • … that the number of second-language users of English (not including speakers of English as a foreign language) is estimated at about 300 million. I.e. roughly the same number as that of English native speakers? There are 26 countries (amongst them India and Nigeria) in which English has the status of official language (sometimes shared with one or more other languages), another 9 (amongst them Israel and Malaysia) in which it de facto is. Of all these countries, Ethiopia is the only one which was never a British (or American) colony or protectorate. (cf. Gramley/Pätzold 1992: 419-20).
  • … that Sierra Leone and Liberia are both countries to which slaves were returned? The slaves were returned from America, Canada or the West Indies, and this is why these two countries have more than a handful of Black native speakers of English or Pidgin English. (Gramley/Pätzold 1992: 426).
  • -         … that Singapore has four official languages? They are Malay, English, (Mandarin) Chinese and Tamil. For a short time, Singapore and Malaysia were federated, and when Singapore left the federation, it retained these languages, whereas Malaysia abandoned English as a second language and became officially monolingual in Bahasa Malaysia.  (Gramley/Pätzold 1992: 445).
  • … that of all the different applications of the word card, from visiting card to credit card, spring from the original meaning of playing card? Playing cards came to England in the fifteenth century, and the word was borrowed as carte, and later unaccountably changed to card. (Flavell & Flavell 32005: 124)
  • … what the different suits of playing cards, diamonds, hearts, spades and clubs, stood for? They represented different social classes. The diamonds, for example, stood for the merchant class, the spades for the army. (Flavell & Flavell 32005: 125)
  • … that the first ever book to be printed in English was a book the printer himself had translated? It was Caxton’s translation of a popular French romance, Recuyell of the Hystoryes of Troye. (cf. Flavell & Flavell 32005: 127)
  • … that the word pamphlet comes the name of man? The man was Pamphilus, and he was the hero of a medieval Latin poem which described his amorous escapades. The book became very popular with university students, who preferred it to the rather more serious books they were supposed to read. The word, to which -et was added as to other short works of fiction, was then extended to refer to any short publication and then narrowed down again to refer to unbound publications which were used as propaganda tools. (Flavell & Flavell 32005: 128-9)
  • … why an apricot is called apricot? It is a mālum praecoquuum, i.e. an early ripening apple, a precocious apple, so to speak, and it was called that because it matures earlier than the peach, to which it is related. But where does the <a> come from? This is what is left of the Arabic article al, which was attached to the Latin word (after the mālum was deleted) when it came into Arabic, from which it was passed on to the modern European languages. Spanish, which has albaricoque, incidentally preserved the Arabic article. (Flavell & Flavell 32005: 133)
  • … that vanilla and vagina are related? The Spaniards were reminded of their sheaths when they discovered the vanilla in the New World, and the Spanish word for ‘sheath’ being vaina, the vainilla was ‘a little sheath’. The word vaina, in its turn, derives from Latin vāgīna, which originally meant nothing but ‘sheath’! (Flavell & Flavell 32005: 152)
  • … that avocado, derived from Nahuatl ahuacatl, originally meant ‘testicle’?  (Flavell & Flavell 32005: 154)
  • … that chocolate, derived from Nahuatl xocolatl, originally meant ‘bitter water’? (Flavell & Flavell 32005: 150-1)
  • … that Maggie, Margie, Maisey, Megan, Peggy, May, Mia, Grete, Margitta and Madge are all variations of one and the same name? They are all variations of Margaret, and this is disregarding minor variations such Margorie, Margy or Marga, spelling variations such as Maggy, Meggi, Meggie or Meggy or short forms such as Meg, Peg or Em.  (Zevin 32005: 66-7)
  • … where, when and why the British national anthem was first sung? It was in Drury Lane Theatre in 1745, and the reason was the Jacobite rebellion, the attempt to bring back the Catholic Stuart kings to the British throne. When the curtain had fallen after a performance of Ben Jonson’s TheAlchemist, it rose again to reveal the cast of the play singing a patriotic hymn, “God Save Great George Our King”. This became customary in the London theatres and after the defeat of the Jacobites, the music was frequently played on royal ceremonial occasions and thus became the oldest national anthem. For some reason, the word anthem prevailed in English instead of the more fitting hymn. A hymn in its original Greek sense was just a song of praise, not only a song with a religious content, whereas an anthem referred to the words sung as a response in liturgy. The authorship of the British national anthem is unknown, although it is sometimes attributed to Henry Carey. The music was included by Handel in one of his works, but was probably much older. (Flavell & Flavell 32005: 206-7)
  • … that the first bluestocking was not a woman but a man? This was Benjamin Stillingfleet, a poet, who became a member of a fashionable literary circle in 18th century England. He used to wear blue woollen stockings instead of the fashionable black silk stockings. There were also women in the circle who, like him, either couldn’t afford or didn’t care for fashion, and so the term bluestocking came to be used for women who cared more for wit and learning than for card-playing and gossip. (Flavell & Flavell 32005: 207-8)
  • … where the word ton comes from? Originally, a large barrel of wine was meant, but as large barrels filled with wine were also pretty heavy, the word was then applied to the weight. (Flavell & Flavell 32005: 210-1)
  • … that a restaurant was originally not a place but a dish? Actually, it was a broth which was served to revive your energy, to ‘restore’ your flagging strength. It was a certain Monsieur Boulanger, a Parisian who is credited with having run the first restaurant in the modern sense, who called his broths restaurants. He had a board which included the word outside his restaurant to attract customers. Eventually, people began to use the word for his inn instead of the dish, and then for similar establishments in other places. (Flavell & Flavell 32005: 211)
  • … that Queen Victoria is accredited with the ‘invention’ of the clipped form of an English word? Apparently, in a letter written in 1860, she was the first to use the form photo. (Flavell & Flavell 32005: 239)
  • … that the American word movie is actually older than the British word film? The Americanism movie, which is a shortened form of moving picture, dates from around 1912 and only lost out again film after World War II. (Flavell & Flavell 32005: 240)
  • … that broadcast was originally an agricultural term meaning ‘to sow seed by scattering it widely over the land’? This was a new technique and different from placing seed in drills. Later, instead of the seed it was the latest news which was scattered widely over the land. (Flavell & Flavell 32005: 271-2)
  • … that pen, pencil, penis and penicillin all derive from the same word? The Latin word pēnis originally meant ‘tail’, and horsetail and oxtail brushes were used in Roman households to brush the dust away. All other applications o the word derived from there. (Flavell & Flavell 32005: 280)
  • … that Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 originally was to be called Catch 18? The publication of another novel which contained the number 18, a novel by Leon Uris, made Heller change his mind. Today catch 22, which describes a particular kind of snare, a kind of problem from which there is no escape, has become a widely-used phrase in the English language.  (Flavell & Flavell 32005: 296)
  • … that the word for a traffic roundabout in Swahili is kipfefti? As plural of words beginning with ki- are often formed by replacing ki- by vi-, traffic roundabouts are viplefti! (Aitchison 32001: 142)
  • … that the word futurity made its first (recorded) appearance in Shakespeare’s Othello? “Nor present sorrow nor purpos’d merit in futurity can ransom me into his love again”. The word was also used by Benjamin Franklin and Sir Water Scott. Modern speakers often use it to describe a horse race in which the competitors are entered at birth or even before!
  • … that extremophiles are not people but microbes? These microbes thrive in environments once considered uninhabitable such as places with high levels of toxicity or radiation, boiling-hot deep-sea volcanoes or Antarctic ice sheets.
  • … where the expression a hangdog look comes from? It stems from the medieval practice of putting animals on trial and, if found guilty, sentenced to death. Putting animals on trial was quite common in Europe. In Savoy, beetles were accused of destroying a vineyard and in Switzerland a cock was accused of sorcery because it had laid an egg. (Flavell & Flavell 32000: 98-9)
  • … that it was not until 1832 that the dissection of a corpse  for study and research was permitted by law? The demand for bodies soared, but there were few to be had. Some doctors resorted to unscrupulous dealings with gravediggers who dug up corpses and sold them at exorbitant prices. This macabre exchange was a matter of utmost secrecy and may actually be the origin of the idiom a skeleton in the cupboard. (Flavell & Flavell 32000: 171)
  • … that Dr. Johnson included spick and span in his dictionary only after much hesitation? He thought it too ‘low’ to be used by a ‘polite’ writer. (Flavell & Flavell 32000: 175)
  • … that the ribbons in a bride’s wedding bouquet should be laced? The laced ribbons are symbolise unity. Knots are an important feature in the marriage ceremonies of different cultures, including Hindi, Sikh and Buddhist marriage ceremonies. In language, this is reflected in the idiom to tie the knot, ‘to take the marriage vow’. (Flavell & Flavell 32000: 189)
  • … that you produce no voiced sounds when you speak in a whisper? Actually, you do not produce any voiceless sounds either. The vocal cords are drawn together but not closed. This produces the kind of turbulence characteristic of a whisper. (McMahon 2002: 26)
  • … that the Old Irish stop system had a /b/ but no /p/, and /p/ was borrowed from Latin? Similarly, English ‘developed’ // to have a partner for /©/. This only leaves /h/ without a partner amongst the fricatives. As it is difficult to find a partner for /h/, it may, at best, remain on its own. Or it may even be on the way out. After all, in Standard English it only appears at the beginning of a syllable, and in some varieties, like Cockney, it is dropped even in this position, and might be said to be absent from the system altogether.  (McMahon 2002: 65)
  • … that there is a connection between rubric and ruby? Both are related to the Latin word for red, ruber. Centuries ago, whenever manuscript writers inserted special instructions or explanations in a book, they put them in red ink to set them off from the black used in the main text. Ultimately, such special headings or comments came to be called rubrics.
  • … that Hollywood was originally called Hollywoodland? The name was invented, not by cinematographers, but by an estate agent’s. This company had put up monumental letters at the entrance of a district where they had houses on sale.
  • … that circumstance literally means ‘stand around’? It derives from Latin circumstare. A circumstance denotes an event or a condition that ‘stands around’ another, so to speak.  The prefix circum has also given rise to circumvent, circumlocution, circumnavigate, circumference, etc.
  • … that, in Swedish, the word mil, ‘mile’ is used to refer to distances? This can be quite confusing, however, because a mil is neither a mile nor a kilometer. It denotes a Swedish mile, and that is ten kilometers!
  • … what a lypogram is? It is a literary curiosity, a literary work in which one particular letter never occurs. George Perec’ novel La disparition, for example, does not contain a single instance of the letter <e>. A literary folly, and one which must pose endless problems for the poor translator. This is not a modern invention. The Greeks composed lypogrammatic works. A certain  Tryphiodorus wrote his Odyssey with no <α> in the first book, no <β> in the second, etc. The Romans also composed such words, and so did the Orientalists: A Persian poet read to the celebrated Jami a poem of his own composition, which Jami did not like. But the writer replied it was notwithstanding a very curious sonnet, for the letter Aliff was not to be found in any one of the words! Jami sarcastically replied, “You can do a better thing yet; take away all the letters from every word you have written.”
  • … that kal in Hindi means both ‘yesterday’ and ‘tomorrow’? What the actual meaning in each utterance is must be gathered from the context. Similarly, parsòň means both ‘the day before yesterday’ and ‘the day after tomorrow’. (Debrebant & Much 2007: 140)
  • … that IBM means something in Arabic? It stands for in sha’allah bukra, ma’ alesh, an expression which you use when you want to reject a request without doing it too directly, or when you want to put something off until the unforeseeable future. It literally means ‘So God will, tomorrow, it is not important’.  (Debrebant & Much 2007: 140)
  • … that durex means ‘condom’ in European Portuguese but ‘Scotch tape’ in Brazilian Portuguese? (Debrebant & Much 2007: 60)
  • … that xoxota means ‘purse’ in European Portuguese but ‘vagina’ in Brazilian Portuguese?  (Debrebant & Much 2007: 60)
  • … that Malay has a word for the male fear of a shrinking penis? It is koro and literally means ‘head of tortoise’. Similar ideas can be found in other Eastern countries (and probably not only there). There was major public hysteria in Singapore when rumours had it that the illness was caused by a particular dish. (Debrebant & Much 2007: 79)
  • … that listopad means ‘November’ in Czech and Polish but ‘October’ in Serbian and Croatian? (Debrebant & Much 2007: 139)
  • … that in Hungarian you may not make many friends if you fail to distinguish between Egészségedre and Egèszseggedre? The first means ‘To your health’, the second ‘Up your arse!’ (Debrebant & Much 2007: 100)
  • … what a Mexican breakfast is supposed to consist of in American English? A coffee and a cigarette. (Debrebant & Much 2007: 91) Similarly, a Mexican carwash means just leaving your car in the rain to give it a wash.
  • … that the Bantu word ilunga, according to The Times, is the most difficult of all words to translate? It refers to somebody who is ready to overlook an offense the first time and to tolerate it a second but not a third time. This was the result of a survey carried out by the London-based company Today Translations amongst 1,000 translators world wide. (Debrebant & Much 2007: 51)
  • … that AC/DC (i.e. Alternate Current/Direct Current) is the American English word for somebody who is bisexual? (Debrebant & Much 2007: 40)
  • … that Armenian has a word, hadam hatik, for the day when parents celebrate their baby’s first tooth? The baby is placed on the floor, and predictions about its future are made depending on into which direction it crawls. If, for example, it goes for the bookshelf, it is believed to become an intellectual. (Debrebant & Much 2007: 28)
  • … that adiós means ‘Hello’ in Costa Rica? (Debrebant & Much 2007: 12)
  • … the meaning of laut, bellen, tanga, elke, öl, gammel, yoga, glas, binse, leo y salāt? They are ‘sea’ in Indonesian (laut), ‘ring’ in Dutch (bellen), ‘sail’ in Swahili (tanga), ‘everyone’ in Dutch (elke), ‘beer’ in Swedish (öl), ‘old’ in Swedish (gammel), ‘mushroom’ in Swahili (yoga), ‘voice’ in Serbian (glas, which is also ‘eye’ in Russian), ‘bank’ in Gaelic (binse), ‘today’ in Swahili (leo) and ‘prayer’, i.e. the obligatory daily prayer of Islam, in Persian (salāt). My favourite, however, is nanu. It means ‘English’ in Samoan.  (Debrebant & Much 2007)
  • … that of the top 100 words in English, in terms of frequency, only two are not Germanic in origin? They are people (no. 80) and use (no. 92). The top five are the, be, of, and, a. (Crystal 2007: 54)
  • … a proposal was made in Britain in the 1990s to replace mental handicap by such phrases as learning difficulties or intellectually challenged? It did not work. As the marketing director of the British charity Mencap said at the time: ‘It is only a matter of time before even the most right-on expression becomes a term of abuse. Children are already calling each other LDs as an insult.’ (Crystal 2007: 129)
  • … that people tend to underestimate the extent of their vocabulary? It is, it seems, unusual to find anyone with an active vocabulary of less than 35,000 words and a passive vocabulary of less than 50,000 words. (Crystal 2007: 22)
  • … that a news bulletin is usually read at about 200 words a minute? (Crystal 2007: 20)
  • … that children learn approximately 10 words per month between the age of one year and one year and a half but 25 words per month between the age of one year and a half and two years? After that, their vocabulary just rockets. It is difficult to count them, but at a rough estimate they then acquire about 300 words a month during the following year. (Crystal 2007: 19-20)
  • … that in one study a child of three and a half years, whose language was recorded for a whole day, is believed to have produced some 35,000 words that day? (Crystal 2007: 20)
  • … that the Gale Acronyms, Initialisms and Abbreviations Dictionary lists 200 entries for the acronym PA alone? (Crystal 2007: 12)
  • … that English is the official or semi-official language in some seventy territories around the world today? (Crystal 2007: 110)
  • … that in the US there are places called Difficult (Tennessee), Hot Coffee (Mississippi), Monkey’s Eyebrow (Kentucky), Telephone (Texas), Knockemstiff (Ohio), Boring (Oregon), and Hell (Michigan)? You can even go on a themed travel weekend and visit Eighty Four (Pennsylvania), Eighty Eight (Kentucky), Ninety Six (South Carolina) and Hundred (West Virginia). There is also a town called Truth and Consequences in the US. It was not originally the town’s name. The original name was Hot Springs. The Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce took up a proposal made by the producer of a successful NBC radio quiz programme. He had suggested that, to celebrate the programme’s tenth anniversary, a town might be willing to change its name and adopt the name of his quiz programme – Truth and Consequences. In a special election, held in 1950, the town’s residents voted to change the name, a vote which was later confirmed in two further votes. Incidentally, this particular Hot Spring, situated between El Paso and Albuquerque, was only one of 30 places of the same name in California alone. (Crystal 2007: 76-7)
  • … how many languages there are in the world? Tricky question, but one that anyone who deals with language should be prepared to answer/should be prepared to be asked/should reckon with/will have to answer sooner or later/will be confronted with sooner or later. How about 6912? This is the number listen in The Ethnologue, a trusted list of information. Sounds exact. However, The Ethnologue does not list Chinese amongst them. Instead, it lists 13 languages with names such as Hakka Chinese, Mandarin Chinese, Xiang Chinese. So there’s the rub. It is sometimes difficult to decide whether two varieties are varieties of one language or two different languages. In this case, some varieties of Chinese are not mutually intelligible, but speakers regard themselves as speaking one single language and refer to their writing system which is the same for all varieties to support this view. (Finegan 52008: 6-14)
  • … which is the official language of the US? English? That is what many people, including many Americans, think. But it isn’t. The US does not have an official language. Some states do, but not the country as a whole. (Finegan 52008: 3)
  • … that a description of Sanskrit, which is one of the finest grammars ever written for any language, was written a century before Plato and Aristotle? It was written by the Indian philosopher Pānini.  (Finegan 52008: 22-3)
  • … that the chimpanzee Washoe, who was raised as a human child in as many ways as possible, ate with a fork and spoon, sat at a table and drank from a cup, wore diapers and played with dolls? She was also fond of picture books and made some attempt at washing the dishes. She was raised by Allen and Beatrix Gardner ,who wanted to show that chimps who are fostered by human adults replicate some of the aspects of language acquisition typical of human children. (Finegan 52008: 20-1)
  • … that Mata Hari, the name of well-known World War I spy, is also a ‘real’ word? It is Indonesian and means ‘sun’. It consists of mata, ‘eye’ and hari, ‘day’. (Finegan 52008: 47)
  • … that Australian Creole has four words for we? One is ‘you and me’, one is ‘you and me and others’, one is ‘me and someone else’, one is ‘me and others’. Nice distinctions. (Bragg 2004: 278)
  • … this curious episode about two nuns in Sterne’s Tristram Shandy?  The nuns, convinced that the only way to move an obstinate mule is to say bugger, are hampered by the fact that bugger is a most sinful word. They solve the problem by splitting up the word, with one going bu-bu-bu and the other ger-ger-ger. (Bragg 2004: 232)
  • … that the Domesday Book and Magna Carta and Utopia were written in Latin? (Bragg 2004)
  • … that the word buddy is the West African adaptation of the English word brother, then reintroduced into English with the new meaning? (Bragg 2004: 271)
  • … that in the 19th century alone 856 grammars of English were published? (Bragg 2004: 217)
  • … what a Jolly Roger is? It is the same as a privateer, a buccaneer, a freebooter or a filibuster. They are all synonyms of pirate. The fact that some of them sound rather too nice for the job may not be coincidence. Piracy was often condoned and sometimes encouraged by the authorities, in Britain especially if it was directed against the Spanish. (Bragg 2004: 267)
  • … that certain words may be used at certain times but not at others on some British TV channels? Many channels have their own guidelines as to what is appropriate when. According to one TV channel, bloody can be used at any time, nigger at no time, pissed off not before 6.00 p.m. and shag not before 9.00 p.m.! (Crystal 2007: 133)
  • … that science and shit have the same origin? Like many other words, they go back to Indo-European skei, which meant something like ‘separate’, or ‘cut’. Either of these underlying meanings is visible in schism, skill, conscience, scythe, scissors, ski (cleft wood), and also in science and shit! (Crystal 2007: 44)
  • … what the following words have in common: rightsizing, negotiated departure, destaffing, personnel surplusreduction, chemistry change, involuntary separation? They are all words used to refer to workers being dismissed from their jobs, being chucked out. People who support this kind of evasive language have also proposed failure at schools to be replaced by deferred success. (Crystal 2007: 122)
  • … that in 1981 the word game magazine Word Ways published a piece of writing in which the author had rewritten the story of Genesis using only words which start with the letter A? Not an easy task. Adam poses no problem, but what about Eve? There is a solution to everything: God became Adonai, Adam and Eve became Adam and associate, and the serpent became Apollyon. So God would tell Adam and Eve to avoid apples and abide amid abundance, whereas the serpent would tell them to admire apples and acquire acumen (Crystal 2007: 182)
  • … that marmalade is a word of Portuguese origin? (Crystal 2007: 60)
  • … that But me no Buts is the name of a British punk group? (Crystal 2007: 71) The group, for its name, exploits a productive method of word-formation in English: a word, without changing its form, converts from one grammatical category to another, e.g. love (verb) > love (noun). In a similar way, but (conjunction) converts to but (noun). This word-formation process is called conversion.
  • … which is the most frequent noun used in English? It is only number 53 in the list of most frequent words, preceded by articles, prepositions, conjunctions, pronouns, etc., not, but, she, if, of being only some of them. The most frequent noun is time, followed by year and people. (Crystal 2007: 55-7)
  • … that the Derby, named after Lord Derby, almost came to be called Bunbury Stakes? Legend has it that Lord Derby and Sir Charles Bunbury tossed a coin to determine which of them was to have the race named after him. Derby won, but Bunbury had the consolation prize of winning the first derby. If Bunbury had won the lots, we would today speak of Bunbury Day, of a local bunbury or of the bunbury between Liverpool and Everton. (Quinion 2009: 85-6)
  • … that stiff upper lip, which sounds so quintessentially British, might well be of American origin? At least, the earliest examples on record are all American. It is on record throughout the 19th century in American fiction in the works of well-known authors such as Harriet Beecher Stowe or Mark Twain. Whereas the earliest American example is of 1815, it only started to appear in British publications towards the end of the century. (Quinion 2009: 302-3)
  • … that the word punch (for the drink) means ‘five’ in Hindi, the language it was borrowed from? The reason for this is that five ingredients were involved: water, sugar, spice, lemon-juice, spirit. (Crystal 1995: 136)
  • … the words detchant, ely and happle? They are words Douglas Adams and John Lloyd introduced in The Meaning of Liff with the intention of making up for some of the lexical deficiencies of the language, the absence of words for things and situations frequently met with in life. Thus, detchant is the part of a hymn where the tune goes so high or so low that you suddenly have to change octaves to finish it, whereas ely refers to the first inkling you have that something has gone terribly wrong, and happle to the annoying habit of interrupting people and finishing their sentences for them. Other words newly introduces include banff, goole and hoff. (Crystal 1995: 147)
  • … what ghosts words are? They are words which come up in the dictionary although they have never existed outside the dictionary. Sometimes they are simply the result of a mistake, as in the following case. Webster’s New International Dictionary contained a list of abbreviations, one of which was ‘D or d’ for density. When the dictionary was published, the word appeared as dord. Its meaning was given as ‘density’. Before long, the word appeared in other dictionaries, too. (Crystal 1995: 187)
  • … that Eric Partridge, author of the famous Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, was not a salaried academic, but a free-lance enthusiast. Every page shows the meticulous care with which the author approached his task. His work was the first major account of language which was almost completely disregarded by the first editors of the OED. (Crystal 1995: 183)
  • … that the words youngster and youth, although they ‘mean’ the same, are clearly distinguished with regards to their connotations? The word youth in this function usually shows disapproval. You would not easily stop by a group of youths standing on a street corner and chat to them although this would be no problem with a group of youngsters standing on a street corner.  (Crystal 1995: 171)
  • … that two forms of swearing are sometimes distinguished, social swearing and annoyance swearing? The first requires an audience being present, the latter can occur regardless of audience. As was found out during an expedition to the Arctic, social swearing varied in intensity according to the swearing habits of the participants and clearly diminished when a non-swearer was around. Annoyance swearing, occurring as a reaction to stress, was different. It became more frequent as the situation got more difficult but completely disappeared when a situation became extremely stressful. So did social swearing. (Crystal 1995: 173)
  • … that, according to one study, /n/ is the most frequent, /Z/ the least frequent consonant, /‚/  the most frequent, /Îù/the least frequent vowel in spoken English? (Crystal 1995: 239-42)
  • … why the letter <i> has a dot? Originally, it did not have one, and thus, in handwriting, was often confused with the vertical strokes of neighbouring letters such as <m> or <n> or <u>. A diacritic was then introduced, similar to an acute accent, to make the text easier to read. Gradually, the accent became a dot. (Crystal 1995: 260-1)
  • … that the Morse Code, invented by Samuel Morse, is based on a frequency count? Thus frequent letters can be represented by no more than one or two signals: short for <e>, long for <t>, short short for <i>, short long for <a>, long long for <m> and long short for <n>. This makes it such an efficient system. (Crystal 1995: 265)
  • … that Ireland was the first of the overseas English-speaking colonies? However, the statutes which brought England and Ireland (1800) together were much later than the statutes which brought England and Wales (1535) together and the ones that brought England and Scotland (1707) together. (Crystal 1995: 334-6)
  • … that the logo used by Canada’s airline is the result of a problem the company was facing because of the bilingual situation in Canada? The company’s name is Canadian in English and Canadien in French, and the logo is Canadi»n. (Crystal 1995: 340)
  • … that, although South African English does not normally have /r/ after vowels, it is present in speakers with an Afrikaans background? And that although there is no /r/ after vowels either in New Zealand English, it is present in  speakers living in the Southern part of the island, the area of the major Scottish settlement? (Crystal 1995: 355-7)
  • … that, in New Zealand English, English is often pronounced without /g/?
  • … that Australia and Canada are largely urban countries? In Australia, most people live in cities near the coast, four of the cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth) accounting for 50% of the population. Again, in Canada over 50% of the population live in cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants. Moreover, more than 75% of the population, in spite of the country’s enormous size, live within 200 km of the US border. (Crystal 1995: 341-50)
  • … that the frequency of occurrence of he has decreased considerably recently? At least this is what was found in an examination of written American texts. This is most probably the result of the avoidance of generic he and its replacement by he or she or they. A similar development can be observed in the decreasing use of man. The avoidance of generic he or man is one of the major points of many guidelines for non-sexist usage. Things are not quite so simple, though. One question is whether this change in written language will also gradually affect spoken language, which is much more difficult to control consciously. Another problem is that that style sheets only cover what their authors perceive as important. What about the areas not mentioned in the style sheets? Then there are certain words and phrases which are much more difficult to replace. How about Neanderthal Man or the man in the street? How about manhandle or woman? And how about the order in which men and women (women and men?) are mentioned? I hereby pronounce you man and wife. Should the order be inverted? But where would that leave Ladies and Gentlemen? The major problem, however, is that it is not clear whether sexist beliefs can be changed by avoiding sexist language. Thoughts and beliefs may be at operation that neither men nor women (neither women nor men?) are aware of. (Crystal 1995: 368-9)
  • … that Mum and Dad, contrary to popular belief, are not usually a child’s first words? In one study, they came 20 (mama) and 21 (daddy) in a list of the 50 first words learnt by a child, preceded by words such as bite, shoes or up, and closely followed by more, ball and bump. The list also includes oink-oink, yack-yack (for people talking) and hohoho (for Santa). (Crystal 1995: 428)
  • … that when children first attend school they are estimated to have learnt about three-quarters of all grammar there is to learn?  This is an enormous quantity. To be an adult linguistically speaking means to know about 1000 ‘rules’ governing sentence and word formation. (Crystal 1995: 426-8).
  • … that about 85% of Old English words are no longer in use? The vocabulary was profoundly Germanic. This changed later through as a result of the huge influx of words from other languages, especially Latin and French. Almost 50% of modern English general vocabulary are loanwords from these two languages. (Crystal 1995; 27)
  • … that in Old English wīf (modern wife) was any woman, married or not? Similarly, fugol (modern fowl) was any bird, not just a farmyard bird, sōna meant ‘immediately’, not ‘soon’ and fæst meant ‘firm’, not ‘quick’.  (Crystal 1995: 22)
  • … that the King James Bible consistently uses –th as a marker of the third person singular in the Present Tense? It was coming to be replaced by –s, the northern form which was moving south and was used by Shakespeare, for example, alongside the older form. Similarly, the Bible preserves the distinction between ye and you although in most writing you was used for ye, which was on its way out. The authors of the King James Bible aimed for a dignified, not a popular style and therefore often chose older forms when newer forms were available. This style contrasts with Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament, which, though older, often uses quite colloquial language. The King James Bible was written, not by an individual, but by a committee. It was the first time such a translation was made by a committee. (Crystal 1995: 59-65)
  • … that Benjamin Franklin was a printer in his youth? As such, he preserved a life-long interest in language and, especially, in spelling. He mourned the disappearance of the capitalisation of nouns, which, he thought, greatly facilitated reading. (Crystal 1995: 67)
  • … what a wonderer is? It is an old name for what we call exclamation mark today. Today’s period was a point, today’s question mark was an asker. (Crystal 1995: 68)
  • … that <v> and <u> were originally interchangeable, then positionally distinguished (<v> being used word-initially and <u> being used medially) and only after that came to represent a different sound each? (Crystal 1995: 67)
  • … the only country in the English-speaking world that has ever set up an academy is South Africa) (Crystal 1995: 73)
  • … that Webster’s famous American Dictionary of the EnglishLanguage, according to his own count, only contained about 50 uniquely American words, i.e. words which were not used in Britain. The American character of his dictionary is not so much in the lexicon but in the number of works of American authors the dictionary refers to. There were thousands of new words being used in America but they did not make it into the dictionaries, which only quoted from prestigious literary sources (Crystal 1995: 81-3)
  • … that dozens of American towns are called Waverley or Ivanhoe? This is a reflection of the influence British literature had in America for a long time and the result of the few American books which were published. According to one author, Britain (with its population of 18 million) published about 1,000 books a year, America (with its population of 6 million) only published about 20 at the beginning of the 19th century. (Crystal 1995: 83)
  • … the highly popular Josh Billings, a highly popular American writer who used some grotesque spellings in his books (After awl ced and dun the gran sekret of winning is tew win) was criticised by authors such as Mark Twain, who thought that the bad spelling got in the way of the wisdom, which had a real value of its own? (Crystal 1995: 84)
  • … that American English uses fewer hyphens than British English? (Crystal 1995: 129)
  • … that Chinese, although it is the world’s largest language, has not gained ground either as an official second language or a foreign language? (Cook 2003: 25)
  • … that the words Islam, Muslim and Salām, which sound quite dissimilar to us, are perceived as closely related by speakers of Semitic languages? We are misled by the vowels, which are different, and hardly realise that the consonant pattern, s-l-m-, is the same. This is the root of the word in the Semitic languages, and the vowels ‘only’ help to specify the meaning, roughly similar to what endings do in our languages. Similarly, the names of Salman, Suliman, Salim, Solomon and (Ab)solom are basically variations of one and the same theme. (Deutscher 2005: 38)
  • … that the surnames of Fuller, Tucker and Walker all denote one and the same occupation? People who were fullers, tuckers and walkers would tread on or beat cloth in a trough of lye for the purpose of cleansing and thickening it. The surnames thus preserve the names of occupations which have largely disappeared. The reason why there are different words is that these stem from different dialects. In the southeast they were called fullers, in the southwest they were called tuckers, and in the north and in Scotland they were called walkers. BBC 4 (1 August 2011)
  • … that there are altogether some 120,000 different surnames in Britain? The majority of them goes back to only four different sources: patronyms like Johnson, Williamson, Samuelson, place names like Bristol, Hill, Ford, nicknames like Short, Bottom, Nutter and occupations like Baker, Draper, Reeves. BBC 4 (1 August 2011)
  • … who the most prolific of all English poets is? No, not Shakespeare, not Wordsworth, not Milton. It is John Bradburne, a lay Franciscan missionary, who had gone to Rhodesia in the 1960s to work with lepers and been killed by the guerrillas. His oeuvre consists of 5,000 poems, containing some 150,000 lines of poetry. (Crystal 2009: 266-7)
  • … how David Crystal managed to get authentic language data about modern spoken English? He invited some friends around, put a microphone in front of them and asked them to count to ten, saying that this was for a research project. He then switched off the tape recorder, which stood in the middle of the table, and the evening went ahead with drinks and talks about God and his wife. The whole conversation was, however, recorded, with the guests having the microphones in front of them, which actually were not controlled by the tape recorder on the table but another one outside the room. Crystal even disappeared for half an hour, making up an excuse to leave his guests. At the end of the evening, he revealed what had happened, and got all his guests’ consent to use the data. Real data of real conversations.  (Crystal 2009: 104-5)
  • … that in a radio survey carried out by David Crystal the form Between you and I turned out to be Number 1 of the top ten complaints about language? People were furious, horrified disgusted by this and other forms such as split infinitives.  (Crystal 2009: 197)
  • … that the Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language contains about 3,500 observations in a book which has 1,800 pages and weighs just over 2 kilos? (Crystal 2009: 109-10)
  • … many of the instances people today complain about and view as serious deterioration of language, often blamed on radio and television, can be found in the 18th century, long before the advent of radio or TV. (Crystal 2009: 116)
  • … that David Crystal decided to write English as a Global Language after having overheard a conversation in which someone said that English was the world language because it was simpler than other languages, with someone else adding that it was also more logical and with nods all around the table? (Crystal 2009: 243)
  • … that there were computers before there were computers? The word preceded the thing. The first attested occurrence of the word is dated 1613! It meant a person, not a machine. A century later, Swift wrote of “a very skillful Computer”. The first attested occurrence of the word for a machine is from 1869! And fifty years later, Chambers’s Journal wrote: “By means of this computer, the task is performed mechanically and almost instantaneously”. What was meant by computer was a machine for facilitating calculation. (OED)
  • that there is a difference between a national language and an official language? In Paraguay, for example, Guaraní used to be the national language, while Spanish was the official language. A national language is the language of a political, cultural and social unit. It is generally used and developed as a symbol of national unity. An official language, by contrast, is simply a language which can be used for government business. Its function is primarily utilitarian rather than symbolic. Governments do not always use the terms quite consistently. In Paraguay, the situation has changed in the meantime, and Guaraní has also acquired the status of official languages. Paraguay now has two official and one national language, just like Tanzania, which has English and Swahili as official languages and Swahili as the national language. (Holmes 3/2008: 100)
  • … that Julius Nyerere, the former President of Tanzania, translated Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and The Merchant of Venice into Swahili? This further increased the status of Swahili. (Holmes ³2008: 107)
  • … that reversal of normal word order is a feature of sports commentaries? In comes Ghouri or Pete goes to right field and back for it goes Johnson. This allows the commentator to foreground on the action – and gives him time to identify the subject of the action.  (Holmes ³2008: 261)
  • … that, according to one count, there was an average of 17 Mao quotations on the first two pages of The People’s Daily throughout the 1970s? (Holmes ³2008: 333)
  • … that the President of Plaid Cymru (the Welsh Nationalist Party) promised to fast himself to death to get a Welsh television channel? (Holmes ³2008: 102)
  • … that in Norwich young people say bovver (for bother) and togevver (for together)? This is a change for them, but Cockneys have used this forms for decades. (Holmes ³2008: 224)
  • … that most Norwegians claim they can understand Swedish, while Chinese who speak Mandarin Chinese cannot understand those who speak Cantonese Chinese, though in the first case two languages are involved and in the second only one? (Holmes ³2008: 135)
  • … that in Somalia, after a long and arduous debate about which script to use to write Somali, a Cushitic language _Latin or Arabic – a hybrid script, Osmanian (named after its inventor Osman Yusuf), was tried but failed? In the end, the Latin script was introduced. It was not the intrinsic merits of the two scripts which were highlighted in the debate but rather the values which were associated with the two scripts. The attitudes that one had regarding people who spoke Arabic or English were decisive. (Holmes ³2008: 407)
  • … about the Norwegian language controversy? The controversy was all about the introduction of a new national language after Norway became independent from Denmark in 1814. Essentially the choice was between a language developed from Standard Dutch or one developed from local Norwegian dialects. The Danish option would have been much simpler, but Standard Danish was not much used for interaction and met with resistance because it was the language of the “colonial” power. Two different approaches were taken, one, the variety based on Danish with some Norwegian adapatations, eventually becoming known as Bokmål, the other as Landsmål and later Nynorsk. The problem with the latter was that it had to be codified and required some elaboration, and the other problem was that one particular dialect had to be chosen. This problem was solved by creating an amalgamation of various dialects, the brainchild of Ivar Aasen, a schoolteacher who had studied Norwegian dialects. The two varieties are used side by side to this day, although in practical terms it now seems that Bokmål has won out. It is used in most books and taught at most schools, though some people insist that Nynorsk is the only “true” Norwegian. Others dislike it because of its country pumpkin associations and prefer Bokmål because of its urban and sophisticated associations. The two varieties are almost identical in syntax and mainly differ in the form of words and in their spelling. (Holmes ³2008: 109-11)
  • … that Hebrew was resurrected after the war? The language, which had been “dead” for centuries and is now the most common language in Israel, both in spoken and written communication. Of course, it had never really been “dead” and had been used as the language of religion ever since Antiquity. It had also seen a revival as the language of literature in the 19th century, and had been adopted as a vernacular by some enthusiasts in the 1880s who persuaded people to teach it to their children as a first language. And it had prestige. So the ground was paved Still, it required a lot of effort to make this plan come true, especially the language’s adaptation to the needs of a modern society. (Holmes ³2008: 121-2)
  • … that the words Spanish flyturkey and bald eagle are all misnomers? The Spanish fly isn’t a fly at all, it is a beetle (p. 128). It secrets the chemical cantharidin, which causes irritation when in direct contact with the skin. This quality led to the belief that it was an aphrodisiac. The trouble was that it was also toxic, and too great an amount of it could endanger your life. The turkey has nothing to do with Turkey but is genuinely American. It was an important source of food for the Aztecs, who lacked any large herbivores for meat. When it was first brought to Europe, it received the name turkey because people thought it looked similar to a species of guinea-fowl called turkey fowl, imported to Europe through the Ottoman Empire (p. 131). The two birds are, however, not related. The name stuck, and when the first European settlers brought the turkey to America they were unaware that they were bringing the bird back to its native land. The bald eagle is not bald at all (p. 100). The word bald is here related to piebald, which describes an animal with patches of dark and light coloration. (Chaline 2011)
  • … that the word oyster, as used in common parlance, is misleading? The common appellation confutes two unrelated species, the edible and the pearl oyster. (Chaline 2011: 168)
  • … the male donkey is called jack, the female jenny. Donkeys interbreed with horses. The results are mules – jack and mare – and hinnies – jenny and stallion. (Chaline, 2011: 73)
  • … that the scarab was one of the hieroglyphic signs used in Ancient Egypt? A hieroglyph could stand for a whole word or name but could also be read phonetically. In the case of the scarab, the phonetic reading would give a word which can be translated as ‘transform’, ‘change’, ‘become’. This idea is related to the God for which the scarab stands, the God Khepri, who was represented as a scarab or with the head of a scarab. Khepri was believed to roll the sun on its daily course across the sky, just like the scarab rolled its dung ball! Khepri was thus believed to create himself out of nothing, to come into being out of the void, out of the dark, when the sun reemerged at dawn. This also corresponded to the scarab, who, in the absence of a female – the Egyptians believed there were only male scarabs – reproduced asexually by injecting its seed into the dung ball. From the dung ball, miraculously, a new scarab emerged. Chaline 2011: 190-1)
  • … that one speaks of a warren of rabbits, a pride of lions, a pack of wolves and a sounder of pigs? (Chaline, 2011)
  • … that in Norwegian, Swedish and Danish, the word ja, ‘yes’, is occasionally said on an inhalation?: 156
  • … how the Lonely Planet Phrasebook for French explains to its English learners how to produce the French /r/? The sound, they say, is quite similar to the noise made by some people before spitting. (Little 2008: 152)
  • … that bir in Turkish is both an indefinite article and a numeral? It means ‘one’ and ‘a’. When it is used as an article it precedes the noun, when it is used as a numeral, it follows the noun: güzel birkiz, ‘a pretty girl’ # bir güzel kiz, ‘one pretty girl’. (Little 2008: 138)
  • … that the word for orange in some languages, Bulgarian, Greek, Georgian, Arabic and Persian amongst others, is derived from the word for Portugal? Portugal was one of the great trading powers in European history and had colonies in East Asia, where the orange originally came from. (Little 2008: 135)
  • … that, while the earliest writing samples which have come down to us are about 5,000 years old, the oldest samples of recording numbers such as the Ishango bone, are about 20,000 years old? (Little 2008: 112-3)
  • … that in Hebrew and Arabic, the numbers three to ten take the opposite gender of the nouns they modify? This may be a remnant of an earlier system in which Semitic plurals took the opposite of their original gender. If you want to say three daughters in Hebrew, you use the masculine form of the number three, shalosh banot, and if you want to say three sons, you use the feminine form of the numeral: shlosha banim. (Little 2008: 103)
  • … why the Panda is the mascot of the Dozenal Society of America? The panda has six fingers per paw, and the Dozenal Society advocates the return to a duodecimal system in arithmetics. (Little 2008: 99)
  • … that, in Middle English, any young person could be called a girl? The restriction to female young persons is a development that occurred in the early Modern period. (Hollmann; Willem B.: “Semantic Change”, in: Culpeper et al. 2009: 304)
  • … that what is perhaps the earliest example of English poetry is written in Runes? It is on the edges of the Franks casket in the British Museum and is thought to stem from the seventh century. Oddly enough, the Runic alphabet did not catch on and very soon died out. (Culpeper, Jonathan and Archer, Dawn: “The History of English Spelling”, in: Culpeper et al. 2009: 247)
  • … that <v>, which originally was no more than a variant of <u>, eventually took over from <f>, which did service for both /v/ and /f/? If <f> occurred in the context of vowels, it was realised as /v/, not /f/. This is still the case in present-day of. (Culpeper, Jonathan and Archer, Dawn: “The History of English Spelling”, in: Culpeper et al. 2009: 249)
  • … that the word barn goes back to back to bere + ærn and literally means ‘barley house’? (Hoffmann, Sebastian: “Lexical Change”, in: Culpeper et al. 2009: 296)
  • … that Tutbury and Nottingham originally had an initial /s/? The sound (and the letter with it) got lost after the Norman conquest to fit the French sound system. Otherwise the places would now be Stutbury and Snottingham.  (Hoffmann, Sebastian: “Lexical Change”, in: Culpeper et al. 2009: 250)
  • … that the form uber, which can now quite frequently be found in English (ubercute, uberpricey, etc.), is not represented once in the 100 million words of the British National Corpus up to the year 1993? (Hoffmann, Sebastian: “Lexical Change”, in: Culpeper et al. 2009: 298)
  • … that hospital, hotel, hostel and hospice all share the same Latin roots that refer to foreigners and strangers. They are places for temporary shelter. (Hayes 2012: 117)
  • … that both villain and clown originally referred to people who lived out in the country? (Hayes 2012: 64 +226)
  • … that intoxicate goes back to a Greek word, toxon, which meant ‘bow’? The ancient Greeks often tipped the arrows of their bows with poison. (Hayes 2012: 128)
  • …that bath and cat had the same vowel in seventeenth century England? Later, the vowel of bath changed, at least in many varieties of English English. However, because settlers arrived in America before this change occurred, they preserved the same vowel in both words. Later, the vowel of bath was lengthened and sometimes raised. Thus, the English of England and the English of America went different ways, and therefore bath is now pronounced quite differently by speakers in England and America. ((Watson, Kevin: “Regional Variation in English Accents and Dialects”, in: Culpeper et al. 2009: 342-3)
  • … what the words yahoo, utopia, chortle, catch 22, cyberspace, nerd and quark have in common? They were all, after a fashion, “invented” by writers. The yahoos are characters in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Utopia is the title of Thomas More’s germinating book (written in Latin!) depicting an imaginary island which represents his idea of earthly paradise (and clearly different from the England of his time), chortle was first used by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass to denote something which is a combination of chuckle and snort, Catch 22 is the title of Joseph Heller’s famous novel, cyberspace was first used by William Gibson in a 1982 short story, nerd is a word which comes up in a Dr. Seuss picture book where it denotes a small fictional animal, and quark was a word picked up by the US physicist Murray Gwell-Mann which he later claimed he had found in Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, where it denotes the cry of a seagull (quawk?). The classical Catch 22 situation as it turns up in Heller’s novel is that of an officer who wants to refuse to fly more war missions and can only achieve this by having himself diagnosed crazy. But there is the catch: If he flew more missions, he was crazy and didn’t have to, but if he didn’t want to, he was sane and had to.
  • … that the Old English word for they was hi or hie? The modern form is a borrowing from Old Norse. In Middle English texts we see it spreading from Northern and Midland areas (where the Viking settlers had occupied the area known as Danelaw) to the south. Borrowing is quite a usual process, it does not often involve grammatical forms such as a personal pronoun. This can be taken as a sign the two speech communities understood and were on rather good terms with each other. (Culpeper et al. 2009: 323)
  • … that the Present Tense forms of English modal verbs were orginally Past Tense forms? This explains two of their particularities: the absence of an inflection in the third person singular and the unavailability of Past Tense forms. In the Past Tense, the third person singular did not have an ending of its own, and because the forms were already etymologically Past Tenses, different ways of forming the Past Tense (such as had to) had to be devised. (Culpeper et. al. 2009: 329)
  • … that the original Past Tense form of help was holp? It was used up until some time in the Middle English period. This is especially due to the heavy influx of French verbs. These were accommodated into the weak class (e.g. cryed, obeyed, served), which as a result became so strong that even originally strong verbs started to gravitate towards it. (Calpeper et al. 2009: 325-6)
  • … that in Ghanaian English Thank you, as a response to an offer, translates as No thank you the Standard varieties of English? In a particular situation, a Ghanaian, sitting on a bus next to a visitor, took out a banana and offered some of it to his neighbour. This offer was probably ritualistic, and the response was clearly understood to mean “no”. Also, in Ghanaian English, tea does not refer to the same drink as it does in Standard English but to a malt-based hot milk drink or another hot drink. The word outdooring refers to the custom of presenting a new-born child to the community after seven days. In Ghanaian pronunciation, the dental fricatives are replaced by /t/ and /d/ or by /f/ and /v/, and /l/ may be used for /r/, especially in clusters, even in the speech of fluent speakers: If we get good glades, we will continue our education. (Sebba, Mark: “World Englishes”, in: Culpeper 2009: 414-5)
  • … that the Swedish scholar Olof Rudbeck thought that Sweden was identical with Atlantis, the lost territory of prehistory? In Atland eller Manheim he claimed that this was where all countries came from and that Swedish was actually the oldest language, from which all others, including the languages of antiquity, derived from. Even at his own time there were people who doubted the truth of this. However, this rather odd claim makes sense with the propaganda of the time which promoted the national language of the leading powers, against the earlier international language, Latin. (Janson 2011: 216-7)
  • … that in Birmingham alone you get three different pronunciations of the GOAT vowel in the speech of adolescents? Some speakers pronounce it with a vowel similar to the vowel of gout, some pronounce it with a vowel similar to the vowel of gore, some pronounce it with a vowel similar to the vowel of goat in RP (though with an offset similar to the vowel of too). Speakers use the pronunciation to align themselves with a specific ethnic group: the former, the traditional Birmingham pronunciation, is used as a marker of English identity, the second is used as a marker of Caribbean identity, the latter is used as a marker of British, non-local identity. This pronunciation is found in the speech of adolescents in other British cities. (Khan, Arfaan: “Language and Ethnicity”, in: Culpeper 2009: 385)
  • … that whereas the Protestant community in Londonderry is introducing a change in the pronunciation of the FACE vowel, the Catholic community does not follow suit? The Protestants have begun to pronounce FACE with a vowel similar to the vowel of pier, the Catholics stick to the old local pronunciation of the vowel, similar to the vowel of pit. Past and present hostilities between Protestants and Catholics have resulted in the residential segregation of the two ethnic groups. This separation is exacerbated by the avoidance strategy employed by the ethnic groups, such as the avoidance of leisure venues frequented by the other group. (Khan, Arfaan: “Language and Ethnicity”, in: Culpeper 2009: 382)
  • … that h-dropping, according to recent research, is disappearing even among working-class speakers in the London area? There seems to be a strong social pressure to avoid h-dropping, which has become a shibboleth to distinguish speakers from non-prestigious social classes. In this context it is also noticeable that historically /h/ has been added to words which were borrowed from French such as hotel, which had no /h/ in French. (Katamba, Francis: “Segmental Phonology”, in: Culpeper 2009: 43)
  • … about what has come to be known as the waffle phenomenon? Researches found out that learners of a language tend to be more verbose than native speakers, for example when making requests, thus giving the principle of clarity priority over the principle of quantity. At the same time it was found out that learners, not being familiar with formulaic expressions in English, tended to use non-idiomatic expressions which could be perceived as somewhat curt in the context. When reacting to a present, for example, they would say something like You needn’t do this instead of You shouldn’t have or similar expressions. (Culpeper, Jonathan & Schauer, Gila: “Pragmatics”, in: Culpeper 2009: 217-20)
  • … that Old English, besides singular and plural, had (remnants of) a dual? Thus, in personal pronouns, you would have wit, ‘we-both’ and yit, ‘you-both’.  (Culpeper, Jonathan & Schauer, Gila: “Pragmatics”, in: Culpeper 2009: 205)
  • … that pragmatics, in contrast to syntax and semantics, can be conceived of as dealing with a triadic relationship? According to this view, proposed by Morris, syntax deals with a mono relationship, that between linguistic signs, semantics deals with a dyadic relationship, that between linguistic signs and the things in the world they designate, and pragmatics deals with a triadic relationship, that between linguistic signs and the things they designate and their users. (Culpeper, Jonathan & Schauer, Gila: “Pragmatics”, in: Culpeper 2009: 202-3)
  • … that vowels are acquired by a child in a much shorter period of time than consonants? While it can take until the age of five or six until all consonants are mastered, vowels are typically mastered much earlier, by the age of three. (Hardie, Andrew: “Language Acquisition”, in: Culpeper 2009: 610)
  • … the meaning of the word wordrobe? A wordrobe, a blend of word and wardrobe) is a person’s vocabulary. (Katamba, Francis: “Morphology: Word Structure”, in: Culpeper 2009: 78)
  • … that, while English dogs go woof, Romanian dogs go ham ham, Russians gaf gaf, Estonians auh auh and Koreans meong meong? (Katamba, Francis: “Morphology: Word Structure”, in: Culpeper 2009: 81)
  • … that modem is composed of the initial parts of modulator and demodulator and simis formed by the initial letters of Subscriber Identity Module? (Katamba, Francis: “Morphology: Word Structure”, in: Culpeper 2009: 107-9)
  • … that, according to the linguist Michael Toolan, English should not longer be called English? He argues that the English spoken by, for example, a Turkish businesswoman speaking with a Korean sales representative at a convention in Sao Paolo is so removed from the traditional national language of England that it should have its own name. Instead of English it ought to be called Global. (Seargeant, Philip: “English in the world today”, in: Seargeant 2012: 9)
  • … that English is statistically now used more often for encounters between non-native speakers than is is with native speakers? In other words, English is coming to be seen less as a foreign language than as an international language?  (Seargeant, Philip: “English in the world today”, in: Seargeant 2012: 28)
  • … that Webster’s original plan was to publish his dictionary as Dictionary of the American Language? He also spoke of American and English being distinct languages. By the time of publication, he had settled on the less radical title of An American Dictionary of the English Language. Still his aim was to emphasize the difference between the two varieties, primarily through attempts to reform the spelling system so that American English looked markedly different from British English. (Leith, Dick, Seargeant, Philip: “A colonial language”, in: Seargeant 2012: 121)
  • … what Camfranglais means? It is used to refer to a lanuage variety, mainly spoken by urban youths in Cameroon, which includes elements from English, French, Pidgin and indigenous languages. (Leith, Dick, Seargeant, Philip: “A colonial language”, in: Seargeant 2012: 129)
  • … that English had no more than 6 million speakers in 1600? The number then rose to 8 million in 1700, 30 million in 1800 and 120 million in 1900. (Pennycook, Alastair: “ELT and colonialism”, in: Cummins 2006: 13)
  • … that the official name of the country of Cameroon was changed in 1982? The République unie du Cameroun/United Republic of Cameroon became the République du Cameroun/Republic of Cameroon. Anglophones regarded this step as a breach of the constitution of 1972 and as a forceful assimilation of a minority. This was a highly symbolic step, as this was the name that the French part of Cameroon had had before the reunification. The English part of the population had decided in a referendum in 1961, perhaps surprisingly, to join the French part of Cameroon instead of merging with Nigeria. Political and economic ties with France remain strong in Cameroon today, and, though Cameroon has joined the Commonwealth, some observe a tendency towards a one-way expansion of bilingualism, with speakers of English increasingly operating in French but their French-speaking counterparts remaining largely monolingual. (Schneider 2007: 212-18)
  • … that more people now use English as a lingua franca than as a mother-tongue? The relationship is estimated to be 4:1. (Seargeant, “”English and linguistic globalisation”, in: Seargeant 2012: 183-4)
  • … that dresses in Cameroon English does not refer to a particular type of clothing but to clothes in general? Seargeant, “”English and linguistic globalisation”, in: Seargeant 2012: 185)
  • … that Dr Johnson in his Dictionary said that words change their manner when they change their country? He meant that words when adopted into English from another language may change their original meaning once they are established as part of the vocabulary. Johnson discussed mutton as an example, which meant ‘ram’, ‘sheep’ in Frnech but came to refer to only the meat of sheep in English. (Seargeant, “”English and linguistic globalisation”, in: Seargeant 2012: 184)
  • … that dialects are distinguished both ny new forms (which they have developed in the course of time) and by old forms (which they retain but which are no longer found in the Standard variety)? In Scottish English, the first category includes regular Past Tense forms as gied, selt or telt (for went, sold and told) and the vocalisation of /l/ (which makes ball sound like ba’ and wall like wa’), while the second category includes the retention of the velar fricative, /x/, in nicht, ficht and thocht, the word yon (which can be found in Shakespeare’s plays), the word ken (for know), the initial aspiration in the pronunciation of wh- in where, when, whale, etc. (which distinguishes whales from Wales) and the pronunciation of post-vocalic /r/. (Smith, Jennifer: “English and Englishes”, in: Seargeant 2012: 204-6)
  • … that, according to popular English views, Welsh accents have a particular “sing-song” intonation? This perception may have substance in linguistic analysis: the vowel in the final unstressed syllable in words like sofa and butter is lengthened and has a fuller quality than in English English, and this may be perceived as melodic. This feature can be attributed to the influence of Welsh, where final unstressed syllables are not reduced.  (Smith, Jennifer: “English and Englishes”, in: Seargeant 2012: 210)
  • … that, while New Zealand English is non-rhotic, the Southland dialect in New Zealand is rhotic? This is said to be due to settlements patterns: the influence of Scottish immigrants who settled in the southern part of the South Island. (Smith, Jennifer: “English and Englishes”, in: Seargeant 2012: 221)
  • … the English words snot and sall? They sound rather exotic but they are everyday words. Listen to this: “I suspect that they’ve got to go through their notes and that … Snot like just getting up and telling a few howlers”. And listen to this: “And if you think there’s any diffference between a place like this and my caff … Sall the same in the end.” See? (Smith 2001: 522)
  • … the Kodak company in 1922 published a book which was to become the standard twentieth century text on snapshot photography? Its title was How to Make GoodPictures. The book was translated into many languages and continued to be published for decades. However, it was given a new title in 1981: How to Take Good Pictures. (Patten 2014: 33)
  • … that read and write, obviously unrelated to their German counterparts lesen und schreiben (or to their Swedisch counterparts läsa and skriva) both originally are related to the runic tradition?  When you wrote something you carved something into the wood, and when you read it you had to guess at the meaning. So write and read are cognates with ritzen and raten.  (Casemir & Fischer 2013: 94)
  • … that noon is related to nine? But that does not seem to make much sense. At noontime it is 12 o’clock, not 9 o’clock. Here, we are dealing with the old division of the day. The day began at 6 o’clock in the morning. Therefore, noon, the ninth hour, meant 3 o’clock in the morning. But this is still not noon in the modern sense. At noon, at 3 o’clock, the none was sung, one of the daily prayers, but as monks on most days did not get any decent food before that time, noon gradually crept back and made it to 12 o’clock! (Jeffery 2006: 73-74)
  • … that a British comedy show lives on in the word spam? In Monty Pyhton’s Spam sketch, the waitress, when being asked what is on the menu, replies: “Well, there’s egg and bacon, egg sausage and bacon, egg and spam, egg bacon and spam, egg bacon sausage and spam, spam bacon sausage and spam” and so on in the same vein. (Crystal 1998: 107)
  • … that, according to the Guinness Book of Records, the foreign editor of The Times in the early twentieth century, Harold Williams, was the world record holder when it comes to learning foreign languages? He is said to have spoken 58 languages. He died in 1928 and was later matched by Ziad Farah, born in Liberia, who then became a Brazilian citizen. Williams was allegedly the only one who could speak with every delegate at the League of Nations first meeting in their own language. (Crystal 1998: 55)
  • … that anagrams were such a craze for a time that Louis XIII of France appointed a Royal Anagrammatist? There were people who lived their lives according to their anagrams, amongst them André Pujom, whose name gave pendu à Riom (a town in the Auvergne). He committed suicide so that the prophesy would come true!. (Crystal 1998: 55)
  • … that dissimilation frequently occurs when there is more than one liquid in a word? This was the case in Latin where the suffix -alis occurs side by side with the suffix -aris. Words whose stem ended in /l/ attached -aris. Thus we have liberalis but popularis. This has survived into modern English in words borrowed from Latin, where national, dental, chemical stand next to regular, velar, tabular. (Bybee 2015: 69)
  • … that what today seems to be the “exception” to the rule, the formation of Past Tense verbs using /id/, originally was the rule? Thus loved consisted of two syllables and contained /id/, just like wanted did and still does. It is the “normal” words which deviated from the rule by deleting the unstressed vowel. This feature is known as rule inversion. Similarly, an (ultimately derived from one) was the standard (and perhaps only) form until it started deleting /n/ before consonants. (Bybee 2015: 79-82)
  • … that the Past Tense of the so-called „irregular“ verbs in English was originally formed by attaching the Past Tense of do to the stem? The use of a verb plus did was probably meaningful at first but later became grammaticalized. It was also attached to new verbs, especially to verbs imported from French.  As it became more and more productive, it was also attached to “irregular” verbs, thus turning strong verbs into weak verbs. Thus smoke, flow, reap, shove, help, burn, flow and others were originally all strong verbs. What we consider “regular” now was actually quite irregular originally. (Bybee 2015: 97-98)
  • … why certain plural forms like children or feet resist regularization? The explanation is that either the plural is very frequent or, in the case of referents which come in pairs or multiples (feet, teeth, mice, geese) more frequent than the singular. (Bybee 2015: 102)
  • … that in modern seldom we have a relic of an old dative? The suffix -um was the dative plural marker, in this case the dative plural of the adjective seld, ‘strange”, ‘rare’. The suffix of seldom is said to have become de-morphologized. (Hopper/Traugott 1993:  164)
  • … that Old English wif, ‘woman’, was neuter? Nobody seemed to mind at the time. Just like nobody minds that its modern German cognate, Weib, is neuter. (Libermann 2009: 85)
  • … that Old English did not have a passive construction? It had, however, some constructions that were similar to it as in þe cwyde, þe awriten is on þere beck, þe is ȝehaten ‘Actus apostolorum’, ‘the saying that is written in that book is called Actus apostolorum’. This is not a proper passive, it suggests only that the saying written in the book is present now. (Bybee 2015: 185)
  • … that the English passive earlier occurred with be but also with weorþan, ‘become’? This parallels the modern German passive which is formed with werden. The passive construction with get is a newer development. (Bybee 2015: 187)
  • …that Spanish patata originally comes from a Carib language where it only referred to the sweet potato? Only later was it extended to be used for the common white potato from Peru. (Bybee 2015: 191)
  • … that tomato comes from Nahuatl tomatl, where it meant ‘tomato’ but originally meant ‘the swelling fruit’, from tomana, ‘swell’ (Bybee 2015: 191)
  • … that French bureau originally designated the piece of cloth placed on the table where one worked? It then came to refer to the table itself and then to the room where the table stood and finally to the activities carried out in that room. (Bybee 2015: 199)
  • … that girl originally referred to members of both sexes? What then happened is that boy changed its meaning. It used to mean ‘male servant’, ‘slave’, assistant’ and was then generalised to refer to young males in general. As boy changed it also affected girl, cutting into its range of reference. In the end, boy became the counterpart of girl. (Bybee 2015: 202)
  • … that lord was orginally the ‘keeper of bread’ (hlafwaerd) and lady was originally the ‘kneader of bread’ (hlæfdige)? Both have obviously changed their meaning but in such a way that lady is no longer just the counterpart of lord. (Bybee 2015: 206)
  • … that some researchers studied Queen Elizabeth’s radio broadcasts between the 1950s and the 1980s and concluded that her pronunciation of vowel sounds had changed? The researchers found that her speech had become more similar to that of younger speakers in Southern England. (Kaplan 2016: 114)
  • … that reseachers who wanted to study the effectiveness of Rosetta Stone as a tool for language learning did not arrive at a conclusion because too many people dropped out of the experiment? (Kaplan 2016: 130)
  • … that, when pencils with erasers attached became popular, they were criticized by some who argued that students would have no motivation to avoid mistakes if they could correct them easily? (Kaplan 2016: 191)
  • … that, according to the records of one industrious observer, the word fuck (and its derivatives) appears 265 times in Quentin Tarantino’s film Pulp Fiction? On average, about once every thirty-five seconds. (Lynch 2009: 245)
  • … that ASMR (Autonomous Merdian Sensory Response), a tingly feeling which can be triggered by a variety of causes, is colloquially also known as a “head orgasm”?
  • … that Thomas Crapper, the man whose name is reputed to have given rise to crap, though not the inventor of the flush toilet, actually sold toilets for a profession? However, the word was in use long before he was born. (O’Conner 2010: xiv-xv)
  • … that Dryden criticised Shakespeare’s plays as being “grounded on impossibilities” and “meanly written”? Shakespeare often wrote, in his opinion, “below the dullest writer of ours, or any precedent age”. (O’Conner 2010: 21)
  • … that in Finnish stress is predictable? All words are stressed on the first syllable. (Genetti 2014: 428)
  • … that the word derby is derived from the original Epson Derby which, in its turn, is named for Edward Stanley, the Earl of Derby? He had earned the right to name the race because of a coin toss with Sir Charles Bunbury in 1780. If he had lost, would we now be speaking of a bunbury between two local football clubs? (O’Conner 2010: 106)
  • … that girls originally referred to children in general, without distinction of sex? Boys were girls as well. (O’Conner 2010: 132)
  • … that the lexicographers at Oxford University Press estimate that English has between a quarter and three quarters of a million words? And that excludes most technichal words and accronyms and abbreviations. The large difference between a quarter and three quarters of a million is due to the fact that it is difficult to decide what exactly a word is. Does sleep count as one word or as two, verb and noun separately? (O’Conner 2010: 141)
  • … that vet (as a verb) is actually derived from veterinarian? When you vet something, you check something, like a report. Originally, it was your horse which you vetted, i.e. you had it checked by the veterinarian. This led to the more general use of the word to mean ‘check’. Rudyard Kipling is credited with being the first to use it in this way. (O’Conner 2010: 194-195)
  • … that people was spelt peple in the Middle Ages?  The <o> was introduced by well-meaning language pundits in imitation of Latin populus. (O’Conner 2010: 19)
  • … that there is an organisation, a non-profit organisation whose name is Project Semicolon? Their objective is to send out a message of hope to young people who suffer from depression, suicidal tendencies, or addiction. Many people concerned have a small tatoo showing a semicolon. (Roscia 2016: 161)
  • … Chomsky’s Colourless green ideas sleep furiously was made the subject matter of a competition in 1985? The goal of the competition was to make the sentence meaningful in 100 words or less. (Saville-Troike 32017: 49)
  • … that those university instructors are generally better understood by students who  restate a point they consider important with stress on key terms as a topic indicator and then offer a “translation” of them in simpler language? (Saville-Troike 32017: 113)
  • … that bimbo originally was an Italian baby boy, G-string a Navajo loincloth and pedagogue a slave who led children to school? (Jones 2016: )
  • … that almost half the world’s population speaks an Indo-European language? The reason for this is migration, relatively recent migration and migration in much earlier times. As a result of this, we have hundreds of millions of speakers of Spanish, Portuguese, English and French in America and hundreds of millions of speakers of Hindi, Bengali and Urdu in the Indian subcontinent. (Garg 2007: 157)
  • … that there are no spaces between letters in the Thai and the Lao alphabets? (Saville-Troike 32017: 167)
  • … that the gene of gene pool, derived from Greek genos, ‘ birth’, is also found in generation, in oxygen and nitrogen, in engendered and in general? (Forsyth 2016: 4-5)
  • …that exhilarating, debauchery, extravagance, obtrusive, fragrance, enjoyable as well as disregard, unconvincing, impassive, unaccountable, irresponsible and many others all go back to Milton? (Forsyth 2016: 13-15)
  • … that the English word partridge comes from the Old French pertis, which comes from Latin perdix, which comes from Greek perdix, which comes from the Greek verb perdesthai, which means ‘fart’? The reason for this is that that is what it sounds like when the bird flaps its wings flying. (Forsyth 2016: 34-35)
  • … that organ was once used to refer to any kind of musical organ? The organ we know today was known as pipe organ. Gradually, the pipe part was dropped and other instruments ceased to be organs. With one exception: the mouth organ is there to remind us of the older, broader meaning of the word. (Forsyth 2016: 64)
  • … that van, bus, cab, taxi, fan, cute and buff all result from clipping? They are clipped forms of caravan, cabriolet, taximeter, fanatic, acute and buffalo. (Forsyth 2016: 65-66)
  • … that the tune of American national anthem is British? It was the tune of the Anacreontic Society, a society which was devoted to “wit, harmony and good wine”, a curious contrast to the aggressive words of the American anthem, where, besides the star-spangled banner, you get rockets, bombs, ramparts and fights. The words of the Anacreontic Society, however, invite you to “intwine the myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’ wine”. In other words: eros and booze. (Forsyth 2016: 100-102)
  • … that one of the major contributors to the OED, William Minor, was a criminally insane American? After having killed a man he was sent to Broadmoor, a mental hospital. He spent his days reading and sent thousands of notes to Murray, the editor of the OED, who, when he finally knew his identity, immediately went to pay him a visit in Broadmoor. Minor later executed autopeotomy, i.e. he cut off his own penis. In the end, he was pardoned and went back to his native America, in his luggage the six volumes of the OED which had been published. (Forsyth 2016: 132-135)
  • … that the + sign in mathematics goes back to Latin et? Originally one wrote 5 et 4 for 5 and 4. Then the e of et was dropped, leaving nothing but the crossed t. (Forsyth 2016: 177)
  • … that, in 2008, a group of Lesbians (from the island) tried to take out an injunction against a group of Lesbians (from the mainland) to make them change the name of their gay rights association? (Forsyth 2016: 185)
  • … that, although Roman and romance and Romanic and Romania are related, Romany has nothing to do with any of them? It probably comes a language closely related to Hindi and Sanskrit and to the word rom, which simply means ‘man’. (Forsyth 2016: 193-194)
  • … that a well-known school in ancient Greece was named for a hero of the Trojan War? The hero’s name was Akademos, and the school was Plato’s Akademeia. All modern academies as well as the Police Academy films are therefore ultimately named for a hero of the Trojan War, via Plato. (Forsyth 2016: 216)
  • … that the school of Diogenes in ancient Greece was named for a dog? Diogenes, not being a native Athenian, was forced to teach in this school, the Gymnasium of the White Dog. It was so called because a dog had once defiled a sacrifice there by running away with a piece of meat. The school was called Cynosarge after him, and the followers of Diogenes were thus known as the cynics. (Forsyth 2016: 215-216)
  • … that the dachshund (derived from German Dachs) is so called because it was originally trained to hunt badgers? (Crystal 2012: 37)
  • … that Anglo-Saxon (in its Latin form Angli Saxones) was first used to distinguish the Saxons of England from the Saxons of the continent? (Crystal 2012: 39)
  • … that royal can be used as an itensifier colloquially? People say that someone is a royal pain in the neck or that a football team got a royal hammering. (Crystal 2012: 82)
  • … that Persian, a language that we do not often think of as a source for English vocabulary, has added a respectable number of words, including caravan, divan, shawl, lilac, jackal, rook, scarlet, checkmate and, most importantly, chess?  (Crystal 2012: 89)
  • … that the trek of Star Trek originally came from South Africa? It entered English in the 1840s, meaning a journey by ox-wagon, very much associated with Boer movements following the first Great Trek. (Crystal 2012: 160-163)
  • … that jeggings is a blend of jeans and leggings, while meggings is a blend of men and leggings and shoots is a blend of shoes and boots? (Crystal 2012: 252)
  • … that Samuel Johnson is the second-most quoted Englishman after Shakespeare? (Keyes 2006: 104)
  • … that A1, meaning ‘best quality’, originates from the shipping industry? The ship’s hull was designated by a letter grade, and the condition of the anchor, cables, etc. by a number grade. (Ammer 2006: 9)
  • … why black sheep have such a bad reputation that they have become synonymous for the least eligible member of a group, the proverbial black sheep of the family? The reason is that black sheep were traditionally considered less valuable than white ones because their wool could not readily be dyed. (Ammer 2006: 37)

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