The origins of the English language
It is no great surprise that Great Britain’s nearest neighbor has had perhaps the greatest impact on the English language. Much of the recognizable English language today has its origins in French, with some estimates suggesting that as much as 30% has French roots.
Some English Words with French Origins
Vinegar – From the French word ‘vinaigre’, or ‘vin aigre’ meaning sour wine.
Denim – From the French ‘denime’. Before Levis Strauss made his name in California producing tough work wear jeans for miners and frontiersmen in the Gold Rush, denim came from Nîmes, famed for textile production. It was ‘de Nimes’.
Sabotage – As industrialization took off around Europe it was not universally popular with the masses. The ‘sabot’, or wooden clog favored by French peasants, proved a handy item to chuck into machinery to bring it to a grinding halt.
Dentist – The French word for tooth is ‘dent’, so it doesn’t take a great linguistic leap from there.
Coupon – Money saving coupons are everywhere, originally clipped from magazines and newspapers. ‘Couper’ is to cut in French.
Queue – It’s well documented the English love a good queue. The word actually means tail in French.
Mortgage – Under the terms of a mortgage, if a loan can’t be paid off, the lender gets the property. If the loan is paid off, the borrower gets the property. In either event, the pledge dies, the deal is over. The mortgage is effectively a death pledge, a ‘mort gage’.
War – The word war, or ‘guerre’ in French, comes from ‘werre’, the ancient Breton word for war.
Curfew – An interesting word dating back to the Middle Ages when the evening bells called for villagers to extinguish, or cover, their fires at a certain time. Literally to ‘couvre feu’. The aim was to reduce risk of fire and late night insurrection and crime.
Mayday – The universal call for help comes from the French ‘venez m’aider!’ Its helpful consonants have ensured its place in the global language.
Dandelion – This common weed is familiar for its serrated, tooth-like leaves drawing comparison with lion’s teeth, or ‘dent de lion’.
Parachute – From the French ‘para’ meaning protection against and ‘chute’ meaning fall.
Take a short history lesson in language borrowing and re-appropriation with this excellent video!
For the latest news and interesting stories about education and languages we recommend Verbalists Education Beyond Borders. This podcast has quickly become popular among both education professionals and students.
Stay on top of the most important education news and events, as well as scholarship offers! Subscribe for free: