As I’ve noted before, I’m fascinated with the prejudices history has imposed on the English language. One of these began nearly a thousand years ago, after William the Conqueror thrust Norman nobility on the unsuspecting inhabitants of what eventually became England. The nobles mostly spoke Norman French, Latin, & Greek. The peons spoke various Germanic & Celtic languages.
Ever since, English speakers have perceived the languages of that imposed nobility to be “classier” than the languages spoken by those who ended up serving them. Authors regularly use this prejudice to give us a feel for characters’ levels of education.
The words on the left, taken from books I’ve recently read (no kidding), came from the mouths of characters the authors presented as educated. In the right column you’ll find a jumbled list of simpler synonyms with Germanic roots. See if you can match them.
ablutions (Latin) – yawning (Middle English)
demulcent (Latin) – hurtful (probably Old English)
feculent (Middle French) – wooded (Old English)
lambent (Latin) – licking (Old English)
sylvan (Middle French) – washing (Old English)
cerulean (Latin) – fiery (Middle English)
deleterious (Greek) – muddy (Middle Low German)
empyrean (Greek) – soothing (Old English)
oscitant (Latin) – blue (Proto-Germanic)
I’ve put a key to the matched pairs in the comments section (the 5th comment). I’m hoping you’ll leave a comment either regarding this anti-Germanic prejudice, or your success at pairing the synonyms.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Merriam-Webster, Wordnik, Etymonline, Collins Dictionary, & the OED.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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