Saturday, November 20, 2004

More French and English

A few days ago, I wrote, "Perhaps here is a good point to remind everyone that all the animal words in the English language that related to food (beef, pork, mutton, etc.) have French roots. "

Cathy, a fellow linguistics enthusiast, replies as follows (quoted by permission):

Know why? After the Norman invasion of England, the lords spoke French but the peasants spoke English. The lords only saw what ended up on their plates -- they certainly didn't shovel out the barnyards themselves! So the word for the animal itself is English ("ox"), but a new word for what ends up on the plate entered the language from French (the French "boeuf" became the English "beef"). French itself has only one word for both the animal and its meat ("boeuf" means both "ox" and "beef").

Some other words that came into English at time also show vestiges of the peasant/lord relationship. "Marcher" in French means simply "to walk," but "to march" in English means to walk as soldiers do (think of the occupying French army). "Demander" in French only means "to ask," but the English "to demand" implies forcefulness or authority on the part of the speaker.

You didn't really care, did you? But you know I couldn't resist..

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