Random Thoughts: Think You Know English?

Don’t worry, neither do I. At least, not in the way I thought I did.

That’s my initial reaction after having just made it through the first hundred and fifty pages of Bill Bryson’s Made in America, a fascinating look at the history, growth, and development of the American English language. I’m not nearly as familiar with the roots and etymologies of certain words as I thought. For instance, I wasn’t aware at all at how modern the term “Hobo” was (1891). Nor was I familiar with the origins of the word “Yankee” (the jury is out on whether it was an accented, slang form of the name “Johnny” or an insult-name that began with calling someone a “John Cheese). Crud, I wasn’t even aware that the oft-contested word “ain’t” has been in the English lexicon for almost three hundred years, having been steadily rejected from American dictionaries for centuries.

Actually, it can go one step further. Did you know that dictionaries disagree on the spellings of over 1200 (and in some volumes as high as 1700) different words? Kind of puts an old sting on all those days when your teacher would tell you to go look up a word in the dictionary, doesn’t it?

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