Words index  Vivian Cook

French and Latin Words in English

A high proportion of modern English words came from French, mostly being borrowed during the Middle English period from the Norman Conquest in 1066 to the late fifteenth century and the Early Modern English period to the mid-seventeenth century. Some also came in from Latin, the language of the educated classes during the same period, though it is hard to say whether the source is Latin directly or indirectly via French. A few French borrowings like garage and police are more recent, as shown by their pronunciation if police had been in the language long it would rhyme with nice; garage is still in transition between the French-based pronunciation rhyming with barrage, and the English pronunciation rhyming with garbage. To show how much these contribute to any piece of English, here are some short samples. The French words are given in blue, the Latin in red.

P.G. Wodehouse, My Man Jeeves 1919

Jeeves my man, you know is really a most extraordinary chap. So capable. Honestly, I shouldn't know what to do without him. On broader lines he's like those chappies who sit peering sadly over the marble battlements at the Pennsylvania Station in the place marked "Inquiries." You know the Johnnies I mean. You go up to them and say: "When's the next train for Melonsquashville, Tennessee?" and they reply, without stopping to think, "Two-forty-three, track ten, change at San Francisco." And they're right every time. Well, Jeeves gives you just the same impression of omniscience.

T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland 1922

April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

Winter kept us warm, covering

Earth in forgetful snow, feeding

A little life with dried tubers.

Sayings attributed to John F. Kennedy, 1950s-1960s

It is an unfortunate fact that we can secure peace only by preparing for war.

Children are the world's most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.

Mothers all want their sons to grow up to be President, but they don't want them to become politicians in the process.

Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.

The fact that an English word once came from French does not mean that it still has the same form or meaning in modern French. The English spoken in England after 1066 was Norman French, differing in many ways from the modern Parisian variety. So that English has the Norman war rather than the Parisian guerre, cabbage rather than chou and garden rather than jardin. Sometimes indeed words have come from both forms of French leaving us with alternatives such as guarantee/warranty, guard/ward and gaol/jail.

Indian words in English   Chaucer's new words  English words in Japanese  Shakespeare's words