Has English been dialing down the effects of the Norman Conquest?

The Norman Conquest involved words as well as weapons: an invading army of over 10,000 Old French vocabulary words. About 75 percent of these are still in current use. But while their endurance is impressive, a sinister question emerges: what happened to the other 25 percent?

And are still more French words on their way out?

I see a new invader, a fifth column deriving from within the pre-Norman Germanic core of English. Its M.O.? Two quintessentially English tools: verb + adverb = verb; and verb + adverb = noun. Its purpose? To banish from everyday speech (and from everyday writing, and even from more formal communications) any remaining whiff of French elitism.

Consider:

  •  “blow back” for “repercussion”
  •  “dig in” for “entrench”
  • “drill down” for “analyze”
  •  “push back” for “resist”
  • “take away” for “conclusion”
  •  “walk [it] back” for “retract”/“retreat”

In other words, when I drill down into everyday English, this is my takeaway: the linguistic blow back from the Norman Conquest involves a gradual walk back from words of French origin—part of our more general push back against elitism and digging in against privilege.

Hmm… involve, origin, general, elitism, privilege… We’ve still got a few words to go.

And see:
Speaking of the Norman Conquest

4 thoughts on “Has English been dialing down the effects of the Norman Conquest?

  1. Thanks, Terri! Great piece! Reminds me of a college writing guide I received as a freshman that recommended that students not mix Germanic and Romance roots within essays (!).

    Like

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