Thursday, March 15, 2018


Yep, back to style.
Little things make a mighty stir in little towns, which is why that Kingsford folk talked all that spring and summer about the three unacknowworth bodies, frightful cut as with many seaswords, and frightful twisted as by the tread off many ruthloose bootheels, which the tide washed in. And some folk even spoke off things paltry as the forsaken roadwain found in Ship Road, or true unmennish screams, most likely off a lost wight or northfaring bird, heard in the night by wakeful burgars. But off this idle town gossip the Fearful Old Man took no heed at all. He was by lund withdrawn, and when one is old and weak, one’s withholding is twice as strong. Beside, so eldern a seaheadman must have witted scores off things much more stirring in the faroff days off his unbethought youth.
--H. P Lovecraft, "The Fearful Old Man" 
Meet Anglish, the deliberate pruning from English of all those pesky loan words our magpie language has hoarded away over the centuries. Like the competing trend among grammarians to force Latin grammar on a Germanic language, Anglish is an attempt to shift English into an aesthetically "purer" form, conveniently ignoring the language as it is spoken.

But, for the writer, it provides an interesting exercise in style and word choice. English might be Germanic in origin, but it is also a blend of French, Latin, and Greek, owing to a mix of English peasants, Norman French nobles, and Latin-speaking clergy. This has built up parallel vocabularies, based on the origin of the root words, such as the Germanic "drink" and the "Norman beverage".  In gross terms, the Germanic version is more forceful and everyday, the French more sophisticated, and the Latin and Greek more scholarly. (There are exceptions. This is English we're talking about. There's always an exception.)

Anglish allows a writer to better understand connotation and the interplay of how language of origin affects word choice. In most cases, this is a mere writing exercise, but attempts are underway to convert such works as Shakespeare's plays, Lovecraft's Mythos, and famous orations into this more Germanic form.

Perhaps the prized example of Anglish comes from science fiction. Appendix N alumnus Poul Anderson explained atomic theory in his "Uncleftish Beholding" in one of the occasional thought exercises that sneak into science fiction. Here's how an Anglish speaker might explain the ways of worldken:
For most of its being, mankind did not know what things are made of, but could only guess. With the growth of worldken, we began to learn, and today we have a beholding of stuff and work that watching bears out, both in the workstead and in daily life. 
 The underlying kinds of stuff are the *firststuffs*, which link together in sundry ways to give rise to the rest. Formerly we knew of ninety-two firststuffs, from waterstuff, the lightest and barest, to ymirstuff, the heaviest. Now we have made more, such as aegirstuff and helstuff.
That said, Anglish has survived as a concept for over 300 years, but has never truly caught on beyond scholarly and writing exercises.

1 comment:

  1. Nathan
    Fascinating. Wasn't this a per obsession of Churchill,Orwell and a little bit with Tolkein? I've always found it fascinating the tension the Anglo Saxons have had with the superstrates.
    You simply don't see this in the Romance languages with getting rid of the substrates or adstrates
    I'm mot surprised that Anglish never caught on. It's a tad artificial but more signficantly it's limiting. Anglo Saxon would need to link works like a train wagon in order to express complex ideas(like German and the other cognates like Swedish).
    And give credit to the English they've always preferred concision and simplicity while being flexible enough to use Latin/Greek constructions.
    So let it stay as a form of creative writing and thinking; it's harmless but very helpful for writer to challenge themselves.