On April 23, playwright William Shakespeare’s birthday, the world celebrates English Language Day. As a part of the UN’s efforts to celebrate multilingualism and cultural diversity, English Language Day was first observed in 2010. No other language enjoys the same esteemed status that English does today. Thanks to British imperialism, English which was earlier confined only to the island nation of Britain, spread out to the world and attained the status of a global language. English has thrived mainly because of its flexible, dynamic nature. If one looks closely at the words, they tell stories of political, social and cultural influences. The ever-increasing vocabulary of the English language contains words that have interesting stories behind them. On the occasion of English Language Day, here are some words from the English that tell interesting stories. 15 Interesting Facts About The English Language.
The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary describes “Juggernaut” as “large and powerful force or institution that cannot be controlled.” Interestingly, the word has been influenced by Sanskrit term Jagannath, which means “lord of the world.” The world was used first used in 1854 after the British saw the Puri Rath Yatra. A huge wagon bearing an idol of Lord Krishna or Jagannath is drawn through the Odisha town of Puri. The wagon didn’t stop for anyone or anything, even as devotees voluntarily got crushed under its heavy wheels. Thus was born the word Juggernaut. United Nations' English Language Day 2018: History, Importance And Celebrations.
The word Tantalise finds its roots in Greek mythology. It means to torment someone by tempting. The Greek king of Phrygia, Tantalos, was punished for his sins in afterlife. He was made to stand in a river with water up to his chin. In front of him was a tree branch heavy with fruits. Whenever he tried to reach for them in hunger, the branch withdrew from him. Hence the word “tantalise.”
What does an avocado resemble? Many may say pear. But ask an ancient Aztec gentleman and he’d say “testicles,” because that’s how the word came about! Avocado is inspired by the Aztec word “ahuacatl,” which meant testicle. And more interestingly, avocado is also an aphrodisiac.
Ever met someone with sarcasm so sharp that it could cut? There’s a reason why it’s called “sarcasm.” The word originated from the Greek word sarkasmos, which had its roots in sarkazein or to “strip off flesh,” according to etymonline.com.
Many English words originated from ancient Arabic. “Hazard” is one such word. In the 13th century Arabia, people played a risky game of dice called “al-zahr” (alternatively known as yasara) where the stakes were high. There was a high chance of losing not only from the game but also to players who cheated.
Ketchup, the all-American condiment, has its origins in Malay. The word kichap originated in 1711, which is said to have come from the Hokkien Chinese word koechiap “brine of pickled fish.”
In 1973, a bank in Stockholm, Sweden was attacked by two robbers and the employees were taken hostage. Two women eventually developed affection for the robbers and ended up having a romantic relationship with them.
Psychologists named the phenomenon as Stockholm Syndrome in which humans develop a positive relationship with their captors as a way of surviving the situation.
To eavesdrop on a conversation means to listen to others talking secretly. In the olden times, the roofs were made with wide eaves (part of the roof that meets the walls of the building). This area was known as the “eavesdrop,” which ensured that the rainwater fell away from the house. The large area helped people lurk around and listen to others talking without being noticed. Hence the word “eavesdropping” was formed.
A pair of good denim is a must-have! (Here’s how you can style your jeans BTW) But did you know how the word came into existence? A little town of Nimes in Southern France holds the clue. The coarse cloth made of twilled cotton, called serge, originated from the town of Nimes. The term serge de Nîmes was then shorted to denim!
The most-spoken word in the English language, OK has multiple origin stories, all of which are speculative. Some say it’s from the Scottish “Och aye” or from the Greek “ola kala” (all good). But the most likely source is from an old misspelling of “all correct” as “orl korrekt,” which makes a lot of sense.