[ExI] How PISA surveys systematically overestimate Finland

Charlie Stross charlie.stross at gmail.com
Tue Nov 13 16:48:20 UTC 2012

On 13 Nov 2012, at 05:23, spike <spike66 at att.net> wrote:

> _______________________________________________
> Being a poster-child example of an English-as-only-language speaker, I have
> often wondered why it is we have so many different words for the same thing.

As James Nicoll put it, "English doesn't so much borrow words from other languages as pursue them down dark alleyways to mug them and steal their spare vocabulary."

Less facetiously -- English is a mixture of a Germanic language, with Norman French (from the Normal conquest) and a chunk of Church Latin on the side. The Norman thing is most obvious in words for food -- the Old English roots show in the names of the animal (e.g. "Cow") while the nobility used their own word for the food prepared from the animal ("Beef" -- see also French, "Boef"). (Also: "Sheep", "Mutton" ("Mouton"). And so on.) The French influence runs deep, as George W. Bush unintentionally found out when he declared "French has no word for 'entrepreneur'". Then, on top of all that, we added a bunch of other stuff looted from places we invaded -- we live in bungalows and eat curries, for example -- and specialized sub-languages for science, engineering, and medicine (medical English adds a vocabulary at least as large again as core English, as anyone who's had an inguinal hernia knows).

Finally, there's the process of coining of new words. Some of which are awful: why do we "plane" and "de-plane" on aircraft, when there are perfectly serviceable words like "embark" and "disembark" (for getting on and off your barque, of course -- via old French from the Latin barca, or "ship's boat")?

-- Charlie

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