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  • Writer's pictureFrederick Gero Heimbach

Anglish: Party Like It's 1065

Here's a crazy idea: let's go all the way back to the Battle of Hastings and change the outcome. Yeah, we're talking A.D. 1066. The Norman Conquest. Let's undo the effects of the hostile takeover of England by the French -- the linguistic effects at least.

That's the goal of the inventors of Anglish. They want to rebuild the English language on Saxon roots. Or where that is not possible, Germanic roots. Above all they want to remove words based on French, or Latin, or Greek. It's a form of Linguistic Purism.

When William, Duke of Normandy won the Battle of Hastings and became king of England, he installed in a ruling class that spoke a dialect of French. England would not have a king that spoke English as his first language for the next three centuries.

The Anglo-Saxon peasantry spoke a Germanic language, what we now call Old English. Over time, the Norman French of the aristocrats was merged into it, creating Middle English. Echoes of that duality are found in certain legal doublets where Saxon and Norman terms are paired to avoid confusion. For example: will (Saxon) and testament (Norman). Or law (Saxon) and order (Norman).

Who will rid us of these troublesome Norman words? It's a question that keeps coming up. Gerard Manley Hopkins tried to revive Old English meter in his poetry. J.R.R. Tolkien used a Saxon-heavy vocabulary to give The Lord of the Rings its mythic quality. George Orwell favored crisp Anglo-Saxon words and poked fun at bloated, Latinate prose. Churchill's famous speech"We shall fight on the beaches" uses an army of

Saxon words to surround one very French word "surrender."

Churchill was against surrender, in case you hadn't heard.

Anglish tends to find its building blocks in one-syllable words, squat, dense bricks from which compounds may be constructed that are sometimes punchy, sometimes funny, but almost always direct and honest in ways that almost feel like cheating. Instead of nubile, say wedworthy. Instead of baptize, say dip or dunk. See how clear it is?

I used Anglish as a plot device in my novel Buckingham Runner. Alfred, the Prince of Wales, runs away and hides out for a time with Keith, an Anglish obsessive. Keith tries to recruit the prince to the Anglish-speaking cause. Here's Prince Alfred describing the conversation:

[Keith] admitted Anglish was vulnerable to being frozen in time, a “stillborn” language. The more immediate problem was getting people to take it seriously. In his telling, we had been gaslighted, or rather “windlighted,” by intellectuals awed by Greek and Latin. “If I say ‘skyedge’ instead of ‘horizon’ or, worse, ‘dust-sucker’ instead of ‘vacuum cleaner,’ everyone laughs. We’ve been windlighted into wanting the roots of our words to be unknown, outlandish. No other folk puts up with such boneheadedness in their tongue. If we hear roots that are couth, they shame us. Why is this, I ask you? Why?”

These links will tell you more about Anglish:

The best introduction is this video by Rob Words

Find an Anglish dictionary--oops! I mean wordbook--at the Anglish Moot

If you want to mix with Anglish fans, try the Reddit.

I was baited to make this full write-up Anglished. That would have been much work for me and you. You might have surrend--oops! You might have given up before you got this far. So instead I have put only this last sidewrit into Anglish, the Old yet New English, and have called it a day. Be gruntled I did only that much.

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