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  • Writer's pictureFrederick Gero Heimbach

The Battle for Anglish

Recent writing research has led me deep into the Anglish Language. That's the name given to various attempts to reconstruct what the English would be speaking today if the Norman Conquest had never happened. (Here's a dictionary.)

Many wordsmiths have wished for Anglish. Gerard Manley Hopkins "believed that English verse had been rather going downhill since the Norman Conquest." George Orwell thought an over-reliance on Latin-derived words indicated pretension. Strunk & White were biased toward Saxon words.

In its hard core form, Anglish has zero loanwords (loanword--hey, that's Anglish!) from Latinate or Greek roots. Television becomes show box. Winter becomes snake's woe. In its soft core forms, some loanwords are allowed--the more realistic outcome. (Hey, if King Harold had put the Win in Godwinson, Anglish still would have picked up words from the continent. Just like viruses and plagues.)

Generally, we can imagine some of the really clumsy neologisms might not have survived the mills of history: my list of doubtfuls includes barn-find (i.e., antique) and ghost-in-the-wires (hacker). And I really doubt snake's woe will ever catch on.

Here are candidates from my plausible list:

  • Baneworm instead of dragon.

  • Bellowharp instead of accordion.

  • Besnit instead of dishonor.

  • Dust-sucker instead of vacuum.

  • Limberhall instead of gymnasium.

  • Lorehouse instead of school or academy.

  • Plantyard instead of garden.

  • Sailstone instead of magnet.

  • Samefeel instead of empathize.

Anglish has a lot of compounds formed from two single-syllable words. Old English was famously blunt, and there's something uncomfortable, something nakedly honest, in the word samefeel. Anglish, like Yiddish, is a witty language. Come on, people: dust-sucker. That's perfect.

Many legal terms come in pairs, (e.g., will and testament, laws and statues). These date from the time Saxons and Normans existed side by side, each in their own linguistic bubble. Calling a document a will (Saxon) and testament (Norman) eliminated ambiguity.

Saxons were the peasants and Normans the aristocrats, of course. You can detect echoes of that class divide even today. An excellent professor has expertise but a good handyman has know-how.

I find this fascinating, and I plan to adopt a few of the funnier, clearer words. But I remain a fan of English with its riot of not-quite-redundant terms. There really are occasions, however rare, when the exact words you need are "I despise your intestines."

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