https://www.duolingo.com/Speir_

Oldest English words that are still in use today

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The words "I" and "who" are among the oldest words in use today, along with the words "two", "three", and "five". The word "one" is only younger by the slightest bit. The sounds used then for these meanings were most likely very similar to those used today.

(The word "four" experienced a linguistic evolutionary leap that makes it significantly younger in English and different from other Indo-European languages.)

Some words that might change soon are "squeeze", "stick", and "bad". "Dirty" is a word that changes quickly; as of currently, there are 46 different ways of saying "dirty" in the Indo-European languages, each very unrelated. Because of this, it is likely to die out soon in English, along with words such as "stick" and "guts".

Another word invented over a thousand years ago (before the year 900) is "town", which was coined in Middle English and Old English (in Middle English it was "toun" or "tun", which is slightly different but similar).

What other old words in English are still in use today?

9/1/2017, 11:19:54 PM

38 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/Pominaus

As a complete noob to language studies, how are these things measured? Like when in the history of bronze age Briton, through celtic, then the roman era, angle and saxon, danes and nose, normandy, etc does it count as English or whatever? I did just google, but you just get time periods which aren't very helpful when you're trying to work out oldest words. Is it just words that haven't been incorporated from other languages or do the anglicised versions of those count?

I'm interested in the word dirty disappearing as it's still in really common usage, how do they predict these things?

9/2/2017, 1:33:13 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/piguy3
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I also wonder this. I assume the criterion would be words that have descended in recognizable form from Old English and that aren't borrowings from the Danelaw, Normans, or anybody else, but some of the examples given don't comport with this: "I" seems an innovation of Middle English, and "who" was "hwa" in Old English.

"guts" from "guttas" comparatively identifiable, though :)

9/2/2017, 6:56:15 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/MasterZsword

I know this doesn't really answer your question, but what I find really amazing about languages, especially the English language, is that it's ever-evolving. Words spoken in the 1600s may have different connotations and meanings in modern day. Sometimes, it has to do with how they are used in society, which means a word with multiple definitions may retain them, but one specific definition may dominate the rest based on how the people implement it in common speech. For example, I assume everyone understands what "gay" means nowadays, however, the older use of the language is to express one who is in a "merry mood", who is "lively". I don't hear or see anyone use the term "gay" to convey "happiness", unless it's in older novels. Another, and my favorite, is the word "conversation". In the past, I believe this word meant "the manner of one's life". So, a conversation is how you present or conduct yourself in life. It's a bit similar to the modern definition, but it also conveys much more. The manner of your life is often expressed by your actions and speech, which relates deeply to how we use the term "conversation", and how conversation is actually performed.

The question for me is, how do some of these Old English words transition to the usage we are so familiar with currently in society? (I suppose I kind of answered my own question in my post)

Ah, languages are so intriguing, and so are your thoughtful posts!

9/2/2017, 3:51:20 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/M1necrafte1

well in ukrain the word "gay" still means happy but here in the U.S. I don't know how it came to mean what it means know

9/2/2017, 3:43:20 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/scilling
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“Town” has undergone semantic shift; its current usual meaning was only one of its meanings in Old English. (Compare the meanings of its modern Germanic cognates, e.g. Dutch tuin, Norwegian tun, German Zaun.)

9/2/2017, 2:41:28 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/Lingot_Burner

some words like ye, thou, thy and thus are still being used in books like the bible

9/1/2017, 11:26:20 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/Mr_Eyl
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'Thou' and 'thy' (as well as 'thee' and 'thine') are in everyday use in Yorkshire and Derbyshire in the UK, and show no signs of dying out. I for one use them all on a daily basis.

9/2/2017, 12:01:55 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/DreamOfFlying

I think the Amish and Mennonite still use those words a lot. like Lingot_burner said, "some words like ye, thou, thy and thus are still being used in books like the Bible" and they read the Bible a lot. (it's a good thing)

9/2/2017, 12:15:01 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/Mr_Eyl
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It's nothing to do with the Bible here. They're leftovers from when the Danes and Swedes used to come to the north of England for jolly holidays and friendly cultural exchange.

9/2/2017, 1:43:51 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/wombatua
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In certain versions of the Bible (which can be a good or a bad thing - keep in mind that we're not all religious here; I get rather tired of some of the bible-thumping that occasionally goes on) - there are plenty of translations that don't use thee/thy/thou. Historically, Quakers used thee/thou and such, but from what I know that's not as common as it once was. I doubt that it would be used much by the Amish, who generally speak Pennsylvania German (and Pennsylvania German-influenced English), or the Mennonites, who come from a similar German Pietist tradition.

9/2/2017, 1:44:00 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/DreamOfFlying

I agree, I wasn't talking about the Bible in particular, I was just mentioning that, the people that read older books like that, usually use some of the older words. And there are still a lot of those people. Also, from what I understand there is just one translation of the bible in English, but there are several versions of it. The newer versions (New King James) are the ones that don't have words like thee/thy/thou/though, but that is so people that can't understand it can read it. And as for the Amish, they were originally Mennonite. They broke off from the Mennonites because they believed the rules were not strict enough. The Mennonites are followers of the Menno Simons, the Menno Simons were a group of believers that started around the Netherlands in the 15hundreds. Their founder/leader lived his last 18 years in Germany but he was not German.

9/2/2017, 2:17:15 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/piguy3
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There are many translations of the bible into English: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English_Bible_translations#Complete_Bibles Yes, some of them are different "generations" of one translation, but many are not.

9/2/2017, 6:30:09 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/DreamOfFlying

Okay, thanks. I probably should have looked that up before I said it.

9/2/2017, 2:35:13 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/Woof.
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As well as some versions of Shakespeare. And only some versions of the bible. Most that I've seen are ''normal.''

9/1/2017, 11:38:57 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/DreamOfFlying

Do you know when English was written? those words that you just noted there have only been in the Bible for about 500 years. William Tyndale translated several books of the Bible from Latin before he was executed in the year 1536. So I know it was before then.

9/2/2017, 12:07:18 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/Woof.
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''We'' is pretty old. Aren't ''Father'' and ''Man'' and ''Woman'' old too?

9/1/2017, 11:43:35 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/piguy3
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Apparently "woman" originated from "wifman," which displaced the earlier "wif," so was actually a late "arrival" to Old English: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=woman

9/2/2017, 6:38:21 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/AmareloTiago
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Enough

With has totally changed its meaning. A millennium ago, the word with meant against.

Heaven, churl, earl, will, ken

Lord followed an interesting evolution, starting as hlaf-weard, the bread guardian. That would probably count as a kenning.

9/1/2017, 11:46:03 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/Mr_Eyl
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"hlaf-weard, the bread guardian"

'Loaf-ward'.

Something so simple comes to mean something so different. I love language change. It's beautiful.

9/2/2017, 12:06:37 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/AmareloTiago
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Totally off-topic - I have been wanting to ask your thoughts on something:

Do you think the word "cowpoke" comes from the Swedish word pojke, or could it possibly have an English etymology that is comes from the same Germanic root as the Swedish word pojke?

9/2/2017, 12:23:15 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/Mr_Eyl
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'Pojke' is a Finnish loanword into Swedish, so it doesn't have a Germanic root (or even an Indo-European one)- it comes from 'poika', meaning the same.

I'm of the opinion that 'cowpoke' is nothing more complicated than 'somebody who pokes extremely stubborn animals to get them moving'. Giving cattle a 'friendly' jab with something pointy is a tried and tested method of getting them from A to B.

9/2/2017, 12:39:42 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/AmareloTiago
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That is good to know, about pojke coming from an other-than-IE root.

At least in my local Texas vernacular, cowpoke is very much a male word, to the point that in some particularly western-theme venues, cowpoke is used to denote men's restrooms or something similar, i.e. men's clothing or fitting rooms.

Your suggested etymology brings to mind, at least to me, crackers, or whip-crackers who would crack their whips to keep the cattle moving.

Among the several ranchers I know, they don't really poke cattle to get their attention or to move them. They prefer to shoot them with low-powered pistol rounds, mostly designed for dispatching (rattle)snakes at close ranges.

9/2/2017, 2:45:25 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/Mr_Eyl
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"They prefer to shoot them with low-powered pistol rounds, mostly designed for dispatching (rattle)snakes at close ranges."

That seems appropriately Texan! Here, we just yell at them and poke them with a stick.

9/2/2017, 3:46:34 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/DreamOfFlying

Yeah, never throw your stick/whip at a cow to git a little more range, especially if the cow has a calf. I learned that the hard way.

9/3/2017, 7:45:06 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/DreamOfFlying

Well, the only time you can get close enough to poke them, is when you are rounding them up. If you are moving them from point A to B, then they usually stay further away.

9/3/2017, 7:49:35 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/Mr_Eyl
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English country lanes are very narrow. Outside of your fields, you're never that far away from your cattle. If they're out of stick range, you always have dogs.

Country roads here are narrow enough that you can herd cattle down them with a lead and a follower with a stick each and a couple of dogs.

9/4/2017, 12:42:59 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/DreamOfFlying

Ok, I'm American and I forgot about the roads.

9/4/2017, 1:52:18 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/M1necrafte1

Wow i never even thought of that. O.O

9/2/2017, 3:45:41 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/piguy3
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Seems "cowpoke" may be a fairly recent coinage: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=cowpoke Additional at least circumstantial evidence of this could be that it doesn't seem to appear in the Compact OED (which reflects the 1933 OED).

9/2/2017, 8:25:19 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/DreamOfFlying

That seems about right, because I never hear people say "cowpoke," even though I work at a rodeo. but I do hear it all the time in the old Roy Rogers and John Wayne movies.

9/3/2017, 7:54:17 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/piguy3
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http://www.etymonline.com dates "enough" to only circa 1300. It and my Compact OED (as best as I can make out - tiny type in italics) both mention it coming from the earlier "genog."

9/2/2017, 6:41:01 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/AmareloTiago
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I draw an interesting question from this - when we talk about old words that have not changed, do we mean in pronunciation or in spelling? Spelling in English was more descriptive and less prescriptive until the Chauncery standard of the early 16th century, so words that sounded then a lot like they do today often were spelled differently. Genog sounded very similar to enough, sufficiently that I would argue that it would qualify for the list.

9/2/2017, 12:21:12 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/piguy3
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That is certainly the kind of question that would have to be pinned down to investigate such a question. Inasmuch as that initial "g" arose in an era when spelling was more phonetic, I think one would suppose that the pronunciation has likely changed, and in a way that obfuscates connections more readily than such things as the "t" in "often" coming to be unpronounced several centuries ago and then arising again much more recently owing to spelling pronunciation.

9/2/2017, 8:30:03 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/AmareloTiago
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The initial g was pronounced like a y. Further, the og sounded a lot like och. Genog was pronouned more like yenoch, very much like enuff.

9/2/2017, 9:05:25 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/piguy3
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Interesting, thanks! Old English is somewhere on my list of things to investigate, but not one I've reached yet :)

9/2/2017, 9:07:13 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/Lingot_Burner

true

9/1/2017, 11:54:58 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/MiriamPitt5

interesting

9/2/2017, 6:50:14 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/EliasPitts

Here are some old English words translated into modern English: cu: wow. hond: Hand. ship: scip. sunne: sun. helm:helmet.

9/2/2017, 7:37:21 AM
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