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Fun historical facts about the English language

English is a widespread language. It is spoken by millions of people around the world and it is used as an official language of many countries, industries and organisations.

The English language is the result of centuries of different nationalities mixing. For example, the Norman conquest of England in the 11th century brought French language influences. In the 12th century, Belgian immigrants brought Flemish to England.

The modern English we recognise today began in the 14th century and now English evolves alongside international media consumption and technology.

Here are some other fun facts you might not know about the history of the English language!

1. Months are named incorrectly!

‘October’, ‘November’ and ‘December’ are misleading words. In Latin, ‘octingenti’ means 8, ‘novem’ means 9 and ‘decem’ means 10, but of course these months are actually the 10th, 11th and 12th of the year.

This is because January and February are newer months. They were inserted into the calendar by the Romans and shifted every other month along.

2. Universal English is fairly new

The first English language dictionary was published in 1755. Before standardisation thanks to dictionaries and the printing press, there were no official universal spelling for any object.

3. The word ‘girl’ did not always refer to a specific gender

Like countless words in the English language, its meaning has evolved over time. Until the late 1400s, the term meant simply ‘child’!

4. English contains many ghost words

These do not refer to a spooky supernatural creature! Instead these are words that are published in a dictionary accidentally but were never actually used in practise. Ghosts words are terms that have been published in dictionaries as a result of errors, misunderstandings or mistranslations.

Examples include ‘phantomnation’, ‘morse’ and ‘gravy’!

5. English was once a gendered language

Like within German, for example, Old English words were either masculine, feminine or neuter. This use of gender in English declined from the 11th century as English went through waves of different influences. Today, the language is not gendered at all.

6. Our greetings have an interesting past

Some of the most common greetings in the English language are ‘goodbye’ and ‘hello’, and they both have interesting origins. ‘Goodbye’ comes from the phrase ‘God be with you’, used to wish people wellness as you left them.

‘Hello’ is surprisingly only about 150 years old. It comes from ‘hail’, which is linked to ‘health’. ‘Hello’ itself began as a greeting used to express surprise and was then popularised with the invention of the telephone. For many English speakers, it is still the automatic word to say when they answer a call!

7. English is different around the world

British English and American English spellings vary and many of the differences between the two are because of just one man.

Noah Webster published one the first American English dictionaries in 1828. In it, he decided to drop the ‘u’ from ‘colour’ and ‘honour’ (creating ‘color’ and ‘honor’) and changed ‘theatre’ and ‘centre’ to ‘theatre’ and ‘center’.

Webster also changed the spelling of ‘magic’ and ‘risk’, which were originally ‘magik’ and ‘risque’. Today, Webster’s spellings of these words have been adopted by British English, too.

8. Shakespearean language is still with us

William Shakespeare has had a huge influence over the English language. The playwright and poet lived between 1564 and 1616 and in this time invented 1,700 words. Many (such as ‘gloomy’, ‘laughable’, ‘critic’ and ‘bloody’) are still used today!

9. Our letters have changed over time

Before using the Latin alphabet, English was written in Anglo Saxon runes.

Old English was written in runes until the 8th century. Next came the Old English Latin alphabet, consisting of 24 letters. 20 of these can still be found in today’s English alphabet.

10. English has spread globally

English is an official language of 67 countries around the world and colonialism has played a big part in this. Great Britain once had sovereign rule over dozens of countries across all continents and during this time spread the English language.

Learn English from native tutors at Think English. Follow our Twitter page for more fun English facts!

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