Project Gutenberg's Stories That  Words Tell Us, by Elizabeth  O'Neill

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Title: Stories That  Words Tell Us

Author: Elizabeth  O'Neill

Release Date: August 15, 2006 [EBook #19052]

Language: English

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LONDON: T. C. & E. C. JACK, Ltd.




I.   Some Stories of British History told from English Words 7
II.   How we got our Christian Names and Surnames 21
III.   Stories in the Names of Places 39
IV.   New Names for New Places 51
V.   Stories in Old London Names 70
VI.   Words made by Great Writers 84
VII.   Words the Bible has given us 96
VIII.   Words from the Names of People 103
IX.   Words from the Names of Animals 118
X.   Words from the Names of Places 127
XI.   Pictures in Words 138
XII.   Words from National Character 152
XIII.   Words made by War 163
XIV.   Proverbs 172
XV.   Slang 179
XVI.   Words which have changed their Meaning 192
XVII.   Different Words with the Same Meaning, and the Same Words with Different Meanings 213
XVIII.   Nice Words for Nasty Things 224
XIX.   The Moral of these Stories 230





Nearly all children must remember times when a word they know quite well and use often has suddenly seemed very strange to them. Perhaps they began repeating the word half to themselves again and again, and wondered why they had never noticed before what a queer word it is. Then generally they have forgotten all about it, and the next time they have used the word it has not seemed strange at all.

But as a matter of fact words are very strange things. Every word we use has its own story, and has changed, sometimes many times since some man or woman or child first used it. Some words are very old and some are quite new, for every living language—that is, every language used regularly by some nation—is always growing, and having new words added to it. The only languages which do not grow in this way are the "dead" languages[8] which were spoken long ago by nations which are dead too.

Latin is a "dead" language. When it was spoken by the old Romans it was, of course, a living language, and grew and changed; but though it is a very beautiful language, it is no longer used as the regular speech of a nation, and so does not change any more.

But it is quite different with a living language. Just as a baby when it begins to speak uses only a few words, and learns more and more as it grows older, so nations use more words as they grow older and become more and more civilized. Savages use only a few words, not many more, perhaps, than a baby, and not as many as a child belonging to a civilized nation. But the people of great civilizations like England and France use many thousands of words, and the more educated a person is the more words he is able to choose from to express his thoughts.

We do not know how the first words which men and women spoke were made. People who study the history of languages, and who are called Philologists, or "Lovers of Words," say that words may have come to be used in any one of three different ways; but of course this is only guessing, for though we know a great deal about the way words and languages grow, we do not really know how they first began. Some people used to think that the earliest men had a language all ready-made for them, but[9] this could not be. We know at least that the millions of words in use in the world to-day have grown out of quite a few simple sounds or "root" words. Every word we use contains a story about some man or woman or child of the past or the present. In this chapter we shall see how some common English words can tell us stories of the past.

In reading British history we learn how different peoples have at different times owned the land: how the Britons were conquered by the English; how the Danes tried to conquer the English in their turn, and how great numbers of them settled down in the Danelaw, in the east of England; how, later on, the Norman duke and his followers overcame Harold, and became the rulers of England, and so on. But suppose we knew nothing at all about British history, and had to guess what had happened in the past, we might guess a great deal of British history from the words used by English people to-day. For the English language has itself been growing, and borrowing words from other languages all through British history. Scholars who have studied many languages can easily pick out these borrowed words and say from which language they were taken.

Of course these scholars know a great deal about British history; but let us imagine one who does not. He would notice in the English language some words (though not many) which must have come from the language which the Britons spoke. He[10] would know, too, that the name Welsh, which was given to the Britons who were driven into the western parts of England, comes from an Old English word, wealh, which meant "slave." He might then guess that, besides the Britons who were driven away into the west of the country, there were others whom the English conquered and made to work as slaves. From the name wealh, or "slave," given to these, all the Britons who remained came to be known as Welsh.

Yet though the English conquered the Britons, the two peoples could not have mixed much or married very often with each other; for if they had done so, many more British words would have been borrowed by the English language. To the English the Britons were strangers and "slaves."

We could, too, guess some of the things which these old English conquerors of Britain did and believed from examining some common English words. If we think of the days of the week besides Sunday, or the "Sun's day," and Monday, the "Moon's day," we find Tuesday, "Tew's day," Wednesday, "Woden's day," Thursday, "Thor's day," Friday, "Freya's day," Saturday, "Saturn's day," and it would not be hard to guess that most of the days are called after gods or goddesses whom the English worshipped while they were still heathen, Tew was in the old English religion the bravest of all the gods, for he gave up his own arm to save the other gods. Woden, the wisest of the gods,[11] had given up not an arm but an eye, which he had sold for the waters of wisdom. Thor was the fierce god of thunder, who hurled lightning at the giants. Freya was a beautiful goddess who wore a magic necklace which had the power to make men love. We might then guess from the way in which our old English forefathers named the days of the week what sort of gods they worshipped, and what kind of men they were—great fighters, admiring courage and strength above all things, but poetical, too, loving grace and beauty.

But, as everybody knows, the English people soon changed their religion and became Christians; and any student of the English language would soon guess this, even if he knew nothing of English history. He would be able to guess, too, that the English got their Christianity from a people who spoke Latin, for so many of the English words connected with religion come from the Latin language. It was, of course, the Roman monk St. Augustine who brought the Christian religion to the English. Latin was the language of the Romans. The word religion itself is a Latin word meaning reverence for the gods; and Mass, the name given to the chief service of the Catholic religion, comes from the Latin missa, taken from the words, Ite missa est ("Go; the Mass is ended"), with which the priest finishes the Mass. Missa is only a part of the verb mittere, "to finish."

The words priest, bishop, monk, altar, vestment,[12] and many others, came into the English language from the Latin with the Christian religion.

Even, again, if a student of the English language knew nothing about the invasions of England by the fierce Danes, he might guess something about them from the fact that there are many Danish words in the English language, and especially the names of places. Such common words as husband, knife, root, skin, came into English from the Danish.

But many more words were added to the English language through the Norman Conquest. It is quite easy to see, from the great number of French words in the English language, that France and England must at one time have had a great deal to do with each other. But it was the English who used French words, and not the French who used English. This was quite natural when a Norman, or North French, duke became king of England, and Norman nobles came in great numbers to live in England and help to rule her.

Sir Walter Scott, in his great book "Ivanhoe," makes one man say that all the names of living animals are English, like ox, sheep, deer, and swine, but their flesh when it becomes meat is given French names—beef, mutton, venison, and pork. The reason for this is easy to see: Englishmen worked hard looking after the animals while they were alive, and the rich Normans ate their flesh when they were dead.

England never, of course, became really Norman.[13] Although the English were not so learned or polite or at that time so civilized as the Normans, there were so many more of them that in time the Normans became English, and spoke the English language. But when we remember that for three hundred years French was spoken in the law courts and by the nobility of England, and all the English kings were really Frenchmen, it is easy to understand that a great many French words found their way into the English language.

As it was the Normans who governed England, many of our words about law and government came from the French. Englishmen are very proud of the "jury system," by which every British subject is tried by his equals. It was England who really began this system, but the name jury is French, as are also judge, court, justice, prison, gaol. The English Parliament, too, is called the "Mother of Parliaments," but parliament is a French word, and means really a meeting for the purpose of talking.

Nearly all titles, like duke, baron, marquis, are French, for it was Frenchmen who first got and gave these titles; though earl remains from the Danish eorl. It is a rather peculiar thing that nearly all our names for relatives outside one's own family come from the French used by the Normans—uncle, aunt, nephew, niece, cousin; while father, mother, brother, and sister come from the Old English words.

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the real "Middle Ages," the French poets, scholars, and[14] writers were the greatest in Europe. The greatest doctors, lawyers, and scholars of the western lands of Europe had often been educated at schools or universities in France. Those who wrote about medicine and law often used French words to describe things for which no English word was known. The French writers borrowed many words from Latin, and the English writers did the same. Sometimes they took Latin words from the French, but sometimes they only imitated the French writers, and took a Latin word and changed it to seem like a French word.

If we were to count the words used by English writers in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, we should find that quite one-tenth of these are words borrowed from other languages. After this time fewer words were borrowed, but still the English language has borrowed much more than most languages.

Some people think that it is a pity that we have borrowed so many words, and say that we should speak and write "pure English." But we must remember that Britain has had the most wonderful history of all the nations. She has had the greatest explorers, adventurers, and sailors. She has built up the greatest empire the world has ever seen. It is only natural that her language should have borrowed from the languages of nearly every nation in the world, even from the Chinese and from the native languages of Australia and Africa.[15]

Ever since the middle of the sixteenth century England has been a great sea-going nation. Her sailors have explored and traded all over the world, and naturally they have brought back many new words from East and West. Sometimes these are the names of new things brought from strange lands. Thus calico was given that name from Calicut, because the cotton used to make calico came from there. From Arabia we got the words harem and magazine, and from Turkey the name coffee, though this is really an Arabian word. We had already learned the words cotton, sugar, and orange from the Arabs at the time of the Crusades. From the West Indies and from South America many words came, though the English learned these first from the Spaniards, who were the first to discover these lands. Among these words are the names of such common things as chocolate, cocoa, tomato. The words canoe, tobacco, and potato come to us from the island of Hayti. The words hammock and hurricane come to us from the Caribbean Islands, and so did the word cannibal, which came from Caniba, which was sometimes used instead of Carib.

Even the common word breeze, by which we now mean a light wind, first came to us from the Spanish word briza, which meant the north-east trade wind. The name alligator, an animal which Englishmen saw for the first time in these far-off voyages, is really only an attempt to use the Spanish words for the lizard—al lagarto.


When the English at length settled themselves in North America they took many words from the native Indians, such as tomahawk, moccasin, and hickory.

In England and in Europe generally history shows us that there were a great many changes in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. This new love for adventure, which gave us so many new words, was one sign of the times. Then there were changes in manners, in religion, and in the way people thought about things. People had quite a new idea of the world. They now knew that, instead of being the centre of the universe, the earth was but one of many worlds whirling through space.

The minds of men became more lively. They began to criticize all sorts of things which they had believed in and reverenced before. During the Middle Ages many things which the Romans and Greeks had loved had been forgotten and despised; but now there was a sudden new enthusiasm for the beautiful statues and fine writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans. It was not long before this new great change got a name. It was called the Renaissance, or "New Birth," because so many old and forgotten things seemed to come to life again, and it looked as though men had been born again into a new time.

One of the chief results of the Renaissance was a change in religion. The Protestants declared that they had reformed or changed religion for the[17] better, and the change in religion is now always spoken of as the Reformation; just as the reform of the Catholic Church which soon followed was called the Counter-Reformation, or movement against the Reformation—counter coming from the Latin word for "against."

In England the Renaissance and Reformation led to great changes not only in religion but in government, and the way people thought of their country and their rulers. People came to have a new love for and pride in their country. It was in the sixteenth century that the old word nation, which before had meant a race or band of peoples, came to be used as we use it now, to mean the people of one country under one government. In the sixteenth century Englishmen became prouder than ever of belonging to the English "nation." They felt a new love for other Englishmen, and it was at this time that the expressions fellow-countrymen and mother-country were first used.

The seventeenth century was, of course, a period during which great things happened to the English state. It was the period of the great Civil War, in which the Parliament fought against the king, so that it could have the chief part in the government of the country.

All sorts of new words grew up during the Civil War. The word Royalist now first began to be used, meaning the people who were on the king's side. The Royalists called the men who fought for[18] the Parliament Roundheads, because of their hair being cropped short, not hanging in ringlets, as was the fashion of the day.

The people who fought against the king were all men who had broken away from the English Church, and become much more "Protestant." They were very strict in many ways, especially in keeping the "Sabbath," as they called Sunday. They dressed very plainly, and they thought the followers of the king, with their long hair and lace and ruffles, very frivolous people indeed. It was the men of the Parliament side who first gave the name Cavalier to the Royalists. It was meant by them to show contempt, and came from the Italian word cavaliere, which means literally "a horseman," coming from the Late Latin word caballus, "a horse."

It is a curious fact that we now use the word cavalier as an adjective to mean rude and off-hand, whereas the Cavaliers of the seventeenth century certainly had much better manners than the Roundheads; and at the end of that century the word was sometimes used in the general sense of gay and frank.

Both sides in the Civil War invented a good many new words with which to abuse the enemy. Milton, who wrote on the side of the Parliament, made a great many; but the Royalists invented more, and perhaps more expressive, words. At any rate they have been kept and used as quite ordinary English words. The word cant, for instance, which every[19] one understands to mean pious or sentimental words which the person who says them does not really mean, was first used in this way by the Royalists to describe the sayings of the Parliament men who were much given to preaching and the singing of psalms. Before that time the word cant had meant a certain kind of singing, and also the whining sound beggars sometimes made.

In the eighteenth century, when Parliament was divided into two great parties, their names were given to them in the same way. The Tories were so called from the name given to some very wild, almost savage, people who lived in the bog lands of Ireland; and the name Whigs was given by the Tories, and came from a Scotch word, Whigamore, the name of some very fierce Protestants in the south of Scotland. At first these names were just words of abuse, but they came to be the regular names of the two parties, and people forgot all about their first meanings.

The great growth in the power of the peoples of Europe since the French Revolution has brought about great changes in the way these countries are governed. It was the French Revolution which led to the widespread opinion that all the people in a nation should help in the government. It was in writing on these subjects that English writers borrowed the words aristocrat and democrat from the French writers. Aristocracy comes from an old Greek word meaning the rule of the few; but the[20] French Revolution writers gave it a new meaning, as something evil. Before the Revolution the name despotism had been used for the rule of a single tyrant, but it now came to mean unjust rule, even by several people.

The French Revolution gave us several other words. We all now know the word terrorize, but it only came into English from the French at the time of the Revolution, when the French people became used to "Reigns of Terror." But if the French Revolution gave us many of the words which relate to democracy or government by the people, England has always been the country of parliamentary government, and many terms now used by the other countries of Europe have been invented in England—words like parliament itself, bill, budget, and speech.

Nearly all the words connected with science, and especially the "ologies," as they are called, like physiology and zoology, are fairly new words in English. In the Middle Ages there was no real study of science, and so naturally there were not many words connected with it; but in the last two centuries the study of science has been one of the most important things in history. We shall see more of these scientific words in another chapter.

Perhaps we have said enough in this chapter to show how each big movement in history has given us a new group of words and how these words are in a way historians of these movements.




We can learn some interesting stories from the history of our own names. Most people nowadays have one or more Christian names and a surname, but this was not always the case. Every Christian from the earliest days of Christianity must have had a Christian name given to him at baptism. And before the days of Christianity every man, woman, or child must have had some name. But the practice of giving surnames grew up only very gradually in the countries of Europe. At first only a few royal or noble families had sur-names, or "super" names; but gradually, as the populations of the different countries became larger, it became necessary for people to have surnames, so as to distinguish those with the same Christian names from each other.

In these days children are generally given for their Christian names family names, or names which their parents think beautiful or suitable. (Often the children afterwards do not like their own names at all.) The Christian names of the children of European[22] countries come to us from many different languages. Perhaps the greatest number come to us from the Hebrew, because these Jewish names are, of course, found in great numbers in the Bible.

The conversion of the countries of Europe to Christianity united them in their ways of thinking and believing, and they all honoured the saints. The names of the early saints, whether they were from the Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Celtic, Teutonic, or Slavonic, were soon spread throughout all the countries of Europe, so that now French, German, English, Italian, Spanish names, and those of the other European countries, are for the most part the same, only spelt and pronounced a little differently in the different countries.

The English William is Guillaume in French, Wilhelm in German, and so on. John is Jean in French, Johann in German, and so on, with many other names.

But in early times people got their names in a much more interesting way. Sometimes something which seemed peculiar about a little new-born baby would suggest a name. Esau was called by this name, which is only the Hebrew word for "hairy," because he was already covered by the thick growth of hair on his body which made him so different from Jacob. The old Roman names Flavius and Fulvius merely meant "yellow," and the French name Blanche, "fair," or "white." Sometimes the fond parents would give the child a name describ[23]ing some quality which they hoped the child would possess when it grew up. The Hebrew name David means "beloved."

The name Joseph was given by Rachel, the beloved wife of Jacob, to the baby who came to her after long waiting. Joseph means "addition," and Rachel chose this name because she hoped another child would yet be added to her family. She afterwards had Benjamin, the best beloved of all Jacob's sons, and then she died.

The name Joseph did not become common in Europe till after the Reformation, when the Catholic Church appointed a feast day for St. Joseph, the spouse of the Blessed Virgin. Towards the end of the eighteenth century the Emperor Leopold christened his son Joseph, and this, and the fact that Napoleon's first wife was named Josephine, made these two names as a boy's and a girl's name very popular. We have both Joseph and Josephine in English, and the French have Fifine and Finette as well as Josephine, for which these are pet names. In Italy, too, Joseph, or Giuseppe, is a common name, and Peppo, or Beppo, are short names for it. These pet names seem very strange when we remember Rachel's solemn choosing of the name for the first Joseph of all.

Sometimes the early nations called their children by the names of animals. The beautiful old Hebrew name Deborah, which became also an old-fashioned English name, means "bee." In several languages[24] the word for wolf was given as a personal name. The Greek Lycos, the Latin Lupus, the Teutonic Ulf, from which came the Latin Ulphilas and the Slavonic Vuk, all mean "wolf." The wolf was the most common and the most treacherous of all the wild animals against which early peoples had to fight, and this, perhaps, accounts for the common use of its name. People were so impressed by its qualities that they thought its name worthy to give to their sons, who, perhaps, they hoped would possess some of its better qualities when they grew up.

Sometimes early names were taken from the names of precious stones, as Margarite, a Greek name meaning "pearl," and which is the origin of all the Margarets, Marguerites, etc., to be found in nearly all the languages of Europe.

Among all early peoples many names were religious, like the Hebrew Ishmael, or "heard by God;" Elizabeth, or the "oath of God;" John, or the "grace of the Lord." The Romans had the name Jovianus, which meant "belonging to Jupiter," who was the chief of the gods in whom the Romans believed.

In some languages names, especially of women, are taken from flowers, like the Greek Rhode, or "rose," the English Rose, and Lily or Lilian, and the Scotch Lilias.

A great many of the Hebrew names especially come from words meaning sorrow or trouble. They[25] were first given to children born in times of sorrow. Thus we have Jabez, which means "sorrow;" Ichabod, or "the glory is departed;" Mary, "bitter." The Jews, as we can see from the Bible, suffered the greatest misfortunes, and their writers knew how to tell of it in words. The Celtic nations, like the Irish, have the same gift, and we get many old Celtic names with these same sad meanings. Thus Una means "famine;" Ita, "thirsty."

The Greek and Roman names were never sad like these. Some old Greek names became Christian names when people who were called by them became Christian in the first days of the Church. There are several names from the Greek word angelos. This meant in Greek merely a messenger, but it began to be used by the early Christian writers both in Latin and Greek to mean a messenger from heaven, or an angel. The Greeks gave it first as a surname, and then as a Christian name. In the thirteenth century there was a St. Angelo in Italy, and from the honour paid to him the name spread, chiefly as a girl's name, to the other countries of Europe, giving the English Angelina and Angelica, the French Angelique, and the German Engel.

Besides this general name of angel, the name of Michael, the archangel, and Gabriel, the angel of the Annunciation, became favourite names among Eastern Christians. The reason Michael was such a favourite was that the great Emperor Constantine dedicated a church to St. Michael in Constantinople.[26] The name is so much used in Russia that it is quite common to speak of a Russian peasant as a "Michael," just as people rather vulgarly speak of an Irish peasant as a "Paddy." Michael can hardly be called an English name, but it is almost as common in Ireland as Patrick, which, of course, is used in honour of Ireland's patron saint. Gabriel is a common name in Italy, as is also another angel's name, Raphael. Gabriel is used as a girl's name in France—Gabrielle.

No Christian would think of using the name of God as a personal name; but Theos, the Greek word for God, was sometimes so used by the Greeks. A Greek name formed from this, Theophilos, or "beloved by the gods," became a Christian name, and the name of one of the early saints.

The name Christ, or "anointed," was the word which the Greek Christians (who translated the Gospels into the Greek of their time) used for the Messiah. From this word came the name Christian, and from it Christina. One of the early martyrs, a virgin of noble Roman birth, who died for her religion, was St. Christina. In Denmark the name became a man's name, Christiern. Another English name which is like Christina is Christabel. The great poet Coleridge in the nineteenth century wrote the beginning of a beautiful poem called "Christabel." The name was not very common before this, and was not heard of until the sixteenth century, but it is fairly common now.[27]

Another favourite Christian name from the name of Christ is Christopher, which means the bearer or carrier of Christ, and we are told in a legend how St. Christopher got this name. He had chosen for his work to carry people across a stream which had no bridge over it. One day a little boy suddenly appeared, and asked him to carry him across. The kind saint did so, and found, as he got farther into the stream, that the child grew heavier and heavier. When the saint put him down on the other side he saw the figure of the man Christ before him, and fell down and adored Him. Ever afterwards he was known as Christopher, or the "Christ-bearer."

Another Christian name which comes from a Greek word is Peter. Petros is the Greek word for "stone," and Petra for "rock." The name Peter became a favourite in honour of St. Peter, whose name was first Simon, but who was called Peter because of the words our Lord said to him: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church."

When the barbarian tribes, such as the English and Franks, broke into the lands of the Roman Empire and settled there, afterwards being converted to Christianity, they chose a good many Latin words as names. In France names made from the Latin word amo ("I love") were quite common. We hear of Amabilis ("lovable"), Amadeus ("loving God"), Amandus, which has now become a surname in France as St. Amand. In England, Amabilis became Amabel, which is not a very common name[28] now, but from which we have Mabel. Amy was first used in England after the Norman Conquest, and comes from the French Amata, or Aimée, which means "beloved."

Another Latin word of the same kind which gave us some Christian names was Beo ("I bless"). From part of this verb, Beatus ("blessed"), there was an old English name, Beata, but no girl or woman seems to have been called by it since the seventeenth century. Beatrix and Beatrice also come from this. The name Benedict, which sometimes became in English Bennet, came from another word like this, Benignus ("kind"). Boniface, from the Latin Bonifacius ("doer of good deeds"), was a favourite name in the early Church, and the name of a great English saint; but it is not used in England now, though there is still the Italian name, Bonifazio, which comes from the same word.

Both Christian names and surnames have been taken from the Latin Dies Natalis, or "Birthday of our Lord." The French word for Christmas, Noël, comes from this, and, as well as Natalie, is used as a Christian name. Noël is found, too, both as a Christian name and surname in England. At one time English babies were sometimes christened Christmas, but this is never used as a Christian name now, though a few families have it as a surname.

Perhaps the most peculiar Christian names that have ever been were the long names which some[29] of the English Puritans gave their children in the seventeenth century. Often they gave them whole texts of Scripture as names, so that at least one small boy was called "Bind their nobles in chains and their kings in fetters of iron." Let us hope his relatives soon found some other name to call him "for short."

Everybody has heard of the famous Cromwellian Parliament, which would do nothing but talk, and which was called the "Barebones Parliament," after one of its members, who not only bore this peculiar surname, but was also blessed with the "Christian" name of Praise-God. Cromwell grew impatient at last, and Praise-God Barebones and the other talkers suddenly found Parliament dissolved. These names were not, as a rule, handed on from father to son, and soon died out, though in America even to-day we get Christian names somewhat similar, but at least shorter—names like Willing.

It is often easier to see how we got our Christian names than how we got our surnames. As we have seen, there was a time when early peoples had only first names. The Romans had surnames, or cognomina, but the barbarians who won Europe from them had not.

In England surnames were not used until nearly a hundred years after the Norman Conquest, and then only by kings and nobles. The common people in England had, however, nearly all got them by the fourteenth century; but in Scotland many people[30] were still without surnames in the time of James I., and even those who had them could easily change one for another. Once a man got a surname it was handed on to all his children, as surnames are to-day.

It is interesting to see in how many different ways people got their surnames. Sometimes this is easy, but it is more difficult in other cases.

The first surnames in England were those which the Norman nobles who came over at the Conquest handed on from father to son. These people generally took the name of the place from which they had come in Normandy. In this way names like Robert de Courcy ("Robert of Courcy") came in; and many of these names, which are considered very aristocratic, still remain. We have de Corbet, de Beauchamp, de Colevilles, and so on. Sometimes the de has been dropped. Sometimes, again, people took their names in the same way from places in England. We find in old writings names like Adam de Kent, Robert de Wiltshire, etc. Here, again, the prefix has been dropped, and the place-name has been kept as a surname. Kent is quite a well-known surname, as also are Derby, Buxton, and many other names of English places.

The Normans introduced another kind of name, which became very common too. They were a lively people, like the modern French, and were very fond of giving nicknames, especially names referring to people's personal appearance. We get[31] the best examples of this in the nicknames applied to the Norman kings. We have William Rufus, or "the Red;" Richard Cœur-de-Lion, or "Lion-Hearted;" Henry Beauclerc, or "the Scholar."

These names of kings were not handed down in their families. But in ordinary families it was quite natural that a nickname applied to the father should become a surname. It is from such nicknames that we get surnames like White, Black, Long, Young, Short, and so on. All these are, of course, well-known surnames to-day, and though many men named Long may be small, and many named Short may be tall, we may guess that this was not the case with some far-off ancestor. Sometimes man was added to these adjectives, and we get names like Longman, Oldman, etc.

Sometimes these names were used in the French of the Normans, and we get two quite different surnames, though they really in the first place had the same meaning. Thus we have Curt for Short, and the quite well-known surname Petit, which would be Short or Little in English. The name Goodheart was Bun-Couer in Norman-French, and from this came Bunker, which, if we knew nothing of its history, would not seem to mean Goodheart at all. So the name Tait came from Tête, or Head; and we may guess that the first ancestor of the numerous people with this name had something remarkable about their heads. The name Goodfellow is really just the same as Bonfellow. The[32] surname Thin has the same meaning as Meagre, from which the common name Meager comes.

Names like Russell (from the old word rouselle, or "red"), Brown, Morell ("tan"), Dun ("dull grey"), all came from nicknames referring to people's complexions. Reed and Reid come from the old word rede, or "red." We still have the names Copperbeard, Greybeard, and Blackbeard.

Sometimes names were given from some peculiarity of clothing. Scarlet, an old English name, probably came from the colour of the clothing of the people who were first called by it—scarlet, like all bright colours, being very much liked in the Middle Ages. So we hear of the name Curtmantle, or "short cloak," and Curthose, which was later changed to Shorthose, which is still a well-known name in Derbyshire. The names Woolward and Woolard come from the old word woolard, which meant wearing wool without any linen clothing underneath. This was often done by pilgrims and others who wished to do penance for their sins.

Many surnames have come down from nicknames given to people because of their good or bad qualities. This is the origin of names like Wise, Gay, Hardy, Friend, Truman, Makepeace, Sweet, etc. The people who have these names may well believe that the first of their ancestors who bore them was of a gentle and amiable disposition. Names like Proud, Proudfoot, Proudman, Paillard (French for "lie-a-bed") show that the first people who had[33] them were not so well liked, and were considered proud or lazy.

Another way of giving nicknames to people because of something noticeable in their character or appearance was to give them the name of some animal having this quality. The well-known name of Oliphant comes from elephant, and was probably first given to some one very large, and perhaps a little ungraceful. Bullock as a surname probably had the same sort of origin. The names Falcon, Hawk, Buzzard, must have been first given to people whose friends and neighbours saw some resemblance to the quickness or fierceness or sureness or some other quality of these birds in them. The names Jay, Peacock, and Parrott point to showiness and pride and empty talkativeness.

A very great number of surnames are really only old Christian names either with or without an ending added to them. A very common form of surname is a Christian name with son added to it. The first man who handed on the name Wilson (or Willson, as it is still sometimes spelt) was himself the "son of Will." Any one can think of many names of this kind—Williamson, Davidson, Adamson, etc. Sometimes the founder of a family had taken his name from his mother. This was the origin of names like Margerison ("Marjorie's son") and Alison ("Alice's son"). This was a very common way of inventing surnames.

The Norman Fitz meant "son of," and the numer[34]ous names beginning with Fitz have this origin. Fitzpatrick originally meant the "son of Patrick," Fitzstephen the "son of Stephen," and so on. The Irish prefix O' has the same meaning. The ancestor of all the O'Neills was himself the son of Neill. The Scandinavian Nillson is really the same name, though it sounds so different. The Scotch Mac has the same meaning, and so have the Welsh words map, mab, ap, and ab.

One very interesting way of making surnames was to take them from the trade or occupation of the founder of the family. Perhaps the commonest of English surnames is Smith. And the word for Smith is the commonest surname in almost every country of Europe. In France we have Favier.

The reason for this is easy to see. The smith, or man who made iron and other metals into plough-shares and swords, was one of the most important of all the workers in the early days when surnames were being made. There were many smiths, and John the Smith and Tom the Smith easily became John Smith and Tom Smith, and thus had a surname to pass on to their families.

As time went on there came to be many different kinds of smiths. There was the smith who worked in gold, and was called a "goldsmith," from which we get the well-known surname Goldsmith, the name of a great English writer. Then there was the "nail smith," from which trade came the name Nasmith; the "sickle smith," from which came[35] Sixsmith; the "shear smith," which gave us Shearsmith—and so on.

In mediæval England the manufacture of cloth from the wool of the great flocks of sheep which fed on the pasture lands of the monasteries and other great houses, was the chief industry of the nation. This trade of wool-weaving has given us many surnames, such as Woolmer, Woolman, Carder, Kempster, Towser, Weaver, Webster, etc. Some of these referred to the general work of wool-weaving and others to special branches.

Any child can think in a moment of several names which have come in this way from trades. We have Taylor for a beginning.

But many surnames which are taken from the names of trades come from Old English words which are now seldom or never used. Chapman, a common name now, was the Old English word for a general dealer. Spicer was the old name for grocer, and is now a fairly common surname. The well-known name of Fletcher comes from the almost forgotten word flechier, "an arrowmaker." Coltman came from the name of the man who had charge of the colts. Runciman was the man who had charge of horses too, and comes from another Old English word, rouncy, "a horse." The Parkers are descended from a park-keeper who used to be called by that name. The Horners come from a maker of horns; the Crockers and Crokers from a "croker," or "crocker," a maker of pottery. Hogarth comes[36] from "hoggart," a hog-herd; Calvert from "calf-herd;" and Seward from "sow-herd." Lambert sometimes came from "lamb-herd."

But we cannot always be sure of the origin of even the commonest surnames. For instance, every person named Smith is not descended from a smith, for the name also comes from the old word smoth, or "smooth," and this is the origin of Smith in Smithfield.

A great many English surnames were taken from places. Street, Ford, Lane, Brooke, Styles, are names of this kind. Sometimes they were prefixed by the Old English atte ("at") or the French de la ("of the"), but these prefixes have been dropped since. Geoffrey atte Style was the Geoffrey who lived near the stile—and so on.

Nearly all the names ending in hurst and shaw are taken from places. A hurst was a wood or grove; a shaw was a shelter for fowls and animals. The chief thing about a man who got the surname of Henshaw or Ramshaw was probably that he owned, or had the care of, such a shelter for hens or rams.

Names ending in ley generally came into existence in the same way, a ley being also a shelter for domestic animals. So we have Horsley, Cowley, Hartley, Shipley (from "sheep"). Sometimes the name was taken from the kind of trees which closed such a shelter in, names like Ashley, Elmsley, Oakley, Lindley, etc.

Surnames as well as Christian names were often[37] taken from the names of saints. From such a beautiful name as St. Hugh the Normans had Hugon, and from this we get the rather commonplace names of Huggins, Hutchins, Hutchinson, and several others. So St. Clair is still a surname, though often changed into Sinclair. St. Gilbert is responsible for the names Gibbs, Gibbons, Gibson, etc.

Sometimes in Scotland people were given, as Christian names, names meaning servant of Christ, or some saint. The word for servant was giollo, or giolla. It was in this way that names like Gilchrist, Gilpatrick, first came to be used. They were at first Christian names, and then came to be passed on as surnames. So Gillespie means "servant of the bishop."

Some surnames, though they seem quite English now, show that the first member of the family to bear the name was looked upon as a foreigner. Such names are Newman, Newcome, Cumming (from cumma, "a stranger"). Sometimes the nationality to which the stranger belonged is shown by the name. The ancestors of the people called Fleming, for instance, must have come from Flanders, as so many did in the Middle Ages. The Brabazons must have come from Brabant.

Perhaps the most peculiar origin of all belongs to some surnames which seem to have come from oaths or exclamations. The fairly common names Pardoe, Pardie, etc., come from the older name Pardieu, or "By God," a solemn form of oath.[38] We have, too, the English form in the name Bigod. Names like Rummiley come from the old cry of sailors, Rummylow, which they used as sailors use "Heave-ho" now.

But many chapters could be written on the history of names. This chapter shows only some of the ways in which we got our Christian names and surnames.




The stories which the names of places can tell us are many more in number, and even more wonderful, than the stories in the names of people. Some places have very old names, and others have quite new ones, and the names have been given for all sorts of different reasons. If we take the names of the continents, we find that some of them come from far-off times, and were given by men who knew very little of what the world was like. The names Europe and Asia were given long ago by sailors belonging to the Semitic race (the race to which the Jews belong), who sailed up and down the Ægean Sea, and did not venture to leave its waters. All the land which lay to the west they called Ereb, which was their word for "sunset," or "west," and the land to the east they called Acu, which meant "sunrise," or "east;" and later, when men knew more about these lands, these names, changed a little, remained as the names of the great continents, Europe and Asia.

Africa, too, is an old name, though not so old as[40] these. We think of Africa now as a "dark continent," the greater part of which has only lately become known to white men, and with a native population of negroes. But for hundreds of years the north of Africa was one of the most civilized parts of the Roman Empire. Before that time part of it had belonged to the Carthaginians, whom the Romans conquered. Africa was a Carthaginian name, and was first used by the Romans as the name of the district round Carthage, and in time it came to be the name of the whole continent.

America got its name in quite a different way. It was not until the fifteenth century that this great continent was discovered, and then it took its name, not from the brave Spaniard, Christopher Columbus, who first sailed across the "Sea of Darkness" to find it, but from Amerigo Vespucci, the man who first landed on the mainland.

Australia got its name, which means "land of the south," from Portuguese and Spanish sailors, who reached its western coasts early in the sixteenth century. They never went inland, or made any settlements, but in the queer, inaccurate maps which early geographers made, they put down a Terra Australis, or "southern land," and later, when Englishmen did at last explore and colonize the continent, they kept this name Australia. This Latin name reminds us of the fact that Latin was in the Middle Ages the language used by all scholars in their writings, and names on maps were written[41] in Latin too, and so a great modern continent like Australia came to have an old Latin name.

There is a great deal of history in the names of countries. Take the names of the countries of Europe. England is the land of the Angles, and from this we learn that the Angles were the chief people of all the tribes who came over and settled in Britain after the Romans left it. They spread farthest over the land, and gave their name to it; just as the Franks, another of these Northern peoples, gave their name to France, and the Belgæ gave theirs to Belgium. The older name of Britain did not die out, but it was seldom used. It has really been used much more in modern times than it ever was in the Middle Ages. It is used especially in poetry or in fine writing, just as Briton is instead of Englishman, as in the line—

"Britons never, never, never shall be slaves."

The name Briton is now used also to mean Irish, Scotch, and Welsh men—in fact, any British subject. We also speak of Great Britain, which means England and Scotland. When the Scottish Parliament was joined to the English in 1702 some name had to be found to describe the new "nation," and this was how the name Great Britain came into use, just as the United Kingdom was the name invented to describe Great Britain and Ireland together when the Irish Parliament too was joined to the English in 1804.[42]

We see how Gaul and Britain, as France and England were called in Roman times, had their names changed after the fall of the Roman Empire; but most of the countries round the Mediterranean Sea kept their old names, just as they kept for the most part their old languages. Italy, Greece, and Spain all kept their old names, although new peoples flocked down into these lands too. But though new peoples came, in all these lands they learned the ways and languages of the older inhabitants, instead of changing everything, as the English did in Britain. And so it was quite natural that they should keep their own names too.

Most of the other countries in Europe took their names from the people who settled there. Germany (the Roman Germania) was the part of Europe where most of the tribes of the German race settled down. The divisions of Germany, like Saxony, Bavaria, Frisia, were the parts of Germany where the German tribes known as Saxons, Bavarians, and Frisians settled. The name Austria comes from Osterreich, the German for "eastern kingdom." Holland, on the other hand, takes its name from the character of the land. It comes from holt, meaning "wood," and lant, meaning "land." The little country of Albania is so called from Alba, or "white," because of its snowy mountains.

But perhaps the names of the old towns of the old world tell us the best stories of all. The greatest city the world has ever seen was Rome, and many[43] scholars have quarrelled about the meaning of that great name. It seems most likely that it came from an old word meaning "river." It would be quite natural for the people of early Rome to give such a name to their city, for it was a most important fact to them that they had built their city just where it was on the river Tiber.

One of the best places on which a town could be built, especially in early days, was the banks of a river, from which the people could get water, and by which the refuse and rubbish of the town could be carried away. Then, again, one of the chief things which helped Rome to greatness was her position on the river Tiber, far enough from the sea to be safe from the enemy raiders who infested the seas in those early days, and yet near enough to send her ships out to trade with other lands. Thus it was, probably, that a simple word meaning "river" came to be used as the name of the world's greatest city.

Others among the great cities of the ancient world were founded in a quite different way. The great conqueror, Alexander the Great, founded cities in every land he conquered, and their names remain even now to keep his memory alive. The city of Alexandria, on the north coast of Africa, was, of course, called after Alexander himself, and became after his death more civilized and important than any of the Greek cities which Alexander admired so much, and which he tried to imitate everywhere.[44] Now Alexandria is no longer a centre of learning, but a fairly busy port. Only its name recalls the time when it helped in the great work for which Alexander built it—to spread Greek learning and Greek civilization over Europe and Asia.

Another city which Alexander founded, but which afterwards fell into decay, was Bucephalia, which the great conqueror set up in the north of India when he made his wonderful march across the mountains into that continent. It was called after "Bucephalus," the favourite horse of Alexander, which had been wounded, and died after the battle. The town was built over the place where the horse was buried, and though its story is not so interesting as that of Alexandria, as the town so soon fell into decay, still it is worth remembering.

Another of the world's ancient and greatest cities, Constantinople, also took its name from a great ruler. In the days when the Roman Empire was beginning to decay, and new nations from the north began to pour into her lands, the emperor, Constantine the Great, the ruler who made Christianity the religion of the empire, chose a new capital instead of Rome. He loved Eastern magnificence and Eastern ways, and he chose for his new capital the old Greek colony of Byzantium, the beautiful city on the Golden Horn, which Constantine soon made into a new Rome, with churches and theatres and baths, like the old Rome. The new Rome was given a new name. Constantine had turned[45] Byzantium into a new city, and it has ever since been known as Constantinople, or the "city of Constantine."

We can nearly always tell from the names of places something of their history. If we think of the names of some of our English towns, we notice that many of them end in the same way. There are several whose names begin or end in don, like London itself. Many others end in caster or chester, ham, by, borough or burgh.

We may be sure that most of the places whose names begin or end in don were already important places in the time before the Britons were conquered by the Romans. The Britons were divided into tribes, and lived in villages scattered over the land; but each tribe had its little fortress or stronghold, the "dun," as it was called, with walls and ditches round it, in which all the people of the tribe could take shelter if attacked by a strong enemy. And so the name of London takes us back to the time when this greatest city of the modern world, spreading into four counties, and as big as a county itself, with its marvellous buildings, old and new, and its immense traffic, was but a British fort into which scantily-clothed people fled from their huts at the approach of an enemy.

But the British showed themselves wise enough in their choice of places to build their duns, which, as in the case of London, often became centres of new towns, which grew larger and larger through[46] Roman times, and on into the Middle Ages and modern times.

The great French fortress town of Verdun, which everybody has heard of because of its wonderful resistance to the German attacks in 1916, is also an old Celtic town with this Celtic ending to its name. It was already an important town when the Romans conquered Gaul, and it has played a notable part in history ever since. Its full name means "the fort on the water," just as Dundee (from Dun-tatha) probably meant "the fort on the Tay."

By merely looking at a map of England, any one who knows anything of the Latin language can pick out many names which come from that language, and which must have been given in the days when the Romans had conquered Britain. The ending caster of so many names in the north of England, and chester in the Midlands, xeter in the west of England, and caer in Wales, all come from the same Latin word, castrum, which means a military camp or fortified place. So that we might guess, if we did not know, that at Lancaster, Doncaster, Manchester, Winchester, Exeter, and at the old capital of the famous King Arthur, Caerleon, there were some of those Roman camps which were dotted over England in the days when the Romans ruled the land.

Here the Roman officers lived with their wives and families, and the Roman soldiers too, and here[47] they built churches and theatres and baths, such as they were used to in their cities at home in Italy. Here, too, it was that many of the British nobles learned Roman ways of living and thinking; and from here the Roman priests and monks went out to teach the Britons that the religion of the Druids was false, and instruct them in the Christian religion.

Another common Latin ending or beginning to the names of places was strat, stret, or street, and wherever we find this we may know that through these places ran some of the viæ stratæ, or great Roman roads which the Romans built in all the provinces of their great empire. There are many remains of these Roman roads still to be seen up and down England; but even where no trace remains, the direction of some, at least, of the great roads could be found from the names of the towns which were dotted along them. Among these towns are Stratford in Warwickshire, Chester-le-Street in Durham, Streatham, etc.

Then, again, some of the towns with port and lynne as part of their names show us where the Romans had their ports and trading towns.

It is interesting to see the different names which the English gave to the villages in which they dwelt when the Romans had left Britain, and these new tribes had won it for themselves. Nearly all towns ending in ham and ford, and burgh or borough, date from the first few hundred years after the English[48] won Britain. Ham and ford merely meant "home," or "village." Thus Buckingham was the home of the Bockings, a village in which several families all related to each other, and bearing this name, lived. Of course the name did not change when later the village grew into a town. Buckingham is a very different place now from the little village in which the Bockings settled, each household having its house and yard, but dividing the common meadow and pasture land out between them each year.

Wallingford was the home of the Wallings. Places whose names ended in ford were generally situated where a ford, or means of crossing a river or stream, had to be made. Oxford was in Old English Oxenford, or "ford of the oxen."

Towns whose names end in borough are often very old, but not so old as some of those ending in ham and ford. There were burhs in the first days of the English Conquest, but generally they were only single fortified houses and not villages. We first hear of the more important burghs or boroughs in the last hundred years or so before the Norman Conquest. Edinburgh, which was at first an English town, is a very early example. Its name means "Edwin's borough or town," and it was so called because it was founded by Edwin, who was king of England from 617 to 633.

The special point about boroughs was that they were really free towns. They had courts of justice[49] of their own, and were free from the Hundred courts, the next court above them being the Shire court, ruled over by the sheriff. So we know that most of the towns whose names end in burgh or borough had for their early citizens men who loved freedom, and worked hard to win their own courts of justice.

There are other endings to the names of towns which go back to the days before the Norman Conquest, but which are not really English. If a child were told to pick out on the map of England all the places whose names end in by or thwaite, he or she would find that most of them are in the eastern part of England. The reason for this might be guessed, perhaps, by a very thoughtful child. Both by and thwaite are Danish words, and they are found in the eastern parts of England, because it was in those parts that the Danes settled down when the great King Alfred forced them to make peace in the Treaty of Wallingford. After this, of course, the Danes lived in England for many years, settling down, and becoming part of the English people. Naturally they gave their own names to many villages and towns, and many of these remain to this day to remind us of this fierce race which helped to build up the English nation.

The Normans did not make many changes in the names of places when they won England, and most of our place-names come down to us from Roman and old English times. The places have changed, but the names have not. But though towns and[50] counties have had their names from those times, it is to be noticed that the names of our rivers and hills come down to us from Celtic times. To the Britons, living a more or less wild life, these things were of the greatest importance. There are several rivers in England with the name of Avon, and this is an old British name. The rivers Usk, Esk, and Ouse were all christened by the Britons, and all these names come from a British word meaning "water." Curiously enough, the name whisky comes from the same word. From all these different ways in which places have got their names we get glimpses of past history, and history helps us to understand the stories that these old names tell us.




We have seen in how many different ways many of the old places of this world got their names. Some names go so far back that no one knows what is their meaning, or how they first came to be used. But we know that a great part of the world has only been discovered since the fifteenth century, and that a great part of what was already known has only been colonized in modern times.

With the discovery of the New World and the colonization of the Dark Continent and other far-off lands, a great many new names were invented. We could almost write a history of North or South America from an explanation of their place-names.

In learning the geography of South America we notice the beautiful Spanish names of most of the places. The reason for this is that it was the Spaniards who colonized South America in the sixteenth century. Very little of this continent now belongs to Spain, but in those days Spain was the greatest country in Europe. The proud and brave Spanish adventurers were in those days sailing over the seas[52] and founding colonies, just as the English sailors of Queen Elizabeth soon began to do in North America.

Let us look at some of these names—Los Angelos ("The Angels"), Santa Cruz ("The Holy Cross"), Santiago ("St. James"), all names of saints and holy things. Any one who knew no history at all might guess, from the number of places with Spanish names spread over South America, that it was the Spaniards who colonized this land. He would also guess that the Spaniards in those days must have been a very great nation indeed. And he would be right.

He would guess, too, that the Spaniards had clung passionately to the Catholic religion. Here, again, he would be right. Any great enthusiasm will make a nation great, and the Spaniards in the sixteenth century were filled with a great love for the old Church against which the new Protestantism was fighting. The Pope looked upon Spain as the great bulwark of Catholicism. The new religious feeling, which had swept over Europe, and which had made the Protestants ready to suffer and die for their new-found faith, took the form in Spain of this great love for the old religion. The nation seemed inspired. It is when these things happen that a people turns to great enterprises and adventure. The Spaniards of the sixteenth century regarded themselves, and were almost regarded by the other nations, as unconquerable. The great aim of Elizabethan Englishmen was to "break the power of Spain," and[53] this they did at last when they scattered the "Invincible Armada" in 1588. But before this Spain had done great things.

The Portuguese had been the first great adventurers, but they were soon left far behind by the Spanish sailors, who explored almost every part of South America, settling there, and sending home great shiploads of gold to make Spain rich. And wherever they explored and settled they spread about these beautiful names to honour the saints and holy things which their religion told them to love and honour.

It was the great discoverer Christopher Columbus who first gave one of these beautiful names to a place in South America. He had already discovered North America, and made a second voyage there, when he determined to explore the land south of the West Indies. He sailed south through the tropical seas while the heat melted the tar of the rigging. But Columbus never noticed danger and discomfort. He had made a vow to call the first land he saw after the Holy Trinity, and when at last he caught sight of three peaks jutting up from an island he gave the island the name of La Trinidad, and "Trinidad" it remains to this day, though it now belongs to the British. As he sailed south Columbus caught sight of what was really the mainland of South America, but he thought it was another island, and called it Isla Santa, or "Holy Island."[54]

It might seem curious that as Columbus had discovered both North and South America, the continent was given the name of another man. As we have seen, its name was taken from that of another explorer, Amerigo Vespucci. The reason for this was that Columbus never really knew that he had discovered a "New World." He believed that he had come by another way to the eastern coast of Asia or Africa. The islands which he first discovered were for this reason called the Indies, and the West Indies they remain to this day.

It was Amerigo Vespucci who first announced to the world, in a book which he published in 1507 (three years after Christopher Columbus had died in loneliness and poverty), that the new lands were indeed a great new continent, and not Asia or Africa at all. People later on said that Amerigo Vespucci had discovered a new continent, and that it ought to be called by his name. This is how the name America came into use; but of course the work of Vespucci was not to be compared with that of the great adventurer who first sailed across the "Sea of Darkness," and was the real discoverer of the New World.

Though it was the Spaniards who discovered North America, it was the English who chiefly colonized it.

It is interesting to notice the names which the early English colonists scattered over the northern continent. We might gather from them that, just[55] as the love of their Church was the great passion of the sixteenth-century Spaniards, so the love of their country was the ruling passion of the great English adventurers. (Of course the Spaniards had shown their love for their old country in some of the names they gave, as when Columbus called one place Isabella, in honour of the noble Spanish queen who had helped and encouraged him when other rulers of European countries had refused to listen to what they thought were the ravings of a madman.)

The English in Reformation days had a very different idea of religion from the Spanish. Naturally they did not sprinkle the names of saints over the new lands. But the English of Elizabeth's day were filled with a great new love for England. The greatest of all the Elizabethan adventurers, Sir Francis Drake, when in his voyage round the world he put into a harbour which is now known as San Francisco, set up "a plate of brass fast nailed to a great and firm post, whereon is engraved Her Grace's name, and the day and the year of our arrival there." The Indian king of these parts had freely owned himself subject to the English, taking the crown from his own head and putting it on Drake's head. Sir Francis called his land New Albion, using the old poetic name for England.

But the colonization of North America was not successfully begun until after the death of Elizabeth, though one or two attempts at founding colonies, or "plantations," as they were then called, were[56] made in her time. Sir Walter Raleigh tried to set up one colony in North America, and called it Virginia, after the virgin queen whom all Englishmen delighted to honour. Virginia did not prosper, and Raleigh's colony broke up; but later another and successful attempt at colonizing it was made, and the same name kept. Virginia—"Earth's only Paradise," as the poet Drayton called it—was the first English colony successfully settled in North America. This was in the year 1607, when two hundred and forty-three settlers landed, and made the first settlement at a point which they called Jamestown, in honour of the new English king, James I.

The first settlers in Virginia were men whose chief aim was to become rich, but it was not long before a new kind of settler began to seek refuge in the lands north of Virginia, to which the great colonizer, Captain John Smith, had by this time given the name of New England. It was in 1620 that the "Pilgrim Fathers," because they were not free to worship God as they thought right at home, sailed from Southampton in the little Mayflower, and landed far to the north of Virginia, and made a settlement at a place which Smith had already called Plymouth.

Before long new colonies began to spring up all over New England; and though we find some new names, like the Indian name of the great colony Massachusetts, we may read the story of the great[57] love which the colonists felt for the old towns of the mother-country in the way they gave their names to the new settlements.

A curious thing is that many of these new towns, christened after little old towns at home, became later very important and prosperous places, while the places after which they were called are sometimes almost forgotten. Many people to whom the name of the great American city of Boston is familiar do not know that there still stands on the coast of Lincolnshire the sleepy little town of Boston, from which it took its name.

Boston is the chief town of Massachusetts; but the first capital was Charlestown, called after King Charles I., who had by this time succeeded his father, James I. The place on which Charlestown was built, on the north bank of the Charles River, was, however, found to be unhealthy. The settlers, therefore, deserted it, and Boston was built on the south bank.

It was not long before the Massachusetts settlers built a college at a place near Boston which had been called Cambridge. This is a case in which the old town at home remained, of course, much more important than its godchild. If a person speaks of Cambridge, one's mind immediately flies to the English university city on the banks of the river Cam. Still the college built at the American Cambridge, and called "Harvard College," after John Harvard, one of the early settlers, who[58] gave a great deal of money towards its building, is famous now throughout the world.

It was natural and suitable that the early settlers should use the old English names to show their love for the mother-country; but it was not such a wise thing to choose the names of the great historic towns of Europe, and give them to the new settlements. To give the almost sacred name of Rome to a modern American town seems almost ridiculous. Certainly one would have always to be very careful to add "Georgia, U.S.A." in addressing letters there. The United States has several of these towns bearing old historic names. Paris as the name of an American town seems almost as unsuitable as Rome.

But this mistake was not made by the early colonists. If we think of the names of the colonies which stretched along the east of North America, we find nearly always that the names are chosen to do honour to the English king or queen, or to keep the memory fresh of some beloved spot in the old country.

In 1632 the Catholic Lord Baltimore founded a new colony, the only one where the Catholic religion was tolerated, and called it Maryland, in honour of Charles I.'s queen, Henrietta Maria. Just after the Restoration of Charles II. in 1660, when the country was full of loyalty, a new colony, Carolina, was founded, taking its name from Carolus, the Latin for "Charles." Afterwards this colony was divided into two, and became North and South Carolina.[59]

To the north of Maryland lay the New Netherlands, for Holland had also colonized here. In the seventeenth century this little nation was for a time equal to the greatest nations in Europe. The Dutch had very soon followed the example of that other little nation Portugal, which, directed by the famous Prince Henry of Portugal, had been the first of all the European nations to explore far-off lands. Holland was as important on the seas as Spain or England; but this could not last long. The Dutch and the English fought several campaigns, and in the end the Dutch were beaten.

In 1667 the New Netherlands were yielded up to England. The name of the colony was changed to New York, and its capital, New Amsterdam, was given the same name. This was in honour of the sailor prince, James, Duke of York, afterwards the unhappy King James II. Another of the Stuarts who gave his name to a district of North America was Prince Rupert, the nephew of Charles I., who fought so hard for the king against Cromwell. In 1670 the land round Hudson Bay was given the name of Rupertsland.

Sometimes, but not often, the new colonies were given the names of their founders. William Penn, who founded the Quaker colony of Pennsylvania, gave it this name in honour of his father, Admiral Penn. Sylvania means "land of woods," and comes from the Latin sylvanus, or "woody."

But it is not only in America that the place-names[60] tell us the stories of heroism and romance. All over the world, from the icy lands round the Poles to the tropical districts of Africa, India, and Australia, these stories can be read. The spirit in which the early Portuguese adventurers sailed along the coast of Africa is shown in the name they gave to what we now know as the Cape of Good Hope. Bartholomew Diaz called it the Cape of Storms, for he had discovered it only after terrible battlings with the waves; but when he sailed home to tell his news the king of Portugal said that this was not a good name, but it should instead be called the Cape of Good Hope, for past it lay the sea passage to India which men had been seeking for years. And so the Cape of Good Hope it remains to this day.

After this it was not long before the Portuguese explored the south and east coasts of Africa and the west coast of India to the very south, where they took the Spice Islands for their own. From these the Portuguese brought home great quantities of spices, which they sold at high prices in Europe.

It was the great explorer Ferdinand Magellan who first sailed round the world, being sure, as he said, that he could reach the Spice Islands by sailing west. And so he started on this expedition, sailing through the straits which have ever since been known as the Magellan Straits to the south of South America, into the Pacific, or "Peaceful," Ocean, and then ever west, until he came round[61] by the east to Spain again, after three years of great hardship and wonderful adventure.

The adventures of the early explorers most often took the form of seeking a new and shorter passage from one ocean to another, and so many straits bear the names of the explorers. The Elizabethan explorer, Martin Frobisher, sought for a "North-west Passage" from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and for a time it was thought that he had found it in the very north of North America. But it was afterwards found that the "passage," which had already been given the name of Frobisher's Straits, was really only an inlet, and afterwards it became known as Lumley's Inlet.

Frobisher never discovered a North-west Passage, for the ships of those days were not fitted out in a way to enable the sailors to bear the icy cold of these northern regions. Many brave explorers tried later to discover it. Three times John Davis made a voyage for this purpose but never succeeded, though Davis Strait commemorates his heroic attempts. Hudson and Baffin explored in these waters, as the names Hudson Bay and Baffin Bay remind us.

It was nearly two hundred years later that Sir John Franklin sailed with an expedition in two boats, the Erebus and Terror, determined to find the passage. He found it, but died in the attempt; but, strangely enough, his name was not given to any strait, though later it was given to all the islands of the Arctic Archipelago.[62]

The winning of India by the British in the eighteenth century did not give us many new English names. India was not, like the greater part of America, a wild country inhabited by savage peoples. It had an older civilization than the greater part of Europe, and the only reason that it was weak enough to be conquered was that the many races who lived there could not agree among themselves. Most of the place-names of India are native names given by natives, for centuries before France and England began to struggle for its possession in the eighteenth century India had passed through a long and varied history.

When we remember that the natives of India have no name to describe the whole continent, it helps us to understand that India is in no way a single country. The British Government have given the continent the name India, taking it from the great river Indus, which itself takes its name from an old word, sindhu, meaning "river."

In the days of the early explorers, after the islands discovered by Columbus were called the West Indies, some people began to call the Indian continent the East Indies, to distinguish it; and some of the papers about India drawn up for the information of Parliament about Indian affairs still use this name, but it is not a familiar use to most people.

The mistake which Columbus and the early explorers made in thinking America was India has[63] caused a good deal of confusion. The natives of North America were called Indians, and it was only long afterwards, in fact quite lately, that people began to write and speak of the natives of India as Indians. When it was printed in the newspapers that Indians were fighting for the British Empire with the armies in France, the use of the word Indian seemed wrong to a great many people; but it is now becoming so common that it will probably soon seem quite right. When it is used with the old meaning we shall have to say the "Indians of North America." Some people use the word Hindu to describe the natives of India; but this is not correct, as only some of the natives of India are Hindus, just as the name Hindustan (a Persian name meaning "land of the Hindus," as Afghanistan means "land of the Afghans"), which some old writers on geography used for India, is really the name of one part of the land round the river Ganges, where the language known as Hindi is spoken.

The place-names of India given by natives of the many different races which have lived in the land could fill a book with their stories alone. We can only mention a few. The name of the great range of mountains which runs across the north of the continent, the Himalayas, means in Sanskrit, the oldest language used in India, the "home of snow." Bombay takes its name from Mumba, the name of a goddess of an early tribe who occupied the dis[64]trict round Bombay. Calcutta, which stretches over ground where there were formerly several villages, takes its name from one of these. Its old form was Kalikuti, which means the "ghauts," or passes, leading to the temple of the goddess Kali.

In Australia, where a beginning of colonization was made through the discoveries of Captain Cook towards the end of the eighteenth century, the place-names were sometimes given from places at home, sometimes after persons, but they have hardly the same romance as the early American names.

Botany Bay was the name chosen by Captain Cook in a moment of enthusiasm for an inlet of New South Wales. He gave it this name because of the great number of plants and flowers which grow there.

In Africa a good deal of history can be learned from the place-names. Although the north of Africa had for many hundreds of years had its part in the civilization of the countries round the Mediterranean Sea, the greater part of Africa had remained an unexplored region—the "Dark Continent," as it was called. In the fifteenth century the Portuguese sailors crept along the western coast, and afterwards along the south, as we have seen, past the Cape of Good Hope. But the interior of the continent remained for long an unexplored region.

The Dutch had, very soon after the discovery of[65] the Cape, made a settlement there, which was known as Cape Colony. This was afterwards won by the English; but many Dutchmen still stayed there, and though, since the Boer War, when the Boers, or Dutch, in South Africa tried to win their independence, the whole of South Africa belongs to the British Empire, still there are naturally many Dutch names given by the early Dutch settlers. Some of these became very well known to English people in the Boer War. Bloemfontein is one of these names, coming from the Dutch word for "spring" (fontein), and that of Jan Bloem, one of the farmers who first settled there. Another well-known place in the Transvaal, Pietermaritzburg, took its name from the two leaders who led the Boers out of Cape Colony when they felt that the English were becoming too strong there. These leaders were Pieter Retief and Georit Maritz. This movement of the Boers into the Transvaal was called the "Great Trek," trek being a Dutch word for a journey or migration of this sort. Since the days of the Boer War this word has been regularly used in English with this same meaning. Like the English settlers in America, the Dutch settlers in South Africa sometimes gave the names of places in Holland to their new settlements. Utrecht is an example of this.

Up to the very end of the nineteenth century no European country besides England had any great possessions in Africa. The Portuguese still[66] held the coast lands between Zululand (so called from the fierce black natives who lived there) and Mozambique. Egypt had come practically under British rule soon after the days of Napoleon, and in the middle of the nineteenth century the great explorers Livingstone and Stanley had explored the lands along the Zambesi River and a great part of Central Africa. Stanley went right across the centre of the continent, and discovered the lake Albert Edward Nyanza. Nyanza is the African word for "lake," and the name Albert Edward was given in honour of the Prince Consort. Victoria Nyanza, so called after Queen Victoria, had been discovered some years before. It was all these discoveries which led to the colonization of Africa by the nations of Europe.

In 1884 the great German statesman, Prince Bismarck, set up the German flag in Damaraland, the coast district to the north of the Orange River; and soon after a German colony was set up in the lands between the Portuguese settlements and the Equator. This was simply called German East Africa. At the same time the other nations of Europe suddenly realized that if they meant to have part of Africa they must join in the scramble at once. There were soon a British East Africa, a Portuguese East Africa, a Portuguese West Africa, a German South-west Africa, and so on. All these are names which might have been given in a hurry, and in them we seem to read the haste of the Euro[67]pean nations to seize on the only lands in the world which were still available. They are very different from the descriptive names which the early Portuguese adventurers had strewn along the coast, like Sierra Leone, or "the lion mountain;" Cape Verde, or "the green cape," so called from its green grass.

Still, romance was not dead even yet. There is one district of South Africa which takes its name in the old way from that of a person. Rhodesia, the name given to Mashonaland and Matabeleland, was so called after Mr. Cecil Rhodes, a young British emigrant, who went out from England in very weak health and became perfectly strong, at the same time winning a fortune for himself in the diamond fields of Kimberley. He devoted himself heart and soul to the strengthening of British power in South Africa, and it is fitting that this province should by its name keep his memory fresh.

The story of the struggle in South Africa between Boer and Briton can be partly read in its place-names; and the story of the struggle between old and new settlers in Canada can be similarly read in the place-names of that land.

The first settlers in Canada were the French, and the descendants of these first settlers form a large proportion of the Canadian population. Many places in Canada still have, of course, the names which the first French settlers gave them.

The Italian, John Cabot, had sailed to Canada a[68] few years after Columbus discovered America, sent by the English king, Henry VII., but no settlements were made. Thirty-seven years later the French sailor, Jacques Cartier, was sent by the French king, Francis I., to explore there. Cartier sailed up the Gulf of St. Lawrence as far as the spot where Montreal now stands. The name was given by Cartier, and means "royal mount." It was Cartier, too, who gave Canada its name; but he thought that this was already the Indian name for the land. A story is told that some Red Indians were trying to talk to him and making signs, and they pointed to some houses, saying, "Cannata." Cartier thought they meant that this was the name of the country, but he was mistaken. They were, perhaps, pointing out their village, for cannata is the Indian name for "village."

Cartier, like Cabot, sailed away again, and the first real founder of a settlement in Canada was the Frenchman, Samuel de Champlain, who made friends with the Indians, and explored the upper parts of the river Lawrence, and gave his name to the beautiful Lake Champlain, which he discovered. It was he who founded Quebec, giving it this Breton name. Sailors from Brittany had ventured as far as the coast of Canada in the time of Columbus, and had given its name to Cape Breton. And so French names spread through Canada. Later, in one of the wars of the eighteenth century, England won Canada from France; but these French names[69] still remain to tell the tale of French adventure and heroism in that land.

We have seen many names in new lands, some of them given by people from the Old World who settled in these lands. In the great European War we have seen people from these new lands coming back to fight in some of the most ancient countries of the Old World. The splendid Australian troops who fought in Gallipoli sprinkled many new names over the land they won and lost. One, at least, will always remain on the maps. Anzac, where the Colonials made their historic landing, will never be forgotten. It was a new name, made up of the initial letters of the words "Australian and New Zealand Army Corps," and will remain for ever one of the most honoured names invented in the twentieth century.

Children who like history can read whole chapters in the place-names of the old world and the new.




It is not only in the names of continents, countries, and towns that stories of the past can be read. The names of the old streets and buildings (or even of new streets which have kept their old names) in our old towns are full of stories. Especially is this true about London, the centre of the British Empire, and almost the centre of the world's history. It will be interesting not only to little Londoners, but to other children as well, to examine some of the old London names, and see what stories they can tell.

Naturally the most interesting names of all are to be found in what we now call "the City," meaning the centre of London, which was at one time all the London there was.

We have seen that London was in the time of the Britons just a fort, and that it became important in Roman times, and a town grew up around it. But this town in the Middle Ages, and even so late as the eighteenth century, was not at all like the London we know to-day. London now is really a[71] county, and stretches away far into four counties; but mediæval London was like a small country town, though a very important and gay and busy town, because it was the capital.

Many of the names in the City take us back to the very earliest days of the capital. This part of London stands on slightly rising ground, and near the river Thames, just the sort of ground which early people would choose upon which to build a fortress or a village. The names of two of the chief City streets, the Strand and Fleet Street, help to show us something of what London was like in its earliest days. A few years ago, in a famous case in a court of law, one of the lawyers asked a witness what he was doing in the Strand at a certain time. The witness, a witty Irishman, answered with a solemn face, "Picking seaweed." Everybody laughed, because the idea of picking seaweed in the very centre of London was so funny. But a strand is a shore, and when the name was given to the London Strand it was not a paved street at all, but the muddy shore of the river Thames.

Then Fleet Street marks the path by which the little river Fleet ran into the Thames. The river had several tributaries, which were covered over in this way, and several of them are used as sewers to carry away the sewage of the city. There is a Fleet Street, too, in Hampstead, in the north-west of London, and this marks the beginning of the[72] course of the same little river Fleet which got its water from the high ground of Hampstead.

This river has given us still another famous London name. It flowed past what is now called King's Cross, and here its banks were so steep that it was called Hollow, or Hole-bourne, and from this we get the name Holborn.

The City being the centre of London had a certain amount of trading and bargaining from the earliest times. In those times there were no such things as shops. People bought and sold in markets, and the name of the busy City street, Cheapside, reminds us of this. It was called in early times the Chepe, and took its name from the Old English word ceap, "a bargain."

At the end of Cheapside runs the street called Poultry, and this, so an old chronicler tells us, has its name from the fact that a fowl or poultry market was regularly held there up to the sixteenth century. The name of another famous City street, Cornhill, tells us that a corn market used to be held there. Another name, Gracechurch Street, reminds us of an old grass market. It took its name from an old church, St. Benet Grasschurch, which was probably so called because the grass market was held under its walls.

Smithfield is the great London meat market now; but its name means "smooth field," and in the Middle Ages it was used as a cattle and hay market, and on days which were not market days games[73] and tournaments took place there. Later its name became famous in English history for the "fires of Smithfield," when men and women were burned to death there for refusing to accept the state religion.

Many London names come from churches and buildings which no longer exist. The names help us to picture a London very different from the London of to-day. One of the busiest streets in that part of the City round Fleet Street where editors and journalists, and printers and messengers are working day and night to produce the newspapers which carry the news of the day far and wide over England, is Blackfriars. This is a very different place from the spot where the Dominicans, or "Black Friars," built their priory in the thirteenth century.

In those days the friars chose the busiest parts of the little English towns to build their houses in, so that they could preach and help the people. They thought that the earlier monks had chosen places for their monasteries too far from the people. There were grey friars and white friars, Austin friars and crutched friars, all of whose names remain in the London of to-day.

There were many monasteries and convents in the larger London which soon grew up round the City, and in the City itself we have a street whose name keeps the memory of one convent of nuns. The street called the Minories marks the place where a convent of nuns of St. Clare was founded[74] in the thirteenth century. The Latin name for these nuns is Sorores Minores, or "Lesser Sisters," just as the Franciscans, or grey friars, were Fratres Minores, or "Lesser Brethren." And so from the Latin minores we get the name Minories as the name of a London street, standing where this convent once stood.

The name of the street London Wall reminds us of the time when London was a walled city with its gates, which were closed at night and opened every morning. Many streets keep the names of the old gates, like Ludgate Hill, Aldersgate, Bishopsgate.

The great Tower of London still stands to show us how London was defended in the old feudal days; but Tower Bridge, the bridge which crosses the river at that point, is a modern bridge, built in 1894. The name Cripplegate still remains, and the story it has to tell us is that in the Middle Ages there stood outside the city walls beyond this gate the hospital of St. Giles-in-the-Fields. It was a hospital for lepers; but St. Giles is the patron saint of cripples, and so this gate of the city got the name of Cripplegate, because it was the nearest to the church of the patron saint of cripples.

This church of St. Giles-in-the-Fields no longer remains; but we have St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, to remind us of the difference between Trafalgar Square to-day and its condition not quite two hundred years ago, when this church was built.

It must be remembered that even at the very[75] end of the eighteenth century London was just a tiny town lying along the river. At that time many of the nobles and rich merchants were building their mansions in what is now the West Central district of London. The north side of Queen Square, Bloomsbury, was left open, so that the people who lived there could enjoy the view of the Highgate and Hampstead hills, to which the open country stretched. Even now this end of Queen Square is closed only by a railing, but a great mass of streets and houses stretches far beyond Hampstead and Highgate now.

Trafalgar Square itself got its name in honour of Nelson, the hero of the great victory of Trafalgar. The great column with the statue of Nelson stands in the square.

This brings us to one of the most interesting of old London names. On one side of the square stands Charing Cross, the busiest spot in London. At this point there once stood the last of the nine beautiful crosses which King Edward III. set up at the places where the coffin of his wife, Eleanor, was set to rest in the long journey from Lincolnshire, where she died, to her grave in Westminster Abbey; and so it got its name. A fine modern cross has been set up in memory of Edward's cross, which has long since disappeared.

The district of Westminster takes its name, of course, from the abbey; and the name Broad Sanctuary remains to remind us of the sanctuary in[76] which, as in many churches of the Middle Ages, people could take refuge even from the Law. Covent Garden took its name from a convent garden belonging to the abbey.

One of the oldest parts of London is Charterhouse Square, where, until a year or two ago, there stood the famous boys' school of this name. The school took its name from the old monastery of the Charterhouse, which King Henry VIII. brought to an end because the monks would not own that he was head of the Church instead of the Pope. They suffered a dreadful death, being hanged, drawn, and quartered as traitors. The monastery was taken, like so many others, by the king, and afterwards became a school. But the school was removed in 1872 to an airier district at Godalming. Part of the old building is still used as a boys' day school.

The word Charterhouse was the English name for a house of Carthusians, a very strict order of monks, whose first house was the Grande Chartreuse in France.

Not far from the Charterhouse is Ely Place, with the beautiful old church of St. Ethelreda. This was, in the Middle Ages, a chapel used by the Bishop of Ely when he came to London, and that is how Ely Place, still one of the quietest and quaintest spots in London, got its name.

People who go along Ludgate Hill to St. Paul's must have noticed many curious names. Perhaps[77] the quaintest of all is Paternoster Row. This street, which takes its name from the Latin name of the "Our Father," or Lord's Prayer, got its name from the fact that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries many sellers of prayer-books and texts collected at this spot, on account of it being near the great church of St. Paul's. Paternoster Row is still full of booksellers.

Ave Maria Lane and Amen Corner, just near, got their names in imitation of Paternoster Row, the Ave Maria, or "Hail, Mary!" being the words used by the angel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin at the Annunciation, and Amen being, of course, the ending to the paternoster, as to most prayers.

Not far from St. Paul's is the Church of St. Mary-le-Bow. It used to be said that the true Londoner had to be born within the sound of Bow-bells, and the old story tells us that it was these bells which Dick Whittington heard telling him to turn back when he had lost hope of making his fortune, and was leaving London for the country again. The present Church of St. Mary-le-Bow was built by Sir Christopher Wren, the great seventeenth-century architect, who built St. Paul's and several other of the most beautiful London churches after they had been destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666. But underneath the present Church of St. Mary-le-Bow is the crypt, which was not destroyed in the fire. This crypt was built, like the former church, in Norman times, and the church took its[78] name of bow from the arches upon which it was built in the Norman way, it being the first church in London to be built in this way. The church is generally called "Bow Church."

Another famous old London church, the Temple Church, which is now used as the chapel of the lawyers at the Inns of Court, got its name from the fact that it belonged to and was built by the Knights Templars in the twelfth century. These knights were one of those peculiar religious orders which joined the life of a soldier to that of a monk, and played a great part in the Crusades. King Edward III. brought the order to an end, and took their property; but the Temple Church, with its tombs and figures of armoured knights in brass, remains to keep their memory fresh.

We may mention two other names of old London streets which take us back to the Middle Ages. In the City we have the street called Old Jewry, and this reminds us of the time when in all the more important towns of England in the early Middle Ages a part was put aside for the Jews. This was called the Ghetto. The Jews were much disliked in the Middle Ages because of the treatment of Our Lord by their forefathers; but the kings often protected them because, in spite of everything, the Jews grew rich, and the kings were able to borrow money of them. In 1290, however, Edward I. banished all the Jews from England, and they did not return until the days of Cromwell. But the[79] name of the Old Jewry reminds us of the ghetto which was an important part of old London.

Another famous City street, Lombard Street, the street of bankers, got its name from the Italian merchants from Lombardy who set up their business there, and who became the bankers and money-lenders when there were no longer any Jews to lend money to the English king and nobles.

As time went on London began to grow in a way which seemed alarming to the people of the seventeenth century, though even then it was but a tiny town in comparison with the London of to-day. The fashionable people and courtiers began to build houses in the western "suburbs," as they were then called, though now they are looked upon as very central districts. It was chiefly in the seventeenth century that what we now know as the West End became a residential quarter. Some parts of the West End are, of course, still the most fashionable parts of London; but some, like Covent Garden and Lincoln's Inn Fields, have been given over to business.

Most of the best-known names in the West End date from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The most fashionable street of all, Piccadilly, probably got its name from the very fashionable collar called a pickadil (from the Spanish word picca, "a spear") which the fine gentlemen wore as they swaggered through the West End in the early seventeenth century. Pall Mall and the Mall in St.[80] James's Park took their names from a game which was very fashionable after the Restoration, but which was already known in the time of Charles I. The game was called pall-mall, from the French paille-maille. After the Restoration Charles II. allowed the people to use St. James's Park, which was a royal park, and Londoners used to watch respectfully and admiringly as Charles and his brother James played this game.

Spring Gardens, also in St. James's Park, reminds us of the lively spirits of Restoration times. It was so called because of a fountain which stood there, and which was so arranged that when a passer-by trod by accident on a certain valve the waters spurted forth and drenched him. We should not think this so funny now as people did then.

At the same time that the West End was growing, poorer districts were spreading to the north and east of the City. Moorfields (which tells us by its name what it was like in the early London days) was built over. Spitalfields (which took its name from one of the many hospitals which religious people built in and near mediæval London) and Whitechapel also filled up, and became centres of trade and manufacture. The games and sports which amused the people in these poorer quarters were not so refined as the ball-throwing of the princes and courtiers. In the name Balls Pond Road, Islington, we are reminded of the duck-[81]hunting which was one of the sports of the common people.

As time went on and London became larger and more crowded, the fashionable people began to go away each summer to drink the waters at Bath and Tunbridge Wells. But in London itself there were several springs and wells whose waters were supposed to be good for people's health, and these have given us some of the best-known London names. Near Holywell Street there were several of these wells; and along Well Walk, in the north-west suburb of Hampstead, a procession of gaily-dressed people might regularly be seen in Charles II.'s time going to drink the waters. Clerkenwell also took its name from a well which was believed to be mediæval and even miraculous. Bridewell, the name of the famous prison, also came from the name of a well dedicated to St. Bride.

Many of the great streets and squares of the West End of London have taken their names from the houses of noblemen who have lived there, or from the names of the rich owners of property in these parts. Northumberland Avenue, opening off Trafalgar Square, takes its name from Northumberland House, built there in the time of James I. Arundel Street, running down to the Embankment from the Strand, is so called in memory of Arundel House, the home of the Earl of Arundel, which used to stand here. It was there that the famous collection of statues known as the "Arundel Marbles" was[82] first collected. They were presented to Oxford University in 1667.

Just near Charing Cross there is a part of old London called the Adelphi. This district takes its name from a fine group of buildings put up there in the middle of the eighteenth century by the two famous brother architects Robert and William Adam. Adelphi is the Greek word for "brothers," but the name seems very peculiar applied in this way.

The name of Mayfair, the very centre of fashion in the West End, reminds us that in this magnificent quarter of London a fair used to be held in May in the time of Charles II. This gives us an idea of how the district must have changed since then. Farm Street, in Mayfair, has its name from a farm which was still there in the middle of the eighteenth century. The ground is now taken up by stables and coach-houses. Half-Moon Street, another fashionable street running out of Piccadilly, takes its name from a public house which was built on this corner in 1730.

These old names give us some idea of what London was like at different times in the past; but another very interesting group of names are those which are being made in the greater London of to-day. One of the commonest words used by Londoners to-day is the Underground. If an eighteenth-century Londoner could come back and talk to us to-day he would not know what we meant by this word.[83] For the great system of underground railways to which it refers was only made in the later years of the nineteenth century. The Twopenny Tube was the name of one of the first lines of these underground railways. It was so called because the trains ran through great circular tunnels, like the underground railways which connect all parts of London to-day. It has now become quite a habit of Londoners to talk of going "by Tube" when they mean by any of the underground railways.

One of these lines has a very peculiar and rather ugly name. It is called the Bakerloo Railway, because it runs from Baker Street to Waterloo. It certainly makes us think that the Londoners of long ago showed much better taste in the names they invented.




As we have seen, languages while they are living are always growing and changing. We have seen how new names have been made as time went on. But many new words besides names are constantly being added to a language; for just as grown-up people use more words than children, and educated people use more words than uneducated or less educated people, so, too, nations use more words as time goes on. Every word must have been used a first time by some one; but of course it is impossible to know who were the makers of most words. Even new words cannot often be traced to their makers. Some one uses a new word, and others pick it up, and it passes into general use, while everybody has forgotten who made it.

But one very common way in which people learn to use new words is through reading the books of great writers. Sometimes these writers have made new words which their readers have seen to be very good, and have then begun to use themselves. Sometimes these great writers have made use of[85] words which, though not new, were very rare, and immediately these words have become popular and ordinary words.

The first great English poet was Chaucer, and the great English philologists feel sure that he must have made many new words and made many rare words common; but it is not easy to say that Chaucer made any particular word, because we do not know enough of the language which was in use at that time to say so. One famous phrase of Chaucer is often quoted now: "after the schole of Stratford-atte-Bowe," which he used in describing the French spoken by one of the Canterbury Pilgrims in his great poem. He meant that this was not pure French, but French spoken in the way and with the peculiar accent used at Stratford (a part of London near Bow Church). We now often use the phrase to describe any accent which is not perfect.

But though we do not know for certain which words Chaucer introduced, we do know that this first great English poet must have introduced many, especially French words; while Wyclif, the first great English prose writer, who translated part of the Bible from Latin into English, must also have given us many new words, especially from the Latin. The English language never changed so much after the time of Chaucer and Wyclif as it had done before.

The next really great English poet, Edmund[86] Spenser, who wrote his wonderful poem, "The Faerie Queene," in the days of Queen Elizabeth, invented a great many new words. Some of these were seldom or never used afterwards, but some became ordinary English words. Sometimes his new words were partly formed out of old words which were no longer used. The word elfin, which became quite a common word, seems to have been invented by Spenser. He called a boasting knight by the name Braggadocio, and we still use the word braggadocio for vain boasting. A common expression which we often find used in romantic tales, and especially in the novels of Sir Walter Scott, derring-do, meaning "adventurous action," was first used by Spenser. He, however, took it from Chaucer, who had used it as a verb, speaking of the dorring-do (or "daring to do") that belonged to a knight. Spenser made a mistake in thinking Chaucer had used it as a noun, and used it so himself, making in this way quite a new and very well-sounding word.

Another word which Spenser made, and which is still sometimes used, was fool-happy; but other words, like idlesse, dreariment, drowsihead, are hardly seen outside his poetry. One reason for this is that Spenser was telling stories of quaint and curious things, and he used quaint and curious words which would not naturally pass into ordinary language.

The next great name in English literature, and the greatest name of all, is Shakespeare. Shake[87]speare influenced the English language more than any writer before or since. First of all he made a great many new words, some very simple and others more elaborate, but all of them so suitable that they have become a part of the language. Such a common word as bump, which it would be difficult to imagine ourselves without, is first found in Shakespeare's writings. Hurry, which seems to be the only word to express what it stands for, seems also to have been made by Shakespeare, and also the common word dwindle. Some other words which Shakespeare made are lonely, orb (meaning "globe"), illumine, and home-keeping.

Many others might be quoted, but the great influence which Shakespeare had on the English language was not through the new words he made, but in the way his expressions and phrases came to be used as ordinary expressions. Many people are constantly speaking Shakespeare without knowing it, for the phrases he used were so exactly right and expressive that they have been repeated ever since, and often, of course, by people who do not know where they first came from. We can only mention a few of these phrases, such as "a Daniel come to judgment," which Shylock says to Portia in the "Merchant of Venice," and which is often used now sarcastically. From the same play comes the expression "pound of flesh," which is now often used to mean what a person knows to be due to him and is determined to have. "Full of sound and[88] fury, signifying nothing," "to gild refined gold," "to wear one's heart upon one's sleeve,"—these and hundreds of other phrases are known by most people to come from Shakespeare; they are used by many who do not. They describe so splendidly so many things which are constantly happening that they seem to be the only or at least the best way of expressing the meanings they signify.

But not only have hundreds of Shakespeare's own words and phrases passed into everyday English, but the way in which he turned his phrases is often imitated. It was Shakespeare who used the phrase to "out-Herod Herod," and now this is a common form of speech. A statesman could now quite suitably use the phrase to "out-Asquith Asquith."

The next great poet after Shakespeare was Milton. He also gave us a great many new words and phrases, but not nearly so many as Shakespeare. Still there are a few phrases which are now so common that many people use them without even knowing that they come from Milton's writings. Some of these are "the human face divine," "to hide one's diminished head," "a dim religious light," "the light fantastic toe." It was Milton who invented the name pandemonium for the home of the devils, and now people regularly speak of a state of horrible noise and disorder as "a pandemonium." Many of those who use the expression have not the slightest idea of where it came from. The few words which[89] we know were made by Milton are very expressive words. It was he who invented anarch for the spirit of anarchy or disorder, and no one has found a better word to express the idea. Satanic, moon-struck, gloom (to mean "darkness"), echoing, and bannered are some more well-known words invented by Milton.

It is not always the greatest writers who have given us the greatest number of new words. A great prose writer of the seventeenth century, Sir Thomas Browne, is looked upon as a classical writer, but his works are only read by a few, not like the great works of Shakespeare and Milton. Yet Sir Thomas Browne has given many new words to the English language. This is partly because he deliberately made many new words. One book of his gave us several hundreds of these words. The reason his new words remained in the language was that there was a real need of them.

Many seventeenth-century writers of plays invented hundreds of new words, but they tried to invent curious and queer-sounding words, and very few people liked them. These words never really became part of the English language. They are "one-man" words, to be found only in the writings of their inventors. Yet it was one of these fanciful writers who invented the very useful word dramatist for "a writer of plays."

But the words made by Sir Thomas Browne were quite different. Such ordinary words as medical,[90] literary, and electricity were first used by him. He made many others too, not quite so common, but words which later writers and speakers could hardly do without.

Another seventeenth-century writer, John Evelyn, the author of the famous Diary which has taught us so much about the times in which he lived, was a great maker of words. Most of his new words were made from foreign words, and as he was much interested in art and music, many of his words relate to these things. It was Evelyn who introduced the word opera into English, and also outline, altitude, monochrome ("a painting in one shade"), and pastel, besides many other less common words.

Robert Boyle, a great seventeenth-century writer on science, gave many new scientific words to the English language. The words pendulum and intensity were first used by him, and it was he who first used fluid as a noun.

The poets Dryden and Pope gave us many new words too.

Dr. Johnson, the maker of the first great English dictionary, added some words to the language. As everybody knows who has read that famous book, Boswell's Life of Johnson, Dr. Johnson was a man who always said just what he thought, and had no patience with anything like stupidity. The expression fiddlededee, another way of telling a person that he is talking nonsense, was made by him. Irascibility, which means "tendency to be easily[91] made cross or angry," is also one of his words, and so are the words literature and comic.

The great statesman and political writer, Edmund Burke, was the inventor of many of our commonest words relating to politics. Colonial, colonization, electioneering, diplomacy, financial, and many other words which are in everyday use now, were made by him.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century there was a great revival in English literature, since known as the "Romantic Movement." After the rather stiff manners and writing of the eighteenth century, people began to have an enthusiasm for all sorts of old and adventurous things, and a new love for nature and beauty. Sir Walter Scott was the great novelist of the movement, and also wrote some fine, stirring ballads and poems. In these writings, which dealt chiefly with the adventurous deeds of the Middle Ages, Scott used again many old words which had been forgotten and fallen out of use. He made them everyday words again.

The old word chivalrous, which had formerly been used to describe the institutions connected with knighthood, he used in a new way, and the word has kept this meaning ever since. It has now always the meaning of courtesy and gentleness towards the weak, but before Sir Walter Scott used it it had not this meaning at all. Scott also revived words like raid and foray, his novels, of course, being full of descriptions of fighting on the borders of England[92] and Scotland. It was this same writer who introduced the Scottish word gruesome into the language.

Later in the century another Scotsman, Thomas Carlyle, made many new words which later writers and speakers have used. They are generally rather forcible and not very dignified words, for Carlyle's writings were critical of almost everything and everybody, and he seemed to love rather ugly words, which made the faults he described seem contemptible or ridiculous. It was he who made the words croakery, dry-as-dust, and grumbly, and he introduced also the Scottish word feckless, which describes a person who is a terribly bad manager, careless and disorderly in his affairs, the sort of person whom Carlyle so much despised.

The great writers of the present time seem to be unwilling to make new words. The chief word-makers of to-day are the people who talk a new slang (and of these we shall see something in another chapter), and the scientific writers, who, as they are constantly making new discoveries, have to find words to describe them.

Some of the poets of the present day have used new words and phrases, but they are generally strange words, which no one thinks of using for himself. The poet John Masefield used the word waps and the phrase bee-loud, which is very expressive, but which we cannot imagine passing into ordinary speech. Two poets of the Romantic Movement, Southey and Coleridge, used many new and[93] strange words just in this way, but these, again, never passed into the ordinary speech of English people.

One maker of new words in the nineteenth century must not be forgotten. This was Lewis Carroll, the author of "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking-Glass." He made many new and rather queer words; but they expressed so well the meaning he gave to them that some of them have become quite common. This writer generally made these curious words out of two others. The word galumph (which is now put as an ordinary word in English dictionaries) he made out of gallop and triumph. It means "to go galloping in triumph." Another of Lewis Carroll's words, chortle, is even more used. It also has the idea of "triumphing," and is generally used to mean "chuckling (either inwardly or outwardly) in triumph." It was probably made out of the words chuckle and snort.

But great writers have not only added new words and phrases to the language by inventing them; sometimes the name of a book itself has taken on a general meaning. Sir Thomas More in the time of Henry VIII. wrote his famous book, "Utopia," to describe a country in which everything was done as it should be. Utopia (which means "Nowhere," More making the word out of two Greek words, ou, "not," and topos, "place") was the name of the ideal state he described, and ever since such[94] imaginary states where all goes well have been described as "Utopias."

Then, again, a scene or place in a great book may be so splendidly described, and interest people so much, that it, too, comes to be used in a general way. People often use the name Vanity Fair to describe a frivolous way of life. But the original Vanity Fair was, of course, one of the places of temptation through which Christian had to pass on his way to the Heavenly City in John Bunyan's famous book, the "Pilgrim's Progress." Another of these places was the Slough of Despond, which is now quite generally used to describe a condition of great discouragement and depression. The adjective Lilliputian, meaning "very small," comes from Lilliput, the land of little people in which Gulliver found himself in Swift's famous book, "Gulliver's Travels."

Then many common expressions are taken from characters in well-known books. We often speak of some one's Man Friday, meaning a right-hand man or general helper; but the original Man Friday was, of course, the savage whom Robinson Crusoe found on his desert island, and who acted afterwards as his servant.

In describing a person as quixotic we do not necessarily think of the original Don Quixote in the novel of the great Spanish writer, Cervantes. Don Quixote was always doing generous but rather foolish things, and the adjective quixotic now describes this sort[95] of action. A quite different character, the Jew in Shakespeare's play, "The Merchant of Venice," has given us the expression "a Shylock." From Dickens's famous character Mrs. Gamp in "Martin Chuzzlewit," who always carried a bulgy umbrella, we get the word gamp, rather a vulgar name for "umbrella."

We speak of "a Sherlock Holmes" when we mean to describe some one who is very quick at finding out things. Sherlock Holmes is the hero of the famous detective stories of Conan Doyle.

It is a very great testimony to the power of a writer when the names of persons or places in his books become in this way part of the English language.




A great English historian, writing of the sixteenth century, once said, "The English people became the people of a book." The book he meant was, of course, the Bible. When England became Protestant the people found a new interest in the Bible. In Catholic times educated people, like priests, had read the Bible chiefly in Latin, though the New Testament had been translated into English. But most of the people could not even read. They knew the Bible stories only from the sermons and teaching of the priests, and from the great number of statues of Biblical kings and prophets which covered the beautiful churches of the Middle Ages.

But the new Protestant teachers were much more enthusiastic about the Bible. Many of them found the whole of their religion in its pages, and were constantly quoting texts of Scripture. New translations of the New Testament were made, and at last, in 1611, the wonderful translation of the whole Bible known as the "Authorised Version," because[97] it was the translation ordered and approved by the Government, was published. About the same time a translation into English was made for Catholics, and this was hardly less beautiful. It is known as the "Douai Bible" because it was published at Douai by Catholics who had fled from England.

From that time the Bible has been the book which English people have read most, and it has had an immense influence on the English language.

Even in the Middle Ages the Bible had given many new words to the language. Names of Eastern animals, trees, and plants, etc., like lion, camel, cedar, palm, myrrh, hyssop, gem, are examples of new words learned from the Bible at this time.

But the translations of the Bible in the Reformation period had a much greater effect than this. Many words which were already dying out were used by the translators, and so kept their place in the English language. Examples of such words are apparel and raiment for "clothes." These words are not used so often as the more ordinary word clothes even now, but it is quite probable that they would have passed out of use altogether if the translators of the Bible had not saved them.

There are many words of this sort which were saved in this way, but they are chiefly used in poetry and "fine" writing. We do not speak of the "firmament" in an ordinary way; but this word, taken from the first chapter of the Bible, is still used as a more poetical name for sky.[98]

But the translators of the Bible must also be put among the makers of new English words. Sometimes the translator could not find what he considered a satisfactory word to express the meaning of the Greek word he wished to translate. He, therefore, made a new word, or put two old words together to express exactly what he thought the Greek word meant. The word beautiful may not have been actually invented by the translator, William Tyndale, but it is not found in any book earlier than his translation of the New Testament. It seems a very natural and necessary word to us now. It was Tyndale who first used the words peacemaker and scapegoat and the compound word long-suffering; and another famous translator, Miles Coverdale, who invented the expressions loving-kindness and tender mercy.

But the great effect which the Bible has had on the English language is not in the preserving of old words and the making of new. Its chief effect has been in the way many of its expressions and phrases have passed into everyday use, so that people often use Biblical phrases without even knowing that they are doing so, just as we saw was the case with many phrases taken from Shakespeare's works.

Every one knows the expression to cast pearls before swine, and its meaning, "to give good things to people who are too ignorant to appreciate them." This expression, taken from the Gospel of St. Matthew, has now become an ordinary English expres[99]sion. The same is the case with the expression, the eleventh hour, meaning "just in time." But perhaps not every one who uses it remembers that it comes from the parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard, though, of course, most people would.

Other common Biblical expressions are, a labour of love, to hope against hope, the shadow of death, and so on. When a child is described as the Benjamin of the family, we know that this means the youngest and best loved, because the story of Jacob's love for Benjamin is familiar to every one. Again, when a person is described as a Pharisee no one needs to have a description of his qualities, for every one knows the story of the Pharisee and the Publican.

The Bible is, of course, full of the most poetical ideas and the most vivid language, and the fact that this language has become the everyday speech of Englishmen has been most important in the development of the English language. Without the Bible, which is full of the richness and colour of Eastern things and early peoples, the English language might have been much duller and less expressive.

But the religious writers of the Reformation period gave us another kind of word besides those found in the translations of the Bible. Many of these writers thought it was their duty to abuse the people who did not agree with them on the subject of religion. Tyndale himself, who invented such beautiful words in his translations, was the first to use the word[100] dunce. He called the Catholics by this name, which he made out of the name of a philosopher of the Middle Ages called Duns Scotus. The Protestants despised the Catholic or scholastic philosophy. But Duns Scotus was quite a clever man in his day, and it is curious that his name should have given us the word dunce, which became quite a common word as time went on.

Other new words which the Protestants used against the Catholics were Romish, Romanist (which Luther had used, but which Coverdale was the first to use in English), popery, popishness, papistical, monkish, all of which are still used to-day, and still have an anti-Catholic meaning. It was then that Rome was first described as Babylon, the meaning of the Protestants being that the city was as wicked as ancient Babylon, the name of which is used as a type of all wickedness in the Apocalypse, and these writers often used the words Babylonian and Babylonish instead of Roman. The name Scarlet Woman, also taken from the Apocalypse, was also often used to describe the Catholic Church.

The expression Roman Catholic, to which no one objects, was invented later, at the time that it was thought that Charles I. was going to marry a Spanish princess, and, of course, a Catholic. It was invented as being more polite than the terms by which the Protestants had so often abused the Catholics, and it has been used ever since.

Other new words came from the breaking up of[101] Protestantism into different sects. Puritan was the name given to those who wished to "purify" the Protestant religion from all the old ceremonies of Catholicism. The Calvinists (or followers of the French reformer, John Calvin) believed that souls were "predestined" to go to heaven or to be lost. The people who were predestined to be lost they described as reprobate, and this word we still use, but with a different meaning. A reprobate nowadays is a person who is looked upon as hopelessly bad, and the word is also sometimes used jokingly.

The name Protestant itself is interesting. It was first used to describe the Lutherans, who "protested" against, and would not agree with, the decisions made by the Emperor Charles V. on the subject of religion.

The names of the different forms of Protestantism are often very interesting, and were, of course, new words invented to describe the different forms of belief. The first great division was between the Lutherans and the Calvinists. The meaning of these names is plain. They were merely the followers of Martin Luther and John Calvin.

But later on there were many divisions, such as the Baptists, who were so called because they thought that people should not be baptized until they were grown up. They also administered the sacrament in a different way from most other Churches, the person baptized being dipped in the water. At one time these people were called Anabaptists, ana being[102] the Greek word for "again." But this was supposed to be a term of abuse similar to those showered on the Roman Catholics, and in time it died out.

Then there were the Independents, who were so called because they believed that each congregation should be independent of every other.

Perhaps the most peculiar name applied to one of the many sects in the England of the seventeenth century was that of the Quakers. This, too, was a name of abuse at first; but the "Society of Friends," to whom it was applied, came sometimes to use it themselves. They were a people who believed in great simplicity of life and manners and dress, and had no priests. At their religious meetings silence was kept until some one was moved to speak. The name was taken from the text, "quaking at the word of the Lord."

The names chosen by religious leaders, and those applied to the sects by their enemies, can teach us a great deal of history.




Many words have been taken from the names of people, saints and sinners, men who have helped on human progress and men who have tried to stand in its way, from queens and kings and nobles, and from quite humble people.

One large group of words has been made from the names of great inventors. All through history men have been inventing new things. We realize this if we think of what England is like to-day, and what it was like in the days of the early Britons. But even by the time of the early Britons many things had been invented which the earlier races of men had not known. Perhaps the greatest inventor the world has ever known was the man who first discovered how to make fire; but we shall never know who he was.

The people who discovered how to make metal weapons instead of the stone weapons which early men used were great inventors too; and those who discovered how to grow crops of corn and wheat, and so gave new food to the human race. But all[104] this happened in times long past, before men had any idea of writing down their records, and so these inventors have not left their names for us to admire.

But in historical times, and especially in the centuries since the Renaissance, there have been many inventors, and it will be interesting to see how the things they invented got their names. The word inventor itself means a "finder," and comes to us from the Latin word invenio, "I find."

The greatest number of inventions have been made in the last hundred and fifty years. The printing-press was, of course, a great invention of the fifteenth century, but it was simply called the printing-press, and did not take the name of its inventor. Yet this was a new name too, for the people of the Middle Ages would not have known what a printing-press was.

Several early printers have, however, had their names preserved in the description of the beautiful books they produced. All lovers of rare books are admirers of what they call Aldines and Elzevirs—that is, books printed at the press of Aldo Manuzio and his family at Venice in the sixteenth century, and by the Elzevir family in Holland in the seventeenth century.

We speak of a Bradshaw and a Baedeker to describe the best-known of all railway guides and guide-books. The first takes its name from George Bradshaw, a map engraver, who was born in Manchester in 1801, and lived there till he died, in 1853.[105] In 1839 he published on his own account "Bradshaw's Railway Time Table," of which he changed the name to "Railway Companion" in the next year. He corrected it a few days after the beginning of each month by the railway time sheets, but even then the railway companies sometimes made changes later in the month. In a short time, however, the companies agreed to fix their time tables monthly, and in December 1841 Bradshaw was able to publish the first number of "Bradshaw's Monthly Railway Guide." Six years afterwards he published the first number of "Bradshaw's Continental Railway Guide."

The famous series of guides now called Baedekers take their name from Karl Baedeker, a German publisher, who in the first half of the nineteenth century began to publish this famous series.

Members of Parliament still speak of the volumes containing the printed record of what goes on in Parliament as Hansard. This name comes from that of the first publisher of such records, Luke Hansard, who was printer to the House of Commons from 1798 until he died, in 1828. His family continued to print the reports as late as 1889, and though the work is now shared by other firms, the name is still kept.

Not only books but musical instruments are frequently called after their makers. The two most famous and valuable kinds of old violins take their names from the Italian family of the Amati, who[106] made violins in the sixteenth century, and Antonio Stradivari, who was their pupil. An Amati and a Stradivarius, often called a "Strad" for short, are the names now given by musicians to the splendid old violins made by these people.

The names of many flowers have been taken from the names of persons, and this still goes on to-day when new varieties of roses or sweet peas are called after the person who first grew them, or some friend of this person. These modern names are not, as a rule, very romantic, but some of the older ones are interesting. The dahlia, for instance, was called after Dahl, a Swedish botanist, who was a pupil of the great botanist Linnæus, after whom the chief botanical society in England, the Linnæan Society, is called. The lobelia was so called after Matthias de Lobel, a Flemish botanist and physician to King James I. The fuchsia took its name from Leonard Fuchs, a sixteenth-century botanist, the first German who really studied botany.

There are many more new things and names to-day than in earlier times, names which our grand-parents and even our parents did not know when they were children. We talk familiarly now about aeroplanes and the different kinds of aeroplanes, such as the monoplane, biplane, etc. But these are new names invented in the last twenty years. Some of the names of airships and aeroplanes are very interesting. The Taube, for instance, is so called from the German word meaning "dove," because[107] it looks very like a bird when it is up in the sky. The great German airships called Zeppelins took their name from the German Count Zeppelin, who invented them; and the splendid French airships called Fokkers also take their name from their inventor, and so does the Gotha—name of ill-fame.

The man who first discovered gunpowder is forgotten, but many of the powerful guns which are used in modern warfare are called after their inventors. The Gatling gun is not much talked of to-day, but it was a famous gun in its time, and took its name from the American inventor, Richard Jordan Gatling, who lived in the early nineteenth century, and devoted his life to inventions. Some were peaceable inventions, like machines for sowing cotton and rice; but he is best remembered by the great gun to which he gave his name.

Another famous gun of which we have heard a great deal in the Great War is the Maxim gun, which again took its name from its inventor, Sir Hiram Maxim. The shrapnel, of which also so much was heard in the Great War, the terrible shells which burst a certain time after leaving the gun without striking against anything, took its name from its inventor. The chief peculiarity of shrapnel is that the bullets fall from above in a shower from the shell as it bursts in the air.

But there are many other names which we should not easily guess to come from the names of inventors. People talk of a macadamized road without know[108]ing that these roads are so called because they are made in the way invented by John M'Adam, who lived from 1756 to 1836. The name macadam is often used now to denote the material used in making roads. Sometimes this material is of a sort which John M'Adam would not have approved of at all, for he did not believe in pouring a fluid material over the stones, or in the heavy rollers which are now often used in making new roads.

Another useful article, the homely mackintosh, takes its name from that of another Scotsman, Charles Macintosh, who lived at the same time as M'Adam. It was he who first, in 1823, finished the invention of a waterproof cloth.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries many great discoveries were made in science, and many names of discoverers and inventors have been preserved in scientific words. Galvanism, one branch of electricity, took its name from Luigi Galvani, an Italian professor, who made great discoveries about electricity in the bodies of animals. Every one has heard of a galvanic battery, but not everybody knows how it got its name.

Mesmerism, or the science by which the human mind is influenced by suggestions from itself or another mind, took its name from Friedrich Anton Mesmer, who first made great discoveries about animal magnetism.

Another famous discoverer of the powers of electricity, and one who is still a young man, is Gugli[109]elmo Marconi, a native of Bologna. It was he who invented the great system of wireless telegraphy which is now used in nearly all big ships. In 1899 he first succeeded in sending a message in this way from England to France, and in the next year he sent one right across the Atlantic. Now ships frequently send a Marconigram home when they are right in the middle of the ocean; and many lives have been saved through ships in distress having been able to send out wireless messages which have brought other vessels steaming up to their aid. In fact, this invention of Marconi's is, perhaps, the greatest of all modern inventions, and it is but right that it should preserve his name.

A different kind of invention has preserved the name of the fourth Earl of Sandwich, an eighteenth-century nobleman, who was so fond of card games that he could not bear to leave the card table even to eat his meals, and so invented what has ever since been called by his name—the sandwich.

Not unlike the origin of the name sandwich is that of Abernethy biscuits, so called after the doctor who invented the recipe for making them.

It was another doctor, the French physician, Joseph Ignace Guillotin, who gave his name to the guillotine, the terrible knife with which people were beheaded in thousands during the French Revolution. Guillotin did not really invent it, nor was he himself guillotined, as has often been said. The guillotine is supposed to have been invented long[110] ago in Persia, and was used in the Middle Ages both in Italy and Germany. The Frenchman whose name it bears was a kindly person, who merely advised this method of execution at the time of the French Revolution, because he thought, and rightly, that if people were to be beheaded at all, it should be done swiftly and not clumsily.

But many things are called by the names of persons who were not inventors at all. Sometimes a new kind of clothing is called after some great person just to make it seem distinguished. A Chesterfield overcoat is so called because the tailor who first gave this kind of coat that name wished to suggest that it had all the elegance displayed in the clothing of the famous eighteenth-century dandy, the fourth Earl of Chesterfield. So the well-known Raglan coats and sleeves took their name first from an English general, Baron Raglan, who fought in the Crimean War. Both Wellington and Blücher, the two generals who fought together and defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, gave their names to different kinds of boots. Bluchers are strong leather half boots or high shoes, and Wellingtons are high riding boots reaching to the bend of the knee at the back of the leg, and covering the knee in front. Wellington is supposed to have worn such boots in his campaigns.

Another article of clothing which was very popular with ladies at one time was the Garibaldi blouse, which was so called after the red shirts which were[111] worn by the followers of the famous soldier who won liberty for Italy, Garibaldi.

The rather vulgar name for ladies' divided skirts—bloomers—came from the name of an American woman, Mrs. Amelia Jenks Bloomer, who used to wear a skirt which reached to her knee, and then was divided into Turkish trousers tied round her ankles.

A great many different kinds of carriages and vehicles have been called by the names of people. The brougham, which is still a favourite form of closed carriage, got its name from Lord Brougham. The old four-wheeled carriage with a curved glass front got its name from the Duke of Clarence, who afterwards became King William IV.; and the carriage known as the Victoria was so called as a compliment to Queen Victoria. We do not hear much of this kind of carriage now; but the two-wheeled cab known as the hansom is still to be seen in the streets of London, in spite of the coming of the taxicab. This form of conveyance took its name from an architect who invented it in 1834. An earlier kind of two-wheeled carriage invented a few years before this, but which was displaced by the hansom, was the stanhope, also called after its inventor. The general name for a two-wheeled carriage of this sort used to be the phaeton, and this was not taken from any person, but from the sun-chariot in which, according to the old Greek story, the son of Helios rode to destruction when he had roused the anger of the great Greek god, Zeus.[112]

The names of old Greeks and Romans have given us many words. We speak of a very rich man as a Crœsus, a word which was the name of a fabulously rich tyrant in Ancient Greece. A person who is supposed to be a great judge of food, and devoted to the pleasures of the table, is called an epicure, from the old Greek philosopher Epicurus, who taught that the chief aim of life was to feel pleasure. The word cynic, too, comes from the name given to certain Greek philosophers who despised pleasure. The name was originally a nickname for these philosophers, and was taken from the Greek word kunos, "dog."

We describe a person who chooses to live a very hard life as a Spartan, because the people of the old Greek state of Sparta planned their lives so that every one should be disciplined and drilled to make good soldiers, and were never allowed to indulge in too much comfort or too many amusements, lest they should become lazy in mind and weak in body. A Draconian system of law is one which has no mercy, and preserves the name of Draco, a statesman who was appointed to draw up laws for the Athenians six hundred and twenty-one years before the birth of Our Lord, and who drew up a very strict code of laws.

The word mausoleum, which is now used to describe any large or distinguished tomb, comes from the tomb built for Mausolus, king of Caria (in Greek Asia Minor), by his widow, Artemisia, in 353 B.C. The[113] tomb itself, which rises to a height of over one hundred and twelve feet, is now to be seen in the British Museum.

The verb to hector, meaning "to bully," is taken from the name of the Trojan hero Hector, in the famous old Greek poem, the Iliad. Hector was not, as a matter of fact, a bully, but a very brave man, and it is curious that his name should have come to be used in this unpleasant sense. The other great Greek poem, the Odyssey, has given us the name of one of its characters for a fairly common English word. A mentor is a person who gives us wise advice, but the original Mentor was a character in this great poem, the wise counsellor of Telemachus.

From the names of great Romans, too, we have many words. If we describe a person as a Nero, every one knows that this means a cruel tyrant. Nero was the worst of all the Roman emperors, and the story tells that he was so heartless that he played on his violin while watching the burning of Rome. Some people even said that he himself set the city on fire. Again, the name of Julius Cæsar, who was the first imperial governor of Rome, though he was never called emperor, has given us a common name. Cæsar came to mean "an emperor;" and the modern German Kaiser and the Russian Tsar come from this name of the "noblest Roman of them all."

An earlier Roman was Fabius Cunctator (or "Fabius the Procrastinator"), a general who, in[114]stead of fighting actual battles with the Carthaginian Hannibal, the great enemy of Rome, preferred to tire him out by keeping him waiting and never giving battle. His name has given us the word Fabian, to describe this kind of tactics.

The name by which people often describe an unscrupulous politician now is Machiavellian, an adjective made from the name of a great writer on the government of states. At the time of the Renaissance in Italy, Machiavelli, in his famous book called "The Prince," took it for granted that every ruler would do anything, good or bad, to arrive at the results he desired.

Another common word taken at first from politics, but now used in a general sense, is boycott. To boycott a person means to be determined to ignore or take no notice of him. A child may be "boycotted" by disagreeable companions at school. Another expression for the same disagreeable method is to "send to Coventry."

But the political boycotting from which the word passed into general use took place in Ireland, when any one with whose politics the Irish did not agree was treated in this way. The first victim of this kind of treatment was Captain Boycott of County Mayo in 1880. So useful has this word been found that both the French and Germans have borrowed it. The French have now the word boycotter, and the Germans boycottieren.

Another Irish name which has given us a common[115] word is Burke. Sometimes in a discussion one person will tell another that he burkes the question. This means that he is avoiding the real subject of debate. Or a rumour may be burked, or "hushed up." In this way the subject is, as it were, smothered. And it was from this meaning that the name came to be used as a general word. William Burke was an Irish labourer who was executed in 1829, when he was found guilty of having murdered several people. His habit had been to smother them, so that their bodies did not show how they had died, and sell their bodies to a doctor for dissection. From this dreadful origin we have the new use of this fine old Irish name.

People who love books are often very indignant when the editors of a new edition of an old book think it proper to leave out certain passages which they think are indecent or unsuitable for people to read. This is called "expurgating" the book; but people who disapprove often call it to bowdlerize. This word comes from the name of Dr. Thomas Bowdler, who in 1818 published an edition of Shakespeare's works in which, as he said, "those words and expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family."

Sometimes a badly-dressed or peculiar-looking person is described as a guy. This word comes from the name of Guy Fawkes, the Gunpowder Plotter, through the effigies, or "guys," which are often burned in bonfires on November 5th.[116]

Certain Christian names have, for reasons which it is not easy to see, given us words which mean "fool" or "stupid person." The word ninny comes from Innocent. Noddy probably comes from Nicodemus or Nicholas. Both these names are used to mean "foolish person" in France, and so is benêt, which comes from Benedict.

Some saints' names have given us words which do not seem at first sight to have any connection with them. The word maudlin, by which we mean "foolishly sentimental," comes from the name of St. Mary Magdalen, a saint whose name immediately suggests to us sorrow and weeping. The word maudlin suggests the idea of being ready to weep unnecessarily. In this way a word describing a disagreeable quality is taken from the name of one of the most honoured saints.

The word tawdry, by which we mean cheap and showy things with no real beauty, comes from St. Audrey, another name for St. Etheldreda, who founded Ely Cathedral. In the Middle Ages St. Audrey's Fair used to be held at Ely, and as fairs are always full of cheap and showy things, it was from this that the word tawdry came.

St. Anthony's fire is a well-known name for erysipelas, and St. Vitus's dance for another distressing disease. These names came from the fact that these saints used to be chosen out as the special patrons of people suffering from such diseases. In the same way the disease which used to be called[117] the King's Evil was so named because people formerly believed that persons suffering from it would be cured if touched by the hands of the king or the queen. On certain occasions, even down to the time of Queen Anne, English kings and queens "touched" crowds of sufferers from this disease.

So in these words taken from the names of people we may read many a story of love and sorrow and wonder, of disgust and every human passion.




It is easy to see how names of persons have sometimes changed into general words. But we have also a great number of general words which are taken from animals' names. Most often these words are used to describe people's characters. Sometimes people are merely compared with the animals whose qualities they are supposed to have, and sometimes they are actually called by the names of these animals. Thus we may say that a person is "as sly as a fox," or we may call him an "old fox," and every one understands the same thing by both expressions.

The cause of this continual comparison of human beings with animals is that long ago, when these expressions first began to be used, animals, and especially wild animals, played a great part in the lives of the people. In the Middle Ages great parts of England, now dotted over with big towns, were covered with forest land. Wolves roamed in the woods, and the fighting of some wild animals and the taming of others formed a most important part of[119] people's lives. The same thing was, of course, the case in other countries. So familiar were people in those days with animals that they thought of them almost as human beings and believed that they had their own languages. It was people who believed these things who made up many of the old fairy tales about animals—stories like "Red Riding Hood" and the "Three Bears."

We often say that we are "as hungry as a wolf;" but we who have never seen wolves except behind the bars of their cages at the Zoological Gardens do not know how hungry a wild wolf can be. Those, however, who first used this expression thought of the lean and hungry wolves who prowled round the farms and cottages in the hard winter weather, driven by starvation to men's very doors. We also have the expression, "a wolf in sheep's clothing." By this we mean a person who is really dangerous and harmful, but who puts on a harmless and gentle manner to deceive his victim.

Another use of the word wolf is as a verb, meaning to eat in a very quick and greedy manner, as we might imagine a hungry wolf would do, and as our forefathers knew by experience that they did do. Most of the people who use the names of the wolf and the fox in these ways do not know anything of the habits of these animals, but the expressions have become part of the common language.

The same thing is, of course, true about the lion, with which even our far-off English ancestors had[120] never to fight. But the lion is such a fierce and magnificent animal that it naturally appeals to our imagination, and we find numerous comparisons with it, chiefly in poetical language. We say a soldier is as "brave as a lion," or describe him as a "lion in the fight."

A less complimentary comparison is an expression we often hear, "as stubborn as a mule." Only a few of the people who use this expression can have had any experience of the stubbornness of mules. Sometimes a stubborn person is described quite simply as a "mule." Another compliment of the same sort is to call a person who seems to us to be acting stupidly a "donkey."

We may say a person is as "greedy as a pig," or describe him with disgust as a "pig," which may mean either that they are very greedy or that they are behaving in a very ungracious or unmannerly way. A more common description of a person of this sort is "a hog." Every one has heard of the "road hogs," who drive their motors regardless of other people's convenience or safety; and of the "food hogs," who tried to store up food, or refused to ration themselves, and so shortened other people's supplies of food in the Great War.

Other common expressions comparing people with animals are—"sulky as a bear," "gay as a lark," "busy as a bee." We might also call a cross person a "bear," but should not without some explanation call a person a "lark" or a "bee."[121]

We may say a person "chatters like a magpie," or we may call him or her a "magpie." A person who talks without thinking, merely repeating what other people have said, is often called a "parrot."

Sometimes names of common animals or birds used to describe people are complimentary, but more often they are not. It seems as though the people who made these metaphors were more eloquent in anger than in love. A very nice child will be described by its friends as a "little duck." A mischievous child may also be described good-temperedly as a "monkey;" but there are far more words of abuse taken from the names of animals than more or less amiable words like these.

A bad-tempered woman is described as a "vixen," or female fox; a lazy person as a "drone," or the bee which does no work. A stupid person may be called a "sheep" or a "goose" (which is not quite so insulting). Dog, hound, cur, and puppy are all used as words of abuse; and contempt for some one who is regarded as very mean-spirited is sometimes shown by describing such a person as a "worm," or worse, if possible, a "reptile." A "bookworm," on the other hand, the name of a little insect which lives in books and eats away at paper and bindings, is applied to people who love books in another way—great readers—and is, of course, not at all an uncomplimentary word.

A foolish person who has been easily deceived in some matter is often described as a "gull," or is[122] said to have been "gulled." Gull is now the name of a sea-bird, but in Early English it was used to describe any young bird, and from the idea that it is easy to deceive such youngsters came the use of the word to describe foolish people.

Another name of a bird used with almost the opposite meaning is rook. This name is given to people who are constantly cheating others, especially at card games. It was earlier used, like gull, to describe the person cheated. It then came to be used as a verb meaning "to cheat," and from this was used to describe the person cheating instead of the person cheated.

Other names of birds not quite so common used to describe stupid people are dotterel and dodo. The dotterel is a bird which is very easily caught, and it was from this fact that it got its name, which comes from dote, to be "silly" or "feeble-minded." When the name of the bird is used to describe a silly person, the word is really, as an interesting writer on the history of words says, turning "a complete somersault." The same is the case with dodo, which is also used, but not so often, to describe a stupid person. This bird also got its name from a word which meant "foolish." It comes from the Portuguese word doudo, which means "simpleton."

We have a few verbs also taken from the names of animals and birds. We say a person "apes" another when he tries to imitate him. This word comes, of course, from the fact that the ape is[123] always imitating any action performed by other people.

A person who follows another persistently is said to "dog" his steps. This expression comes, of course, from the fact of dogs following their masters. Another expression is to "hound" a person to do something, by which we mean persecute him. This comes from the idea of a hound tracking its victim down. Another of these words which has the idea of persecution is badger. When some one constantly talks about a subject which is unpleasant to another, or continually tries to persuade him to do something against his will, he is said to be "badgering" him. The badger is an animal which burrows into the ground in winter, and dogs are set to worry it out of its hiding-place. The badger is the victim and not the persecutor, as we might think from the use of the verb.

The verb henpeck, to describe the teasing of her husband by a disagreeable wife, comes, of course, from the idea of the continual pecking of a hen.

Many common articles are named after animals which they resemble in some way. A "ram" is an instrument, generally of wood, used to drive things into place by pressure. In olden days war-ships used to have a "battering-ram," or projecting beak, at their prow, with which to "ram" other vessels. The Romans called such a beak an aries, which is the Latin for "ram," a male sheep. This was probably from the habit of rams butting an[124] enemy with their horns. The Romans often had the ends of their battering-rams carved into the shape of the head of a ram. A "ramrod" gets its name from the same idea. It is an instrument for pressing in the ammunition when loading the muzzle of a gun.

The word "ram" has now several more general uses. We speak of a person "ramming" things into a drawer or bag when we mean pushing them hastily and untidily into too small a place. Or a man may "ram" his hat down on his head. Again, we may have a lesson or unpleasant fact "rammed" into us by some one who is determined to make the subject clear whether we want to hear about it or not. And all this comes from the simple idea of the ram butting people whom it considers unpleasant.

More commonplace instruments having animals' names are the "clothes'-horse" and "fire-dogs."

We have other words, which we should not guess to be from animals' names, but which really are so. We say that a person who is always changing his mind, and wanting first one thing and then another, is "capricious." Or we speak of a curious or unreasonable desire as a "caprice." These words really come from the Latin name for a goat—caper. The mind of the capricious person skips about just like a goat. At least that is what the word capricious literally says about him. The word caper, meaning to "jump about playing tricks," comes from the Latin word capra, a "she-goat."[125]

The word coward comes from the name of an animal, but not the cow. In a famous French story of the Middle Ages, in which all the characters are animals, the "Roman de Renard," the hare is called couard, and it is from this that the word coward ("one who runs away from danger") comes.

All these words from the names of animals take us back, then, to the days when every man was a kind of naturalist. In those early days, when town life hardly existed, everybody knew all about animals and their habits. Their conversation was full of this sort of thing. And so it is that in hundreds of our words which we use to-day, without thinking of the literal meaning at all, we have a picture of the lives of our ancestors preserved.

We have, too, words taken from the names of some animals which never existed at all. The writers of the Middle Ages told many tales or fables of animals and monsters which were purely imaginary, but in which the people of those days firmly believed. We sometimes hear people use the expression a "basilisk glare," which other people would describe as a "look that kills," meaning a look of great severity or displeasure. There is a little American lizard which zoologists call the "basilisk," but this is not the basilisk from which this expression comes. The basilisk which the people of the Middle Ages imagined, but which never existed, was a monstrous reptile hatched by a serpent from[126] a cock's egg. By its breath or even its look it could destroy all who approached it.

Another invention of the Middle Ages was the bird called the "phœnix." We now use the word phœnix to describe some one who is unique in some good quality. A commoner way of expressing the same idea would be that "there is no one like him." It was believed in the Middle Ages that only one of these wonderful birds could exist in the world at one time. The story was that the phœnix, after living through five or six hundred years in the Arabian desert, prepared a funeral pile for itself, and was burned to death, but rose again, youthful and strong as ever, from the ashes.

In these words we are reminded once again of another side of the life of our ancestors.




We have already seen something of the stories which the names of places, old and new, can tell us. But the names of places themselves often give us new words, and from these, too, we can learn many interesting facts.

Many manufactured things, and especially woven cloths, silks, etc., are called by the name of the place from which they come, or from which they first came. Cashmere, a favourite smooth woollen material, is called after Cashmir, in India. Damask, the material of which table linen is generally made, takes its name from Damascus; as does holland, the light brownish cotton stuff used so much for children's frocks and overalls, from Holland, and the rough woollen material known as frieze from Friesland. Cambric, the fine white material often used for handkerchiefs, takes its name from Cambrai in France, the place where it was first made. The word cambric, however, came into English from Kamerijk, the Dutch name for Cambrai. So the other fine material known as lawn got its name[128] from Laon, another French town. Another fine material of this kind, muslin, takes its name from Mussolo, a town in Mesopotamia, from which this kind of material first came.

Another commoner kind of stuff is fustian, made of cotton, but thick, with a short nap, and generally dyed a dark colour. The word fustian has also come to be used figuratively to describe a showy manner of speaking or writing, or anything which tries to appear better than it is. The word comes from Fustat, a suburb of Cairo.

A more substantial material, tweed, which is largely made in Scotland, really takes its name from people pronouncing twill badly; but the form tweed spread more quickly because people associated the material with the country beyond the river Tweed.

Another kind of stuff which we generally associate with Scotland is tartan, because this woollen stuff, with its crossed stripes of different colours, is chiefly used for Scottish plaids and kilts, especially of the Highland regiments. But the word tartan does not seem to be a Scottish word, and probably comes from Tartar, which was formerly used to describe almost any Eastern people. Perhaps the fact that Eastern peoples love bright colours caused this name to be given to these bright materials, though there is nothing at all Eastern in the designs of the Scottish tartans. Another material with an Eastern name is sarcenet, or sarsenet, a soft, silky stuff now chiefly used for linings.[129]

Often in tales of olden times we read of people hiding behind the "arras." This was a wall covering of tapestry, often hung sufficiently far from the wall to leave room for a person to pass. The word arras comes from Arras, a town in France, which was famous for its beautiful tapestries.

We know the word tabby chiefly as the name of a kind of striped cat, but this use of the word came from the Old French word tabis, and described a material with marks which the markings on a "tabby" cat resemble. The French word came from the Arab word utabi, which perhaps came from the name of a suburb of the famous city of Baghdad.

Worsted, the name of a certain kind of knitting-wool, comes from the name of the town of Worstead, in Norfolk. The close-fitting woollen garments worn by sailors and often by children are known as jerseys—a word which is taken from the name of one of the Channel Islands, Jersey. Sometimes, but not so commonly, they are called guernseys, from the name of the chief of the other Channel Islands, Guernsey. Another piece of wearing apparel, the Turkish cap known as a fez, gets its name, perhaps, from Fez, a town in Morocco.

Besides woven stuffs, many other things are called by the names of the places from which they come. China, the general name for very fine earthenware, is the same name as that of the great Eastern country which is famous for its beautiful pottery. Another[130] kind of ornamented earthenware is the Italian majolica, and this probably gets its name from the island of Majorca; while delf is the name of the glazed earthenware made at Delft (which in earlier times was called "Delf"), in Holland.

The beautiful leather much used for the bindings of books, morocco, takes its name from Morocco, where it was first made by tanning goatskins. It is now made in several countries of Europe, but it keeps its old name. Another old kind of leather, but whose name is no longer used, was cordwain, a Spanish leather for the making of shoes, which took its name from Cordova in Spain. Cordwainer was the old name for "shoemaker," and is still kept in the names of shoemakers' guilds and societies.

Many wines are simply called by the names (sometimes altered a little through people mispronouncing them) of the places from which they come. Champagne is the wine of Champagne, Burgundy of Burgundy, Sauterne of Sauterne, Chablis of Chablis—all French wines. Port takes its name from Oporto, in Portugal; and sherry, which used to be called "sherris," comes from the name of Xeres, a Spanish town.

Many less well-known wines have merely the name of the place where they are produced printed on the label, and they tend to be called by these names—such as Capri bianco Vesuvio, etc. Malmsey, the old wine in which the Duke of Clarence was sup[131]posed to have been drowned when his murder was ordered by his brother, and which is also called malvoisie, got its name from Monemvasia, a town in the peninsula of Morea.

Not only wine but other liquids are sometimes called after the places from which they come. The oil known as macassar comes from Maugkasara, the name of a district in the island of Celebes. This oil was at one time very much used as a dressing for the hair, and from this we get the name antimacassar for the coverings which used to be (and are sometimes still) thrown over the backs of easy-chairs and couches to prevent their being soiled by such aids to beauty. Antimacassar means literally a "protection against macassar oil," anti being the Latin word for "against."

The tobacco known as Latakia takes its name from the town called by the Turks Latakia, the old town of Laodicea. (Laodicea also gives us another common expression. We describe an indifferent person who has no enthusiasm for anything as "a Laodicean," from the reproach to the Church of the Laodiceans, in the Book of Revelation in the Bible, that they were "neither cold nor hot" in their religion.)

Both the words bronze and copper come from the names of places. Bronze is from Brundusium, the ancient name of the South Italian town which we now call Brindisi. The Latin name for this metal was aes Brundusinum, or "brass of Brindisi."[132] Copper was in Latin aes Cyprium, or "brass of Cyprus."

Some coins take their names from the names of places. The florin, or two-shilling piece, takes its name from Florence. Dollar is the same word as the German thaler, the name of a silver coin which was formerly called a Joachimstaler, from the silver-mine of Joachimstal, or "Joachim's Dale," in Bohemia. The ducat, a gold coin which was used in nearly all the countries of Europe in the Middle Ages, and which was worth about nine shillings, got its name from the duchy (in Italian, ducato) of Apulia, where it was first coined in the twelfth century.

It was an Italian town, Milan, which gave us our word milliner. This came from the fact that many fancy materials and ornaments used in millinery were imported from Milan.

Many old dances take their names from places. We hear a great deal nowadays of the "morris dances" which used to be danced in England in olden times. But morris comes from morys, an old word for "Moorish." In the Middle Ages this word was used, like "Turk" or "Tartar," to describe almost any Eastern people, and the name came, perhaps, from the fact that in these dances people dressed up, and so looked strange and foreign. The name of a very well-known dance, the polka, really means "Polish woman." Mazurka, the name of another dance, means "woman of Masovia." The[133] old-fashioned slow dance known as the polonaise took its name from Poland, and was really a Polish dance. The well-known Italian dance called the tarantella took its name from the South Italian town Tarento.

The word canter, which describes another kind of movement, comes from Canterbury. Canter is only the short for "Canterbury gallop," an expression which was used to describe the slow jogging pace at which many pilgrims in the Middle Ages rode along the Canterbury road to pray at the famous shrine of St. Thomas Becket in that city.

Several fruits take their names from places. The damson, which used in the Middle Ages to be called the "damascene," was called in Latin prunum damascenum, or "plum of Damascus." The name peach comes to us from the Late Latin word pessica, which was a bad way of saying "Persica." Currants used to be known as "raisins of Corauntz," or Corinth raisins.

Parchment gets its name from Pergamum, a city in Asia Minor. Pistol came into English from the Old French word pistole, and this came from an Italian word, pistolese, which meant "made at Pistoja." We do not think of spaniels as foreign dogs; but the name means "Spanish," having come into English from the Old French word espagneul, with that meaning.

A derivation which it would be even harder to guess is that of the word spruce. We now use this[134] word to describe a kind of leather, a kind of ginger beer, and a variety of the fir tree, and also in the same sense as "spick and span." The word used to be pruce, and meant "Prussia."

The name of the famous London fish-market, Billingsgate, has long been used to mean very violent and abusive language supposed to resemble the scoldings of the fishwomen in the market.

Another word describing a certain kind of speaking, and which also comes from the name of a place, is bunkum. When a person tells a story which we feel sure is not true, or tells a long tale to excuse himself from doing something, we often say it is all "bunkum." This word comes from the name of the American town of Buncombe, in North Carolina, and came into use through the member for Buncombe in the House of Representatives insisting on making a speech just when every one else wanted to proceed with the voting on a bill. He knew that he had nothing of importance to say, but explained that he must make a speech "for Buncombe"—that is, so that the people of Buncombe, who had elected him, might know that he was doing his duty by them. And so the expression bunkum came into use.

Another word which may go with these, because it also begins with the letter b, is bedlam. We describe a scene of great noise and confusion, as when a number of children insist on talking all together, as a "perfect bedlam." The word bedlam[135] comes from Bethlehem. In the Middle Ages there was a hospital in London kept by monks of the Order of St. Mary of Bethlehem. In time this house came to be known as "Bedlam," and as after a while the hospital came to be an asylum for mad people, this name came to be used for any lunatic asylum. From that it came to have its modern use of any great noise or confusion.

The sport of shooting pheasants is very English, and few people think that the pheasant is a foreign bird, introduced into England, just as in fact the turkey, which seems to belong especially to the English Christmas, came to us from America. The pheasant gets its name from the river Phasis, in the Eastern country of Pontus. It may seem peculiar that a bird coming from America should be called a turkey; but we saw in an earlier chapter how vague the people of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were about America. When Columbus reached the shore of that continent, people thought he had sailed round by another way to the "Indies." In nearly all European countries the turkey got names which show that most people thought it came from India, or at least from some part of the "Indies." Even in England it was called for a time "cok off Inde." In Italy it was gallina d'India (or "Indian hen"). The modern French words for male and female turkeys come from this mistake. In French the bird was at first known as pouille d'Inde (or "Indian fowl"). The name came to be shortened into the[136] one word dinde, and then, as people thought this must mean the female turkey, they made a new word for the male, dindon.

But though so many words come from the names of places, and some of these would not seem to do so at first sight, there are other words which seem to come from place-names which do not do so at all. Brazil wood is found in large quantities in Brazil, but the wood is not called after the country. On the contrary, the country is called after the wood. This kind of wood was already used in Europe in the twelfth century, and its name is found in several European languages. When the Portuguese adventurers found such large quantities in this part of South America they gave it the name of Brazil from the wood. The island of Madeira got its name in the same way, this being the word for "timber," from the Latin word materia.

Again, guinea-pigs do not come from Guinea, on the west coast of Africa, though guinea-fowls do so. Guinea-pigs really come from Brazil. The name guinea-pig was given to these little animals because, when the sailors brought them home, people thought they had come from Africa. But in the seventeenth century a common voyage for ships was to sail from English or other European ports to the west coast of Africa, where bands of poor negroes were seized or bought, and carried over the Atlantic to be sold as slaves in the American "plantations." The ships naturally did not come[137] home empty, but often people were not very clear as to whether the articles they brought back came from Africa or America.

Again, India ink comes, not from India, but from China. Indian corn comes from America. Sedan chairs had nothing to do with Sedan in France, but probably take their name from the Latin verb sedere, "to sit."

In these words, as in many others, we can see that it is never safe to guess the derivation of words. Many of the old philologists used to do this, and then write down their guesses as facts. This caused a great deal of extra work for modern scholars, who will not, of course, accept any "derivation" for a word until they have clear proof that it is true.




Everybody who has thought at all about our ways of speech must have noticed that we are all constantly saying things in a way which is not literally true. We say a child is a "sunbeam in the house;" but, of course, we only mean that she is gay and happy, and cheers every one up by her merriment. Or we describe some one as a "pearl among women," meaning that by her splendid qualities she is superior to most women as a pearl is to common stones.

Or, again, we may read in the newspaper that a statesman "spoke with sudden fire;" by which, of course, we understand that in the course of a calm speech he suddenly broke out passionately into words which showed how keenly he felt on the subject of which he was speaking.

Our language is full of this kind of speaking and writing, which is called "metaphorical." The word metaphor comes from two Greek words meaning "to carry over." In "metaphorical" speech a name or description of one thing is transferred to another[139] thing to which it could not apply in ordinary commonplace language.

By means of metaphors we express more vividly and strikingly our feelings on any subject. We draw our metaphors from many different sources. Many of them naturally come from Nature, for the facts of Nature are all around us. We speak of a "sea of trouble" when we feel that the spirit is overwhelmed by sadness so great that it suggests the vastness of the sea swallowing up all that it meets. Or we speak of a "storm of anger," because what takes place in a person's soul in such a state is similar in some way to the confusion and force of a storm in Nature. Again, an expression like a "torrent of words" is made possible by our familiarity with the quick pouring forth of water in a torrent. By this expression, of course, we wish to suggest a similar quick rushing of words. Other expressions of this kind are "a wave of anguish," the "sun of good fortune," and there are hundreds of which every one can think.

Another source from which many metaphors have come is war, which has given men some of the most vivid action possible to humankind. Thus we speak of "a war of words," of a person "plunging into the fray," when we mean that he or she joins in a keen argument or quarrel. Or we speak more generally of the "battle of life," picturing the troubles and difficulties of life as the obstacles against which soldiers have to fight in battle. Shake[140]speare has the expression, "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune."

We have a great many metaphorical expressions taken from painting, sculpture, and other arts. Thus we speak of "moulding" one's own life, picturing ourselves as sculptors, with our lives as the clay to be shaped as we will. Shakespeare has a similar metaphor,—

"There's a divinity which shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will."

We may, he says, roughly arrange our way of life, but the final result belongs to a greater artist—God.

Again, we speak of "building our hopes" on a thing, of "moulding" a person's character, of the "canvas of history," imagining history as a picture of things past. We speak of a person describing something very enthusiastically as "painting it in glowing colours," and so on. We also describe the making of new words as "coining them."

But not only are the sentences we make full of metaphors, but most of our words—all, in fact, except the names of the simplest things—are really metaphors themselves. The first makers of such words were speaking "in metaphor," as we should say now; but when the words passed into general use this fact was not noticed.

A great many of the metaphors found in words are the same in many languages. Many of them are taken from agriculture, which is, of course,[141] after hunting, the earliest occupation of all peoples. We can easily think of many words now used in a general sense which originally applied to some simple country practice. We speak of being "goaded" to do a thing when some one persuades or threatens or irritates us into doing it. But a goad was originally a spiked stick used to drive cattle forward. The word goad, then, as we use it now, is a real metaphor.

Again, we speak of our feelings being "harrowed." The word harrow first meant, and still means, the drawing of a frame with iron teeth (itself called a harrow) over ploughed land to break up the clods. From this meaning it has come to have the figurative meaning of wounding or ruffling the feelings.

Another word connected with agriculture which has passed into a general sense is glean. We may now speak of "gleaning" certain facts or news, but to glean was originally (and still means in its literal sense) to gather the ears of corn remaining after the reapers have got in the harvest.

We speak of a nation groaning under the "yoke" of a foreign tyrant, or again of the "yoke" of matrimony, and in the Bible we have the text, "My yoke is easy." In these and in many other cases the word yoke is used figuratively to denote something weighing on the spirit; but the original use of yoke, and again one which remains, was to name the wooden cross-piece fastened over the[142] necks of two oxen, and attached to a plough or wagon which they have to draw.

The word earn reminds us of a time when the chief way of earning money or payment of any kind was field-labour; for this word, which means so many things now, comes from an old Teutonic word meaning field-labour. The same word became in German ernte, which means "harvest."

Another common word with somewhat the same meaning as earn is gain; and this, again, takes us back to a time when our early ancestors won their profits by the grazing of their flocks. The word gain came into English from an Old French word, but this word in its turn came from a Teutonic word meaning to graze or pasture. The first people who used the word earn for other ways of getting payment than field-labour, and the word gain in a general sense, were really making metaphors.

Some of our commonest words take us back to a time before our ancestors even settled down to cultivate the land, or perhaps even before the days when they had learned to tame and give pasturage to their flocks. Some of our simplest words contain the idea of travelling or wandering. The word fear, which would not seem to have anything to do with journeying, comes from the same root-word as fare, the Old English word for "travel." Probably it came to be used because people travelling through the wild forests and swamps of Europe in those far-off days found much to terrify them, and[143] so the word fear was made, containing this idea of moving from place to place. But again this was a metaphor. Until after the Norman Conquest the word fear meant a sudden or terrible happening. Only later it came to mean the feeling which such an event or the expectation of it would cause.

We may become tired in mind or body from many causes; but when we say we are "weary" we are literally saying that we have travelled far over difficult ground, for the word weary comes from an Old English word meaning this.

Some of our words are really metaphors showing the effect which different aspects of Nature had on the men who made them. When we say we are astonished we do not mean that we are "struck by thunder," but that is what the word literally means. It comes from the Latin word attonare, which means this. The words astound and stun contain the same hidden metaphor, which we use in a plainer way when we say we are "thunder-struck," meaning that we are very much surprised.

In the Middle Ages people believed that the stars had a great effect on the lives of men. If the stars were in a certain position at the time of a person's birth, he would be lucky all his life; if in another, he was doomed to unhappiness. From this belief we still use the expression "born under a lucky star" to describe a person who seems always to be fortunate. But the same metaphor is contained in single words. We speak of an unfortunate enter[144]prise as "ill-starred," and the metaphor is clear. But when the newspapers speak of a railway "disaster," very few people realize that they are speaking the language of the mediæval astrologers, men who studied the fortunes of nations and individuals from the stars. Disaster literally means such a misfortune as would be caused by adverse stars, and comes from the Greek word for star, astron, and the Latin dis.

The words jovial and mercurial, used to describe people of merry and lively temper, are metaphors of the same kind. A person born under the planet Jupiter (the star called after the Roman god Jupiter or Jove) was supposed to be of a merry disposition, and a person born when the planet Mercury was visible in the heavens was expected to be lively and ready-witted. When we use these words now to describe people, we do not, of course, mean that they were born under any particular star, but the words are metaphors which literally do mean this.

The word auspicious comes from a similar source. We speak of an "inauspicious" undertaking, meaning one which seems destined to be unlucky. But really what the word inauspicious says is that the "auspices are against" the undertaking. And this takes us back to Roman times, when no important thing was done in the state without the magistrates "taking the auspices." This they did from observing the flight of certain birds. In war the commander-in-chief of the Roman armies alone had[145] the right to "take the auspices." We should think such a proceeding very foolish now, but in the words auspicious and inauspicious we are literally saying that the auspices have been favourable or unfavourable.

One of the common practices of the scholars who studied astrology and other sciences in the Middle Ages was the search for the philosopher's stone, which they believed had the power of giving eternal youth. They would melt metals in pots for this purpose. These pots were called by the Old Latin name of test. From this word we now have the modern word test, used in the sense of trial—another metaphor from the Middle Ages.

Many common English words are really metaphors made from old English sports, such as hunting and hawking. It is curious to think how these words are chiefly used to-day by people who know nothing of these pastimes, while the people who made the words were so familiar with them that they naturally expressed themselves in this way. We speak of a person being in another's "toils," when we mean in his "power." The word toils comes from the French toiles, meaning "cloths," and also used for the nets put round part of a wood, in which birds are being preserved for shooting, to prevent their escaping. The expression to "turn" or be "at bay," by which we mean that there is no chance of escape, but that the person in such a situation must either give in or fight, comes from[146] hunting. The hare or the fox is said to be "at bay" when it comes to a wall or other object which prevents its running farther, and so turns and faces its pursuers. Bay is the deep barking of the hounds.

The word crestfallen, by which we mean looking ashamed and depressed, comes from the old sport of cock-fighting. The bird whose crest (or tuft of hair on the head) drooped after the fight was naturally the one which had been beaten. The word pounce comes from hawking, pounces being the old word for a hawk's claws. The word haggard, which now generally means worn and sometimes a little wild-looking through grief or anxiety, was originally the name given to a hawk caught, not, like most hawks used for hawking, when it was quite young, but when it was already grown up. Such a hawk would naturally have a wild look, and would never become so tame as the birds caught young.

Several words meaning to entice a person come from fowling. We speak of persons being "decoyed" when we mean that they are deceived into going to some dangerous place. The person who entices them away is called a "decoy;" but the first use of the word was to describe a duck trained to induce other ducks to fly or walk into nets laid over ponds by trappers. Another word of this kind is allure, which means to persuade a person to do something by making it seem very attractive. This word really means to bring a person (originally an[147] animal) to the "lure" or "bait" prepared to catch him.

The word trap, which may now mean to show a person to be guilty by a trick, or to put him in the wrong in some way, is a metaphorical use. The word literally means to catch an animal in a trap.

Many words contain metaphors drawn from the older and simpler trades. We speak of a thing being "brand-new"—that is, as new as though just stamped with a "brand" or iron stamp. Another expression which has changed its meaning a little with time used to have exactly the same meaning. We now say a person looks "spick and span" when he or she is very neatly dressed. Formerly the expression was "spick and span new"—that is, as new as a spike (or spoon) just made or a chip newly cut. We may safely say that very few people who now use the expression "spick and span" have any idea of what it means literally. The metaphor is well hidden, but it is there.

Another metaphor, connected with metals and coins, is contained in the word sterling. We speak of "sterling qualities" or a "sterling character" in praising people for being straightforward and truthful, and not boastful. But the expression originally applied only to metals and coins. Sterling gold or silver is gold or silver of a certain standard of purity and not mixed with too much of any base metal.

Even the art of the baker has given us a word[148] with a hidden metaphor. We speak of sending out another "batch" of men to the front; but batch originally meant, and still means, the loaves of bread produced at one baking. It is now used generally to describe a number of things coming together or in a set.

The butcher's shop has given us the word shambles, by which we now mean a place of slaughter. Thus we speak of a terrible battlefield as a "shambles." This metaphor is really due to a mistake. People came to think that a shambles was a singular noun meaning slaughter-house, or place where cattle were killed; but really the shambles were the benches on which the meat was spread for sale.

We speak of a person being the "tool" of another, and this is a metaphor taken from the general idea of work. The "tool" is merely used by the other person for some purpose of his own, just as a workman uses his tools. The greatest poem, or book, or picture of a poet, writer, or painter is often described as a "masterpiece." This word now means a "splendid piece of work," but in the Middle Ages a "masterpiece" was a piece of work by which a person working at a trade showed himself sufficiently good to be allowed to be a "master." Before that he was a "journeyman," and worked for a master himself, and, earlier still, an apprentice merely learning his trade. We often now use the expression to try one's "'prentice hand" on a[149] thing when we mean that we are going to do a thing for the first time.

The commonest actions have naturally given us most metaphorical words, for these were the actions of which the word-makers were most easily reminded. We speak of our passions or emotions being "kindled," taking the metaphor from the common action of lighting a fire.

The two words lord and lady contain very homely metaphors. The lord was the "loaf-keeper," in Old English hlaford, the person on whom the household depended for their food. The lady might even make the bread, and often did so; and the word lady comes from hlæfdigedig being the Old English word for knead.

The common word maul may mean to beat and bruise a person, but it means more often merely to handle something carelessly and roughly. Literally it means "to hit with a hammer," and comes from maul or mall, the name of a certain very heavy kind of hammer; so that when a child is told not to "maul" a book, it is literally being told not to hit it with a heavy hammer.

We have made many metaphorical words from joining together two Latin words and making a new meaning. We speak of a person having an "obsession" about something when he is always thinking of one thing. But the word obsession comes from the Latin word obsidere, "to besiege;" and so in the word obsession the constant thought[150] is pictured as continually trying to gain entrance into the mind. We use the word besiege in the same metaphorical sense. We speak of being "besieged" with questions, and so on.

Another word used now most often metaphorically comes also from this idea of siege warfare. In all fortified places there are holes at intervals along the walls of defence, through which the defenders may shoot at the attackers. These are called "loop-holes." This word is now used much oftener in a figurative sense than to describe the actual thing. When two persons are arguing and one has plainly shown the other to be wrong, we say he has "not a loophole" of escape from the other's reasoning. Or if a person objects very much to doing something, and makes many excuses, every one of which is shown to be worthless, we again say he has "no loophole for escape."

Every child has heard of the Crusades, in which the nobles and knights and soldiers of the Middle Ages went to fight against the Turks to win back the Holy Sepulchre. These wars were called "crusades," from the cross which the Crusaders wore as badges. The word was made from the Latin word crux, which means "cross." But crusade has now become a general word. We speak of a "temperance crusade," of a "peace crusade," and so on. The word has come to have the general meaning of efforts made by people for something which they believe to be good; but literally every[151] person who works for such a "crusade" is a knight buckling on his armour, signed with the cross, and sallying forth to the East.

This word sally also comes from siege warfare. A "sally" means a rush of defenders from a besieged place, attempting to get past the besiegers by taking them by surprise. It also has the more general meaning of an excursion, such as the going forth to a crusade. It means literally a "leaping out," and comes from the Latin word salire, "to leap." The word sally is also used to mean a sudden lively remark generally rather against some person or thing. It is interesting to notice that the fish salmon also probably takes its name from this Latin word meaning "to leap."

Any child with a dictionary can find for himself many hidden metaphors in the commonest words; and he will learn a great deal and amuse himself at the same time.




There is one group of metaphorical words which is specially interesting for the stories of the past which they tell us if we examine into their meaning. Many names of ancient tribes and nations, and some names of modern peoples, have come to be used as general words; but the new meanings they have now tell us what other peoples have thought of the nations bearing these names in history.

One of the best things that can be said about a boy or a girl is that he or she is "frank," by which we mean open and straightforward. The Franks were, of course, the Teutonic tribe which conquered Gaul (the country we now call France) in the sixth century. Unlike the English when they conquered the Britons, the Franks mixed with the Gauls and the Roman population which they conquered; but for a long time the Franks were the only people who were altogether free. From this fact the word frank came into use, meaning "free." A "frank" person is one who speaks out freely and without restraint.[153]

The name Frank has given us a word with a very pleasant meaning, but this was not the case with all the Teutonic tribes which broke in upon the Roman Empire. A person who is very uncivilized in his manners is sometimes called a "Goth." The word is often especially used to describe a person who does not appreciate pictures and books and works of art. Sometimes architects will pull down beautiful old buildings to make place for new, and the people who appreciate beautiful things describe them as "Goths." More often, perhaps, the word Vandal is used to describe such people. The Goths and Vandals were two of the fiercest and most barbaric of the German tribes which overran the Roman Empire from the third to the fifth century. They showed no respect for the beautiful buildings and the great works of art which were spread over the empire. They robbed and burned like savages, and in a few years destroyed many of the beautiful things which had been made with so much care and skill by the Greek and Roman artists. So deep an impression did their destructiveness make on the world of that time that their names have been handed down through sixteen centuries, and are used to-day in the unpleasant sense of wilful destroyers of beautiful things.

The words barbarian and barbarous are used in the same way. We describe a child who behaves in a rough way as "a little barbarian," or a grown-up person without ordinary good manners as "a[154] mere barbarian." And the word barbarous has an even worse meaning. It is used to describe very coarse, uncivilized behaviour; but most often it has also the sense of cruelty as well as coarseness. Thus we speak of the barbarous behaviour of the Germans in Belgium. But when the word barbarous was first used it meant merely "foreign."

To the Greeks there were only two classes of people—Greeks, and non-Greeks or "barbarians." The name barbarian meant a bearded man, and came from the Greek word barbaros. The Greeks were clean-shaven, and distinguished themselves from the "bearded" peoples who knew nothing of Greek civilization. The Romans conquered Greece, and learned much from its civilization. To them all who were not Greeks or Romans were "barbarians." Some Roman writers, like Cicero, use the word in the modern sense of unmannerly or even savage, but this was not a common use. St. Paul was a Roman citizen, for he belonged to Tarsus, a city in Asia Minor which had been given full Roman rights; but he was a Greek by birth, and he uses the word in the Greek way. He speaks of all men being equal according to the Christian religion, saying, "There is neither Greek nor ... barbarian, bond nor free."

The word slave, again, contains in itself whole chapters of European history. It comes from the word Slav. The Slavs are the race of people to which the Russians, Poles, and many other nations in the East of Europe belong. The Great War has[155] been partly fought for the freedom of the small Slav nations, of which Serbia is one. The Slavs have a long history of oppression and tyranny behind them. They have been subject to stronger nations, such as the Turks, and, in Hungary, the Magyars. The first "slaves" in mediæval Europe belonged to this race, and the word "slave" is only another form of Slav. The word gives us an idea of the impression which the misfortunes of the Slavs made on the people of the Middle Ages.

The words Turk and Tartar have almost the opposite meaning to slave when they are used in a general sense. We call an unmanageable baby a "young Turk," and in this expression we have the idea of all the trouble the Turks have given the people of Europe since they swarmed in from the East in the twelfth century. The word Turk in this sense is now generally used amusingly to describe a troublesome child; but a grown-up person with a very quick temper or very difficult to get on with is often described also, chiefly in fun, as a "Tartar." Tartar is the name of the race of people to which the Turks, Cossacks, and several other peoples belong. The name by which they called themselves was Tatar; but Europeans changed it to Tartar, from the Latin word Tartarus, which means "hell." This gives us some idea of the impression these fierce people made on mediæval Europe—an impression which is kept in memory by the present humorous use of the word.[156]

It is chiefly Eastern peoples whose names have passed into common words meaning fierce and cruel people. Our fairy tales are full of tales of "ogres." It is not quite certain, but it is probable that this word comes from Hungarian. The chief people of Hungary are the Magyars; but the first person who used the name Hungarian in the sense of "ogre" probably did not know this, but thought of them as Huns, or perhaps Tartars, and therefore as very fierce, cruel people. The first person who is known to have used it is Perrault, a French writer of fairy tales in the seventeenth century.

The Great War has given us another of these national names used in a new way. Many people referred to the Germans all through the war as the "Huns." The Huns were half-savage people, who in the early Middle Ages moved about in great hordes over Europe killing and burning. They were at last conquered in East and West, and finally disappeared from history. But their name remained as a synonym for cruelty. The Kaiser, in an unfortunate speech, exhorted his soldiers to make themselves as terrible as Huns; and when people heard of the ill-treatment of the Belgians when their country was invaded at the beginning of the war, they said that the Germans had indeed behaved like the Huns of long ago. The name clung to them, and during the war, when people spoke of the "Huns," they generally meant the Germans, and not the fierce, half-savage little men who fol[157]lowed their famous chief Attila, plundering and burning through Europe about fifteen centuries ago.

Another name with a somewhat similar meaning is assassin, which most people would not guess to have ever been the name of a collection of people. An assassin is a person who arranges beforehand to take some one by surprise and kill him. But the original assassins were an Eastern people who believed that the murder of people of a religion other than their own was pleasing to their God. The Arabs first called this sect by the name hashshash, which the scholars of the Middle Ages translated into the Latin assassinus. The Arab name was given because these people were great eaters of "hashish" or dry herbs.

The name Arab itself has come to be used with a special meaning which has nothing to do with the people whose name it is. A rough little boy who spends most of his time in the streets is described as a "street Arab," and this comes from the fact that we think of the Arabs as a wandering people. The "street Arab" is a wanderer also, of another sort.

Another name of a wandering people has also come to have a special meaning in English. The French word for gipsy is bohemien, and from this we have the English word Bohemian. When we say a person is "a Bohemian," we mean that he lives in the way he really likes, and does not care whether other people think he is quite respectable[158] or not. It was the novelist Thackeray who first used the word Bohemian in this sense.

Bohemia is, of course, the name of a country in Germany, but it is also used figuratively to describe the region or community in which "Bohemian" or unconventional people live.

The word gipsy itself is used to describe a very dark person, or almost any kind of people travelling round the country in caravans. But gipsy really means "Egyptian." When the real gipsies first appeared in England, in the sixteenth century, people thought they came from Egypt, and so gave them this name.

Another name often given to very dark people is blackamoor, a name by which negroes are sometimes described. This really means "Black Moor," and shows us how confused the people who first used the word were about different races of people. The Moors were a quite different people from the negroes, being related to the Arabs. But to some people every one who is not white is a "nigger." Nigger comes, of course, from negro.

The Moors inhabited a part of North-west Africa. It was also a North African people, the Algerians, who gave us the word Zouave. Every one has seen since the Great War began pictures of the handsome and quaintly-dressed French soldiers called "Zouaves." Perhaps some children wondered why they wore such a strange Eastern dress. It is because the Zouave regiments, which are now chiefly[159] composed of Frenchmen, were originally formed from an Algerian mountain tribe called the Zouaves—Algeria being a French possession. The name is almost forgotten as that of a foreign tribe, but has become instead the name of these light infantry French regiments.

The name of the most famous of Eastern nations now spread all over the world, the Jews, has become a term of reproach. For hundreds of years after the spread of Christianity over Europe the Jews were looked upon as a wicked and hateful people. In many countries they were not allowed to live at all; in others a portion of the towns was set apart for them, and they were allowed to live there because they were useful as money-lenders.

Naturally the Jews, persecuted and distrusted, made as much profit as they could out of the people who treated them in this way. Perhaps with the growth of their wealth they grew to love money for its own sake. In any case, before long the Jews were looked upon as people who were decidedly ungenerous in the matter of money. Everybody knows the story of the Jew Shylock in Shakespeare's great play "The Merchant of Venice." Nowadays a person who is not really a Jew is often described contemptuously as a "Jew" if he shows himself mean in money matters; and some people even use a slang expression, "to jew," meaning to cheat or be very mean over a money affair.

Another name of a nation which stands for dis[160]honesty of another sort (and much more excusable) is Gascon. The Gascons are the natives of Gascony, a province in the south of France. It is proverbial among other Frenchmen that the Gascons are always boasting, and even in English we sometimes use the word Gascon to describe a great boaster, while gasconade is now a common term for a boastful story.

Another word which we use to describe this sort of thing is romance. We often hear the expression, "Oh, he is only romancing," by which we mean that a person is saying what is not true, inventing harmless details to improve his story. The word romance has now many meanings, generally containing the idea of imagination. A person is called "romantic" when he or she is full of imaginings of great deeds and events. Or we say a person is a "romantic figure" when we mean that from his looks or speech, or from some other qualities, he seems fit for adventures.

But romance, from which we get romantic, was at first merely an adjective used to describe the languages which are descended from the Latin language, like French, Italian, and Spanish. In the Middle Ages scholars wrote in Latin, but poets and taletellers began to write in the language of the people—the romance languages in France and Italy. The tales of adventure and things which we should now call "romantic" were written in the "romance" languages; and from being used to describe the language, the word came to be used to describe the[161] kind of story contained in these poems and tales. Gradually the words romantic and romance got the meaning which they have to-day.

We have seen in another chapter that we have a number of words taken from the names of persons in ancient history. We have also a modern and special use of words formed from the names of some of the ancient nations. We saw that we use the word Spartan to describe any very severe discipline, or a person who willingly uses such discipline for himself.

There are several other such names used in a more or less complimentary way. We speak of "Roman" firmness, and every one who has read Roman history will agree that this is a good use of the word. On the other hand, we have the expression "Punic faith" to describe treachery. The Romans had had many reasons for mistrusting their great enemy, the Carthaginians, and they used this expression, Fides Punica, which we have simply borrowed from the Latin.

We use the expression "Attic (or Athenian) salt" to describe a very refined wit or humour. The Romans used the word sal, or "salt," in this sense of wit, and their expression sal Atticum shows the high opinion they had of the Athenians, from whom, indeed, they learned much in art and in literature. It is this same expression which we use to-day, having borrowed and translated it also from the Latin.[162]

We speak of a "Parthian shot" when some one finishes a conversation or an argument with a sharp or witty remark, leaving no chance for an answer. This expression comes from the story of the Parthians, a people who lived on the shores of the Caspian Sea, and were famous as good archers among the ancient nations.

The way in which the names of nations and peoples have taken on more general meanings gives us many glimpses into history.




Since the earliest ages men have made war on one another, and we have a great crowd of words, new and old, connected with war. Some of these are very simple words, especially the names of early weapons; some are more elaborate and more interesting in their derivation.

The chief of all weapons, the sword, has its simple name from the Old English language itself, and so has the spear. But it was after the Norman conquest of England that war became more elaborate, with armoured knights and fortified towers, and nearly all the names connected with war of this sort come to us from the French of that time. The word war itself comes from the Old French word werre. Battle, too, comes from the French of this time; and so do armour, arms, fortress, siege, conquer, pursue, tower, banner, and many other words. All of these words came into French originally from Latin. Knight, however, is an Old English word. The French word for knight, chevalier, never passed into English, but from it we got the word chivalry.[164]

The great weapons of modern warfare are the gun and the bayonet. There are, of course, many kinds of guns, small and large. Formerly it was the fashion to call the big guns by the name of cannon, but in the great European war this word has hardly been used at all. They are all "guns," from the rifles carried by the foot soldiers to the Maxims and the great howitzers which each require a company of men to serve them. The word cannon comes from the French canon, and is sometimes spelt in this way in English too. It means "great tube."

The derivation of the word gun is more interesting. Gunpowder was not really discovered until the fifteenth century, but long before this a kind of machine, or gun, for hurling great stones, or sometimes arrows, had been used. These instruments were called by the Latin word ballista (for the Romans had also had machines of this sort), which comes from the Greek word ballo, meaning "throw." In the Middle Ages weapons of this sort were called by proper names, just as ships are now. A common name for them was the woman's name Gunhilda, which would be turned into Gunna for short. It is probably from this that we get the word gun. The most interesting of all the guns used in the Great War has only a number for its name. It is the famous French '75, and takes this name merely from a measurement.

The special weapon of the foot soldier, or infantryman, is the bayonet. This is a short blade[165] which the foot soldier fixes on the muzzle of his rifle before he advances to an attack. In the trenches his weapon is the rifle; before the order is given to go "over the parapet"—that is, to climb out of the trenches, to run forward and attack the enemy at close quarters—he "fixes his bayonet." The word bayonet probably comes from Bayonne, the name of a town in France.

The word infantry itself, now used to describe regiments of foot soldiers armed with the ordinary weapons, comes to us, like most of our words connected with war, from the French. We have already seen that the words of this sort which we borrowed in the Middle Ages were Norman-French words descended from Latin. But after the use of gunpowder in war became general there were many new terms; and as at this time the Italians were the people who fought most, and wrote most about fighting, many words relating to the methods of war after the close of the Middle Ages were Italian words. It is true that we learned them from the French, for the great writers on military matters in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were Frenchmen. But they borrowed many words from the Italian writers of the fifteenth century. One of these words is infantry, which means a number of junior soldiers or "infants"—the regiments of foot soldiers being made up of young men, while the older and more experienced soldiers made up the cavalry.[166]

This, again, is a word which we borrowed from the French, and which the French had borrowed from the Italians. Cavalry is, of course, the name for horse soldiers, and the Italian word cavalleria, from which it comes, was itself derived from the Latin word caballus, "a horse." The general weapon for a cavalryman is the "sabre," a sword with a curved blade. This, again, comes to us from the French, but was probably originally an Eastern word. It is quite common for officers, in reckoning the number of men in an army, to speak of so many "bayonets" and so many "sabres," instead of "infantry" and "cavalry."

Many of the words which people began to use familiarly during the great European war first came into English in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a time when it seemed to be the ordinary state of affairs for some, at least, of the European countries to be at war with one another. Bivouac is a word which was used a good deal in descriptions of earlier wars. It is a German word, which came into English at the time of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) in Germany. It means an encampment for a short time only (often for the night), without tents. It plainly has not much connection with modern trench warfare.

Another word which came from the German at the same time may serve to remind us that the German soldier of to-day is not very much unlike his ancestors of three hundred years ago. The[167] word plunder was originally a German word meaning "bed-clothes" or other household furnishing. From the fact that so much of this kind of thing was carried off in the fighting of this terrible war, the word came to have its present sense of anything taken violently from its rightful owner. It must be confessed that the word was also used a great deal in the English Civil War, which was, of course, fought at the same time as the end of the Thirty Years' War.

It was also in the English Civil War that we first find the word capitulation, which now generally means to surrender on certain conditions. Before this, capitulation had more the meaning which it still keeps in recapitulation. It meant an arrangement under headings, and the word probably was transferred from describing the terms of surrender to describing the surrender itself.

One of the many words connected with war which came into the English language from the French in the seventeenth century was parade, which means the showing off of troops, and came into French from an Italian word which itself came from the Latin word parare, "to prepare." Another of these words which has been much used in descriptions of the battles of the Great War, and especially in the "Battle of the Rivers" in the autumn of 1914, is pontoon. Pontoons are flat-bottomed boats by means of which soldiers make a temporary bridge across rivers, generally when the permanent bridges have[168] been destroyed by the enemy. The word is ponton in French, and comes from the Latin pons, "a bridge." Most words of this sort in French ending in on take the ending oon in English. Thus ballon in French becomes balloon in English. Barracks also comes from the French baraque, and the French had it from the Spanish or Italian barraca or baraca; but no one knows whence these languages got the word.

The word bombard, also much used during the Great War, came into English at the end of the seventeenth century from the French word bombarder, which came from the Latin word bombarda, an engine for throwing stones, and which in its turn came from the Latin word bombus, meaning "hum." Even a stone hurled with great force through the air makes a humming noise, and the "singing" of the bombs and shells hurled through the air became a very familiar sound to the soldiers who fought in the Great War. The word bomb, too, comes from the French bombe.

The words brigade and brigadier also came from the French at this time. So, too, did the word fusilier, a name which some British regiments still keep (for example, the Royal Fusiliers), though they are no longer armed with the old-fashioned musket known as the fusil, the name of which also came from the French, which had it from the Latin word focus, "a hearth" or "fire." It is curious how the names of modern British regiments, not even carry[169]ing the weapons from which they have their names, should take us back in this way to the days of early Rome.

The word patrol, which was used very much especially in the early days of the Great War, has an interesting origin. It may mean a small body of soldiers or police sent out to go round a garrison, or camp, or town, to keep watch; or, again, it may mean a small body of troops sent on before an advancing army to "reconnoitre"—that is, to spy out the land, the position of the enemy, etc. The word patrol literally means to "paddle in mud," for the French word, patrouille, from which it came into English in the seventeenth century, came from an earlier word with this meaning.

The word campaign, by which we mean a number of battles fought within a certain time, and generally according to a plan arranged beforehand, also came from the French word campagne at the beginning of the eighteenth century—a century of great wars and many campaigns. The word was more used in those earlier wars than it is now, because in those days the armies used practically never to fight in the winter, and so each summer during a war had its "campaign." The earlier meaning of the French word campagne, and one which it still keeps besides this later meaning, is "open country," the kind of country over which battles were generally fought.

Recruit is another word which came into English from the French at this time. It, again, is a word[170] which has been used a great deal in the European war. It came from the French word recrue, which also means a newly-enlisted soldier. The French word croître, from which recrue came, was derived from the Latin word crescere, "to increase."

All these words, we should notice, have now a figurative use. We speak of "recruits" not only to the army, but to any society. Thus we may say a person is a valuable "recruit" to the cause of temperance, etc. A "campaign" can be fought not only on the field of battle, but through newspapers, meetings, etc. It is in this sense that we speak of the "campaign" for women's suffrage, etc.

Many words relating to the dress and habits of our soldiers have curious origins. We say now quite naturally that a man is "in khaki" when we mean that he is a soldier, because the peculiar yellow-brown colour which is known as "khaki" is now the regular colour of the uniform of the British soldier. In earlier days the British soldier was generally a "redcoat," but in modern trench warfare it is so important that the enemy should not be able to pick out easily the position of groups of men in order to "shell" them, that the armies of all nations use gray or brown or other dull shades. Khaki is a word which came into English through the South African War, when the policy of clothing the soldiers in this way was first begun on a large scale. It comes from a Hindu word, khak, which means "dust." The object of this kind of clothing[171] for our soldiers is that they shall not be easily distinguished from the soil of the trenches and battle-fields.

When a soldier or officer or any other person who is generally in uniform wears ordinary clothes we say he is "in mufti." This, again, is an Arab word meaning "Mohammedan priest."

The soldiers in the Great War used many new words which became a regular part of their speech. They were chiefly "slang," but it is quite possible that some of them may pass into good English. We shall see something of them in a later chapter.




Every child knows what a proverb is, though every child may not, perhaps, be able to say in its own words just what makes a proverb. A proverb has been defined as "a wise saying in a few words." At any rate, if it is not always wise, the person who first said it and the people who repeat it think it is. Most proverbs are very old, and take us back, just as we saw that words formed from the names of animals do, to the early days before the growth of large towns.

In those days life was simple, and people thought chiefly of simple things. When they thought children or young persons were going to do something foolish they gave them good advice, and tried to teach them a little lesson from their own experience of what happened among the common things around them.

A boy or a girl who was very enthusiastic about some new thing was warned that "new brooms sweep clean." When several people were anxious to help in doing one thing, they were pushed aside[173] (just as they are now) with the remark that "too many cooks spoil the broth." The people who use this proverb now generally know very little about broth and still less about cooking. They say it because it expresses a certain truth in a striking way; but the first person who said it knew all about cooks and kitchens, and spoke out of the fullness of her (it must have been a woman) experience.

Again, a person who is discontented with the way in which he lives and is anxious to change it is warned lest he jump "out of the frying-pan into the fire." Again the wisdom comes from the kitchen. And we may remark that these sayings are difficult to contradict.

But there are other proverbs which contain statements about birds and animals and things connected with nature, and sometimes these seem only half true to the people who think about them. We sometimes hear it said of a person who is very quiet and does not speak much that "still waters run deep." This is true in Nature. A little shallow brook will babble along, while the surface of a deep pool will have hardly a ripple on it. But a quiet person is not necessarily a person of great character or lofty thoughts. Some people hardly speak at all, because, as a matter of fact, they find nothing to say. They are quiet, not because they are "deep," but because they are shallow. Still, the proverb is not altogether foolish, for when people[174] use it about some one they generally mean that they think this particular quiet person is one with so much going on in his or her mind that there is no temptation to speak much. "Empty vessels make most sound" is another of these proverbs which is literally true, but is not always true when applied to people. A person who talks a great deal with very little to say quite deserves to have this proverb quoted about him or her. But there are some people who are great talkers just because they are so full of ideas, and to them the proverb does not apply.

Another of these nature proverbs, and one which has exasperated many a late riser, is, "The early bird catches the worm." Many people have inquired in their turn, "And what about the worm?" But the proverb is quite true, all the same.

Again, "A rolling stone gathers no moss" is a proverb which has been repeated over and over again with many a headshake when young people have refused to settle down, but have changed from one thing to another and roamed from place to place. And this is quite true. But we may ask, "Is it a good thing for stones to gather moss?" After all, the adventurous people sometimes win fortunes which they could never have won if they had been afraid to move about. And the adventurous people, too, win other things—knowledge and experience—which are better than money. Of course the proverb is wise to a certain degree, for mere[175] foolish changing without any reason cannot benefit any one. But things can gather rust as well as moss by keeping still, and this is certainly not a good thing.

"Where there's a will there's a way." So the old proverb says, and this is probably nearly always true, except that no one can do what is impossible. "Look before you leap" is also good advice for impetuous people, who are apt to do a thing rashly and wonder afterwards whether they have done wisely.

The most interesting thing about proverbs to the student of words is that they are always made up of simple words such as early peoples always used. But we go on repeating them, using sometimes words which we should never choose in ordinary speech, and yet never noticing that they are old-fashioned and quaint.

It is true that there are some sayings which are so often quoted that they seem almost like proverbs. But a line of poetry or prose, however often it may be quoted, is not a proverb if it is taken from the writings of a person whom we know to have used it for the first time. These are merely quotations. No one can say who was the first person to use any particular proverb. Even so long ago as the days of the great Greek philosopher Aristotle many proverbs which are used in nearly every land to-day were ages old. Aristotle describes them as "fragments of an elder wisdom."[176]

Clearly, then, however true some quotations from Shakespeare and Pope and Milton may be, and however often repeated, they are not proverbs.

"A little learning is a dangerous thing."

This line expresses a deep truth, and is as simply expressed as any proverb, but it is merely a quotation from Pope. Again,

"Fools rush in where angels fear to tread"

is true enough, and well enough expressed to bear frequent quotation, but it is not a "fragment of elder wisdom." It is merely Pope's excellent way of saying that foolish people will interfere in delicate matters in which wise people would never think of meddling. Here, again, the language is not particularly simple as in proverbs, and this will help us to remember that quotations are not proverbs. There is, however, a quotation from a poem by Patrick A. Chalmers, a present-day poet, which has become as common as a proverb:—

"What's lost upon the roundabouts
We pulls up on the swings."

The fact that this is expressed simply and even ungrammatically does not, of course, turn it into a proverb.

Though many of the proverbs which are repeated in nearly all the languages of the world are without date, we know the times when a few of them were first quoted. In Greek writings we already[177] find the half-true proverb, "Rolling stones gather no moss;" and, "There's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip," which warned the Greeks, as it still warns us, of the uncertainty of human things. We can never be sure of anything until it has actually happened. In Latin writings we find almost the same idea expressed in the familiar proverb, "A bird in hand is worth two in the bush"—a fact which no one will deny.

St. Jerome, who translated the Bible from Greek into Latin in the fourth century and wrote many wise books besides, quotes two proverbs which we know well: "It is not wise to look a gift horse in the mouth," and, "Liars must have good memories." The first again deals, like so many of the early proverbs, with the knowledge of animals. A person who knows about horses can tell from the state of their mouths much about their age, health, and general value. But, the proverb warns us, it is neither gracious nor wise to examine too closely what is given to us freely. It may not be quite to our liking, but after all it is a present.

The proverb, "Liars must have good memories," means, of course, that people who tell lies are liable to forget just what tale they have told on any particular occasion, and may easily contradict themselves, and so show that they have been untruthful. It is necessary, then, for such a person, unless he wishes to be found out, to remember exactly what lies he has told.[178]

Many proverbs have remained in the English language, not so much for the wisdom they contain as for the way in which they express it. Some are in the form of a rhyme—as, "Birds of a feather flock together," and "East and west, home is best." These are always favourites.

Others catch the ear because of their alliteration; that is to say, two or three of their words begin with the same letter. Examples of this are: "Look before you leap." The proverb "A stitch in time saves nine" has something of both these attractions, though it is not exactly a rhyme. Other examples of alliteration in proverbs are: "Delays are dangerous," "Speech is silvern, silence is golden."

A few proverbs are witty as well as wise, and these are, perhaps, the best of all, since they do not, as a rule, exasperate the people to whom they are quoted, as many proverbs are apt to do. Usually these witty proverbs are metaphors.




Every child has some idea of what is meant by "slang," because most schoolboys and schoolgirls have been corrected for using it. By slang we mean words and expressions which are not the ordinary words for the ideas which they express, but which are invented as new names or phrases for these ideas, and are at first known and used only by a few people who use them just among themselves. There are all kinds of slang—slang used by schoolboys and schoolgirls in general, slang used by the pupils of each special school, slang used by soldiers, a different slang used by their officers, and even slang used by members of Parliament.

The chief value of slang to the people who use it is that at first, at any rate, it is only understood by the inventors and their friends. The slang of any public school is continually changing, because as soon as the expressions become known and used by other people the inventors begin to invent once more, and get a new set of slang terms. Sometimes a slang word will be used for years by one[180] class of people without becoming common because it describes something of which ordinary people have no experience, and therefore do not mention.

The making of slang is really the making of language. Early men must have invented new words just as the slang-makers do to-day. The difference is that there are already words to describe the things which the slang words describe. It may seem curious, then, that people should trouble to find new words. The reason they do so is often that they want to be different from other people, and sometimes because the slang word is much more expressive than the ordinary word.

This is one reason that the slang of a small number of people spreads and becomes general. Sometimes the slang word is so much better in this way than the old word that it becomes more generally used than it, and finds its way into the ordinary dictionaries. When this happens it is no longer slang.

But, as a rule, slang is ugly or meaningless, and it is very often vulgar. However common its use may become, the best judges will not use such expressions, and they remain mere slang.

A writer on the subject of slang has given us two good examples of meaningless and expressive slang. The people who first called marmalade "swish" could have no reason for inventing the new name except to seem odd and different from other people. Swish is certainly not a more expressive or descriptive word than marmalade. The one means noth[181]ing, while the other has an interesting history coming to us through the French from two old Greek words meaning "apple" and "honey."

The expressive word which this writer quotes is swag, a slang word for "stolen goods." There is no doubt that swag is a much more expressive word than any of the ordinary words used to describe the same thing. One gets a much more vivid picture from the sentence, "The thieves got off with the swag," than he would had the word prize or even plunder or booty been used. Yet there is no sign that the word swag will become good English. Expressive as it is, there is a vulgar flavour about it which would make people who are at all fastidious in their language very unwilling to use it.

Yet many words and phrases which must have seemed equally vulgar when first used have come to be accepted as good English. And in fact much of our language, and especially metaphorical words and phrases, were once slang. It will be interesting to examine some examples of old slang which have now become good English.

One common form of slang is the use of expressions connected with sport as metaphors in speaking of other things. Thus it is slang to say that we were "in at the death" when we mean that we stayed to the end of a meeting or performance. This is, of course, a metaphor from hunting. People who follow the hounds until the fox is caught and killed are "in at the death." Another such expression is[182] to "toe the mark." We say a person is made to "toe the line" or "toe the mark" when he or she is subjected to discipline; but it is a slang phrase, and only good English in its literal meaning of standing with the toes touching a line in starting a race, etc., so that all may have an equal chance.

We say a person has "hit below the belt" if we think he has done or said something unfair in an argument or quarrel. This is a real slang phrase, and is only good English in the literal sense in which it is used in boxing, where it is against the rules to "hit below the belt." The term "up to you," by which is expressed in a slang way that the person so addressed is expected to do something, is a slang expression borrowed from cards.

Even from these few examples we can see that there are various degrees in slang. A person who would be content to use the expression "toe the line" might easily think it rather coarse to accuse an opponent of "hitting below the belt." There comes a time when some slang almost ceases to be slang, and though good writers will not use it in writing, quite serious people will use it in merely speaking. It has passed out of the stage of mere slang to become a "colloquialism."

The phrases we have quoted from present-day sport when used in a general sense are still for the most part slang; but many phrases taken from old sports and games, and which must have been slang[183] in their time, are now quite good English and even dignified style. We speak of "wrestling with a difficulty" or "parrying a thrust" (a metaphor taken, of course, from fencing), of "winning the palm," and so on, all of which are not only picturesque but quite dignified English.

A very common form of slang is what are called "clipped" words. Such words are gov for "governor," bike for "bicycle," flu for "influenza," indi for "indigestion," rec for "recreation," loony for "lunatic," pub for "public house," exam for "examination," maths for "mathematics." All of these words are real slang, and most of them are quite vulgar. There is no sign that any of them will become good English. The most likely to survive in ordinary speech is perhaps exam.

Yet we have numbers of short words which have now become the ordinary names for certain articles, and yet which are only short forms of the original names of those articles. The first man who said bus for "omnibus" must have seemed quite an adventurer. He probably struck those who heard him as a little vulgar; but hardly any one now uses the word omnibus (which is in itself an interesting word, being the Latin word meaning "for all"), except, perhaps, the omnibus companies in their posters. Again, very few people use the full phrase "Zoological Gardens" now. Children are taken to the Zoo. Cycle for "bicycle" is quite dignified and proper, though bike is certainly vulgar. In the[184] hurry of life to-day people more frequently phone than "telephone" to each other, and we can send a wire instead of a "telegram" without any risk of vulgarity. The word cab replaced the more magnificent "cabriolet," and then with the progress of invention we got the "taxicab." It is now the turn of cab to be dropped, and when we are in haste we hail a taxi. No one nowadays, except the people who sell them, speaks of "pianofortes." They have all become pianos in ordinary speech.

The way in which good English becomes slang is well illustrated by an essay of the great English writer Dean Swift, in the famous paper called "The Tatler," in 1710. He, as a fastidious user of English, was much vexed by what he called the "continual corruption of the English tongue." He objected especially to the clipping of words—the use of the first syllable of a word instead of the whole word. "We cram one syllable and cut off the rest," he said, "as the owl fattened her mice after she had cut off their legs to prevent their running away." One word the Dean seemed especially to hate—mob, which, indeed, was richer by one letter in his day, for he sometimes wrote it mobb. Mob is, of course, quite good English now to describe a disorderly crowd of people, and we should think it very curious if any one used the full expression for which it stands. Mob is short for the Latin phrase mobile vulgus, which means "excitable crowd."

Other words to which Swift objected, though[185] most of them are not the words of one syllable with which he declared we were "overloaded," and which he considered the "disgrace of our language," were banter, sham, bamboozle, bubble, bully, cutting, shuffling, and palming. We may notice that some of these words, such as banter and sham, are now quite good English, and most of the others have at least passed from the stage of slang into that of colloquialism.

The word bamboozle is still almost slang, though perhaps more common than it was two hundred years ago, when Swift attacked it. Even now we do not know where it came from. There was a slang word used at the time but now forgotten—bam, which meant a trick or practical joke; and some scholars have thought that bamboozle (which, of course, means "to deceive") came from this. On the other hand, it may have been the other way about, and that the shorter word came from the longer. The word bamboozle shows us how hard it is for meaningless slang to become good English even after a struggle of two hundred years.

We have seen how many slang words in English have become good English, so that people use with propriety expressions that would have seemed improper or vulgar fifty or ten or even five years ago. Other interesting words are some which are perfectly good English as now used, but which have been borrowed from other languages, and in those languages are or were mere slang. The word[186] bizarre, which we borrowed from the French, and which means "curious," in a fantastic or half-savage way, is a perfectly dignified word in English; but it must have been a slang word at one time in French. It meant long ago in French "soldierly," and literally "bearded"—that is, if it came from the Spanish word bizarra, "beard."

Another word which we use in English has a much less dignified use in French. We can speak of the calibre of a person, meaning the quality of his character or intellect; but in French the word calibre is only in ordinary speech applied to things. To speak of a "person of a certain calibre" in French is very bad slang indeed.

Again, the word fiasco, which we borrowed from the Italian, and which means the complete failure of something from which we had hoped much, was at first slang in Italian. It was applied especially to the failure of a play in a theatre. To break down was far fiasco, which literally means "make a bottle." The phrase does not seem to have any very clear meaning, but at any rate it is far removed from the dignified word fiasco as used in English.

The word sack as used in describing the sack of a town in war is a picturesque and even poetic word; but as it comes from the French sac, meaning "pack" or "plunder," it is really a kind of slang.

On the other hand, words which belong to quite good and ordinary speech in their own languages often become slang when adopted into another. A[187] slang word much used in America and sometimes in England (for American expressions are constantly finding their way into the English language) is vamoose, which means "depart." Vamoose comes from a quite ordinary Mexican word, vamos, which is Spanish for "let us go."

It is very interesting to find that many of our most respectable words borrowed from Latin have a slang origin. Sometimes these words were slang in Latin itself; sometimes they were used as slang only after they passed into English. The French word tête, which means "head," comes from the Latin testa, "a pot." (We have seen that this is the word from which we get our word test.) Some Romans, instead of using caput, the real Latin word for "head," would sometimes in slang fashion speak of some one's testa, or "pot," and from this slang word the French got their regular word for head.

The word insult comes from the Latin insultarc, which meant at first "to spring or leap at," and afterwards came to have the same meaning as it has with us. The persons who first used this expression in the second sense were really using slang, picturing a person who said something unpleasant to them as "jumping at them."

We have the same kind of slang in the expression "to jump down one's throat," when we mean "to complain violently of some one's behaviour." The word effrontery, which comes to us from the French effronterie, is really the same expression as the[188] vulgar terms face and cheek, meaning "impudence." For the word comes from the Latin frons, "the forehead."

An example of a word which was quite good English, and then came to be used as slang in a special sense, and then in this same special sense became good English again, is grit. The word used to mean in English merely "sand" or "gravel," and it came to mean especially the texture or grain of stones used for grinding. Then in American slang it came to be used to mean all that we mean now when we say a person has "grit"—namely, courage, and strength, and firmness. This use of the word seemed so good that it rapidly became good English; but the American slang-makers soon found another word to replace it, and now talk of people having "sand," which is not by any means so expressive, and will probably never pass out of the realm of slang.

An example of a word which was at first used as slang not many years ago, and is now, if not the most elegant English, at least a quite respectable word for newspaper use, is maffick. This word means to make a noisy show of joy over news of a victory. It dates from the relief of Mafeking by the British in 1900. When news of its relief came people at home seemed to go mad with joy. They rushed into the streets shouting and cheering, and there was a great deal of noise and confusion. It was noticed over and over again that there was no[189] "mafficking" over successes in the Great War. People felt it too seriously to make a great noise about it.

A slang word which has become common in England during the Great War is sträfe. This is the German word for "punish," and became quite familiar to English people through the hope and prayer to which the Germans were always giving expression that God would "sträfe" England. The soldiers caught hold of the word, and it was very much used in a humorous way both at home and abroad. But it is not at all likely to become a regular English word, and perhaps will not even remain as slang after the war.

Besides the fact that slang often becomes good English, we have to notice that good English often becomes slang. One of the most common forms of slang is to use words, and especially adjectives, which mean a great deal in themselves to describe quite small and ordinary things. To speak of a "splendid" or "magnificent" breakfast, for instance, is to use words out of proportion to the subject, though of course they are excellent words in themselves; but this is a mild form of slang.

There are many people now who fill their conversation with superlatives, although they speak of the most commonplace things. A theatrical performance will be "perfectly heavenly," an actress "perfectly divine." Apart from the fact that nothing and no one merely human can be "divine,"[190] divinity itself is perfection, and it is therefore not only unnecessary but actually incorrect to add "perfectly." A scene or landscape may very properly be described as "enchanting," but when the adjective is applied too easily it is a case of good English becoming slang.

Then, besides the use of superlative adjectives to describe things which do not deserve such descriptions, there is a crowd of rarer words used in a special sense to praise things.

Every one knows what a "stunning blow" is, but few people can ever have been stunned by the beauty of another's clothes. Yet the expression "stunning hat" or "stunning tie" is quite common. Expressions like a "ripping time" are even more objectionable, because they are even more meaningless.

Then, besides the slang use of terms of praise, there are also many superlatives expressing disgust which the slangmongers use instead of ordinary mild expressions of displeasure. To such people it is not simply "annoying" to have to wait for a lift on the underground railways; for them it is "perfectly sickening."

Horrid, a word which means so much if used properly, is applied to all sorts of slightly unpleasant things and people. When one thinks of the literal Latin meaning of this word ("so dreadful as to cause us to shudder"), the foolishness of using it so lightly is plain. People frequently now declare[191] that they have a "shocking cold"—a description which, again, is too violent for the subject.

Another form of slang is to combine a word which generally expresses unpleasant with one which expresses pleasant ideas. So we get such expressions as "awfully nice" and "frightfully pleased," which are actually contradictions in terms.

This kind of slang is the worst kind of all. It soon loses any spice of novelty. It is not really expressive, like some of the quaint terms of school or university slang, and it does a great deal of harm by tending to spoil the full force of some of our best and finest words. It is very difficult to avoid the use of slang if one is constantly hearing it, but, at any rate, any one who feels the beauty of language must soon be disgusted by this particular kind of slang.




We have seen in the chapter on "slang" how people are continually using old words in new ways, and how, through this, slang often becomes good English and good English becomes slang. The same thing has been going on all through the history of language. Other words besides those used as slang have been constantly getting new uses. Many English words to-day have quite different meanings from those which they had in the Middle Ages; some even have exactly opposite meanings to their original sense. Sometimes words keep both the old meaning and the new.

In this matter the English language is very different from the German. The English language has many words which the Germans have too, but their meanings are different. The Germans have kept the original meanings which these words had hundreds of years ago; but the thousands of words which have come down to us from the English language of a thousand years ago have nearly all changed their meanings.[193]

We have two of these old words which have now each two exactly opposite meanings. The word fast means sometimes "immovable," and sometimes it means the exact opposite—"moving rapidly." We say a key is "fast" in a lock when we cannot get it out, and we say a person runs "fast" when we mean that he runs quickly. The first meaning of steadiness is the original meaning; then the word came to be used to mean "moving steadily." A person who ran on, keeping up a steady movement, was said to run fast, and then it was easy to use the word for rapidity as well as steadiness in motion or position. This is how the word fast came to have two opposite meanings.

Another word, fine, has the same sort of history. We speak of a "fine needle" when we mean that it is thin, and a "fine baby" when we mean that it is fat. The first meaning is nearer to the original, which was "well finished off." Often a thing which had a great deal of "fine" workmanship spent on it would be delicate and "fine" in the first sense, and so the word came to have this meaning. On the other hand, the thing finished off in this way would generally be beautiful. People came to think of "fine" things as things to be admired, and as they like their babies to be fat, a fat baby will generally be considered a fine baby. It was in this kind of way that "fine" came to have its second meaning of "large."

The common adjectives glad and sad had quite[194] different meanings in Old English from those they have now. In Old English glad meant "shining," or "bright," but in a very short time it came to mean "cheerful." Now it means something rather different from this, for though we may speak of a "glad heart" or "glad spirit," such expressions are chiefly used in poetry. Generally in ordinary speech when we say that we are "glad" we mean that we are pleased about some special thing, as "glad that you have come."

Sad in Old English meant to have as much as one wanted of anything. Then it came to mean "calm" and "serious," perhaps from the idea that people who have all they want are in a mood to settle down and attend to things seriously. Already in Shakespeare's writings we find the word with its present meaning of "sorrowful." It has quite lost its earlier meaning, but has several special new meanings besides the general one of "sorrowful." A "sad tint," or colour, is one which is dull. "Sad bread" in the north of England is "heavy" bread which has not risen properly. Again, we describe as "sad" some people who are not at all sorrowful. We say a person is a "sad" liar when we mean that he is a hopeless liar.

The word tide, which we now apply to the regular rise and fall of the sea, used to mean in Old English "time;" and it still keeps this meaning in the words Christmastide, Whitsuntide, etc.

One common way in which words change is in[195] going from a general to a more special meaning. Thus in Old English the word chest meant "box" in general, but has come now to be used as the name of a special kind of box only, and also as the name of a part of the body. The first person who used the word in this sense must have thought of the "chest" as a box containing the lungs and the heart.

Glass is, of course, the name of the substance out of which we make our windows and some of our drinking vessels, etc., and this was at one time its only use; but we now use the name glass for several special articles—for example, a drinking-vessel, a telescope, a barometer, a mirror (or "looking-glass"), and so on. Copper is another word the meaning of which has become specialized in this way as time has gone on. From being merely the name of a metal it has come to be used for a copper coin and for a large cauldron especially used in laundry work. Another example of a rather different kind of this "specialization" which changes the meaning of words is the word congregation. Congregation used to mean "any gathering together of people in one place," and we still use the word congregate in this sense. Thus we might say "the people congregated in Trafalgar Square," but we should never think of speaking of a crowd listening to a lecturer there as a "congregation." The word has now come to mean an assembly for religious worship in a chapel or church.[196]

Some words have changed their meaning in just the opposite way. From having one special meaning they have come by degrees to have a much more general sense. The word bureau, which came into English from the French, meant at first merely a "desk" in both languages. It still has this meaning in both languages, but a wider meaning as well. It can now be used to describe an office (a place associated with the idea of desks). Thus we have "employment bureau," and can get English money for foreign at a "bureau de change." From this use of the word we have the word bureaucracy, by which we describe a government which is carried on by a great number of officials.

A better example of how a word containing one special idea can extend its meaning is the word bend. This word originally meant to pull the string of a bow in order to let fly an arrow. The expression "bend a bow" was used, and as the result of pulling the string was to curve the wooden part of the arrow, people came in time to think that "bending the bow" was this making the wood to curve. From this came our general use of "bend" to mean forcing a thing which is straight into a curve or angle. We have, of course, also the metaphorical use of the word, as when we speak of bending our will to another's.

Another word which has had a similar history is carry. When this word was first borrowed from Old French it meant to move something from place[197] to place in a cart or other wheeled vehicle. The general word for our modern carry was bear, which we still use, but chiefly in poetry. In time carry came to have its modern general sense of lifting a thing from one place and removing it to another. A well-known writer on the history of the English language has suggested that this came about first through people using the word in this sense half in fun, just as the word cart is now sometimes used. A person may say (a little vulgarly), "Do you expect me to cart all these things to another room?" instead of using the ordinary word carry. If history were to repeat itself in this case, cart might in time become the generally used word, and carry in its turn be relegated to the realm of poetry.

Words often come to have several meanings through being used to describe things which are connected in some way with the things for which they were originally used. The word house originally had one meaning, which it still keeps, but to which several others have been added. It was a building merely, but came in time to be used to mean the building and the people living in it. Thus we say one person "disturbs the whole house." From this sense it got the meaning of a royal family, and we speak of the House of York, Lancaster, Tudor, or Stuart. We also use the word in a large sense when we speak of the "House of Lords" and the "House of Commons," by which we hardly ever mean the actual buildings known generally as[198] the "Houses of Parliament," but the members of the two Houses. The word world has had almost the opposite history to the word house. World originally applied only to persons and not to any place. It meant a "generation of men," and then came to mean men and the earth they live on, and then the earth itself; until it has a quite general sense, as when we speak of "other worlds than ours."

Many words which are used at present to describe bad or disagreeable things were used quite differently originally. The word villain is, perhaps, the most expressive we can use to show our opinion of the depths of a person's wickedness. Yet in the Middle Ages a villain, or "villein," was merely a serf or labourer bound to work on the land of a particular lord. The word in Saxon times would have been churl. As time went on both these words became terms of contempt. The lords in the Middle Ages were certainly often more wicked than the serfs, as we see in the stories of the days of Robin Hood; but by degrees the people of the higher classes began to use the word villain more and more contemptuously. Many of them imagined that only people of their own class were capable of high thoughts and noble conduct. Gradually "villainy" came to mean all that was low and vulgar, and by degrees it came to have the meaning it has now of "sheer wickedness." At the end of the Middle Ages there were practically no longer any[199] serfs in England; but the word villain has remained in this new sense, and gives us a complete story of the misunderstanding and dislike which must have existed between "noble" and "simple" to cause such a change in the meaning of the word.

The word churl has a somewhat similar history. We say now that a sulky, ungracious person is a "mere churl," or behaves in a "churlish" manner, never thinking of the original meaning of the word. Here, again, is a little story of injustice. The present use of the word comes from the supposition that only the mere labourer could behave in a sulky or bad-tempered way.

Knave is another of those words which originally described persons of poor condition and have now come to mean a wicked or deceitful person. A knave, as we now understand the word, means a person who cheats in a particularly mean way, but formerly the word meant merely "boy." It then came to mean "servant," just as the word garçon ("boy") is used for all waiters in French restaurants. Another word which now means, as a rule, some one unutterably wicked, is wretch, though it is also used rather contemptuously to describe some one who is not wicked but unutterably miserable. Yet in Old English this word merely meant an "exile." An exile was a person to be pitied, and also sometimes a person who had done something wrong, and we get both these ideas in the modern uses of the word. The word blackguard, which now means a[200] "scoundrel," was also once a word for "scullion;" but it does not go back as far as "knave" and "villain," being found chiefly in writings of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Another word in which the "villeins" and "knaves" and "churls" seem to have their revenge on the "upper classes" is surly. This word used to be spelt sirly, and meant behaving as a "sire," or gentleman, behaves. Originally this meant "haughty" or "arrogant," but by degrees came to have the idea of sulkiness and ungraciousness, much like churlish.

Several adjectives which are now used as terms of blame were not only harmless descriptions originally, but were actually terms of praise. No one likes to be called "cunning," "sly," or "crafty" to-day; but these were all complimentary adjectives once. A cunning man was one who knew his work well, a sly person was wise and skilful, and a crafty person was one who could work well at his trade or "craft." Two words which we use to-day with a better sense than any of these, and yet which have a slightly uncomplimentary sense, are knowing and artful. It is surely good to "know" things, and to be full of art; but both words have already an idea of slyness, and may in time come to have quite as unpleasant a meaning as these three which have the same literal meaning.

Fellow, a word which has now nearly always a slightly contemptuous sense, had originally the quite[201] good sense of partner. It came from an Old English word which meant the man who marked out his land next to yours. The word still has this good sense in fellowship, fellow-feeling, etc., and as used to describe a "fellow" of a college or society. But the more general use is as a less respectful word for man. One man may say of another that he is a "nice fellow" without any disrespect; but the word has no dignity, and people, even though they use it of an equal, would not think of using it to describe a superior, and the more general use is that of blame or contempt, as in the expressions, "a disagreeable fellow" or "a stupid fellow." The word bully was at one time a word which showed affection, and meant even "lover." In English now, of course, a bully is a person, especially a boy, who tyrannizes over people weaker than himself; but the Americans still use the word in a good sense when they say "bully for you," meaning "bravo."

We have seen many words whose meanings have become less dignified than their original meaning; but sometimes the opposite happens. Every one now speaks with respect of a "pioneer," whether we mean by that people who are the first to venture into strange lands, or, in a more figurative sense, people who make some new discovery in science or introduce some new way of thinking or acting. Yet "pioneers" were originally merely the soldiers who did the hard work of clearing the way for an[202] advancing army. They were looked upon as belonging to a lower class than the ordinary soldiers. But this new and at first figurative use of the word, applied first to geographical and then to scientific and moral explorers, has given the word a new dignity.

A group of words which had originally very humble meanings, and have been elevated in an even more accidental way, are the names of the officials of royal courts. The word steward originally meant, as it still means, a person who manages property for some one else. The steward on a ship is a servant; but the steward of the king's household was no mean person, and was dignified with the title of the "Lord High Steward of England." The royal house of Stuart took its name from the fact that the heads of the family were in earlier times hereditary stewards of the Scottish kings. So marshal, the name of another high official at court, means "horse boy;" seneschal, "old servant;" constable, "an attendant to horses' stalls," and so on. Some of these words have kept both a dignified and a commoner meaning. Constable, besides being the name of a court official, is also another term for "policeman."

The word silly meant in Old English "blessed" or "happy," but of course has wandered far from this meaning. On the other hand, several words which once meant "foolish" have now quite different meanings. Giddy and dizzy both had this sense[203] in Old English, and so had the word nice. But later the French word fol, from which we get foolish, was introduced into English, and these words soon ceased to be used in this sense. Before this the two words dizzy and giddy had occasionally been used in the sense in which they are used now, to describe the condition of a person whose head "swims;" this now became their general meaning, though giddy has gone back again to something of its old meaning in its later use to describe a person's conduct. A giddy person is another description for one of frivolous character.

The word nice has had a rather more varied history. It had its original meaning of "foolish" from the literal meaning of the Latin word nescius, "ignorant," from which it was derived. Gradually it came to mean "foolishly particular about small things;" and we still have a similar use of the word, as when we say a person has a "nice taste in wines," or is a "nice observer," or speak of a "nice distinction," by which we mean a subtle distinction not very easily observed. But this is, of course, not the commonest sense in which we use the word. By nice we generally mean the opposite of nasty. A "nice" observer was a good observer, and from this kind of idea the word nice came to have the general sense of "good" in some way. Nice is not a particularly dignified word, and is little used by good writers, except in its more special and earlier sense. It is, perhaps, less used in America than in[204] England, and it is interesting to notice that nasty, the word which in English always seems to be the opposite of nice, is not considered a respectable word in America, where it has kept its earlier meaning of "filthy," or absolutely disgusting in some way.

Again, the word disgust, by which we express complete loathing for anything, used merely to mean "dislike" or "distaste." In the same way, the word loathe, by which we mean "to hate" or feel the greatest disgust for, originally meant merely "to dislike." The stronger meaning came from the fact that the word was often used to describe the dislike a sick person feels for food. Every one knows how strong this feeling can be, and it is from this that loathe and loathsome took the strong meaning they now have. Curiously enough, the adjective loath or loth, from the same word, has kept the old mild meaning. When we say we are "loth" to do a thing, we do not mean that we hate doing it, but merely that we feel rather unwilling to do it. In Old English, too, the word filth and its derivative foul were not quite such strong words as dirt and dirty.

Again, the words stench and stink in Old English meant merely "smell" or "odour." One could then speak of the "sweet stench" of a flower; but in the later Middle Ages these words came to have their present meaning of "smelling most disagreeably."

We saw how the taking of the word fol from the[205] French, meaning "foolish," caused the meaning of several English words which before had this meaning to be changed. The coming in of foreign words has been a very common cause for such changes of meaning. The word fiend in English has now a quite different meaning from its original meaning in English, when it simply meant "enemy," the opposite to "friend." When the word "enemy" itself was borrowed from the French, the word fiend came to be less and less often used in this sense. In time fiend came to be another word for devil, the chief enemy of mankind. But in modern times we do not use the word much in this sense. It is most often now applied to persons. It sounds rather milder than calling a person a "devil," but it means exactly the same thing.

The word stool came to have its present special meaning through the coming into English from the French of the word chair. Before the Norman Conquest any kind of seat for one person was a "stool," even sometimes a royal throne. The word deer also had in Old English the meaning of "beast" in general, but the coming in of the word beast from the French led to its falling into disuse, and by degrees it became the special name of the chief beast of chase.

Again, the Latin word spirit led to the less frequent use of the word ghost, which was previously the general word for spirit. When spirit came to be generally used, ghost came to have the special[206] meaning which it has for us now—that of the apparition of a dead person.

A great many words have changed their meaning even since the time of Shakespeare through being transferred from the subject of the feeling they describe to the object, or from the object to the subject. Thus one example of this is the word grievous. We speak now of a "grievous wrong," or a "grievous sin," or a "grievous mistake," and all these phrases suggest a certain sorrow in ourselves for the fact described. But this was not the case in the time of Queen Elizabeth, when it was decreed that a "sturdy beggar," a man who could work but begged instead, should be "grievously whipped." In this case grievously merely meant "severely." On the other hand, the word pitiful, which used to mean "compassionate," is no longer applied to what we feel at seeing a sad thing, but to the sadness of the thing itself. We do not now say a person is pitiful when he feels sorry for some one, but we speak of a "pitiful sight" or a "pitiful plight."

The word pity itself is used still in both ways, subjectively and objectively. A person can feel "pity," and there is "pity" in the thing for which we feel sorry. This is the sense in which it is used in such expressions as "Oh, the pity of it!"

The word hateful once meant "full of hate," but came to be used for the thing inspiring hate instead of for the people feeling it. So, painful used to[207] mean "painstaking," but of course has no longer this meaning.

One very common way in which words have changed their meanings is through the name of one thing being given to another which resembles it. The word pen comes from the Latin penna, "a feather;" and as in olden days the ordinary pens were "quills" of birds, the name was very good. We still keep it, of course, for the steel pens and gold pens of to-day, which we thus literally speak of as feathers. Pencil is a word with a somewhat similar history. It comes from the Latin penicillus, which itself came from peniculus, or "little tail," a kind of cleaning instrument which the Romans used as we use brushes. Pencil was originally the name of a very fine painter's brush, and from this it became the name of an instrument made of lead which was used for making marks. Then it was passed on to various kinds of pencils, including what we know as a lead-pencil, in which, as a writer on words has pointed out, there is really neither lead nor pencil.

The word handkerchief is also an interesting word. The word kerchief came from the French couvre-chef, "a covering for the head." Another similar word is one which the Normans brought into England, curfew, which means "cover fire." When the curfew bell rang the people were obliged to extinguish all lights and fires. The "kerchief" was originally a covering for the head. Then the fashion arose of carrying a square of similar material in the[208] hand, and so we get handkerchief, and later pocket-handkerchief, which, if we analyse it, is rather a clumsy word, "pocket-hand-cover-head." The reason it is so is that the people who added pocket and hand knew nothing of the real meaning of kerchief.

There are several words which used to mean "at the present time" which have now come to mean "at a future time." This can only have come about through the people who used them not keeping their promises, but putting off doing things until later. The word soon in Old English meant "immediately," so that when a person said that he would do a thing soon he meant that he would do it "instantly." The trouble was that often he did not, and so often did this happen that the meaning of the word changed, and soon came to have its present meaning of "in a short time." The same thing happened with the words presently and directly, and the phrase by-and-by, all of which used to mean "instantly." Presently and directly seem to promise things in a shorter time than soon, but by-and-by is a very uncertain phrase indeed. It is perhaps because Scotch people are superior to the English in the matter of doing things to time that with them presently still really means "instantly."

In all the examples we have seen of changes in the meaning of words it is fairly easy to see how the changes have come about. But there are some words which have changed so much in meaning that their present sense seems to have no connec[209]tion with their earlier meaning. The word treacle is a splendid example of this. It comes from a Greek word meaning "having to do with a wild beast," and this seems to have no connection whatever with our present use of the word treacle as another word for syrup of sugar. The steps by which this word came to change its meaning so enormously were these. From the general meaning of "having to do with a wild beast," it came to mean "remedy for the bite of a wild beast." As remedies for wounds and bites were, in the old days, generally thick syrups, the word came in time to mean merely "syrup," and lastly the sweet syrup which we now know as "treacle."

Another word which has changed immensely in its meaning is premises. By the word premises we generally mean a house or shop and the land just round it. But the real meaning of the word premises is the "things already mentioned." It came to have its present sense from the frequent use of the word in documents drawn up by lawyers. In these, which very frequently dealt with business relating to houses, the "things before mentioned" meant the "house, etc.," and in time people came to think that this was the actual meaning of premises, and so we get the present use of the word.

The word humour is one which has changed its meaning very much in the course of its history. It comes to us from the Latin word humor, which means a "fluid" or "liquid." By "humour" we[210] now mean either "temper," as when we speak of being in a "good" or "bad" humour, or that quality in a person which makes him very quick to find "fun" in things. And from the first meaning of "temper" we have the verb "to humour," by which we mean to give in to or indulge a person's whims. But in the Middle Ages "humour" was a word used by writers on philosophy to describe the four liquids which they believed (like the Greek philosophers) that the human body contained. These four "humours" were blood, phlegm, yellow bile (or choler), and black bile (or melancholy). According to the balance of these humours a man's character showed itself. From this belief we get the adjectives—which we still use without any thought of their origin—sanguine ("hopeful"), phlegmatic ("indifferent and not easily excited"), choleric ("easily roused to anger"), and melancholy ("inclined to sadness"). A person had these various temperaments according as the amount of blood, phlegm, yellow or black bile was uppermost in his composition. From the idea that having too much of any of the "humours" would make a person diseased or odd in character, we got the use of the word humours to describe odd and queer things; and from this it came to have its modern meaning, which takes us very far from the original Latin.

It was from this same curious idea of the formation of the human body that we get two different[211] uses of the word temper. Temper was originally the word used to describe the right mixture of the four "humours." From this we got the words good-tempered and bad-tempered. Perhaps because it is natural to notice more when people are bad-tempered rather than good, not more than a hundred years ago the word temper came to mean in one use "bad temper." For this is what we mean when we say we "give way to temper." But we have the original sense of "good temper" in the expression to "keep one's temper." So here we have the same word meaning two opposite things.

Several words which used to have a meaning connected with religion have now come to have a more general meaning which seems very different from the original. A word of this sort in English is order, which came through the French word ordre, from the Latin ordo. Though the Latin word had the meaning which we now give to the word order, in the English of the thirteenth century it had only the special meaning (which it still keeps as one of its meanings) of an "order" or "society" of monks. In the fourteenth century it began to have the meaning of "fixed arrangement," but the adjective orderly and the noun orderliness did not come into use until the sixteenth century. The word regular has a similar history. Coming from the Latin regula, "a rule," its modern general meaning in English of "according to rule" seems very natural; but the word which began to be used in[212] English in the fourteenth century did not take the modern meaning until the end of the sixteenth century. Before this, it too was used as a word to describe monastic orders. The "regular" clergy were priests who were also monks, while the "secular" clergy were priests but not monks. The words regularity, regulation, and regulate did not come into use until the seventeenth century.

Another word which has now a quite different meaning from its original meaning is clerk. A "clerk" nowadays is a person who is employed in an office to keep accounts, write letters, etc. But a "clerk" in the Middle Ages was what we should now more generally call a "cleric," a man in Holy Orders. As the "clerks" in the Middle Ages were practically the only people who could read and write, it is, perhaps, not unnatural that the name should be now used to describe a class of people whose chief occupation is writing (whether with the hand or a typewriter). People in the Middle Ages would have wondered what could possibly be meant by a word which is common in Scotland for a "woman clerk"—clerkess.

The words which change their meanings in this way tell us the longest, and perhaps the best, stories of all.




We have seen that there are great numbers of words in English which come from the Latin language. Sometimes they have come to us through Old French words borrowed from the Latin, and sometimes from the Latin words directly, or modern French words taken from the Latin. The fact that we have borrowed from the Latin in these two ways has led sometimes to our borrowing twice over from the same word. Different forms going back in this way to the same origin are known as "doublets." The English language is full of them, and they, too, can tell us some interesting stories.

Many of these pairs of words seem to have no relation at all with each other, so much has one or the other, or both, changed in meaning from that of the original word from which they come. A familiar pair of doublets is dainty and dignity, both of which come from the Latin word dignitas. Dignity, which came into the English language either directly from the Latin or through the modern[214] French word dignité, has not wandered at all from the meaning of the Latin word, which had first the idea of "merit" or "value," and then that of honourable position or character which the word dignity has in English. Dainty has a quite different meaning; though it, too, came from dignitas, but through the less dignified way of the Old French word daintie.

The English words dish, dais, desk, and disc all come from the Latin word discus, by which the Romans meant first a round flat plate thrown in certain games (a "quoit"), and secondly a plate or dish. In Old English this word became dish. In Old French it became deis, and from this we have the English dais—the raised platform of a throne. In Italian it became desco, from which we got desk; and the scientific men of modern times, in their need of a word to describe exactly a round, flat object, have gone back as near as possible to the Latin and given us disc. It is to be noticed that the original idea of the Latin word—"having a flat surface"—is kept in these four descendants of a remote ancestor.

The words chieftain and captain are doublets coming from the Late Latin word capitaneus, "chief;" the former through the Old French word chevetaine, and the latter more directly from the Latin. Frail and fragile are another pair, coming from the Latin word fragilis, "easily broken;" the one through Old French, and the other through Modern French.

Both these pairs of words have kept fairly close[215] to the original meaning; but caitiff and captive, another pair of doublets, have quite different meanings from each other. Both come from the Latin word captivus, "captive," the one indirectly and the other directly. Caitiff, which is not a word used now except occasionally in poetry, means a "base, cowardly person;" but captive has, of course, the original meaning of the Latin word.

Another pair of doublets, which are quite different in form and almost opposite to each other in meaning, are guest and hostile. These two words come from the same root word; but this goes further back than Latin, to the language known as the Aryan, from which nearly all the languages of Europe and the chief language of India come. Hostile comes from the Latin hostis, "an enemy;" but hostis itself comes from the same Aryan word as that from which guest comes, and so these two words are doublets in English. They express very different ideas: we are not generally "hostile" or "full of enmity" against a "guest," one who partakes of our hospitality.

Another pair of doublets not from the Latin are shirt and skirt, which are both old Germanic words. Skirt came later into the language, being from the Scandinavian, while shirt is an Old English word.

The word cross and the many words in English beginning with cruci—such as crucial, crucifix, and cruciform—the adverb across, as well as the less common word crux, all come from the Latin word[216] crux, "a cross." The word cross first came into the English language with Christianity itself, for the death of our Lord on the cross was, of course, the first story which converts to Christianity were told. It came through the Irish from the Norwegian word cros, which came direct from the Latin. All the words beginning with cruci come straight from the Latin. Cruciform and crucifix refer to the form of a cross, and so sometimes does the word crucial. But, as a rule, crucial is used as the adjective of the word crux, which means the "test," or "difficult point," in deciding or doing something. The Romans did not use crux in this sense; but it is interesting to notice that they did use it in the figurative sense of "trouble" just as we do. This came from the fact that the common form of execution for all subjects of the Roman Empire except Roman citizens was crucifixion.

Two such different words as tavern and tabernacle, the one meaning an inn and the other the most sacred part of the sanctuary in a church, are doublets from the Latin word tabernaculum, "tent." The first comes from the French taverne, and the second directly from the Latin.

The words mint and money both come from the Latin word moneta, which was an adjective attached by the Romans to the name of the goddess Juno. The place where the Romans coined their money was attached to the temple of Juno Moneta, or Juno the Adviser. From this fact the Romans[217] themselves came to use moneta as the name for coins, or what we call money. The word passed into French as monnaie, which is still the French word both for money and mint, the place where we coin our money. In German it became munze, which has the same meanings. In English it became mint. But the English language, as we have seen, has a fine gift for borrowing. In time it acquired the French word monnaie, which became money as the name for coins, while it kept the word mint to describe the place where coins are made.

The words bower, formerly the name of a sleeping-place for ladies and now generally meaning a summer-house, and byre, the place where cows sleep, both come from the Old English word bur, "a bower." The word flour (which so late as the eighteenth century Dr. Johnson did not include in his great dictionary) is the same word as flower. Flour is merely the flower of wheat. Again, poesy and posy are really the same word, posy being derived from poesy. Posy used to mean a copy of verses presented to some one with a bouquet. Now it stands either for verses, as when we speak of the "posy of a ring," or more commonly a bunch of flowers without any verses.

The words bench and bank both come from the same Teutonic word which became benc in Old English and banc in French. Bench comes from benc, but bank has a more complicated history. From the French banc we borrowed the word to[218] use in the old expression a "bank of oars." From the Scandinavians, who also had the word, we got bank, used for the "bank of a river." Meanwhile the Italians had also borrowed the old Germanic word which became with them banca or banco, the bench or table of a money-changer. From this the French got banque, and this became in English bank as we use it in connection with money.

The Latin word ratio, "reckoning," has given three words to the English language. It passed into Old French as resoun, and from this we got the word reason. Later on the French made a new word direct from the Latin—ration; which, again, passed into English as a convenient name for the allowance of food to a soldier. It has now a more general sense, as when in the Great War people talk of the whole nation being put "on rations." Then again, as every child who is old enough to study mathematics knows, we use the Latin word itself, ratio, as a mathematical term.

Another Latin word which has given three different words to the English language is gentilis. From it we have gentile, gentle, and genteel. Yet the Latin word had not the same meaning as any of these words. Gentilis meant "belonging to the same gens or 'clan.'" It became later a distinguishing term from Jew. All who were not Jews were Gentiles, and this is still the meaning of the word gentile in English. It came directly from the Latin. But gentilis became gentil in French; and[219] we have borrowed twice from this word, getting gentle, which expresses one idea contained in the French word, though the French word means more than our word gentle. It has the sense of "very amiable and attractive." The last word of the three, genteel, is rather a vulgar word. It means "like gentlemen and ladies have to do," and only rather ignorant people use the word seriously.

Doublets from Latin words for the most part resemble each other in meaning and form, though, as we have seen, this is not always the case. We could give a long list of examples where both sense and form are similar, but there is only space to mention a few. Poor and pauper (a miserably poor person) both come from the Latin pauper, "poor." Story and history both come from historia, a word which had both meanings in Latin. Human and humane are both from the Latin humanus, "belonging to mankind." Sure and secure are both from the Latin securus, "safe." Nourishment and nutriment are both from the Latin nutrimentum. Amiable and amicable are both from the Latin amicabilis, "friendly."

Examples of doublets which are similar in form but not in sense are chant and cant, which both come from the Latin cantare, "to sing." Chant has the original idea, being a form of singing, especially in church; but cant has wandered far from the original sense, meaning insincere words, especially such as are used by people pretending to be religious[220] or pious. The word cant was first used in describing the chanting or whining of beggars, who were supposed often to be telling lies; and from this it got its present use, which has nothing to do with singing.

Blame and blaspheme, both coming from the Latin blasphemare, itself taken from a Hebrew word, are not, perhaps, quite so different in sense; but blame means merely to find fault with a person, while blaspheme means to speak against God.

Chance and cadence both come from the Latin cadere, "to fall," but have very little resemblance in meaning. Chance is what happens or befalls, and cadence is movement measured by the fall of the voice in speaking or singing.

But the most interesting doublets of all are those which have neither form nor sense in common. No one would guess that the words hyena and sow, the names of two such different animals, are doublets. Both come from the Greek word sus or hus, "sow." The Saxons, when they first settled in England, had the words su, "pig," and sugu, "sow;" and later the word hyena was taken from the Latin word hyaena, itself derived from the Greek huaina, "sow."

The words furnish and veneer, again, are doublets which do not resemble each other very closely either in sound or in sense. Both come from the Old French word furnir, which has become fournir in Modern French, and means "to furnish." The English word furnish was taken direct from the French, while the word veneer, which used to be[221] spelt fineer, came into English from a German word also borrowed from the French furnir.

No one would easily guess that the name nutmeg had anything to do with musk; but the word comes from the name which Latin writers in the Middle Ages gave to this useful seed—nux muscata, "musky nut."

It seems strange, when we come to think of it, that great English sailors like Admiral Jellicoe and Admiral Beatty are called by a title which is really the same as the name of an Arabian chieftain—Emir. Admiral comes from the Arab phrase amir al bahr, "emir on the sea."

Just the opposite to doublets which do not resemble each other are many pairs of words which are pronounced alike and sometimes spelled alike. Very often these words come from two different languages, and there are many of them in English through the habit the language has always had of borrowing freely whenever the need of a new word has been felt.

The word weed, "a wild plant," comes from an Old English word, weod; while "widows' weeds" take their name from the Old English word wœde, "garment." The word vice, meaning the opposite of virtue, comes through the French from the Latin vitium, "a fault;" while a "vice," the instrument for taking a perfectly tight hold on anything, comes from the Latin vitis, "a vine," through the French vis, "a screw." Yet another vice, as in viceroy,[222] vice-president, etc., comes from the Latin vice, "in the place of." Angle, meaning the sport of fishermen, comes from an Old English word, angel, "fish-hook;" while angle, "a corner," comes from the Latin word angulus, which had the same meaning.

We might imagine that the word temple, as the name of a part of the head, was a metaphor describing the head as the temple of the mind, but it has no such romantic meaning. Temple, the name of a place of worship, comes from the Latin templum, "a temple;" but temple, the name of a part of the head, is from the Latin word tempus, which had the same meaning in Latin, and also the earlier meaning of "the fitting time." It has been suggested that in Latin tempus came to mean "the temple," because it is "the fitting place" for a fatal blow, the temple being the most delicate part of the head.

Tattoo, meaning a "drum beat," comes from the Dutch tap-toe, "tap-to," an order for drinking-houses to shut. But tattoo, describing the cutting away of the skin and dyeing of the flesh so common among sailors, is a word borrowed from the South Sea Islanders.

Sound meaning "a noise," and sound meaning "to find out the depth of," as in sounding-rod, are two quite different words. The one comes from the word son, found both in Old English and French, and the other from the Old English words sundgyrd, sund line, "a sounding line;" while sound meaning[223] "healthy" or "uninjured," as in the expression "safe and sound," comes from the Old English word sund, and perhaps from the Latin sanus, "healthy."

The existence of so many pairs of words of this sort, which have the same sound and which yet come from such different origins—origins as far apart as the speech of the people of Holland and that of the South Sea Islanders, as we saw in the word tattoo—illustrates in a very interesting way the wonderful history of the English language.




In the days of Queen Elizabeth there were in England certain writers who were called "Euphuists." They got this name from the title of a book, "Euphues," written by one of them, John Lyly. The chief characteristic of the writings of these Euphuists was the grandiose way in which they wrote of the simplest things. Their writings were full of metaphors and figures of speech. The first Euphuists were looked upon as "refiners of speech," and Queen Elizabeth and the ladies at her court did their best to speak as much in the manner of Euphues as they could.

But all men at all times are unconscious Euphuists, in so far as they try to say ugly and unpleasant things in a way which will make them sound pleasant. This tendency in speech is called "euphemism," a word which is made from two Greek words meaning "to speak well." It is a true description of what the word means if by "well" we understand "as pleasantly as possible." The word euphēmeîte, "speak fair," was used as a warning[225] to worshippers in Greek temples, in the belief that the speaking of an unfortunate word might bring disaster instead of blessing from the sacrifice.

Every day, and often in a day, we use euphemisms. How often do we hear people say, "if anything should happen to him," meaning "if he died;" and on tombstones the plain fact of a person's death is nearly always stated in phrases such as "he passed away," "fell asleep," or "departed this life." People often refer to a dead person as the "deceased" or the "departed," or as the "late so-and-so." The fact is that, death being to most people the unpleasantest thing in the world, there is a general tendency to mention it as little as possible, and, when the subject cannot be avoided, to use vague and less realistic phrases than the words death, dead, or die.

One reason for this avoidance of an unpleasant subject is the superstitious feeling that mentioning a thing will bring it to pass. Or, again, if a misfortune has happened, many people feel that it only makes it worse to talk about it. While everybody avoids speaking on the subject, we can half pretend to ourselves that it is not true.

We might imagine that this kind of "refinement of speech" (which when carried to excess really becomes vulgar) was the result of modern people being so "nervous." But this is not the case. Complete savages have the same custom. If civilized people have a superstitious feeling that to[226] mention a misfortune may bring it to pass, savages firmly believe that this is the case. Not only will they not mention the subject of death in plain words, but some will not even mention the name of a dead person or give that name to a new-born child, so that in some tribes names die out in this way. Many civilized people have this same idea that it is unlucky for a new-born child to be called by the name of a brother or sister who has already died.

The subject of death has gathered more euphemisms around it than almost any other. Some of them are ugly and almost vulgar, while others, from the way in which they have been used, are almost poetical. To speak of the "casualties" in a battle, meaning the number of killed and wounded men, seems almost heartless; but to say a man "fell in battle," though it means the same thing, is almost poetical, because it suggests an idea of courage and sacrifice. The expression, "Roll of Honour," is a euphemism, but poetical. It suggests the one consoling thought which relieves the horror of the bald expression, "list of casualties."

Another cause of the use of euphemisms, besides the superstitious fear of bringing misfortune by mentioning it too plainly, is the fear of being vulgar or indecent. Through this feeling words which are quite proper at one time pass out of use among refined people. English people do not freely use the word "stomach" in conversation, and are often[227] a little shocked when they hear French people describing their ailments in this region of the body. In the same way, names of articles of underclothing pass out of use. The old word for the garment which is now generally called a "chemise" was smock; but this in time became tinged with vulgarity, and the word shift was used. This in its turn fell out of use among refined people, who began to use the French word chemise. Even this, and the word drawers, which was also once a most refined expression, are falling into disuse, and people talk vaguely of "underlinen" in speaking of these garments. The shops which are always refined to the verge of vulgarity only allow themselves to use the French word lingerie.

Again, the faults of our friends and acquaintances, and even the graver offences of criminals, are matters with which we tend to deal lightly. Such offences have gathered a whole throng of euphemisms about them. When we do not like to say boldly that a person is a liar, we say the same thing by means of the euphemism a "stranger to the truth." Other lighter ways of saying that a person is lying is to say that he is "romancing," or "drawing the long bow," or "drawing on the imagination," or "telling a fairy tale." A thief will be described as a "defaulter," and we may say of a man who has stolen his employer's money as it passed through his hands that he is "short in his accounts."[228]

Especially among the poorer or less respectable people, to whom the idea of crime becomes familiar, the use of slang euphemisms on this subject grows up. A person for whom the police are searching is "wanted." A man who is hanged "swings." These expressions may seem very dreadful to more refined people, but their use really comes from the same desire to be indulgent which leads more educated people to use euphemisms to cover up as far as possible the faults of their friends.

Again, misfortunes which come not from outside happenings but from some defect in a person's mind and body are often the subject of euphemisms. In Scotland a person who is quite an imbecile will be described as an "innocent"—a milder way of saying the same thing. Insane and crazy were originally euphemisms for mad, but now have come to be equally unpleasant descriptions. So for drunken the euphemism intemperate came to be used, but is now hardly a more polite description. We would not willingly speak of a person being "fat" in his presence. If it is necessary to touch on the subject, the word "stout" is more favoured. In the absence of the fat person the humorous euphemism may be used by which he or she is said to "have a good deal of embonpoint."

Many words are euphemisms in themselves, just as many words are complete metaphors in themselves. The word ill means literally "uncomfortable," but has come to have a much more serious[229] meaning. Disease means literally "not being at ease," but the sense in which we use it describes something much more serious than the literal meaning. The word ruin is literally merely a "falling."

One result of words being used euphemistically is that they often cease to have their milder original meaning, and cease therefore to seem euphemistic at all. Vile, which now means everything that is bad, is in its literal and earlier use merely "cheap." Base, which has the meaning of unutterable meanness, is literally merely "low." Mercenary is not exactly a complimentary description now. It means that a person thinks far too much of money, but originally it merely meant "serving for pay," a thing which most men are obliged to do. Transgression is generally used now to describe some rather serious offence, but it literally means only a "stepping across." The "step" which it describes being, however, in the wrong direction, the word has come to have a more and more serious meaning. The study of euphemisms can teach us much about men's thoughts and manners in the past and the present.




Most stories have a moral. At least grown-up people have a habit of tacking a little lesson on to the end of the stories they tell to children. And as a rule the children will listen to the moral for the sake of the story. And so even the stories which words tell us have their lessons for us too, and, let us hope, the stories are sufficiently interesting to pay for the moral.

One thing that these stories must have shown us is that the English language is a very ancient and wonderful thing. We have only been able to get mere glimpses of its wonderful development since the days when the ancestors of the peoples of Europe and many of the peoples of India spoke the one Aryan tongue. All the history of Europe and of India—we might almost say of the world—is contained in the languages which have descended from that Aryan tongue.

Another point which these stories have impressed upon us is that language is a kind of mirror to thought. For every new idea people must find a[231] word, and as ideas change words change with them. These stories have given us some idea of the wonderful growth of ideas in the minds of men in the past; they have shown us men daring all dangers for the sake of adventure and discovery and for pride of country; they have shown us the growth of new ideas of religion and kindness, new notions about science and learning: in fact, they have given us glimpses of the whole story of human progress.

The great lesson which these stories ought to teach us is respect for words. Seeing as we do what a beautiful and wonderful thing the English language has become, it ought to be the resolution of each one of us never to do anything to spoil that beauty. Every writer ought to choose his words carefully, neither inventing nor copying ugly forms of speech. We have seen also from these stories, especially in the chapter on "Slang," how people have misused certain words, until speakers and writers of good taste can no longer use them in their original sense, and therefore do not use them at all.

There are many other faults in speaking and in writing which take away from the beauty and dignity of the language. We shall see what some of these faults are; but one golden rule can be laid down which, if people keep it, will help them to avoid all these faults. No one should ever try to write in a fine style. The chief aim which all young writers should keep before them is to say exactly[232] what they mean, and in as few and simple words as possible. If on reading what they have written they find that it is not perfectly clear, they should not immediately begin to rewrite, but instead set themselves to find out whether their thoughts are perfectly clear.

There is no idea which has no word to fit it. Of course some writers must use difficult language. The ordinary reader can sometimes not understand a sentence of a book of philosophy. This is not because the philosophers do not write clearly, but because the ideas with which they have to deal are very subtle, and hard for the ordinary person to understand.

But for ordinary people writing on ordinary things there is no excuse for writing so as not to be clearly understood, or for writing in such a long and round-about way that people are tired instead of refreshed by reading. Nor is there any excuse for the use of words and phrases which are vulgar or too colloquial for the subject; yet how often is this done in the modern newspaper. It may seem unnecessary to speak to boys and girls of the faults of newspaper writers. But the boys and girls of to-day are the newspaper writers and readers of the future, and the habits which young writers form cling to them afterwards. Of course many of the faults which the worse kind of journalists commit in writing would not occur to boys and girls; but one fault leads to another. The motive at the root[233] of most poor and showy writing is the desire to "shine." The faults which seem so detestable to the critical reader seem very ingenious and brilliant to the writer of poor taste. To the journalist, as to the schoolboy and the schoolgirl, the golden rule is, "Be simple."

Let us see what some of the commonest faults of showy and poor writers of English are—always with the moral before us that they are to be avoided.

One great fault of newspaper writers and of young writers in general is to sprinkle their compositions thickly with quotations, until some beautiful and expressive lines from the greatest poetry and prose have almost lost their force through the ear having become tired by hearing them too often. Some such phrases are—

"Tell it not in Gath;"

"Heap coals of fire upon his head;"

"Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof:"

all fine and picturesque lines, the apt quotation of which must have been very impressive, until, through frequent repetition, they have become almost commonplace.

A similar hackneyed fault is the too frequent application of the name of some historical or Biblical personage to describe the character of some person of whom we are writing. It is much more expressive now to describe a person as a "doubter" than as a "doubting Thomas," though the latter[234] phrase may serve to show that the writer knows something of his New Testament. The first man who called a sceptic a "doubting Thomas" was certainly a witty and cultivated person; but this cannot now be said of the use of this hackneyed phrase. Again, it is better to say a "traitor" than a "Judas," a "wise man" than a "Solomon," a "tyrant" than a "Nero," a "great general" than a "Napoleon;" for all these names used in this way have lost their force.

A similar fault is the describing of a person by some abstract noun such as a "joy," a "delight," an "inspiration"—a way of speaking which savours both of slang and affectation, and which is not likely to appeal to people of good taste. Of course it is quite different when the poet writes—

"She was a vision of delight;"

for poetry has its own rules, just as it has its own range of ideas and inspiration, and we are speaking now of the writing of mere prose.

Another bad fault of the same kind, but more colloquial, and more often met with in speaking than in writing, is the too frequent use of a word or phrase. Some people say "I mean," or "personally," or "I see," or "you see," or similar expressions, at nearly every second sentence, until people listening to them begin to count the number of times these expressions occur, instead of attending to the subject of conversation.[235]

Another very common fault in writing made by newspaper writers, and even more so by young beginners in composition, is the use of long words derived from Latin instead of the simpler words which have come down from the Old English. This does not mean that these words are not so good or so beautiful as the Old English words. As we have seen, these words were borrowed by our language to express ideas for which no native word could be found. But a person who deliberately chooses long Latin words because they are longer, and, as he thinks, sound grander, is sure to write a poor style. A saying which is perhaps becoming almost as "hackneyed" as some of the quotations already mentioned in this chapter is, "The style is the man." This means that if a person thinks clearly and sincerely he will write clearly and sincerely. If a person's thoughts are lofty, he will naturally find dignified words to express them. No good writer will deliberately choose "high-sounding" words to express his ideas. All young writers should avoid what have been called "flowery flourishes."

Again, young writers should be very careful not to use really foreign words to express an idea for which we have already a good word in English. Sometimes the foreign word comes first to our pen, but this may be because of the bad habit which has grown up of using these words in place of the English words which are quite as correct and expressive.[236] Sometimes, on the other hand, the foreign word expresses a shade of meaning which the English word misses, and then, of course, it is quite right to use it. For instance, amour propre is not in any way better than "self-love," bêtise than "stupid action," camaraderie than "comradeship," savoir faire than "knowledge of the world," chef d'œuvre than "masterpiece," and so on.

One disadvantage of borrowing such words is that they often come to be used in a different sense from their use in their native language; and people with an imperfect knowledge of these languages will say rather vulgar or shocking things when using them in the English manner in those languages. Thus, to speak of a person of a certain "calibre" in French is exceedingly vulgar; and refined people do not use the word chic as freely as the English use of it would suggest. Examples of foreign words which we could hardly replace by English expressions are blasé, tête-à-tête, brusque, bourgeois, deshabille. These have been borrowed, just as words have been borrowed all through its history, by the English language to fill gaps. They have really become English words. But there are many foreign expressions now scattered freely through newspapers the sense of which can only be plain to those who have had a classical education. Unfortunately it is only the minority of readers who have had this. The effect is to make whole passages unintelligible or only half intelligible to the majority of[237] readers. This is not writing good English. Thus people will write le tout Paris instead of "all Paris," mémoires pour servir instead of "documents," ipsis Hibernis Hiberniores for "more Irish than the Irish." Such phrases are quite unsuitable to the general reader, and as perfect equivalents can be found in English, there would be no point in using them, even if writing for a learned society.

Modern English, and especially colloquial English, has borrowed a great deal from the American way of speaking English. The people of the United States, though their language is that of the mother-country, have modified it so that it is, as it were, a mirror of the difference between American and English life. In America there is more hurry and bustle and less dignity. It is this difference which makes Americans and the American way of speaking appear interesting and piquant to English people. But this is no good reason for the adoption of American mannerisms into the English language. A typically American word is boom, meaning a sudden coming into popularity of something. Thus one may speak of a "boom" in motors, and the word has become quite common in English; but it is not beautiful, and we could easily have done without it. Words which sound quite natural when used by Americans often seem unnecessarily "slangy" when used by English people.

End of Project Gutenberg's Stories That  Words Tell Us, by Elizabeth  O'Neill


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