English is currently the nearest thing we have to a global language; it’s the official language of seventy-nine countries and territories. English not only acts as a lingua franca, a common language that unites people, but also offers some quirky vocabulary, such as whipper-tooties, which are “silly scruples about doing anything,” and shivviness, or “the uncomfortable feeling of new underwear.” Did you know that English is spoken by all international airline pilots? Or that no word in English rhymes with month, orange, silver, or purple? There’s a lot to learn about English and its origins, so let’s take a look at five fascinating English word and language facts.
1 The word alphabet comes from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet: alpha and beta. The Ancient Greek word ἀλφάβητος (alphabētos) came from the Phoenician aleph (“ox”) and beth (“house”), which are pictograms of those objects.
2 “The quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog” uses every letter of the alphabet. You may see typefaces displayed using this sentence, because it allows you to see what each letter looks like.
3 E is the most common letter in English. For every eight letters written, E is one of them. Despite this, Ernest Vincent Wright completed managed to write a 50,000-word novel titled Gadsby entirely without the letter E. This type of writing is known as a lipogram, a long written piece in which a letter or group of letters is avoided.
4 The word “spam” refers to junk mail, partly because of a Monty Python skit from the early 1970s. A couple asks a waitress what’s being served and she replies, “Well we have eggs and Spam, eggs, bacon, and Spam, eggs, sausage, bacon, and Spam, eggs, Spam, sausage, Spam, Spam, bacon, Spam, eggs and Spam, Spam, spinach and Spam.” A hacker in the 1980s then thought of the skit’s repetition of the word “spam” while he was contemplating the mindless repetition of email messages in his inbox. He began using “to spam” to mean repeatedly receiving emails and it caught on.
5 The word battologize means “to repeat a word excessively.” It comes from the Greek battologeo, which is an eponym after a stutterer named Battos. Originally, it meant “to stutter,” but later came to mean “repeat mindlessly.” This word was then used in English as battologize, meaning “a needless and tiresome repetition in speaking and writing.” Do you have any interesting English language trivia to share? If you’d like to learn more, check the Grammarly blog again next week for five more fascinating English language and word facts.