Politics and the Anglish language

Many writers will have been told to read George Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language at some point. This is not so much for the political content, but for the advice on writing clear English.

Some of it is obvious, but most writers I’ve read or worked with would benefit from it. “Never use a long word where a short one will do,” is an instruction many a schoolboy would sympathise with, while “if it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out” would make editors obsolete if followed.

For the politically correct there are, however, some uncomfortable passages concerning the use of foreign phrases in English. To take one:

Except for the useful abbreviations i.e., e.g., and etc., there is no real need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now current in English. Bad writers, and especially scientific, political and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones, and unnecessary words like expedite, ameliorate, predict, extraneous, deracinated, clandestine, sub-aqueous and hundreds of others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon opposite numbers.

Although the mongrel nature of the English nation is often overstated, our language is a German base below layers of French, Latin or Greek, plus many other borrowed words. Some argue this flows from the historical split between the Norman ruling class speaking French and the Anglo-Saxons they ruled over, who spoke something closer to German. Others add that the distinction is shown in how we prefer Frencher terms for meals and Germanic terms for animals.

Much has been said of ‘Little Englanders’ preference for native fare over ‘foreign muck’ in other contexts, and there is some snobbery towards those whose tastes aren’t cosmopolitan. People who read a lot often sound like it too, which is how you end up with unreadable prose and the ramblings of Novara Media. Orwell’s warning against long, foreign-sounding words will therefore strike some as anti-cosmopolitan and anti-intellectual – even regressive.

That said, even if an English speaker took Orwell’s advice, they’d be unlikely to open an etymology dictionary to check they are speaking Aethelred’s English. Except that is, for devotees of ‘Anglish’.

The movement around this concocted language aims to restore the Anglo-Saxon in English by removing loanwords from French, Latin or other tongues, replacing them with revived Anglo-Saxon or new coinages based on the same. As the wiki’s about page explains:

Because of the fundamental changes to our language, to say that English people today speak Modern English is like saying that the French speak Latin. The fact is that we now speak an international language. The Anglish project is intended as a means of recovering the Englishness of English and of restoring ownership of the language to the English people.

The problem, the wiki argues, is that as French- or Latin-based words are made up of bits that aren’t understood to English speakers. For example, ‘inebriated’ is based on ‘ebrius’, the Latin for drunk, and thus less familiar than ‘drunkard’.

The irony is that Anglish is harder to understand than modern English. That is because of familiarity, but if familiarity is more important in understanding than etymology what is the point in Anglish? To take one example:

Star Wyes is a stream of witship-playtruth films by George Lucas that follows the life of many hoads “a long time ago in a starset far, far away”. Besides films, there have also been many books, film games, farseer shows, toys and more made for the stream owing to its belovedness.

I also don’t agree that the Latin and French imports ‘pooren the tongue’. There are many poncy words that could be thrown away or less used, but they add variety to English, which would otherwise be made up entirely of stodgy Anglo-Saxon vocabulary (or ‘wordstock’).

Anglish will never challenge English for supremacy, as the wiki’s home in Fandom.com underlines. But the movement shows the benefit of English being a mongrel tongue rather than a purebred.

Jimmy Nicholls
Jimmy Nicholls
Writes somewhat about British politics and associated matters. Contact jimmy@rightdishonourable.com

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