Some things never change.

Things that are burnable used to be marked “inflammable”. “Inflammable” basically means “really really flammable”, but people kept misunderstanding and thinking it meant “non-flammable”.

Now the labels just read “flammable”.

This, and a post by Ryan, reminds me of when I took an Old English class in college. By “Old English”, to be clear, I am referring to Anglo-Saxon — the pre-Latinate ancestor of the Modern English spoken by Shakespeare.

Shakespeare spoke an early form of Modern English, the same language we speak today. Though his language is flowery and poetic, it can still be understood by a literate person today (barring a few archaic words, such as “bodkin”, which a modern reader would not know offhand).

Chaucer wrote in Middle English, and his Canterbury Tales is just comprehensible if you really work at it and read all the footnotes. Though linguistically interesting, it is a hard slog for the modern reader.

Old English is for all purposes a foreign language. It is the language in which Beowulf (c. 600 AD) was written (that version you read in high school was a translation). It is not even remotely comprehensible to a modern reader who has not specifically studied it.

It is therefore interesting to note certain words that, in all this time, have not changed one bit. The two that jump right out at me are “gold”, and “God”. Oh, and you might recognize the only slightly modified “haelp!”.

Some things you just don’t mess with.

Note: I would be curious to learn the OE word for the sex act. I would not be surprised to find that that, too, is relatively unchanged.

Comments are invited and encouraged

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