Where did English come from?

English didn’t originate in England. In the 5th and 6th centuries, invaders and settlers came to England from what is not Germany and the Netherlands. These included people such as the Angles, Saxons and Frisians. They brought with them their own languages which we call the Anglo-Saxon Language or Old English Language. Written Old English is similar in vocabulary and grammar to other old Germanic languages such as Old High German and Old Norse, and completely unintelligible to modern English speakers.

England was conquered by the Normans in 1066. The Normans came from the north of France. They brought new words into the English Language. This produced a language we call the Anglo-Norman Language or Middle English. The European Renaissance saw many new words from Latin and Greek entering the language. Thus, English developed into a “borrowing” language with an enormously disparate vocabulary. By the 16th century, English had developed and we have Modern English – the language of Shakespeare and onwards – which we continue to use today, albeit with some minor changes.


What words in Chinese came from English?

Can you think of some words you know in Chinese that originally came from English?

What words in English came from Chinese?

Can you think of any English words you know that originally came from Chinese?

What is the longest word in English?

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch railway station sign
Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch railway station sign is the longest place name in the UK.

There is some argument about the answer to this question. Some words have been coined (made up) just to have this record. Other words are technical or scientific words that are not in common use and not in any dictionary. Before you read the list below, have a game to see what long words you can think of.

‘Honorificabilitudinitatibus’ is the longest word used by Shakespeare in his plays.

‘Antidisestablishmentarianism’ is the longest, non-coined, English word. That means the word was not just made up for the purpose of being the longest word.

‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ was created for a song in the musical Mary Poppins. It means – OK or Alright.

Taumata­whakatangihanga­koauau­o­tamatea­turi­pukaka­piki­maungah­oronuku­pokai­whenuaki­tanatahu in New Zealand
Taumata­whakatangihanga­koauau­o­tamatea­turi­pukaka­piki­maungah­oronuku­pokai­whenuaki­tanatahu in New Zealand

‘Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis’ is the longest word found in a dictionary. However, it was deliberately made up so as to be the longest word. There is an alternative, shorter and more correct word.

‘Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch’ is the name of a village in Anglesey in north Wales.

‘Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu’ is a hill in New Zealand.

How many words are there in English?

This is a puzzle. How do you find the answer? Well I looked in the dictionary. The Oxford English Dictionary is the largest dictionary of English words. It says the following:

“There is no single sensible answer to this question.”

WTF! There is no answer? Why? Well it goes on to say:

“It’s impossible to count the number of words in a language, because it’s so hard to decide what actually counts as a word.”

The dictionary gives some examples. Take for instance the word ‘dog’. You know this word. It is a four legged animal that people keep as pets. How about ‘dogs’ (more than one dog). Does adding the ‘s’ make it a different word or is it the plural form of the same word. It gets more complicated with you have the verb ‘dog’ meaning to follow someone closely. This time ‘dog’ has a very different meaning but is spelled the same. Do we have one word with two meanings or two words with the same spelling? Add on ‘dogging’, ‘dogged’, ‘doggedly’ and the who business get’s complicated.

Now look at another word ‘hotdog’. It can also be spelled ‘hot-dog’ and ‘hot dog’. Is this one word with three spellings or three words with the same meanings? The the last spelling, ‘hot dog’ is that really one word or is it two words together – ‘hot’ and ‘dog’?

Then there are regional variations. Americans write ‘color’ and English people write ‘colour’. Are these two words with the same meanings or two spellings for the same word?

What about words that came from foreign languages? The word ‘manga‘ is a Japanese word for a kind of cartoon. It is a new word that is not becoming commonly used in English but it isn’t an English word. Should it be counted in the number of English words? Ultimately many many English words are loanwords. Should we exclude all of them? How commonly used does a word have to be to get included?

And so you can see the difficulty in counting the number of words in English or indeed any other language.

The dictionary doesn’t say the the full 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary has entries for 171,476 words which are in current use today and 47,156 words which are now considered obsolete.