The Untranslatables: The Most Intriguing Words from Around the World by C J Moore - review by David Profumo

David Profumo

Poking The Octupus

The Untranslatables: The Most Intriguing Words from Around the World

By

Chambers Harrap 127pp £8.99 order from our bookshop
 

The good old English language enjoys a famously unstable vocabulary and an astonishing history of borrowing words from abroad. In Chaucer’s time, foreign loans accounted for practically half the lingo – and today that figure may be half as much again. Every time another dictionary appears, some logologists express their horror at the welter of new terms admitted, but, as prescriptive linguists since the time of Swift and Johnson have realised, any attempt to constrain and confine our mother tongue is like trying to cram a live octopus into a carry-on bag.

Thanks to our Norman overlords and their fancy ways, many of the early additions to Anglo-Saxon were from French, though any linguistic contraflow has been resisted (we have never been forgiven for English becoming the diplomatic language and the lingua franca of the airline industry). Le Monde, prosecuted

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