Philological Fun Facts

Many of us will recognise the word ‘woot’ from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, as in:

“And wel I woot, as ye goon by the weye” Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, General Prologue l.771

It translates to ‘know’ in modern English but did you know that ‘woot’ is still in use today, although the meaning is very different.

Today the word ‘woot’ has become a term that is more at home in the game-speak of multi-player online role-playing games and Unix geek-speak. In the former situation it means ‘Wow, loot!” and in the latter it is used to refer to the root command prompt.

Our modern English conjunction ‘but’ is actually derived from an Old English preposition ‘butan’, which meant ‘outside’ (and for you budding comparative linguists out there, notice the similarity with modern Dutch ‘buiten’); originally, the Old English word for ‘but’ was ‘ac’. Over the course of Old English, however, the word ‘ac’ became less preferred and ‘butan’ started to be used as the conjunction ‘unless’ and eventually ‘but’.

Our modern words for ‘shirt’ and ‘skirt’ are actually derived from the same word in Old Norse ‘skyrta’. ‘Shirt’ took the Old English ‘sc’ sound, which is the same as our modern English ‘sh’ and ‘skirt’ took the Scandinavian ‘sk’ sound.

When someone refers to a boss or a leader as the ‘honcho’ they are actually using a word that was introduced into English from Japanese. ‘Honcho’ is translated as ‘lead officer’ and was adopted by English speaking pilots when they were stationed in Japan during WWII.

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