I’ve got to hand it to English — it’s a democratic language. It uses words from all over the world and from different eras. It grows constantly, because new words are added all the time.
The origin of some words is pretty obvious. Judo, karate, kimono and tsunami come from Japan, while Germany gave us noodle, nix, snorkel and spiel. France offered us ballet, garage, liberty, pleasure and marriage. From the Caribbean, we’ve taken hurricane, barbecue, canoe, hammock and mosquito. (I’m not a big fan of mosquitoes — can we give those back?)
I always think it’s interesting to know the origins of words and commonly used phrases. Ever heard of the word defenestration? This word is guaranteed to stump almost everyone since it’s so obscure, and it’s hilarious to hear people try to guess the meaning of it. It comes from the Latin prefix de- (down) and the word fenestra (window). Give up? It’s the act of tossing somebody or something out of a window. Ouch.
I also like the phrase “hands down” (as in “He was the clear winner, hands down”), which comes from British horse racing. When a jockey had the lead in a race and there was no chance whatsoever of anybody catching up with him, the jockey would put his hands down, allowing the horse to continue galloping across the finish line.
And yet more words have been added in recent years. You “unfriend” somebody on Facebook, or admit that you’re a “Gleek” (a fan of the TV show “Glee” + “geek”). And let’s not forget “staycation” (popular until the U.S. economy recovers), “dramedy” and “romaction,” which I’ve seen mentioned in news articles and entertainment reviews.
I can’t wait to see where English goes in the future. One thing’s for sure: It’s going to be entertaining.