Words, Words, Words

That was Hamlet’s reply to Polonius’ question, “What do you read, my lord?” in Shakespeare’s 1603 play. The implication is that he was bored. Unlike Hamlet, I am fascinated with words. Readers of this blog ask me why. The best I can tell you is that I am a writer (six books and 17 short stories) and a linguist (seven languages other than English), and my life has been filled with words.

I learned early in life that I was blessed (and cursed) with a vocation: to write. I was also born with an unusual flair for languages—they come to me easily, and I enjoy studying them. Because writing doesn’t pay, I became a linguist and a spy until I could retire with an ample annuity so that I could write fulltime.

And I am blessed that English arguably has more words (1,025,109) than any other modern language, according to the Oxford Dictionary. The number of people for whom English is their mother tongue is 350 million, but the number of people who use English is 750 million.

Modern English words come mostly from old English and its German roots (Anglo-Saxon), but we also have borrowed from a multitude of other languages. In order of frequency, they are Latin, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Scandinavian, Japanese, Arabic, Portuguese, Sanskrit, Russian, Maori, Hindi, Hebrew, Persian, Malay, Urdu, Irish, Afrikaans, Yiddish, Chinese, Turkish, Norwegian, Zulu, and Swahili.

Ours is a polyglot language.

So I have a rich source to draw on for my writing. And because of my fascination with words and the languages they come from, I regularly post here lists of intriguing words and their origin. I’ll be posting more of those starting tomorrow.

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