October 24, 2005

The wordiness of English

In reference to Daphne Bramham's observation that "English is the most idiosyncratic and wordiest of all languages", I can't resist quoting James D. Nicoll's 5/15/1990 post to rec.arts.sf-lovers:

The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.

I've corrected the original (eggcornic) "riffle" to "rifle". Some further discussion is here, included a quoted email from James Nicoll: "If I had only known that was going to be my fifteen minutes of fame, I'd have run that sucker through a spell checker and taken more care while writing the surrounding material."

I'm not sure whether Nicoll's implicit claim is true: does English borrow words more avidly than your average language? In any case, we're certainly not shy about it. And sometimes a phrase is just too good to hold back for fact-checking.

Posted by Mark Liberman at October 24, 2005 10:14 AM