The History of English in 10 Minutes, Annotated

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

This page is a annotated version of:

The History of English in Ten Minutes By The Open University. At

The original work are licensed by © [].

Chapter 1: Anglo-Saxon


Jutes [ Jutes ] [ ] were one of the three most powerful Germanic peoples of their time, the other two being the Saxons and the Angles. They are believed to have originated from Jutland, in modern Denmark, Southern Schleswig (South Jutland) and part of the East Frisian coast.
The Germanic peoples (also called Teutonic or Gothic in older literature) are an ethno-linguistic group of Northern European origin, identified by their use of the Indo-European Germanic languages which diversified out of Proto-Germanic during the Pre-Roman Iron Age. Originating about 1800 BCE …. [ Germanic peoples ] [ ]

The English language begins with the phrase “Up Yours Caesar!” as the Romans leave Britain and a lot of Germanic tribes start flooding in, tribes such as the Angles and the Saxons — who together gave us the term Anglo-Saxon, and the Jutes — who didn't.

The Romans left some very straight roads behind, but not much of their Latin language.

Anglo Germanic people who took their name from the ancestral cultural region of Angeln, a district located in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. [ Angles ] [ ]
Saxon medieval confederation of Germanic tribes on the North German plain. [ Saxons ] [ ]

The Anglo-Saxon vocab was much more useful as it was mainly words for simple everyday things like house, woman, loaf and werewolf.

days of the week Sunday = Sun's day. Monday = Moon's day. Tuesday = Tiw's day. [ Týr ] [ýr ] is god of single combat… from Norse mythology. Wednesday = [ Wōden ] [ōden ]'s day. Thursday = [ Thor ] [ ], god of thunder. Friday = [ Frigg ] [ ] or [ Freyja ] [ ]. A goddess. Saturday = [ Saturn ] [ ] (Greek's [ Cronus ] [ ], father of Zeus. Cronus ate his sons… but Zeus survived and cut his balls off. See: Art of Francisco Goya.) [ Weekday names ] [ ]

Four of our days of the week — Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were named in honour of Anglo-Saxon gods, but they didn't bother with Saturday, Sunday and Monday as they had all gone off for a long weekend.

While they were away, Christian missionaries stole in bringing with them leaflets about jumble sales and more Latin.

martyr martyr = Old English from Late Latin from Greek “martyr”, literally “witness”. [etymology of martyr] ◇ bishop = Old English “bisceop” from Late Latin “episcopus” from Greek “episkopos” meaning “watcher”, “overseer”, a title for various government officials, later taken over in a Church sense, from {“epi- = over” + “skopos = watcher”}. [etymology of bishop] ◇ font = originally “fountain”, “basin”. [etymology of font]

Christianity was a hit with the locals and made them much happier to take on funky new words like martyr, bishop and font.

Vikings «One of a seafaring Scandinavian people who raided the coasts of northern and western Europe from the eighth through the tenth century.» [AHD] [ Viking ] [ ]
drag [etymology of drag] ◇ [etymology of ransack] ◇ [etymology of thrust] ◇ [etymology of die] ◇ [etymology of give] ◇ [etymology of take]

Along came the Vikings, with their action-man words like drag, ransack, thrust and die, and a love of pickled herring. They may have raped and pillaged but there were also into give and take — two of around 2000 words that they gave English, as well as the phrase “watch out for that man with the enormous axe”.

Chapter 2: The Norman Conquest

The Norman Conquest

William the Conqueror [ William the Conqueror ] [ ] (~1028 to 1087) was the first Norman King of England from Christmas 1066 until his death. (The [ Normans ] [ ] were the people who gave their name to Normandy, a region in northern France. They were descended from Norse Viking conquerors of the territory and the native population of Frankish and Gallo-Roman stock.)
Doomsday book [ Domesday Book ] [ ] is a 11th-century survey of England. The survey was executed for William the Conqueror.
duty free tax free. [ Duty-free shop ] [ ]
Galois's multipack Refers to Brits crossing the channel to buy cheaper French cigarettes. ([ Gauloises ] [ ] is a popular brand, and you would buy multipacks of them if you were a Brit in a [ Calais ] [ ] hypermarket)

1066. True to his name, William the Conqueror invades Britain, bringing new concepts from across the channel like the French language, the Doomsday book and the duty free Galois's multipack.

de rigeur Required by the current fashion or custom. (AHD)
John Grisham [ John Grisham ] [ ] (born 1955) is a American lawyer and author, best known for his popular legal thrillers. (movie “The Firm” (1993) starring Tom Cruise, is based on his novel of the same name. (See also: Tom Cruise, 1984, NewSpeak, and the Language of Scientology.))
ad nauseam To a disgusting or ridiculous degree; to the point of nausea. (AHD)
[etymology of judge] [etymology of jury] [etymology of evidence] [etymology of justice]

French was de rigeur for all official business, with words like judge, jury, evidence and justice coming in and giving John Grisham's career a kick-start. Latin was still used ad nauseam in Church, and the common man spoke English — able to communicate only by speaking more slowly and loudly until the others understood him.

a la carte is a French language loan phrase meaning “according to the menu”. [ À la carte ] [À_la_carte ]
toffs In British English slang, a toff is a mildly derogatory term for someone with an aristocratic background or belonging to the landed gentry, particularly someone who exudes an air of superiority. [ Toff ] [ ]
indecipherable Impossible to decipher. “decipher” means “to understand”.

Words like cow, sheep and swine come from the English-speaking farmers, while the a la carte versions — beef, mutton and pork — come from the French-speaking toffs — beginning a long running trend for restaurants having completely indecipherable menus.

bonhomie A pleasant and affable disposition; geniality. (AHD)
Hundred Years War [ Hundred Years' War ] [ ] was a series of separate wars waged from 1337 to 1453 by the House of Valois and the House of Plantagenet, also known as the House of Anjou, for the French throne, which had become vacant upon the extinction of the senior Capetian line of French kings. The House of Valois claimed the title of King of France, while the Plantagenets claimed the thrones of both France and England. The Plantagenet kings were the 12th-century rulers of the kingdom of England, and had their roots in the French regions of Anjou and Normandy.

The bonhomie all ended when the English nation took their new warlike lingo of armies, navies and soldiers and began the Hundred Years War against France.

✲2 [etymology of cow] [etymology of sheep] [etymology of swine] [etymology of beef] [etymology of mutton] [etymology of pork] [etymology of army] [etymology of navy] [etymology of soldier]

It actually lasted 116 years but by that point no one could count any higher in French and English took over as the language of power. ✲2

Thanks to [Brennan Young] for deciphering “galois's multipack”.