Inkhorns are not just for the pretentious

inkhorn-150x150.jpgVaguely related to my last post about Anglish, a modified version of English with mostly Anglo-Saxon roots, here is a new term for you: inkhorn. Not to be confused with eggcorn, inkhorn was a word used to describe what was thought to be an unnecessarily pretentious word borrowed into English from a foreign language, usually Latin or Greek. Its origin dates back to the period between Middle English and Modern English, when there was a lot of controversy about the proper use of the language. Some English speakers were quite keen to adopt new words from other places, and some were very strict about keeping their language pure (I would possibly have been in the latter camp).

An inkhorn was simply an inkwell made out of horn, and many people could not understand why this new term was necessary. A lot of inkhorn words did have a purpose, and no direct translation in English, but the problematic ones were the ones that already had a perfectly good Anglo-Saxon version.

In the end, many of the borrowed words, like celebrate, encyclopaedia, and ingenious, ended up replacing the now-archaic German-based words. Some were used for a short time, and then faded into obscurity (although words like expede still exist in other forms, like expedient). To combat the influx of foreign words, some purists tried to resurrect old Anglo-Saxon forms, and even went as far as creating their own new words. These words (such as gleeman for musician and foresayer for prophet) invariably didn’t make it through to modern times.

I wonder which terms from the present will be in use in 500 years. Will people still be saying for the win? I hope not.