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How English became English. E-words

24 August 2010

‘The language has a strange power of alchemy, the capacity to transform whatever it touches.’ Hitchings (2008:4)

Is ‘e-tivity’ – a ‘loan word’ or invention? And what about ‘e-lapsed’ time. The proof of a word brought into the English language could be how it performs as a verb or adjective. Try this then, ‘e-tivitate’ or ‘e-tivical’ or ‘e-type.’ Problematic, or a form of the language that defies what has gone before, yet follows the pattern of invention.


‘A new word is a solution to a problem. It answers a need – intellectual, experiential. Often the need is obvious, but sometimes it is unseen and badly felt, and then it is only in finding something to plug the gap that we actually realise the gap was there in the first place.’ Hitchings (2008:5)

‘Very few words are fresh coinages.’ Hitchings (2008:5)


‘We relish playing with words: making them up, acquiring them, tending them to new purposes.’ Hitchings (2008:6)

Shchekotik ‘half-tingle, half-tickle.’

‘One culture chaffing against another.’ Hitchings (2008:7)


“As an ‘analytic’ language – that is, one in which meaning is mainly shaped by word order and the use of particles such as prepositions and conjunctions – it has been able to absorb words without any concern for how to fit them into its grammar.’ Hitchings (2008:9)


‘A newly adopted noun can easily be turned into an adjective.’



And just about anything can be made into a verb

e.g. ‘Let’s sashimi the tuna.’

So e-tivity to e-tivical? E-learning to e-learnable?

‘There’s a way to e-learn everything?’

‘I e-learnt French through Open Learn.’

I feel not.

Wherein lies the unlikely longevity of these ‘e-terms.’


“Words – or lexemes, as linguists call them – are ‘the means by which we make direct reference to extralinguistic reality, converting our basic perception of the world around us into language.’


they ‘serve as labels for segments of … reality which a speech community finds name worthy.’ Katsovsky (2006)


Dieter Katsovsky ‘Vocabulary’, in Richard Hogg and David Denison eds) ‘A History of the English Language. Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 2006, 199.

new ideas and products are names
we can talk about something before it exists
the limits of our language mark the limits of our world (paraphrasing Wittgenstein).


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