The History of English in 10 Minutes

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • ‘Tis Himself

    One minor quibble. The word “penis” comes from the Latin penis meaning penis.

    • wholething

      @’Tis Himself

      That’s a cocky comment.

  • aaron

    A quibble from your resident pseudo-linguist:

    The claim that the Anglo Saxon language was more useful because it consisted of simple everyday terms is completely false. Especially the implicit argument that Latin somehow did not. I’m not sure how that got into an otherwise decent video.

  • left0ver1under

    “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.”
    - James Nicoll

  • Donovan of NH

    As for Anglo-Saxon, or English, being a useful language, I’d say it’s very adaptable. English is one of the very few languages that allows you to make up a word on the spot and everyone will instantly know how to use that word in a sentence, provided they know its original part of speech. If I said I have a greep, and you were confused and I showed you a marble, you would know that you had seen greeps before, probably wouldn’t give a thought to pondering if it’s many greepi, or greel. You can instantly decide that other spheres have a greepness, they’re rather greepy, and simple geometry begins greepless before getting into greepian confusion.

    But also, we can make any verb a noun and any noun a verb and use any word we choose to form an adjective and any other speaker will know what you mean. This is because we have such a crude, so to speak, word modifying system. To turn the word “catch” into a noun, we do not need to decide on a gender, for instance. Or to say “catchy” we don’t need to decide where we will delineate the end of the root so we can add gender to the adjective. We can go crazy, and still be understood perfectly well:

    dog -> dogish -> dogishness -> dogishnessless

    Other languages have similar adaptability, but very few have it so thoroughly spread throughout as English does.

    • Andrew Houghton

      What dictionary version newspeak we on now? 1984 it was 10.

    • Andrew Houghton

      Two nations divided by a common language, one you are managing to distort with great vulgarity and a hedonistic disregard for its rules. Please don’t convert everything into an adjective by adding a suffix, pick up a dictionary and find the right one.

    • aaron

      In the sense of linguistic rules, there’s no distortion going on whatsoever. All of those are valid constructs in English — the only scientific sense in which they would be invalid would be if they were incomprehensible to English speakers (which they are not.) Language is a living, evolving thing. The only other “rules” that could possible be broken here are simply artificial ones imposed by old-school grammarians for no good rational reason.

    • ‘Tis Himself

      But also, we can make any verb a noun and any noun a verb

      As Bill Watterson put it so exquisitely, “Verbing weirds language.”

  • Laurent Weppe

    dog -> dogish -> dogishness -> dogishnessless

    Chien -> chienesque -> chienesquerie -> achienesquerie

  • aaron


    All languages have productivity and discreteness. Those are actually two of 13 features that distinguish language from other communication systems. Arguably AS had greater productivity in one way, compounding, but even so that wasn’t the claim made, which was that AS vocabulary consisted of simple everyday terms. Which isn’t true.

    • Andrew Houghton


    • aaron

      I’m not sure what you’re point is, though from your other comments you seem to be going through correcting people’s language usage. Discreteness is, in fact, “correct” — in the sense that it is the word linguists use to describe this aspect of language.

      Of course, talking about “correctness” in language use is in many ways fundamentally silly, a thing only perpetrated by grammatical prescriptivists seeking to impose artificial rules on the naturally excellent order of language.

  • Tsu Dho Nimh


    William the Conquerer … was William the Bastard before 1066 :)

    My favorite English teacher said English was the language used by Normal soldiers to pick up Anglo Saxon wenches.

    English has many of the characteristics of a “pidgen” … simplified grammar, loss of gender, and wacked-out spelling.

    • Andrew Houghton

      ad nausea

  • blindrobin

    В космосе мы все говорим России …