Take the French Out of English

April, 2003
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After a recent week of words from law, where many of the words are of French origin, I {Anu} received this email from a reader:

"I propose you no longer feature words which have a base or stem from the French language. I no longer see that as a positive e-mail."

In these times when emotions run high, it's understandable why someone would say that, why US lawmakers would rename French fries and French toast in their cafeteria menus. Or why a group of German professors thinks they need to exclude English terms from their vocabulary.

This is not the first time linguistic revisionism is being attempted. During World War I, in the US, some had tried to rename sauerkraut as "liberty cabbage", for example. But we're all so interconnected, as are our languages, that any such attempt quickly falls flat on its face.

"Freedom fries" they say? Well, there's still some French remaining, as the word fry comes from Old French frire. "Freedom toast"? What about toast which comes from Middle French toster. Thinking along these lines, we may even have to rename the US (from Old French estat). Estimates vary, but one-quarter or more of words in the English language have a French influence. In the two lines that the above-mentioned reader sent us, at least six words have French connections (propose, feature, base, language, positive, mail). A language isn't owned by a country. French belongs as much to France as to Senegal or Canada or anyone else who speaks it.

To celebrate the diversity of the English language, this week we'll look at five words that have come into English from five different languages.

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