Some facts about the English language

What follows are some things you might NOT have known about the English language. If you have any other ‘interesting’ facts, or if there’s something you would like to question, then please feel free!
  • Over 400 million people use the English vocabulary as a mother tongue, only surpassed in numbers, but not in distribution by speakers of the many varieties of Chinese.


Distribution of countries where English is the mother tongue

Distribution of countries where English is the mother tongue

  • No word in the English language rhymes with ‘month’, ‘orange’, ‘silver’ or ‘purple’.
  • Where does the word gringo come from? According to the Catalan etymologist Joan Coromines, gringo is derived from griego (Spanish for “Greek“), the term for an unintelligible language (as in the English phrase, ´it´s all Greek to me´). From referring simply to language, it was extended to people speaking foreign tongues and to their physical features.

  • Portuguese has had a healthy influence on the English language. ‘Zebra’, ‘banana’, ‘commando’, ‘marmalade’, ‘palaver’, ‘tank’ are all of Portuguese origin. For a more complete list.
  • “E” is the most used letter in the English language. “Q” is the least used letter.
  • To rain cats and dogs is to rain very heavily. The metaphor behind the phrase is that of a dog and a cat fighting, something noisy and violent. The metaphor of a storm resembling a dog and cat fight dates to the mid-17th century, although the phrase, as we know it today, doesn’t appear for another half century.
  • The word “set” has more definitions than any other word in the English language.
  • In English, the days of the week are named after the Saxon gods (except for Saturday, which is named after the Roman god of agriculture). Sunday is named after the sun, Monday after the moon, Tuesday after Tiw, Wednesday after Woden, Thursday after Thor, Friday after Frige, and Saturday after Saturn.
  • The longest one-syllable word in the English language is “screeched.”
  • Old English was the West Germanic language spoken in the area now known as England between the 5th and 11th centuries. Speakers of Old English called their language Englisc, themselves Angle, Angelcynn or Angelfolc and their home Angelcynn or Englaland. One of the oldest surviving texts in Old English is ´Beowulf´. Watch the clip below. Do you understand anything? 
  • Credit for coining the word ´Reggae´goes to Toots Hibbert for his 1968 song Do the Reggay. Some suggest it comes from the Jamaican English rege-rege meaning quarrel or row. Others indicate that it is from raggedy, a reference to a quality of the musical style
  • The longest word in the English language, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.
  • The combination “ough” can be pronounced in nine different ways. The following sentence contains them all: “A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed.”
  • The verb “cleave” is the only English word with two synonyms which are antonyms of each other: adhere and separate.
  • Can you create a grammatically correct phrase with eleven ‘hads’ in a row? Yes, you can.

      James, while John had had “had,” had had “had had”; “had had” had had a better effect on the teacher.


2 responses to “Some facts about the English language

  1. When we think about what language is we can get lots of different definitions. But one thing that everybody agrees is that language is something alive and it keeps up a constant modification. Sometimes languages change permanently and their speakers are responsible for this marvellous phenomenon.
    All languages change according to their speakers’ necessity, and English language does not differ from other languages in this case. However takes a quite long time for us to notice these modifications they occur pretty fast sometimes. Through the ages English has changed, adapted and borrowed words from other tongues and as a result of this, nowadays English is the first language of the world.
    It is easy to understand the English language when we study how these modifications happened in the past.
    A very nice book to read about this topic is : Once Upon a Time um Inglês: A História, os Truques e os Tiques do Idioma Mais Falado do Planeta – John D. Godinho. the book is in Portuguese but it’s a interesting reading. Have a look at it!

  2. Thanks for the reference Gleice and yes, English is very much a living language, being flexible enough to accommodate change, particularly in the area of vocabulary.
    It is estimated that about 25,000 words are added to the language each year.

    Apparently the newest words to enter the language are:

    Staycation: (noun) Keeping close to home on annual holiday because of economic conditions or the cost of gas/petrol.

    e-vampire: (noun) electrical equipment that consumes electricity while in standby mode.

    The statistics of English are astonishing. Of all the world’s languages (which now number some 2,700), it is arguably the richest in vocabulary. The compendious Oxford English Dictionary lists about 500,000 words; and a further half-million technical and scientific terms remain uncatalogued. According to traditional estimates, neighboring German has a vocabulary of about 185,000 and French fewer than 100,000, including such Franglais as le snacque-barre and le hit-parade.

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