English the borrower

Via Paul Armstrong, this wry observation on the way English takes things from other languages:

Where does this come from?, you ask. It’s a variant of a longer version that Mark Liberman discussed on Language Log in 2005 (and quoted again in 2007), a version that dates to 1990.

Mark gives James D. Nicoll’s 5/15/1990 post to rec.arts.sf-lovers as the source (many websites attribute the quote to “Eddy Peters”, who appears to be a fabrication):

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.

(Actually, the true original had riffle, but Nicoll corrected that to rifle.)

Some discussion of the detective work that led back to Nicoll on LINGUIST list in 2002.

The differences between the versions are interesting. The Nicoll original was about borrowing vocabulary; the version above is about borrowing in general. I’m partial to “dark alleys” over alleyways”, but to “beat them unconscious” over “knocks them down” and to “has pursued them” over “follows them”. And of course the “cribhouse whore” bit is wonderful.

One Response to “English the borrower”

  1. Ellen Says:

    I have that shirt đŸ™‚

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