# Would questions seeking native Anglo-Saxon equivalents to English terms borrowed from foreign languages be on-topic?

In a recent question, the OP wanted to know why English would borrow a foreign word like kudos from Greek when we already had two perfectly good English words, honour and glory.

I wanted to point out that both of these English words were themselves borrowed from French but I did not know what word was used before they were imported.

In this particular case I managed to discover the word ār on Wiktionary was in fact the ousted native word.

But it's not always so easy to find them. (Yes I've done it before too. It's a fun game for language nerds. It's been a topic in Douglas Hofstadter works. It's come up on the language blog languagehat.com.)

So is it within the scope of english.stackexchange.com to ask for such Anglo Saxon words here, or is that something I should not bother the community here with even when I can't find them myself?

• – Hugo Mar 14 '12 at 12:03
• After multiple answers, now I question my understanding of your question. Are you asking about the Anglo-Saxon (roughly equivalent to OE) words themselves in that ancient dead language, or the modern -derivatives- of those words? Subtle difference but important. If it is about the Modern English word with an AS/OE history, then that is totally and unassailably on topic. If it is about the AS/OE word itself, I'd like it to be on topic but I can see that others might not care for that. – Mitch Mar 17 '12 at 14:24
• No I'm asking about the opposite of the derivatives of OE words. I'm asking about OE words which were displaced by words borrowed from other languages, or the derivatives. For instance "tidal wave" is an English term that was recently displaced by the foreign import "tsunami" and "ār" was an OE word displayed long ago by the foreign imports "glory" and "honour". – hippietrail Mar 17 '12 at 23:54
• On the usage of Wiktionary see also meta.english.stackexchange.com/a/7314/130551 – Nemo Nov 16 '15 at 8:58

I can't imagine it -not- being on-topic. You're asking about the various English terms for a given concept, with special attention to comparing the etymologies.

It is not off-topic to -refer- to other languages, to recognize their existence, or even to discuss the meaning (using English terms) of the foreign term.

What is off-topic is a question primarily about the foreign language term itself, an expectation of understanding of a foreign language term. "what does kudos mean in Greek?' as a main question is definitely off-topic, but is just as definitely useful and on-topic -within the answer to some question about 'kudos' as an English term.

• Sorry Mitch, I'm removing my "accept" now that this issue is proving to be controversial after all... – hippietrail Mar 14 '12 at 12:07
• Don't worry about the accept. But I think the other answer is not to the point. Is the question about a modern English word primarily? Then it is definitely on topic, no matter far back the discussion goes, to Proto-Germanic, PIE, Proto-Nostratic, whatever, as long as the focus is on the etymology of the modern English word and its nuances. As to discussion of an Old English word in and of itself, I find that to be another question (I"m very open to that, too, just that I don't think others would find it on-topic). – Mitch Mar 14 '12 at 13:13

It would probably be on-topic, but you might need to be careful with the wording. There's an implicit assumption that "the real word" in English can be traced back to an Anglo-Saxon root in every case, but in some cases it has been ousted by a foreign word. I'm uneasy about that attitude, and in any case it is historically wrong: the Saxon invasion superimposed a foreign language on the part-Latin, part-Celtic tongue then spoken here just as the Norman invasion superimposed a Romance layer onto the language spoken in 1065.

As I see it, the difference in meaning and etymology between honour, glory and kudos would make a good question, in which the meanings in the original languages would be interesting but not authoritative; a question requiring the answer ar would be no more on-topic here than on German.SE. You would probably have to wait for Anglo-Saxon.SE.

• There's many reasons for wanting to know the Old English / Anglo-Saxon equivalent of a Modern English word. Assuming everybody with curiosity in this field would be bad faith. – hippietrail Mar 14 '12 at 11:37
• @hippietrail: Not sure what your second sentence means, but 'the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of a Modern English word' is asking for a translation, which is off-topic (according to the FAQ) no matter what your motive. – TimLymington Mar 14 '12 at 11:42
• There's very little Celtic influence in English by the way other than some loanwords (and maybe some influence on phonology?). English is a Germanic language on the branch where Dutch is, closest to Frisian in fact. Celtic, Latin, and English are all on different branches of Indo European. – hippietrail Mar 14 '12 at 11:46
• You have an interesting hard line on Old English being a foreign language as far as the FAQ is concerned. It would seem to conflict with matters of etymology too. I think you've inspired me to ask a new meta question. – hippietrail Mar 14 '12 at 11:50
• In fact its already been asked though apparently not resolved: Are Old and Middle English questions really on-topic? – hippietrail Mar 14 '12 at 11:55
• @hippietrail: And here: meta.english.stackexchange.com/q/1042/8019. I think there's a consensus that tracing the roots of a current English word is on-topic, no matter what strange byways it goes down. Asking about a foreign word is always off-topic; so it comes down to 'Is Middle English/OE/Anglo-Saxon "English" within the meaning of the act?' I'd say no in this context, precisely because of the way meanings change over time. Your apparent assumption ('borrowed from French') that modern gloire means the same as the root you are talking about makes my hair stand on end. – TimLymington Mar 16 '12 at 11:59
• Hmm so either English used to be foreign before it evolved past the Old and Middle stages, "foreign" can sometimes be a synonym for "native", or the FAQ needs to be reworded. Your assumption of my hostility and your interpretation of the word "foreign" makes my hair stand on end. – hippietrail Mar 16 '12 at 12:07
• @hippie: Actually, I'm trying to find common ground. Of course native can be foreign: as I said, at one time, the language of England was Latin/Celtic, which would be trivially off-topic. Unless your position is that The English Language began with the Anglo-Saxon invasions and continued in a single line ever since apart from some illegitimate borrowings (which I don't believe it is), we're just disagreeing about precise boundaries, which is fairly unremarkable. – TimLymington Mar 16 '12 at 12:26

I feel language, like water, can never be found pure unless you synthesize it. A language bears with it the history of its people.

So, any word, phrase, idiom which has a link to English should be discussed. It is true, that since the British empire took English around the world, there were exchanges, happening either way, often implicit. For example, did you know the following were borrowed from languages very much remote to English:

cash, tank, mango, orange, tycoon, honcho, typhoon, loot, thug, juggernaut, khaki, assassin, algebra, algorithm, candy, cashmere, navy, cot, teak, shampoo, shawl, godown, pyjama, verandah, aniline, indigo, jackal, jaggery, umbrella etc.

As an exercise, you may want to check which are the languages.

• Beware of folk etymologies. Cash, deriving either from cache or Latin capsa chest, long predates contact with China. Navy undoubtedly comes ultimately from Latin navis/navigare, though the intermediate steps are doubtful. – TimLymington Mar 19 '12 at 10:50