Episode 48: The Unity of Alfred’s English

After defeating the Danes, King Alfred set about reforming the educational system of Wessex. His reforms promoted English to an unprecedented level.  His reforms required the translation of many texts from Latin to English, and Alfred himself assisted with those translations. He also issued a new legal code and initiated the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.  One of Alfred’s goals was the unification of the Anglo-Saxon people under Wessex leadership, so we explore the history of English words related to unity.


18 thoughts on “Episode 48: The Unity of Alfred’s English

  1. Hi Kevin! I just listened to this episode yesterday…I love all the crazy related intertwining histories of our words…the piece about PIE Yoogum, and all the cognate words that have come out of it is pretty wild!

    One thing I can’t help but think is how amazing it is that words persist so strongly through history. They truly are our linguistic fossils, it’s incredible. You’ve got me completely hooked, I probably look up etymologies twice a day now, it’s definitely changing the way I look at language.

    Thank YOU KEVIN for producing such asskicking episodes!!! I totally love listening to them, and I get so excited about it. What you’ve done by bringing all of these stories together is deeply inspiring..I often times ask people I meet if they have any heros in their life…well, you are absolutely one of my heros.

    • Hi Jared. Thanks for the compliments. Your comments remind me to the old saying, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” That pretty much summarizes my efforts in putting the podcast together. 😉

  2. I knew the connection between the words yoga, yoke and jugular but never new quite how many other words we have from the same Proto Indo-European root word “yueg” fascinating

    It is interesting also that Persian is similar to English in that it as has the words “Khoob, Behtar, Behtarin” for Good, Better Best. Weird coincidence perhaps?

    • I don’t know enough about Persian to answer your question, but obviously it is an Indo-European language. So maybe there is a connection.

      • I think the words are cognate. It’s hard to find much on Persian etymology on line, but there are words where both Persian and English have close resemblances due to having changed little from the Proto Indo-European Eg. Brother/barodar daughter/dokhtar.

        I was more remarking on the fact that both languages have different roots for the words good and better/best. I was under the impression that this was quite a unique feature of English. I looked more into it and its actually very common in Indo-European languages, and even in some other language families. Bad, worse and worst is also interesting for the same reason.

    • “Augment” is not cognate with the words I discussed in this episode (specifically join, juncture, junction, yoke, yoga, subjugate, and so on). The Indo-European root of those ‘join’ words has been reconstructed as *yeug which meant ‘to join.’ The Indo-European root of “augment” has been reconstructed as *aug which meant ‘to increase.’

  3. Hello Kevin.
    I’ve been listening to your podcast through out the lockdown period and I find it absolutely fascinating . On the context of the Latin word “Uni” I’d like to add that in my native language we have the word “Jug” in the sense of “to add something” and also it refers to “plus” in terms of mathematics . Besides the word Sanskrit word “Yoga” literally meant union as in the context of union of soul with the Supreme.

  4. This is my favorite podcast! Always informative and well researched! I also enjoy the comments, which are thoughtful and bring new perspectives to the discussion. Thank you Kevin and thank you, other language geeks!

  5. Hi Kevin,

    You state that the word “good” acquired its modern meaning in England. So how does one account for the same word with the same meaning in German, Dutch, Friesan, Danish (and perhaps others, I haven’t checked Swedish, Faroese, etc.)?

    • …and the same applies to Norwegian and Icelandic. So that does look like it’s something common throughout the Germanic languages, and it’s hard to believe it simply originated in Anglo-Saxon. Interestingly though, it does not apply to Swedish, which seems to have kept closer with “bra/bättre/bäst”. It’s also noticeable that the same good/better fracture exists in Latin (and hence French/Italian/Spanish/Portuguese), although of course with different roots (bonum/melior). But that does not appear to apply to Romanian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Greek, Bulgarian. So I wondered whether there was some East/West European divide here – but the good/better fracture does apply still to Polish, Czech, Croatian, Ukrainian….so that’s a bit confusing.

    • Ah…I see Kevin has acknowledged the earlier origin and that more widespread construction at the start of the next episode.

  6. Hello Kevin
    You gave some examples of modern uses of the word ‘quick’ as lively or animated. Since we are coming up to Christmas I thought of The Night Before Christmas which describes Santa as
    ” a little old driver so lively and quick
    I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick”
    Aside from needing a rhyme for St. Nick it looks like Clement Moore was using that old meaning.

  7. What a wonderful podcast you have made , absolutely fascinating. One thing that does amuse me though is your pronunciation of English place names , they are a living case in point in how words get mangled over the years and very hard if not impossible for a foreigner to get right !

    • Tell me about it. I grew up in Minnesota but I have lived in Mass and Maine in recent decades. Worcester, MA I knew about even as a Minnesotan, but Leicester, MA and VT (Lehster) and so on seems a bit unfair for an American in America to have to deal with.

  8. Tell me about it. I grew up in Minnesota but I have lived in Mass and Maine in recent decades. Worcester, MA I knew about even as a Minnesotan, but Leicester, MA and VT (Lehster) and so on seems a bit unfair for an American in America to have to deal with.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.