Episode 50: A Unified Family of English Speakers

In the early 10th century, King Alfred’s children and grandchildren conquered the Viking region known as the Danelaw. This brought all of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms under the rule of a single monarch. That monarch was Aethelstan who became the first King of England.  The conquest of the Danelaw was also a family affair. So we explore the etymology of Modern English words related to family and family relations.


26 thoughts on “Episode 50: A Unified Family of English Speakers

  1. Hi Kevin –

    As usual, great episode! Years ago I discovered how much Norwegian sounded like English or Old English and have wanted to learn more. Your history and language parts blend so nicely. Thanks! Also, as an teacher of English to foreigners, I find the plural, “women” to be one of the top most mispronounced words, generally pronounced just like the singular. Understanding how “women” came to be makes the plural spelling more understandable …

  2. Hi Kevin!
    I’d like to mention the fact that “gift” in German has a negative conotation. We see “gift” as poison. Well, poison is something you gave to someone who you want to vanish from earth.I find this semantic change in the family of Germanic languages quite interesting and wanted to bring it to your attention. Thank you so much for your outstanding podcast! Keep up the good work!
    Regards Tom

      • Hi Kevin,
        in modern German we still use the word ‘Mitgift’, meaning ‘dowry’. ‘Mit’ is ‘with’, so it’s a gift from the bride’s family that comes ‘with’ the bride.
        So not all ‘Gift’ in German is toxic 🙂

  3. In Norwegian, gift has three meanings – poison, give/pay and married. I am pasting some of the Norwegian (bokmål) dictionary entry below. The payment part is now mostly used in compound words – avgift=fee – medgift=dowry literally with-pay or more likely with-marriage – tilgift (you will get this if you buy that) – utgift(expense) out-pay

    gift m1, f1 (norrønt gipt ‘gave’, i betydning 2 fra tysk , av gi)
    1 det å gi, særlig i sammensetninger
    avgift, medgift, tilgift, utgift
    2 i kjemi: stoff som skader eller dreper en organisme
    salt er gift for meg skadelig, helsefarlig / ta gift

    II gift a2 (egentlig perfektum partisipp av III gifte) som har inngått ekteskap
    hun er gift med en skotte / bli tidlig, sent gift / han har vært gift før / de har vært gift i 15 år / gifte par / være lykkelig gift

    • There were two different terms for a grandson in Old English. One way to refer to a grandson was to literally spell out the relationship. Your son’s son was your ‘suna sunu’ – literally ‘the son or your son.’ The other way to refer to a grandson was with the term ‘nefa’, but that term had a broader meaning and could refer to any male descendant. It is also related to the Latin word “nephew” thanks to a common Indo-European root word.

    • Did I pronounce it with an /s/ sound? Frankly, I don’t remember. For what it’s worth, the OED says that both pronunciations are used in both British and American English.

  4. I just listened to this episode, and listening to your plans to complete the entire series in “just” 100 episodes struck me as funny. “The best laid plans of mice and men…”

      • Yeah, kinda. I did figure it out though

        Enjoying the podcast very much. Am trying to learn French, and understanding how/why English and French are similar and different has been useful.

  5. I was hearing a lot of apple this and apple that as well. I absolutely love these podcasts With your calm, um-less voice and your quiet enthusiasm even for the smallest details.

  6. This is such a brilliant podcast! I love how you tell a story with no nonsense. It makes for compelling listening. I found it a few months ago, and I’ve binged my way through 50 episodes now. I’m delighted to see that after 142 episodes you’ve reached the Great Vowel Shift and are still going strong.

    Alfred the Great really was quite a king, wasn’t he! Have you heard of King Alfred’s Cakes? It’s what we call these weird black mushrooms that grow in English marshes, presumably because of resemblance to the famous incident you talked about earlier. Your commitment to this podcast is amazing. I can’t praise it highly enough. I listen on the website — can I give a review without downloading an app specially?

    I’ve done the voice samples. Are you noticing much diversity between speakers?

  7. Hi Kevin, I am on my second read-through and am enjoying it ten times as much as the first time.

    Raise vs. Raze

    Episode 50 around the 33 minute mark

    I have long been fascinated that before we Raise a new building we first Raze the old building. This homo-phonic yet antonymonic (did I get those right?) use of words fascinates me.

    Is “raze” cognate with “raise”?

    Chris Greaves

    • Despite being pronounced the same way, the words “raise” and “raze” are completely unrelated. “Raise” is an Old Norse word with Germanic origins, and “raze” is a French and Latin loanword (from the same root as “razor”). They also have separate Proto-Indo-European roots.

  8. Hi Keven,
    Was interested in what you had to say about the tooth fee. But you didn’t mention that in French, the word fée actually means fairy. Don’t know if that affects the tooth fairy connection, but fascinating.

  9. This episode reminds me of The Last Kingdom series! Aethelred, Aethelfled and Athelstan! I was so hoping to hear about Uhtred!
    Just kidding, but your podcast is fascinating. Ever since I started learning Dutch, I realized how close it is to English and Old English. Almost all the body parts are the same in both languages. And Old Frisian was called the Sister language of Old English.

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