Episode 145: A Sea Change for Europe

The period of European exploration and discovery began in the 1400s as part of an effort to find new trading routes to Africa and Asia. In this episode, we look at how European sailors and merchants began to think of the ocean as an international highway rather than a barrier to travel. We also examine the naval accounts of Henry VII’s ships to reveal a variety of words recorded for the first time in English.


25 thoughts on “Episode 145: A Sea Change for Europe

  1. Regarding “scuttlebutt”–wasn’t a butt a keg or barrel? (e.g. “a butt of Malmsey”) So scuttlebutt should refer to a barrel with a hole in it, and by association, the talk that went on around it.

    • Thanks! Be sure to check out the next episode when it is released because it will continue the story of Columbus to the New World. The details of those voyages are largely unknown to most people today, so it will be interesting to explore what actually happened.

  2. Great episode! This feels like a milestone point in the podcast, although we still have quite a while to go before English starts really going global. The sheer amount of Maritime jargon in English is quite interesting, especially all the cases where that jargon has seeped into standard English speech. I suppose it speaks to the burgeoning maritime tradition on the British Isles that will eventually lead to global naval supremacy.

    On another somewhat nautical note, I found out a while ago that the French cardinal directions, and subsequently most Romance languages via French, were likely borrowed from medieval English, as evidenced by “Est” following the Anglo-Frisian front vowel form and not the standard Germanic form with a back vowel like “Ost”. And then I discovered more recently that the German word for Boat “Boot” was most likely borrowed from English as well, hence why it doesn’t have an “ei” like you’d expect for a cognate from Proto-Germanic, like with Stone vs Stein. I find it quite fascinating to see the influence of English on other languages, especially after all the influence of other languages on English we’ve seen by now.

    I wonder if in your research you’ve come across any other major instances of English loans into other European languages from before English’s rise to a global language. It might make a for an interesting Bonus episode at some point if you need a bit of filler, since its kind of interesting to see English’s influence on other languages from when it was a much less important language in Europe and on the Global stage.

    • Thanks for the feedback. I do occasionally come across English words that have been borrowed into other languages. I don’t tend to mention them in the podcast since my focus in the development of English, but you are correct that it would be a great topic for a bonus episode. Since I’m running out of ideas for bonus episodes, I may take you up on the idea. Thanks again.

  3. Where were you when I had to take History of English as an undergrad in the mid-80s? 🙂

    This is *way* better than Baugh & Cable.

    • Glad you’re enjoying it. And to answer your question, I was in high school in the mid-80s, so I wouldn’t have been much help. 🙂

  4. Hi Kevin,
    I’m still listening to this episode but your explanation of the link between Jeans and Genoa has a parallel here in New Zealand. We call anything to do with bedroom or bathroom fabric goods ‘Manchester’. This almost certainly being a hang over from when Manchester in England was the centre of the linen trade throughout the British Empire.

  5. After starting at Episode 1 nearly 20 months ago, I have finally “caught up” to the most recent episode (with a lot of help from long, solitary pandemic walks). Having grown up in Raliegh, I could recognize a North Carolinian when I heard him, but the compelling nature of the story of our language kept me hooked. I initially thought I would be most interested in the PIE origins, and that I might waiver during the episodes about Old English, but those fascinated me to no end, even leading to a deeper understanding of German (I can use all the help there that I can get). Thank you!

    • Thanks! I’m glad you managed to work your way through the entire series so far, and I hope you stick with it to the end. We’re closer to the end than the beginning, but we still have a long way to go.

  6. I have just finished that episode & LOVED it!!
    Fascinating indeed & I plan to listen to it at least twice more!!
    Thanks SO MUCH for adding this & subsequent episodes about travel to & exploration of the New World!
    Did you release the transcript yet?? (I don’t have access to my desktop or laptop right now.)
    Your HOE podcast is THE BEST!!

  7. This is OT, but I am wondering if anyone here could tell in which episode Kevin talks about the sh-/sk- words generally deriving from PIE origin in some way generally referring to the notion of cutting, slicing dividing, parting. And/or if anyone could give me keywords to help me search for this in google. I was telling a friend about it but my memory fails me on details, it’s been so.long.

    • Hi Joshua. I think that discussion was in ‘Episode 53: Norse Words and a New English.’ It was in the second half of the episode.

  8. I really can’t believe I misspelled my own hometown. Sheesh. I have also gotten more interested in the history of England due to your podcast. I started listening last spring to David Crowther’s podcast. Yesterday I hit episode 151 and guess who’s voice popped up at the end? My podcasts are colliding.

  9. Hello Kevin
    Thanks for the informative series.
    One significant geographical issue with episode 145.
    Indonesia (the former Dutch East Indies) is not in the South Pacific.
    The South Pacific lies south of the equator between New Zealand and South America. (The first recorded European voyage there was not until the mid 16th century). Indonesia lies on the eastern edge of the Indian Ocean.

  10. Thanks for the great episode!

    In the third century BCE, the Greek scientist Eratosthenes was able to calculate the circumference of the Earth with a remarkable accuracy (one or two perent). Columbus (at least according to the Wikipedia article, “Earth’s circumference”) knew of Eratosthenes’ result, but instead chose to believe that a map by Toscanelli (showing the earth as 25% too small) was correct. I believe that this error originated with the writings of Ptolemy (second century CE), who was very influential in Columbus’ time.

    BUT — were there a substantial number of people, in Columbus’ period, who DID believe Eratosthenes’ result? Or was it only the increasing evidence of a huge new land mass (i.e. the Americas) that finally persuaded everyone of the earth’s true size?

    • I think that most ‘experts’ believed Eratosthenes. That was part of the reason why Columbus had such a difficult time finding a patron to support his proposed expeditions. Most of the royal officials who studied his proposals rejected his ideas because they knew the earth was much bigger than Columbus was suggesting. Of course, they were right, but they didn’t know that a continent happened to be located right where Columbus thought Asia would be.

  11. I am Dutch and I don’t recognize “trade” as a Dutch word… we do have “trede” (pronounced with the same vowel as English trade, but the e at the end also pronounced as “uh”) meaning step, as in a step in a flight of stairs…

    • According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word derives from “Middle Dutch ‘trade’ path, course, manner of acting [Dutch ‘trade, tra’ track, path, also regional (Flanders) ‘way of life’, and formerly ‘course, direction’].” It is possible that the word is no longer used in Dutch. I find that to be very common with French loanwords. Many of the French words that came into English in earlier centuries are no longer used in French.

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