Episode 155: Back to Basics

In the 1553, Mary Tudor became the first queen to rule England as the head of the government. She promptly turned back the clock on the religious reforms that had taken place over the prior few years. Meanwhile, scholars of English were also trying to turn back the clock. They wanted to return the language to its roots and eliminate the so-called ‘inkhorn’ terms which were so common at the time. In this episode, we explore those parallel attempts to go ‘back to basics.’


16 thoughts on “Episode 155: Back to Basics

    • The OED has citations showing the use of “gainsay” in the 1300s and 1400s, so it wasn’t coined by John Cheke. He used it along with the other words which he apparently coined (like “naysay”). “Naysay” is the only word he coined which is still used, but the word “gainsay” is used as well. In reading the transcript, I didn’t make that clear, so I hope that makes sense.

  1. Another fascinating episode (sorry, is “fascinating” a foreign loan word?). In the UK the argument is still going on and there is an organisation called the Plain English Campaign https://plainenglish.co.uk whose purpose is to purge Government documents and other official documents of gobbledegook (heaven knows where that word was loaned from!) on the basis that the State uses obscure words to prevent ordinary people from understanding what they are talking about.

    • Etymonline has this on the derivation of gobbledygook:
      “the overinvolved, pompous talk of officialdom” [Klein], 1944, American English, first used by Texas politician Maury Maverick (1895-1954), a grandson of the inspiration for maverick and chairman of U.S. Smaller War Plants Corporation during World War II, in a memo dated March 30, 1944, banning “gobbledygook language” and mock-threateaning, “anyone using the words activation or implementation will be shot.” Maverick said he made up the word in imitation of turkey noise. Another word for it, coined about the same time, was bafflegab (1952).

  2. I was curious to hear you say that Canute tried to hold back the tide, but in a previous episode, you mentioned that he did what he did to prove to his courtiers that he didn’t have the power to hold back the tide. Disproving the argument that he was a god incarnate

    • Both versions of the story have been told over time. I think the story is often told to show Canute’s inflated perception of his own power, while many scholars insist that the purpose of the story was illustrate Canute’s understanding that royal power was limited. In this episode, I was alluding to what I think is the common version of the story (but to be fair, the story is largely unknown in the US, so I may be wrong about that).

  3. I found most of the “plain English” examples mentioned (from the geometry text to the unfinished translation of the Gospel according to Matthew) to be clumsy and lacking. I am glad they didn’t stick. I prefer my English language with rectangles and resurrections!

  4. I love your pod cast and I just realized that I’m all caught up, it only took me a few months to listen to the whole thing. Now I have to wait about a month…. Well I’ll be happily waiting for the episodes to come by.

    • Jose, I have had the same experience! I started working from home in 2020 at the start of COVID and had the opportunity to have something to listen to while I was working. I found this podcast and loved it. I caught up a couple of months ago and I’m feeling your pain. I can’t just go to an episode when I want to but have to wait with everybody else.

      Hope you continue to enjoy it as much as I do…

      • Ken, Yes I do enjoy it a lot! I started listening to this podcast sometime last year because I wanted to learn about the Latin language and the history of it, so I looked up “Latin language” and this one show up at the top. The first episode didn’t catch my interest right away, but it was still interesting so I kept listening and a few month later here I’m waiting for the next episode. I think I’ll go re-visit a few episodes in the meantime.


  5. Pingback: The History of English Podcast – PGA Gameday

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