An interesting extract from the Young Writers Guide I found while researching English anomalies:

WHO  The Old English word for who was hwa (both the h and the w were sounded). During the period 1200-1400 in the south of England, writers spelled this word with a w or wh because they incorrectly believed it belonged to the same family of words as what, where and which, and they wanted to make the language more consistent. However, the word wha was still pronounced /hwa/. From the 1400s, the pronunciation and spelling of the a changed to 0. At about the same lime, people stopped sounding the /w/ in /hwa/. So the word who was pronounced /hoo/ but still began with the letter w.

The same story is true for the words whom (Old English hwaem) and whose (Old English hwaes). For no real reason, between the years 1400 and 1600 several other English words with an /h/ sound before the letter 0 were also changed to wh- (whole, wholly, whoop). So English has this strange group of words beginning with a silent w.

Read more over at Google Books, and yes this has turned into one of those blogs, now get off my lawn.


The Patron Saint of Patronising

I’ve been having a horrible time of late trying to fix my pronunciation after a friend pointed out I was saying the word patronising the wrong way. Try as I might I couldn’t help but keep saying pate-ronising, which I would duly beat myself up for as a result. That is until I looked it up.

Turns out both are just tomato-tomato’s of the same word, both pronunciations coming from the Latin ‘pater’ meaning father, (and for you Harry Potheads out there, the later word ‘patronus’, meaning defender). I guess this makes the word ‘patroness’ a lot more interesting all of a sudden.

I must say I find it odd though, my friend really did have a justifiable point. For some reason Pat-ronising sounds more like looking down on someone than Pate-ronising, which sounds like you’re lovingly fathering over something. I think I’m going to keep using that distinction now too, I do rather like it.

It would seem I’ve just been effectively incorrected!

I’m Down With the Old Time Lingo

A tribe of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory of Australia were known to refer to what we commonly call a Digeridoo as a “Bamboo”, which has been suggested to be directly linked to the fact that the Didge resembles, and perhaps was once made from, the hollow giant grass of the same name. If this is the case, we share a word today with people 40,000 years ago that has remained completely unchanged in meaning and pronunciation since that time. That’s pretty impressive when you consider that our species potentially arose only 10,000 years before that!