English is the JavaScript of spoken languages.

Just think about it:

- it's extremely wide-spread for historical reasons;

- it is a somewhat random mash-up of at least three other languages;

- as much as all languages have their idiosyncrasies , it tends to have the more confusing ones.



- If you block English in your browser, the Internet seems like a somewhat empty place.

Though, more seriously, I'll add with my linguist-hat on, in terms of its linguistic properties, English isn't particularly weirder or more idiosyncratic than any other language. (Orthography aside, which isn't itself language but a language "add-on".)

@emacsomancer ah now you're cherry-picking.

The fact that one cannot reasonably clearly think about how a word is spoken based on how it's written (or vice-versa) is a huge deal. And I am ready to die on that hill! 😉

@rysiek @emacsomancer

A lot depends on which language a word was borrowed from, and when. For instance; "chief" and "chef" both have the same french word as their root, but they entered English more than a century apart. During that time the pronunciation of "ch" in French changed.

As one of my English teachers used to say; "English doesn't borrow from other languages. English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them out, then goes through their pockets for loose grammar."

@HMLivy @rysiek

on the origin of the quote, see: paulingraham.com/loose-grammar

on the general topic: part of the oddity of English spelling is that words from (esp. other European languages) tend to be borrowed with and retain their original spelling (modulo accents etc. in many cases).

@HMLivy @rysiek

On the quote, I'll note that English isn't actually particularly unique here, nor even an extreme.

Hindi/Urdu is a voracious borrower too, with heaps of Perso-Arabic vocabulary.

Albanian's vocabulary is more than 90% borrowings.

And Armenian retains only about 1,500 words from Classical Armenian, the rest being borrowed vocabulary

Etc., etc.

@emacsomancer @frank87 @HMLivy also, a fascinating thing I learned a while ago (and please correct me if this is untrue):

The word for "tea" in a language often depends on whether it got there via land or sea route. Sea route leads to some variation of "tea"/"tee", etc; land route -- to some variation of "chai".

Polish for "tea" is "herbata". 👀


@rysiek @emacsomancer @frank87 @HMLivy

> Polish for "tea" is "herbata".

I often wondered about that exception.

The pl wiktionary refers to what seems to be an archived page of PWN, which together seem to claim that ,,herbata" is effectively "herbal tea" - so the "ta" is actually the standard universal root, if this etymology is correct {{better source needed}}.



PWN: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish_S

· · Web · 1 · 1 · 2


The English page for Polish "herbata" ( en.wiktionary.org/wiki/herbata ) has:

"From Latin herba thea."

Which makes sense (where "thea" is "From Hokkien 茶 (tê) through Malay teh. The "-h-" is a faux-Greek spelling.").

@rysiek @frank87 @HMLivy

@boud and my sense is that this wouldn't mean "herbal tea" anyway, since that's in part a later extension of "tea" to botanically non-tea plants, but rather "herba thea" is essentially "tea plant" (with the "herba" perhaps necessarily originally to clarify what sort of thing this foreign "thea" thing was? pure speculation on my part, but it's my guess.)

@rysiek @frank87 @HMLivy

@emacsomancer @rysiek @frank87 @HMLivy

> but rather "herba thea" is essentially "tea plant"

Yes, of course.

en.wiktionary (bottom) leads to


> hol. herba thee,
> n.-łac. herba thea
> z chiń. tē 'herbata (roślina)'
> Pierwotnie była to nazwa handlowa herbaty (z łac. herba 'zioło', hol. thee i z tego n.-łac. thea 'herbata');...

So apparently it was originally a trademark. Time to start writing ,,herbata(TM)" to avoid lawsuits, in case genericisation is contested. :P

@emacsomancer @HMLivy @frank87 @rysiek @boud Swedish for the longest time had the spelling "thé", where both the accent and the "th" are unusual for a Swedish word. In the last 20-30 years the less exotic "te" has taken over.

Good point.
Germans spell "Tee" without accent, but I don't know about historical use and just guess, that we got the word as the ware from English merchants.

@wauz The German "Tee" is closer in pronunciation to the Hokkien "te" than it is to the English "tea". That could be a coincidence of course, a double mutation that ends up close to where it started.

In English, 'tea' was once actually spoken as in 'teardrop'. We have similar sounds in dialects (as Bavarian and eastern Suebian) and we use same spelling.
The English didn't adjust spelling to pronouncing, what opened the hell of orthography...

The french did similar, but other way round: orthography rules had to follow Latin origins.
That makes French texts to me (partially) readable. I also get along with Catalá, not with Castillaño

@clacke @boud @HMLivy @frank87 @rysiek @emacsomancer The citations in SAOB from 1800 onward use almost exclusively the simple "te" spelling. I suspect cafes have often used more elaborate variations in attempts to seem sophisticated, though they're not fooling me.

@mansr Oh! TIL.

So I guess the fanciful "thé" spelling was something that flared up in the 70s or so and then peaked some time in the 80s.

@boud @HMLivy @frank87 @rysiek @emacsomancer
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