English Words and Their Background

By George H. McKnight | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER XII
NEW CREATIONS AND COMPOUNDS

The preceding chapters in this work have had to do with classes of words and the sources from which the material of the English vocabulary has been drawn. But language must grow in order to keep pace with the progress, material and spiritual, of the people that use it. It remains, then, to be seen how a language that served the purposes of an early period has been made to serve the purposes of a life that has become more and more complex. It remains to be seen how the language has expanded physically, through the formation of new words, how words have been modified in form in the process of adaptation, and how, by subtle shifts, a limited set of words has been made to express an illimitable variety of shades of meaning.

To begin with, there has been a certain amount of new word-creation. Of words newly created the most obvious kind is that produced by vocal imitation of sounds in nature. This kind of words, usually called onomatopoetic, but recently more happily named 'echoic,'1 is known to all languages. Many of them have been inherited by English. Such words as bomb, murmur, cuckoo, go back through French and Latin, to an antiquity hard to determine. Words like papa, mama, baby, originating in baby speech, belong to practically all languages. Among 'echoic' words that originated independently in English may be cited: buzz, fizz, purr, quack, hiss, boom, gibber, jabber, giggle, titter, whirr, ding-dong, hee-haw, tick-tack, hoot, chatter.2

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1
J. A. H. Murray quoted by Bradley, op. cit., p. 155.
2
Bradley, op. cit., p. 155.

-163-

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