English Words and Their Background

By George H. McKnight | Go to book overview
Save to active project


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

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


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
English Words and Their Background
Table of contents

Table of contents



Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 449

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?