April 23rd is UN English Language Day. And what a language to celebrate. Spoken by roughly 1.5 billion people around the world (that’s 20% of the world population), it’s the lingua franca of business, travel, and international relations. So it’s definitely an important date to have on the books as a business. To help celebrate, we’ve put together a list of 9 fun facts about the English language. So read on for some surprising tidbits and remember to contact us to learn more about our professional English writing services.
9 FACTS ABOUT THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
1: “E” IS THE MOST COMMON VOWEL IN ENGLISH
Make sure to remember that next time you’re at the Scrabble table.
2: THE WORD “SWIMS” LOOKS THE SAME UPSIDE DOWN
In English, these words are referred to as “ambigrams.”
3: ENGLISH IS CONSTANTLY BEING UPDATED
The English vocabulary is always changing. And people are officially updating the language as we speak, adding new words to English language dictionaries constantly. In September 2017, for example, the Merriam-Webster English dictionary was updated with the following words:
- Sriracha (a pungent hot sauce)
- Saigon cinnamon (a particularly spicy and sweet type of cinnamon)
- Froyo (frozen yoghurt)
- Troll (to harass or antagonize someone provocatively)
- Onboarding (training new people)
4: MOMENT REFERS TO A VERY, VERY SPECIFIC AMOUNT OF TIME
Today, the word “moment” describes and short, yet unspecified amount of time. That wasn’t always the case, however. Originally, the word “moment” referred to exactly 1/40th of an hour (which is precisely 1.5 minutes). The word moment is derived from momenta, which was a word used to describe a specific amount of time back when it was measured using sundials. In these times, the day was divided into solar hours, which were further broken down into puncta, minuta, and momentas. There were exactly 40 momenta in every solar hour.
5: “HANGRY” IS OFFICIALLY A WORD
It describes a state of anger or bad temper caused by hunger. It was added to the Oxford dictionary in 2015.
6: THERE ARE 9 DIFFERENT WAYS TO PRONOUNCE “OUGH”
English is renowned for being a difficult language to pronounce. And this is a perfect example of just how complex English pronunciation can get. The letters “ough” can create 9 different sounds, depending on the context of the word they are included in. Don’t believe us? Read these words aloud:
7: THE OLDEST ENGLISH WORDS STILL IN USE TODAY ARE “I,” “WE,” “TWO,” AND “THREE”
Scientists claim these words date back thousands of years. Given that English is a new and, as we mentioned earlier, constantly updated language, it’s surprising to see some words last such a long time. Some other old English words no longer used today include:
- Uhtceare: Literally means lying awake before dawn and worrying.
- Expergefactor: Refers to anything that wakes you from sleep.
- Staddle: The impression your body leaves on a mattress or chair from sleeping/sitting in it.
- Rawgabbit: Somebody who speaks confidently about a subject that they actually know nothing about.
8: ENGLISH ACTUALLY “BORROWS” MANY WORDS FROM OTHER LANGUAGES
While “I” and “we” might be some of the oldest English words, many other English words actually have completely different roots. Important pronouns like “they,” “their,” and “them,” for example, are based on the Old Norse word “þeir” (meaning “their”). The original English pronouns were hie, hire, and heora, respectively. Other common “borrowed” words in the English language include “leg” (from the Old Norse leggr), “skin” (also from Old Norse), and “person” (from the Old French persone). English also borrows from Latin, other Germanic languages (like Dutch), and Greek.
9: THE LONGEST ENGLISH WORD HAS 45 LETTERS
And no, it’s not “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” It’s “pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis,” which is the official term for silicosis, a lung condition caused by inhaling small sand and ash particles, which cause irritation and scarring of the lungs.