Fascinating facts about English!

Here are some interesting facts about English:

  1. Many dialects of English have a word meaning “edible and derived from non-insectoid farm animals without killing the animal.”
  2. English has no word for kennen or connaître.
  3. English has at least nine words for pig.

The first word, of course, is dairy. And yes, some people do restrict the term to milk products; but quite a lot of speakers, including very educated people, consider eggs to be dairy products too, and there’s no very good reason why they shouldn’t. The connection with milk only is something of a historical accident. As this shows, it was originally connected with kneading bread.

Of course, English isn’t the only language that doesn’t distinguish clearly between knowing something and knowing someone (or being familiar with someone or something); Russian, for example, doesn’t distinguish between them either, though it does have a verb meaning “know how to”.

And does English really have at least nine words for pigs? Well kinda… consider the following: pig, hog, sow, swine, boar, pork, ham, bacon, piglet. You can probably think of more. Are they really all words for pig? No, not in the sense that they’re all synonyms, but they do all refer to concepts that, in some other languages, one would have to resort to the same one root to refer to: pig, pig reared for slaughter, female pig, wild pig, pig meat etc. Think I’m cheating? Of course I am, at least a bit; I’m playing the “Eskimos have x words for snow” game.

So what’s the point of all this? I mean it merely to put in perspective any claim you might hear of the form “Language X has a word meaning…/has no word for … /has lots of words for …”

It all depends very much on how you spin it.

Oh, and a final disclaimer: please do not draw any conclusions from the above about English speakers’ obsession with pigs, poor grasp of epistemology, or fascination with animal products that don’t involve killing the animal. They are likely to be misleading.



Filed under Language

2 responses to “Fascinating facts about English!

  1. Apparently there's no word for "Qapla’!" in English, either!Is there English slang for something meaning roughly "I wish you success!"? Maybe just yelling "Success!"? But that usually seems to mean one has already succeeded in something, not that you are wishing someone success.Of course, my translation of that work is hearsay, I'm liable to be corrected by a native Klingon speaker at any time. 😉

  2. "Non-insectoid"? You've really thought this through, haven't you!(What about those coffee beans that have to pass through a civet's digestive system?)

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