Book reviews / Inspiration

Fess up…a review

Yes, English is a messy, quirky language. But I love that, and as a language and a history buff, it’s no surprise that I stumbled upon the History of English podcast, hosted by Kevin Stroud.

I sometimes post book reviews on this site, but today I’m doing something a little different. This is a podcast review. Fess up obviously isn’t the name of the podcast (though there might be one called that). No, it’s the word that struck me while listening to the podcast and inspired me to write this review. I’ve mentioned the podcast before when I talked about writing in Canuck but I didn’t really talk about the podcast itself.

Not so old after all

I’m about 15 episodes into this podcast, and so far Stroud has laid the foundation, covered the Indo-European roots, tracked the migration of the IE people and their language westward into Europe and Anatolia, and taken me to Rome.

One of the things that strikes me is how my perception of time and the historical sweep of time has shifted listening to the show. I learned that modern English is older than I thought. Shakespeare wrote modern English, even though I’m sure a whole swath of high school students would disagree. But some of the more distant events that Stroud talks about…the spread of the Indo-European language into Europe, the rise and fall of the Hittites, the start of Roman civilization…seem very recent in some ways. I always thought of the Indo-European root language being Clan of the Cave Bear stuff.

Indo-European language tree
The Indo-European family tree (Multiple authors, first version by Mandrak [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

The knee bone’s connected to the…

One of the things I like most about this podcast is the connections between things, words in this case, that are right before my eyes if I had just looked. There are obvious ones, like the connection between fess up — tell the truth — and confession. And the ones that make you go ooohh…well make me go oh! Like between cancer and canker, which come from the same root but took different paths into English through satem and centum languages.

Then there are the ones that make be go huh. Infant and infantry…both related to fess, by the by. Basically they both mean be seen, not heard. Okay, maybe I’m taking some descriptive license there.

Am I weird?

As an aside, weird apparently comes from the root wert– meaning to turn or wind.

Okay, I probably am weird, and strange and sinister (literally, lefty here).

You might be forgiven — not by me, but by other people — for thinking a podcast about the history of a language would be boring. But Kevin Stroud is not only informative but also engaging and does a really good job at making the topic accessible and interesting as he weaves together the wonderful world of words and historical events.

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