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December 30, 2008

Naming Czars in US Politics Follows Time Tested Linguistic Tradition

1882-Alexander-III.gifOn Monday Ben Zimmer finally came out and asked "how did a term for Russian royalty work its way into American government?" He was referring to, of course, the many "czars" that seem to populate American politics.

We have a drug czar, an education czar, and even a car czar, a name that one individual feels "signals the Russianization of Americaland."

Despite its Russian origins, it is really no surprise to see czar crossing over into American politics. The vocabulary of our world is becoming increasingly less restricted by language boundaries.

As more and more words extend beyond their native borders, terms once confined to a specific heritage and usage are finding new identities in other tongues. Take the Russian avtomobil as one example of an English word, automobile, that has found a new home in Russian.

normaninvasion.gifThis is not the first time that a foreign word has become commonplace in American culture. Ever wonder why we don't just call pork, pig meat, well, maybe its because the French word "porc" sounded a lot more elegant.

In fact, the vast majority of the English language today is not from Old English, but instead from many other languages, most notably French as a result of the Norman conquest of England in 1066.

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Posted by William Lozito at December 30, 2008 12:01 PM
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1 Comment

Actually, meat goes much beyond pork: consider beef (cow, French boeuf), mutton (sheep, Fr. mouton) or veal (calf, Fr. veau). The reason for this is that in England after the Norman conquest, the language of the nobility (i.e. the rulers) was French, but the language of the serfs was Anglo-Saxon. The former were the ones who had more contacts with the actual meat, so their words became attached to it, while the latter were the one who raised the actual animals, so it's no wonder the words for them come from that language.

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