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Friday, September 30, 2011

Germanic versus Romance Words: Which Wrenches the Gut More?

All the wide array of languages that English derives its expansive vocabulary from make it a rich and textured language. However, over the centuries, words from different sources have taken on certain connotations. For example, words derived from the Latinate or Romance Languages tend to give a greater air of sophistication to a work. These words tend to be longer, use -tion or –sion, and are found in droves in academic work.

However, I’ve noticed that a large percentage of our words that possess a more primal, gut association tend to come from the Germanic branch of languages.

Here are some examples:

Gut, stab, cut, graveyard, flesh, and skin all come from Germanic roots. Stomach, lacerate, and cemetery come from the Romance group.

Not only are the Germanic words shorter, but they have a sharper, more gut grabbing feel.

If you take our common emotion words, you’ll notice that most also come from the Germanic: love, hate, sad, happy, betray, and like. From the Romance branch we get: rage, fury, irritate, annoy, and loyal. The first group contains many more common, gut emotions.

Cry is from the Latin and weep the Germanic. Which do we associate with a bitterer, intense emotion? Weep.

Friend is from the Germanic and acquaintance the Romance. We hold friends dearer to our hearts. Even heart comes from Germanic roots.

So if you want to write a more gut-wrenching, emotional piece, remember your Germanic words. If you want to strike the heights of sophistication and elevation, choose words that come from Latin, Greek, or French origins.

What other examples can you think of?

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