The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Friday, January 03, 2003


Have you seen the blog version of Samuel Pepys' Diary, run by Phil Gyford? If not, you should check it out. The diary entries being published are from the year 1660.

It's interesting to read Pepys' early modern English. On Jan 2nd Pepys wrote:


... so returned to Mr. Crew’s again, and from thence went along with Mrs. Jemimah home, and there she taught me how to play at cribbage.


Nowadays we would say she taught me how to play cribbage, leaving out the preposition. To play at is a French idiom -- jouer à. Middle English borrowed a ton of words and idioms from French, because England had been conquered by French-Norse people. I assume that to play at was imported from French, then discarded.

Here is a very strange example of French influence on English: The second person possessive pronoun, meaning "belonging to us", was spelled ure in Old English. Old English is pronounced like Latin, so ure is pronounced oo-ray. In Middle English this word was spelled according to French rules, so it became oure or our. Later the English began to pronounce this spelling by English rules -- this changing the pronunciation to ow-er.


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