Page 3 - Language Facts

Isaac Asimov coined this everyday term without knowing it. He assumed it was already in use!


Isaac Asimov was a brilliant Russian-born American scientist and author. He wrote so abundantly that his resume includes writing or editing over 500 books and about 90,000 letters and postcards.

It's no surprise, then, that in all of that writing there would be occasions in which ordinary vocabulary would not do. The Oxford English Dictionary officially recognizes Asimov for coining the words "positronic" (a fictional technology) and "psychohistory," which deals with the psychology behind historical events.

So you've probably never heard of the former two, but certainly you've heard of robotics. That's right; Asimov also coined that word, but not purposely. He thought it already existed, just as the subjects of mechanics or hydraulics existed. In truth, he was the first, as far as can be determined, to use it. Unlike his other newly minted words, "robotics," is a highly useful term that continues to be widely applicable today.

Ironically, Asimov gained a reputation for writing in a very plain style, on which he prided himself. His aim was to communicate in a clear manner with his readers. As an author, that was more important to him than using a poetic or symbolic style, to the chagrin of his high-minded critics.

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Tolkien first invented the various languages like Elvish and Black Speech, and then wrote 'Lord of the Rings' to provide a world for those languages to 'live in'


Tolkien’s mother awakened a love of languages in her son by teaching him Latin, French and German at home. He entered grammar school and continued learning many other languages throughout his life. He had a deep knowledge and appreciation of languages – both modern and ancient and one of the languages he could write and speak was Old Norse.

His fascination with language and culture is evident throughout ‘The Lord of the Rings’ which is an epic high fantasy novel that he wrote between 1937 and 1949. It is the second best selling novel ever written with 150 million copies sold.

He invented several well thought-through languages like Elvish (including Quenya and Sindarin), the Dwarfish language Khuzdul, Entish and Black Speech. Tolkien’s stories were not written to include the languages he invented. He developed the languages and then created his stories around those languages.

"The invention of languages," he wrote, "is the foundation. The 'stories' were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse." Here are some examples of the magic Tolkien created with his invented languages: Black Speech: "Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul—One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them" Quenya: "Elen sila lûmenn' omentielvo—A star shines on the hour of our meeting". Dwarvish: "Khazâd-ai-mênu!—The Dwarves are upon you!"

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"American" was the official language of Illinois from 1923 to 1969! Patriotic, or a step too far?


For as long as English-speaking people have been settled in the US, there have been some who wish to put distance between the American version of the language and the type of English spoken elsewhere, especially that spoken in England.

Noah Webster is an example of a man who sought to earn respect for American English. He changed spellings and recorded words that were uniquely American. Many of them were loanwords from the Natives.

And then there was Washington J. McCormick, who argued in favor of making "American" the national language. The proposed bill did not make it far, but Illinois took a liking to it.

In 1923, Illinois officially declared "American" it's official language. Legislatures' reasons consisted mostly of a desire to see themselves as independent, not as an offshoot of England. Naming the language "American," they argued, would promote American culture, ideals, and institutions.

McCormick made the case that there had been great writers in American history, such as Twain and Whitman, whose greatness was owed to using language that reflected American usage. It was only when those authors quit trying to imitate foreign English-speakers and used an American style that they wrote their best.

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Some awesome lists!

James Joyce wrote 'Finnegan's Wake,' one of the most famously difficult books of all time. See how H.G. Wells responded


James Joyce (1882-1941) was an Irish author who earned great renown for his works. 'Finnegan's Wake' has received much attention from literary critics, not necessarily because of it's praiseworthiness, but because of it's difficulty, newfangledness, and the experimental approach with language Joyce took in writing it.

H.G. Wells certainly had done some critical thinking and was not lacking an opinion of the novel. He once wrote in a letter to Joyce, "Who the hell is this Joyce who demands so many waking hours of the few thousand I have still to live for a proper appreciation of his quirks and fancies...?"

Given the bluntness of that letter, you might think there were only ill feelings between the two, but H.G. Wells had no desire to see bitterness develop between himself and Joyce. He actually held Joyce in high esteem, and his words even struck a much friendlier tone in closing the letter. He wrote, "My warmest wishes to you Joyce. I can't follow your banner any more than you can follow mine. But the world is wide and there is room for both of us to be wrong."

Clearly, H.G. Wells was not a fan of this particular work. However, he did not let it damage the respect that he had for Joyce's "genius," which he also wrote in that letter.

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Homicide, regicide, pesticide, and decide. One of these things is not like the other... or is it?


"Homicide" is the killing of another human, "regicide" is the killing of a monarch, "pesticide" is a substance used in the killing of insects, and "decide" is… to make a choice?

All of these words have the same partial etymology of "cide," which means "cut" or "kill." The word "decide" actually means to make a choice by cutting or killing the other choices. In other words, at it's core, deciding means choosing by process of elimination.

Of course, the word "decide" isn't used that specifically. No dictionary will specify that a decision is only a process of elimination. Words don't always have the same exact meanings as what their roots might suggest, but it's interesting to see the connection between words with similar etymologies.

At first it may seem as though some words have nothing to do with others of the same root, but often there's a connection somewhere. Knowing the meanings of word roots can be pretty useful when you come across a word you don't know the meaning of. It allows you to make an educated guess and possibly get a general meaning based on the context.

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