6/30/08 - 'inkpot' terms

In today's excerpt - Latin and Greek words imported into English:

"The discord that we now call the Reformation had immediate consequences for English, in the form of new translations of the Bible [from Latin and Greek] into the vernacular. ... By 1611, when the King James Bible appeared, over fifty different Protestant or Catholic translations had been made. There were heated arguments over the linguistic choices made by the translators. Charges of heresy could be leveled at a translation depending on whether it used congregation or church, repentance or penance, charity or love. ...

"One of the issues which exercised the minds of the early Bible translators was: would the English language be able to cope? For a start, were there enough words available to express everything that was said in the Latin and Greek originals? In the early decades of the sixteenth century, the general opinion was that there weren't. ... If the problem was obvious, so was the solution ... all writers had to do was borrow ... [and] the sixteenth century saw an extraordinary influx of new words from Latin and Greek, especially the former: anonymous, appropriate, commemorate, emancipate, relevant, susceptible ...

"The translator George Pettie affirmed their importance,

'if they should be all counted inkpot termes, I know not how we should speake any thing without blacking our mouthes with inke.' ... he says:

"Inkpot terms. Inkhorn terms. These two words, both meaning a receptacle for ink ... came to refer to words which are so lengthy (because of their foreign origins) that to write them down would use up a lot of ink. Accordingly 'inkhorn terms' became an abusive label to describe the writing of anyone who welcomed Latinate neologisms. ...

"It was not surprising to see the pendulum swing to the opposite extreme, in which such coinages were avoided like the plague. Even a scholar of Greek, Sir John Cheke, was hotly opposed to them. In a 1557 letter, he writes:

'I am of the opinion that our tung shold [should] be written cleane and pure, unmixt and unmangled with borrowing of other tunges.' ...

"The row went on for half a century—and indeed it has been rumbling ever since. Four hundred years later, George Orwell would be haranguing people for their reliance on classical words:

'Bad writers ... are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones.' "


David Crystal


The Fight for English: How Language Pundits Ate, Shot and Left


Oxford University Press


David Crystal 2006


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