by Richard K. Munro



Chapter 4:     Twilight of French dominance & the rise of Britain

French remained the spoken language par excellence for the elite in Scotland until the 17th century and 18th century. Until the Reformation, many Scots served in the French King’s Bodyguard Garde Écossaise  (The Scottish Archers) and so became bilingual[1] and dual nationals.[2]   Charles de Gaulle, visiting Scotland at the height of WWII said in 1942:  “In every combat where, for five centuries, the destiny of France was at stake, there were always men of Scotland to fight side by side with men of France”. [3] Of course, this was less true after the Scottish Reformation and the exile of the House of Stewart from France in 1748 but always remained literally true for a small band of  “leal n’ true men”.    Mary Queen of Scots, previously the Queen of France, never spoke English as the Queen of Scotland but habitually spoke French (or Latin).  General Wolfe used French-speaking Highlanders as interpreters and as scouts who could penetrate the French lines at will as they did at Quebec in 1759.   French remains an important foreign language in the British Isles as well as Canada and there are many mixed Belgian-English and French-English families who are completely bilingual and of course millions of Canadians speak French and English.   I daresay one of the differences between educated British English and American English is that British English uses far more French words and phrases than does American English.  In any case, thousands of French words are identical or nearly identical to their English cognates.   Though English continues to influence French as it does other languages, French continues to influence English.  In any case, the debt of English to French is very great.

  Other important early developments during the 15th century include the stabilizing effect on spelling of the printing press in.   William Caxton published the first printed English book in England in 1474.  This began a long process of standardization of spelling though sometimes this has resulted in the retention of silent letters  in words like “debt”,  “thought” and many “irregular” sight words such as “he does”  as opposed to the “does.[4]” English is, at best, only partially phonetic.  Nonetheless, I know from many years of experience that English learners benefit enormously from studying English phonics, orthography and word origins.

The new learning in the 15th and 16th centuries revived the study of ancient Greek and led to new translations, among them an important one by the Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus, who in 1516 published a dual language edition of the Greek New Testament with his own translation into Latin. During the Renaissance, there was a large influx of neologisms[5] from Latin and Greek in this great age of translations from Hebrew, Latin and Greek.   Until this time most Hellenisms came into English indirectly via French and Latin.  We see this in the names of mythological figures; we know them by their Latin forms:  Jupiter, Hercules, Ulysses, Mars, Mercury, Diana, Minerva and so forth. The first official full time university post in ancient Greek was established in Oxford in 1492. 

But while Spain and France created grammars and dictionaries for their national vernacular languages as early as the 15th and 16th centuries, England lagged behind.[6]It must be remembered that in the 16th and 17th centuries the scholarly languages of the schools and universities of England and Scotland were principally Latin, followed by French and supplemented by Greek (always very elite).An Latin–English vocabulary  was by the scholar John Stanbridge, published by Richard Pynson  in 1496.  The most comprehensive English–Latin dictionary was the Promptorius puerorum [7](“Storehouse [of words] for Children”) brought out by Pynson in 1499. In the 16th century the most important dictionaries were bilingual such as an English–French one by John (Palsgrave in 1530, Lesclaircissement de la langue francoise (“Elucidation of the French Tongue”). First English dictionary A Table Alphabeticall (1604) by schoolmaster Robert Cawdrey. With the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, men again looked to France. John Dryden admired the Académie Française and greatly deplored that the English had “not so much as a tolerable dictionary, or a grammar; so that our language is in a manner barbarous” as compared with elegant French.   In 1662 Dryden attempted to establish a Royal English Academy on the lines of France or Spain.  He failed and since this time usage has been determined primarily by influential dictionaries and influential grammars both in England and America. Nathan Bailey’s Dictionarium Britannicum (1730) incorporated and supplanted his Universal Etymological English Dictionary (1721). It was popular throughout the eighteenth century and was in the libraries of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.  Samuel Johnson used the 1736 edition of Bailey’s dictionary as the basis of his own lexicon. The most influential grammar of the 18th century was the Short Introduction to English Grammar (1762) by Robert Lowth.  Lowth was a very strong advocate of proscriptive grammar that is to say believing absolutely in a system of strict rules for usage and spelling.  An example of early modern English is Milton.  The spelling is not strictly modern and there are many biblical and classical references.

From Paradise Lost by John Milton, 1667:

Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing Heav’nly Muse, that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen Seed,
In the Beginning how the Heav’ns and Earth
Rose out of Chaos: Or if Sion Hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa’s Brook that flow’d
Fast by the Oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventrous Song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th’ Aonian Mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime.

Dryden a made a famous, influential–and still felicitous- influential English translation of Vergil’s Aeneid (1697)The publication of the translation of Vergil’s works was a sensation and brought Dryden the sum of ₤1,400 a huge sum for the time. It was the version studied by many of the Founding Fathers and remains in print.  Gilbert Highet wrote in the Classical Tradition:” His {Dryden’s} translations from Roman and Greek classics are of purity rare at any time, and of a range which many professional scholars could not now equal.[8] In The American Scholar (1837), Emerson wrote:

It is remarkable, the character of the pleasure we derive from the best books. They impress us with the conviction that one nature wrote and the same reads. We read the verses of one of the great English poets, of Chaucer, of Marvell, of Dryden, with the most modern joy,—with a pleasure, I mean, which is in great part caused by the abstraction of all time from their verses. There is some awe mixed with the joy of our surprise when this poet, who lived in some past world two or three hundred years ago, says that which lies close to my own soul, that which I also had well-nigh thought and said.[9]

Dryden was the dominant literary figure and influence of his age. He established the heroic couplet as a standard form of English poetry by writing successful satires, elegies, epigrams, prologues, and plays with it; he also introduced the alexandrine[10]  and triplet[11] into the form. In his poems, translations, and criticism, he established a poetic diction appropriate to the heroic couplet In the Restoration (17th century), poetry written in couplets is sometimes varied the introduction of a triplet in which the third line is an alexandrine, as in this example from Dryden, which introduces a triplet after two couplets:

But satire needs not those, and wit will shine

Through the harsh cadence of a rugged line:

A noble error, and but seldom made,

When poets are by too much force betrayed.

Thy generous fruits, though gathered ere their prime,

Still showed a quickness; and maturing time

But mellows what we write to the dull sweets of rhyme.

(“To the Memory of Mr. Oldham” (1684))[12].


Samples of Dryden’s poetic art:

EXAMPLE 1: I am as free as Nature first made man,
Ere the base laws of servitude began,
When wild in woods the noble savage ran.  {TRIPLET}  
          The Conquest of Granada. Part i. Act i. Sc. 1
EXAMPLE 2 Three poets, in three distant ages born,
Greece, Italy, and England did adorn.
The first in loftiness of thought surpass’d;
The next, in majesty; in both the last.
The force of Nature could no further go;
To make a third, she join’d the former two.17      {HEROIC COUPLET}
          Under Mr. Milton’s Picture.


O happy friends! for, if my verse can give
Immortal life, your fame shall ever live,
Fix’d as the Capitol’s foundation lies,
And spread, where’er the Roman eagle flies!
The conqu’ring party first divide the prey,
Then their slain leader to the camp convey.
With wonder, as they went, the troops were fill’d,
To see such numbers whom so few had kill’d.     {HEROIC COUPLET}

Aeneid of Vergil, translated John Dryden. Book IX


Nor let him then enjoy supreme command;

But fall, untimely, by some hostile hand,

And lie unburied on the barren sand!

(Aeneid ll. 890-892)       {TRIPLET}

Example 5

Her lofty courser, in the court below,  {courser: horse}

Who his majestic rider seems to know,

Proud of his purple trappings, paws the ground,

And champs the golden bit, and spreads the foam around.

( Aeneid ll. 190-193)    {ALEXANDRINE}

 Example 6

My Tyrians, at their injur’d queen’s command,

Had toss’d their fires amid the Trojan band;

At once extinguish’d all the faithless name;

And I myself, in vengeance of my shame,

Had fall’n upon the pile, to mend the fun’ral flame.

( Aeneid ll. 867-871)      {Alexandrine and Triplet}

  From the 16th century on English borrowed more and more words directly from Latin and Greek rather than French.  Michael Grant has specifically identified Latin words by Cicero-inspired by Greek philosophical concepts- and popularized by translations of his works. None of these words or concepts existed in Anglo-Saxon.[13]  It becomes clear that without the “brain boost” of Latin and Greek neither the Renaissance, nor the Enlightenment, nor the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution nor the Industrial Revolution could have been possible.

  1. Quality…an inherent or distinguishing characteristic
  2. Individual…a single human being considered as a unique person apart from human society
  3. Vacuum…space empty of matter
  4. Moral…concerning with the judgment of the goodness or badness of human action and character
  5. Property….something tangible or intangible to which is owner has legal title or possession by law, custom or tradition.
  6. Induction….the process of deriving general principles from particular facts or instances.
  7. Element…a fundamental, essential or irreducible constituent of a composite entity.
  8. Definition….a statement of meaning of a word, phrase or term.
  9. Difference….the quality or condition of being unlike or dissimilar
  10. Notion…belief or opinion
  11. Comprehension….act of grasping the meaning, nature or importance of understanding
  12. Infinity….the quality of being infinite which is having no bounds or limits.
  13. Appetite….instinctive physical desire for food, drink, sexual pleasure or learning
  14. Instance….an example that is cited to prove or invalidate a contention or illustrate a point; an example; evidence.
  15. Science….knowledge, especially knowledge gained through experiments or experience.[14]
  16. Image…a reproduction of the form of a person or object
  17. Species….an organism belonging to a fundamental category of taxonomic classification.[15]

Many of these words were taken over to serve the expanding world of secondary and university education since it was felt that English was not sophisticated enough to meet the demands of the new learning in science, biology, geography, technology and mathematics.  English Scholars could not be help be aware that Italian, French and Spanish had grown markedly in strength, flexibility, subtlety and precision by assimilating Latin and Greek ideas, concepts and vocabulary. Without hesitation the scholars of the English Renaissance borrowed Latin words through French, or Latin words direct; Greek words through Latin, or Greek words direct.  Their Latin was no longer limited to Church Latin: it embraced all Classical Latin. For a time the whole Latin lexicon became potentially English. It is not possible to delineate exactly the origins of all English words of French, Latin or Greek origin because at the same time English was growing French was also assimilating many Greek and Latin words and it was the French style to imitate Latin spellings even if they did not pronounce them that way.   Some English words came directly from Latin such as et cetera, versus, arbitrator, explicit, finis, gratis, imprimis, item, memento, memorandum , data, neuter, simile.  And of course there are many Latin expressions (still) which are every day words for educated people such as A.M, P.M,  alumnus, alumna, alumnae, cum laude, summa cum laude, subpoena, rigor mortis, R.I. P., persona non grata, ipso facto, de facto, de jure,bona fide, ad hominem, amicus curiae, ad infinitum, and ad hoc. 

subpoenaA court order to appear to testify.
Persona non grataIn diplomacy, a persona non grata (Latin: “person not appreciated”, plural: personae non gratae) is a foreign person whose entering or remaining in a particular country is prohibited by that country’s government. Being so named is the most serious form of censure which a country can apply to foreign diplomats, who are otherwise protected by diplomatic immunity from arrest and other normal kinds of prosecution.
Ispo factoBy the fact itself; by that very fact: An alien or non-citizen, ipso facto, has no right to a US passport.
De factoin fact, or in effect, whether by right or not: BY CUSTOM
De jureaccording to rightful entitlement or claim; BY WRITTEN LAW.
Ad hoc (Ad hoc is a Latin phrase meaning “for this”.)ad hoc committee ad hoc group ad hoc basis something done informally.  I tutor after school without pay on an ad hoc basis.
AM  (Ante Meridiem)
Latin = “before midday”
Before noon
PM  (Post Meridiem)
Latin = “after midday”
After noon
RIP  (Requiescat In Pace)Rest in peace

Words that had already entered English through French were borrowed again. These are called doublets or “etymological twins” (or triplets as the case may be!).  Spanish has many doublets also.[16]


Word of French originWord of Latin originCommentary
benisonBenedictionBlessing (benedicción)
Blame  (culpar)Blaspheme (blasfemiar)Semantic  change
Chance (suerte)Cadence (cadencia)=balanced rhythmic flow
Count   (contar)Compute (computar) 
Dainty  (fino)Dignity   (dignidad) 
Frail   (débil)Fragile     (frágil) 
Poor    (pobre)povertyPauper (person)Pauper=pobretón
Purvey (proveer comida) to sell food etcProvide  (proveer)Semantic change Purveyor of fine foods Purveyor of lies
Ray (rayo)Radius (el radio)Semantic change
Sever (cortar/romper)Separate (separar)Semantic change
Strait 1)narrow water (estrechos) Strait2) (difficulty)( dificultad)Strict  (estricto)Semantic change
Sure (seguro, cierto)Secure (seguro) 
Royal (Real Madrid)regal≠ real estate (fixed property (land)
Loyal  (leal)Legal (legal)Leal (triplet) literary
Chattel (property/slave) bien/esclavoCapital (dinero)$$$Cattle (triplet) ganado
Wage/gage or gauge (salario base/GERMANIC ORIGINTo gage=to measure Gage= indicator Fuel gage
Warranty/guarantee (garantía)Warrant=court authorization (orden) guarantee/warranty are fairly close in form and have almost the same meaning
Ward (legal)/Guard (military) (albacea)     (guardia)GERMANIC ORIGNWarden (prison); (Alcaide) guardian (legal) tutor/guarda
Cave  (cueva)Cavern  (caverna) 
Frantic (frántico)Frenetic (frenético)Originally Greek
Price (Precio ) prize,(premio) To pry=curiosiar/fisgar To praise=alabarPremium (prima de seguros)Prix “Grand Prix” “Prix fixe”=complete meal at a fixed price; French style  
Chief (jefe/cacique), chef (de cocina)Captain (Late Latin (capitán)“Capitaneus” 
Castle/chateau (Castillo)Castellum (Latin)Note Castile (Spain) “Castle Border Land” Castilla
Pocket/pouch Bolsillo/bolsaGERMANIC/CELTIC 
Wallop/gallop Golpear /ir a galopeGERMANIC ORIGIN 
Wile/wily/guile Astuto/taimadoGERMANIC ORIGINAstute, tricky
Convey/convoy[17] (Sugerir /transportar)Convidare (Latin; to escort)Escoltar (to accompany)
BANK of a river BANK (financial institution)
BENCH (to sit on)
Indo-European and Germanic originRelated word Bankrupt (en bancarota)
Image result for French Latin doublets in English
re-borrowing le bœuf beef le biftek beefsteak el bistec Usually a word is taken from a language and never given back – so ...

Words about political theory and economics are Greek such as monarchy, democracy, tyranny and economics.  Almost all literary terms[18] are Greek, Latin and French in origin and almost all grammar terms are Latin in origin.[19]    The names of the seven liberal arts of the classical curricula (the trivium and the quadrivium), it is true, were all Greek in origin—grammar, logic, and rhetoric; arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music—but they had come into English by way of Latin and French.  The Spanish words are cognates (translations from Latin). [20]

GRAMMARa particular analysis of the system and structure of language or of a specific language.
LOGICreasoning conducted or assessed according to strict principles of validity. “experience is a better guide to this than deductive logic”  
RHETORICthe art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques.
Arithmeticthe branch of mathematics dealing with the properties and manipulation of numbers.

  GEOMETRYThe area of mathematics that deals with points, lines, shapes and space.

Plane Geometry is about flat shapes like lines, circles and triangles.

Solid Geometry is about solid (3-dimensional) shapes like spheres and cubes.
ASTRONOMYthe branch of science that deals with celestial objects, space, and the physical universe as a whole
MUSICvocal or instrumental sounds (or both) combined in such a way as to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion.

List of terms for specialists in Medicine from Greek

Medical Specialistpracticemeaning
Obstetrician (obstetra)Obstetrics (obstétrica)Providing care for pregnant women
Gynecologist (ginécologo)Gynecology (ginecología)Study of diseases peculiar to women
 Pediatrician (pedíatra)Pediatrics (pediatría)Providing care for infants and young children
Podiatrist (pedicuro)Podiatry or chiropody (podopatía/ quiropodía)Treats aliments or injuries of the feet
Osteopath (osteópata)Osteopathy (osteopatía)Diseases of bones and blood.
Ophthalmologist (optamólogo)Ophthalmology (optamología)Diseases of the eye
Optometrist (not a doctor); optician (Optómetro)Optometry (Optometría)Not a doctor; checks vision and fits eyeglasses
Dermatologist (dermatólogo)Dermatology (dermatología)Treats diseases of the skin
Psychologist (Psicólogo)Psychology (psicología)Specialist in mental ailments, emotional problems &psychoses 
Orthodontist (ortodontista)Orthodontia (ortodoncia)Specializes in correcting crooked teeth.

[1] Multilingual in many cases, speaking Gaelic, Scots, English as well as French.

[2] Scottish-French dual nationality remained in effect until 1906.


[4] Does: female deer

[5] Neologisms: new words or phrases as yet unsanctioned by good usuage.  De Quincy said “Neologism is not an infirmity of caprice…but a mere necessity of the unresting intellect.” Letters of a Young Man, p161.

[6] Antonio de Nebrija made the first grammar for a modern European language (Spanish)as early as 1492.Many literary men felt the inadequacy of English dictionaries, particularly in view of the continental examples. The Accademia della Crusca, of Florence, founded in 1582, brought out its Vocabolario at Venice in 1612, filled with copious quotations from Italian literature. The Académie Française produced its dictionary in 1694, but two other French dictionaries were actually more scholarly—that of César-Pierre Richelet in 1680 and that of Antoine Furetière in 1690. In Spain the Royal Spanish Academy (Real Academia Española), founded in 1713, produced its Diccionario de la lengua Castellana, 1726–39, in six thick volumes. The foundation work of German lexicography, by Johann Leonhard Frisch, Teutsch-Lateinisches Wörterbuch, in 1741, freely incorporated quotations in German.

[7] It is better known under its later title of Promptorium parvulorum sive clericorum (“Storehouse for Children or Clerics”) commonly attributed to Geoffrey the Grammarian (Galfridus Grammaticus), a Dominican friar of Norfolk, who is thought to have composed it about 1440.

[8] Gilbert Highet, The Classical Tradition (1949) p. 295.


[10] An alexandrine is a line of poetic meter comprising 12 syllables Alexandrines  in French poetry  were popularized by Lambert Le Tort and Alexandre de Bernay in The Romance of Alexander; it is popular in German, French, Spanish and English poetry of the Neoclassical (Baroque) period and beyond.

[11] Group of three lines of verse.

[12] is an elegy written by John Dryden (1631–1700), commemorating the death of the poet John Oldham Greenblatt, Stephen et al. “John Dryden.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt et al. Vol. 1. 8th ed. New York, London: Norton, 2006. 2083-2084.

[13] Michael Grant, On the Good Life   Penguin, 1971  p. 21

[14] Later “science” came to mean the “observation, identification, description experimental investigation and theoretical explanation of phenomena.” The reader will note the key word are all Latin and Greek.

[15]  Today animals and plants are still known by their scientific names in Latin:  a horse is Equus caballus, a lion is Panthera leo  the capitalized name is the genus name. For example, dogs are Canis domesticus,  the wild dogs are wolves (Canis lupus) and coyotes (Canis latrans) All arose from a recent common ancestor, they are placed in the same genus: Canis. It is still possible to cross wolves with dogs and dogs with coyotes.  Red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) are wild dogs but they are not as closely related to wolves or coyotes and so they are placed in a different genus: VulpesFelis Catus is the domesticated  cat. A Puma, formerly Felix concolor but since 1993 Puma concolor, is known by many popular names but is not closely related to Leopards or Lions.  Cougar and Puma are indigenous names for this cat; early colonists called the cat the “Mountain Lion”, the “Panther” or “Painter” or “Catamount.” Cicero (and Aristotle before him) did not invent this system of categorization but they laid the foundations for modern scientific and philosophic language. Animals and plants can be known by many names in many languages and this can cause confusion.  Karl von Linné—a Swedish botanist better known as Carolus Linnaeus—solved the problem by using Latin as a universal scientific language.   In 1758, Linnaeus proposed a system for classifying organisms. He published it in his book, Systema Naturae. In this system, each species is assigned a two-part name; for this reason, the system is known as binomial nomenclature. The names are based in the universal language: Latin. The first part of the scientific name is the genus, and it is always capitalized. (The plural is “genera”). The second part is the species epithet. The entire name is written in italics. Our own species, for example, was given Homo sapiens (it means “man who is wise”).Linnaeus’ system gives each species a unique identity. The system also fulfilled a second need of humans: the need to classify things. Living things were first classified as plants or animals. These kingdoms were subdivided into smaller categories called classes, and these into still smaller divisions: genera.

[16] Here are some Spanish doublets or “dobletes”

[17] Saki (H.H. Munro) said “ a look intended to convey sympathetic comprehension.”  A wonderful description. AHD.

[18] Such as protagonist and antagonist, poem, metaphor, character, persona, drama, history, comedy, irony, meter, syllable, rhetoric, hyperbole and so forth.

[19] Such as the tenses (future, preterit, present perfect, present progressive etc.) and the eight parts of speech: substantive Nouns, Adjectives, Verbs Adverbs,  (“NAVA “in English only they can take prefixes and suffixes), pronouns, preposition, conjunctions, interjections (“PCPI”;in English these function words never change).

[20] Image result for trivium and quadrivium