A short history of the English langauge

By Richard K. Munro


Figure 1 United Kingdom of Great Britain since 1707


Figure 2  William Shakespeare


After the King James Bible, the most influential English works are the plays, poems and of William Shakespeare (1564-1616).  Shakespeare is probably the most translated English author in history.

But more than English speakers have reason to be grateful. If a British Council survey of 18,000 people across 15 countries is to be believed, Shakespeare is more appreciated by those in the developing nations (Brazilians, Chinese, Mexicans, Indians and Turks) than by his fellow British. Across the globe he boasts a favorability rating—76% of those surveyed said they liked him—that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton can only envy. [1]

Cole Porter memorably said:

Brush up your Shakespeare, start quoting him now
Brush up your Shakespeare and the women you will wow

Just declaim a few lines from “Othella”
And they’ll think, you’re a helluva of a fella
If your blonde won’t respond when you flatter ’er
Tell her what Tony told Cleopaterer
If she fights when her clothes, you are mussing
What are clothes? “Much Ado About Nussing”
Brush up your Shakespeare and they’ll all kowtow[2]

Shakespeare himself coined many new expressions and words and wove them all together in the most artistic and imaginable way possible. 

Polonius ……What do you read, my lord?
Hamlet.  Words, words, words.   HAMLET act 2, scene 2

An entire book could be written just on the words coined by Shakespeare but I think it is also true that he passed on or revived many traditional sayings which otherwise might have been lost and forgotten such as “Every dog has his day” (Hamlet, Act 5, scene 1), “the naked truth” (sonnet 103), “something in the wind” Comedy of Errors (Act 3, scene 1).  These are not original to Shakespeare but were certainly preserved and popularized by his works.  As strange as it may seem it was Shakespeare who invented the word “to educate”; prior to his time the word used was “breeding” which indicated informal home schooling rather than formal instruction.[3] Shakespeare also coined the expressions well-read, well-educated and well-bred.   Shakespeare used the term “ship-wrecked” for the first time and “skim milk.”  He also coined the words “far-off”, eyeball, to champion, basta! (enough), Academe (higher education), amazement, uncomfortable and addiction.  Here is a list of famous phrases from Shakespeare with their source.

Shakespeare quotationsourceCharacter ; commentary
“All the world’s a stage”AS YOU LIKE IT, act 2, scene 7Jacques; we are all “players” on the world stage
The be-all and the end-all” (Everything)MACBETH, Act 1, scene 7Something superlative or extreme a paragon; Hitler thought he was the be-all and the end-all. The Alpha and Omega.  
For goodness’ sake” consider what you do!   (WATCH IT!) interjectionHENRY THE EIGHTH, Act 3, scene 1= for God’s sake due to Puritan influence many Protestants stopped referring directly to Mary, God or the Saints.
“Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look, he thinks too much; such men are dangerous.”JULIUS CAESAR Act 1, scene 2Ironically Caesar sees through Cassius’ noble exterior but Mark Anthony does not. Caesar dies but Anthony survives.
Hath not a Jew eyes?” (has)THE MERCHANT OF VENICE Act 3 , scene 1Shylock says Jews are human too; both Shylock and the Christians have lessons to learn about forgiveness, humility and human decency.
green-eyed monster” (envy)OTHELLO, Act 3, scene 3Iago tells this to Othello and ironically will encourage him to think the fortunate man KNOWS his wife is cheating, the unlucky man only SUSPECTS it. Iago plants doubt in Othello’ s mind and later Othello will murder his wife.
  “good riddancemenudo alivio    TROILUS AND CRESSIDA Act 2, scene 1  “Thank God he’s gone” “What a relief!”
“..a forgone conclusion”OTHELLO, act 3, scene 3A predetermined outcome that anyone could have predicted.  If you don’t study or train the result is a forgone conclusion.
“let slip the dogs of war….”Julius Caesar Act 3, scene 1The dogs personify the terror of war.  The Spanish conquistadores uses mastiff’s to terrorize the Aztecs.  (mastín: perro enorme y feroz)
“..our dancing daysRomeo and Juliet Act 1, scene 5Days of youth and strength; a famous Irish song says “Indeed your dancing days are done, faith, Johnny, we hardly knew ye.”
brave new world” We don’t know if the future is going to be good or badThe Tempest Act 5, scene 1Prospero and his daughter Miranda are exiled on an uncharted island for years; this play was adapted into a classic science fiction movie:
”Forbidden Planet” (1956) Aldous Huxley wrote a famous novel about a future dystopia called Brave New World (1932)

Of course, this very brief overview of some famous quotations of Shakespeare cannot do justice to his greatness as an author.  The plays written by  Shakespeare  are the very greatest in English literature and Shakespeare himself is the only possible peer of the ancient Greek playwrights such as Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles and authors and poets such as Dante, Goethe and Cervantes.  People are terrified at the idea of Shakespeare because of the dark seriousness of some of his tragedies or histories.  But Shakespeare was also a popular poet and song writer and wrong many delightful comedies.  My own introduction into Shakespeare came “with a spoonful of sugar” when I saw “Kiss me Kate” by Cole Porter which features scenes from “The Taming of the Shrew.”  Then I believe one can appreciate some of his love songs and then the sonnets.  In the past it was very common to study famous soliloquies or scenes of Shakespeare.  In this very brief introduction to Shakespeare we will present several sonnets. 


Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets. They have been called “the most profound and suggestive poetry in the world.”  They are of unsurpassed lyric beauty. A sonnet is a lyric poem of fourteen lines (originally Italian).  A Shakespearean sonnet has four basic divisions: three quatrains (four line stanzas), each with a rhyme of its own followed by a rhymed couplet (two lines of verse with similar end rhymes). The typical rhyme scheme for his sonnets is abab cdcd efef gg. [4] I note the influence of Latin poetry, particularly Horace and Ovid.  Shakespeare is said to have written these poems when he was on an enforced vacation from the Globe Theater themes in the 1590’s when the theaters were closed due to plague.  I imagine Shakespeare may have taken refugee on the country estate of a wealthy friend because of the bucolic background of the poems but as always we really know very little about the personal life of the Bard of Avon.   such as the passage of time, love, beauty and mortality. The first 126 sonnets by tradition,  are addressed to a handsome young man of high (noble) birth; the last 28 to  mysterious “dark woman.” [5]  There has been much controversy as to the identity of this “dark woman”; it is possible she was exotic beauty of Black, Latin[6] or Hispanic immigrant stock. [7] We really don’t know for sure who this person was or if she was a fictional creation of Shakespeare’s inspired by someone he knew, admired, loved or met.  Nonetheless, like Helen of Troy the Dark Lady is one of the great beauties of world literature. It would not be impossible that this woman was, perhaps, African or a mixed race person of North Africa or Mediterranean origin.  Shakespeare populated his plays with people from many countries and cultures and one of his most famous protagonists was Othello, an African Capitan in service of the Venetians.


Sonnet CXXX

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red, than her lips red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go, 
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
   And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,
   As any she belied with false compare.[8]

(Summary: My lover’s eyes are not like the sun nor like red coral nor are her breast white like snow but dun (dark brown or swarthy). Her hair is like black wires.Her cheeks are not red like the rose. Her breath is not like perfume but reeks (perhaps of garlic?) I like her voice but let’s face it music is lovelier. I don’t know about goddesses but she walks on the ground like any woman. And yet I think her as sexy as any woman praised by false comparisons.)

Sonnet XVIII. 
“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” 

SHALL I compare thee to a summer’s day? 
Thou art more lovely and more temperate: 
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, 
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date: 
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,         5
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d; 
And every fair from fair sometime declines, 
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimm’d; 
But thy eternal summer shall not fade, 
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,  10
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade, 
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st; 
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, 
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.[10] (SUMMARY: You are lovelier than a summer’s day and and more more temperate (neither hot nor cold) Summer days are short and may be spoiled by heat, clouds or heavy winds. Everything beautiful is beautiful only for a while.  But your summer will not fade. Your beauty will live forever in these poems.)

 Sonnet XXIX. 

“When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes” 

WHEN in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes 
I all alone beweep my outcast state, 
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries, 
And look upon myself, and curse my fate, 
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,         5
Featur’d like him, like him with friends possess’d, 
Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope, 
With what I most enjoy contented least; 
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising, 
Haply I think on thee,—and then my state,  10
Like to the lark at break of day arising 
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate; 
  For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings 
  That then I scorn to change my state with kings.[11]

Summary (When I think of my problems and failures, I weep and curse my bad luck. Envying those who seem to be better off than myself. But when I think of you and your love I sing at the gates of heaven and glory at my happiness and good luck.

                                       Sonnet CXVI. 

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds” 

LET me not to the marriage of true minds 
Admit impediments. Love is not love 
Which alters when it alteration finds, 
Or bends with the remover to remove: 
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,         5
That looks on tempests and is never shaken; 
It is the star to every wandering bark, 
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken. 
Love ’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks 
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;  10
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, 
But bears it out even to the edge of doom. 
  If this be error, and upon me prov’d, 
  I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.[12]

(SUMMARY When there is the joining of true minds. Let nothing come between them even if there is physical change or physical absence . Love is like a beacon light that is immovable in the storm the Pole Star to every travelling ship. Love’s not time’s slave even though youth and beauty will fade and be cut down by Father Time. True love lasts forever. If I am proved wrong in this I never wrote nor no man ever loved.)

Figure 3 ever fixed mark

Figure 4 Father Time with bending sickle

Figure 5 an old married couple

. .

Close behind influence to the Bible and Shakespeare was Samuel Johnson’s dictionary first published in fateful year of 1755.[13] His English dictionary which was according to Thomas Pyles “the most important linguistic event of the eighteenth century…for it to a large extent “fixed” English spelling and established a standard for the use of words.  The purpose was, in Johnson’s words, “to produce a dictionary by which the pronunciation of our language may be fixed, and its attainment facilitated; by which its purity may be preserved, its use ascertained and its duration lengthened.” Johnson’s use of illustrative quotations from a wide range of works –including technical and specialist manuals- was a notable innovation; there is no question Johnson understood, intuitively, the best way to understand and teach a word was by seeing it in context.    John said, “In all pointed sentences, some degree of accuracy must be sacrificed to conciseness.”[14]  His dictionary ran through five editions in his lifetime the fourth edition was in 1775.   Johnson’s Dictionary contains over 40,000 words, illustrated by approximately 114,000 quotations taken from every field of learning and literature reflecting a lifetime of wide-reading.  It is still highly readable[15] and Johnson’s quotations form a veritable anthology of classic English prose and poetry which helped define the Canon of English literature.   Johnson remains one of the most quotable English writers. Here are some examples:

That man is little to be envied whose patriotism would not gain force upon the plain of Marathon, or whose piety would not grow warmer among the ruins of Iona.
          Journey to the Western Islands: Inch Kenneth.
Sir, I think all Christians, whether Papists or Protestants, agree in the essential articles, and that their differences are trivial, and rather political than religious.[16]
          Life of Johnson (Boswell). 21 Vol. ii. Chap. v. 1763. Dictionaries are like watches; the worst is better than none, and the best cannot be expected to go quite true.           Johnsoniana. Piozzi, 178. Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.           Life of Johnson (Boswell). 44  Vol. v. Chap. ix. 1775.     It matters not how a man dies, but how he lives.           Life of Johnson (Boswell). 33 Vol. iii. Chap. iv. 1769.  
A Very Fine Cat

Figure 6 Hodge, Johnson’s cat[17]

 Johnson’s Dictionary became a standard authority in the English-speaking world and remained unrivalled until the appearance of the Oxford English Dictionary in 1888 until this present day.  [18]

Here are some examples of his definitions:

Distiller: One who makes and sells pernicious and inflammatory spirits.

Dull: Not exhilaterating (sic); not delightful; as, to make dictionaries is dull work.

Excise.  A hateful tax levied upon commodities

Oats: A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland appears to support the people.

Tory: One who adheres to the ancient constitution of the state, and the apostolical hierarchy of the church of England, opposed to a Whig.

Whig: The name of a faction. {Johnson was a Tory}

The German linguist John Christopher Adelung (1732-1806) examined Johnson’s Dictionary  The title of his essay about it, ‘On the Relative Merits and Demerits of Johnson’s English Dictionary’, admitted the shortcomings of Johnson’s work but he said ‘The merit of this Dictionary is so great, that it cannot detract from it, to take notice of some defects’, ‘Any man who is about to compose a dictionary, or rather a grammar of the English language, must acknowledge himself indebted to Mr. J. for abridging at least on half of his labour’.[19] In Vanity Fair, first published in book form in 1848 and set in the teens of the nineteenth century, Thackeray makes plain the established nature of Johnson’s Dictionary as a reference work. Miss Pinkerton, who constantly refers to Johnson, invariably presents the scholars departing from her academy for young ladies with a copy of the work (price two shillings and nine pence).  Chapter one ends with the anti-heroine, Becky Sharp, flinging her copy out of the carriage window back into the academy garden. Becky’s repudiation of the Dictionary is an act of rebellion equivalent to her parting cries of ‘Vive la France! Vive l’Empereur! Vive Bonaparte!’

The classical writers of 18th century (Gibbon, Pope, Swift, and Boswell) used a highly polished syntax and an elaborate vocabulary borrowing many words from French, Latin and Greek with many classical allusions.  Boswell’s Life of Johnson was a landmark in biography and preserved many anecdotes and quotations of Johnson himself. Pope made famous translations of Homer into verse plus wrote didactic poetry.   Gibbon wrote, perhaps, the greatest literary history in history,  The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776).

 Here are a few exemplary quotations from Gibbon:

If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus. The vast extent of the Roman empire was governed by absolute power, under the guidance of virtue and wisdom. The armies were restrained by the firm but gentle hand of four successive emperors, whose characters and authority commanded involuntary respect. The forms of the civil administration were carefully preserved by Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the Antonines, who delighted in the image of liberty, and were pleased with considering themselves as the accountable ministers of the laws. Such princes deserved the honor of restoring the republic, had the Romans of their days been capable of enjoying a rational freedom.[20]


Vicissitudes of fortune, which spares neither man nor the proudest of his works, which buries empires and cities in a common grave.[21]

Pope also is highly quotable:


A little learning is a dangerous thing; 1
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian[22] spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.

Essay on Criticism. Part ii. Line 15

A needless Alexandrine ends the song,
That like a wounded snake drags its slow length along.
          Essay on Criticism. Part ii. Line 156.
True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learn’d to dance.
’T is not enough no harshness gives offence,—
The sound must seem an echo to the sense.           Essay on Criticism. Part ii. Line 162. The day shall come, that great avenging day
Which Troy’s proud glories in the dust shall lay,
When Priam’s powers and Priam’s self shall fall,
And one prodigious ruin swallow all.           The Iliad of Homer. Book iv. Line 196 Injustice, swift, erect, and unconfin’d,
Sweeps the wide earth, and tramples o’er mankind.           The Iliad of Homer. Book ix. Line 628.

Jonathan Swift  was the master of satire in the tradition of the Roman Juvenal in works such as A Modest Proposal (1729) and his famous Gulliver’s Travels (1726).


So geographers, in Afric maps,
With savage pictures fill their gaps,
And o’er unhabitable downs
Place elephants for want of towns. 1
          Poetry, a Rhapsody.

Wisdom is a fox who, after long hunting, will at last cost you the pains to dig out; it is a cheese which, by how much the richer, had the thicker, the homlier, and the coarser coat; and whereof to a judicious palate, the maggots are best. It is a sack posset, wherein the deeper you go, you’ll find it the sweeter. Wisdom is a hen, whose cackling we must value and consider, because it is attended with an egg. But lastly, it is a nut, which, unless you choose with judgment, may cost you a tooth, and pay you with nothing but a worm.[23]

GOOD manners is the art of making those people easy with whom we converse.  1
  Whoever makes the fewest persons uneasy is the best bred in the company. *** 
Therefore I insist that good sense is the principal foundation of good manners; but because the former is a gift which very few among mankind are possessed of, therefore all the civilized nations of the world have agreed upon fixing some rules for common behaviour, best suited to their general customs, or fancies, as a kind of artificial good sense, to supply the defects of reason. Without which the gentlemanly part of dunces would be perpetually at cuffs, as they seldom fail when they happen to be drunk, or engaged in squabbles about women or play. And, God be thanked, there hardly happens a duel in a year, which may not be imputed to one of those three motives. ***  8
  As the common forms of good manners were intended for regulating the conduct of those who have weak understandings; so they have been corrupted by the persons for whose use they were contrived. For these people have fallen into a needless and endless way of multiplying ceremonies, which have been extremely troublesome to those who practise them, and insupportable to everybody else: insomuch that wise men are often more uneasy at the over civility of these refiners, than they could possibly be in the conversations of peasants or mechanics.[24] 

Swift: “A Treatise on Good Manners and Good Breeding

“They name thee before me, 
A knell to mine ear; 
A shudder comes o’er me–
Why wert thou so dear?
They know not I knew thee, 
Who knew thee so well–
Long, long I shall rue thee, 
Too deeply to tell.

In secret we met–
In silence I grieve, 
That thy heart could forget, 
Thy spirit deceive 
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee?–
With silence and tears.”

from When We Two Parted, George Gordon, Lord Byron

Here is an example of modern (British) English.  The spelling is almost identical with American usage EXCEPT  for the use of “s” f rather than “z” in words like paralysed (sic) –paralyzed in American usuage and “-our” in “neighbour (sic) rather than “neighbor”.  Among  most productive English language authors of the modern era are Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw, Gilbert Keith Chesterton and Winston Churchill.

In Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens has one of the most famous and original introductions of any novel:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

Here Dickens uses parallelism –repetition of the grammatical structure …it was….as well as antithesis (contrast)…LIGHT….DARKNESS…HOPE…DESPAIR)

Taken from Oliver Twist, 1838, by Charles Dickens:

The evening arrived: the boys took their places; the master in his cook’s uniform stationed himself at the copper; his pauper assistants ranged themselves behind him; the gruel was served out, and a long grace was said over the short commons. The gruel disappeared, the boys whispered each other and winked at Oliver, while his next neighbours nudged him. Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger and reckless with misery. He rose from the table, and advancing, basin and spoon in hand, to the master, said, somewhat alarmed at his own temerity—

“Please, sir, I want some more.”

The master was a fat, healthy man, but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralysed with wonder, and the boys with fear.

“What!” said the master at length, in a faint voice.

“Please, sir,” replied Oliver, “I want some more    .”

The master aimed a blow at Oliver’s head with the ladle, pinioned him in his arms, and shrieked aloud for the beadle.[25]

Here is Gilbert Keith Chesterton’s commentary on Dickens’s Oliver Twist.

In considering Dickens, as we almost always must consider him, as a man of rich originality, we may possibly miss the forces from which he drew even his original energy. It is not well for man to be alone. We, in the modern world, are ready enough to admit that when it is applied to some problem of monasticism or of an ecstatic life. But we will not admit that our modern artistic claim to absolute originality is really a claim to absolute unsociability; a claim to absolute loneliness. The anarchist is at least as solitary as the ascetic. And the men of very vivid vigour in literature, the men such as Dickens, have generally displayed a large sociability towards the society of letters, always expressed in the happy pursuit of pre-existent themes, sometimes expressed, as in the case of Molière or Sterne, in downright plagiarism. For even theft is a confession of our dependence on society. In Dickens, however, this element of the original foundations on which he worked is quite especially difficult to determine. This is partly due to the fact that for the present reading public he is practically the only one of his long line that is read at all. He sums up Smollett and Goldsmith, but he also destroys them. This one giant, being closest to us, cuts off from our view even the giants that begat him. But much more is this difficulty due to the fact that Dickens mixed up with the old material, materials so subtly modern, so made of the French Revolution, that the whole is transformed. If we want the best example of this, the best example is Oliver Twist.[26]

Eliza Doolittle

Figure 7Eliza Doolittle in Shaw’s Pygmalion

One of the funniest and most influential English language playwrights (he also wrote movie scripts) is George Bernard Shaw.   Here is a famous fragment of his play Pygmalion, which was filmed several times including in am musical version called My Fair Lady which uses much of the dialogue of the original play. It features Shaw’s simplified orthography and phonetic rendering of English dialects.  Here Professor Higgins meets his future student Eliza Doolittle:

All the rest have gone except the note taker, the gentleman, and the flower girl, who sits arranging her basket, and still pitying herself in murmurs. 
  THE FLOWER GIRL. Poor girl! Hard enough for her to live without being worrited and chivied. 
  THE GENTLEMAN [returning to his former place on the note taker’s left] How do you do it, if I may ask? 
  THE NOTE TAKER. Simply phonetics. The science of speech. Thats my profession: also my hobby. Happy is the man who can make a living by his hobby! You can spot an Irishman or a Yorkshireman by his brogue. I can place any man within six miles. I can place him within two miles in London. Sometimes within two streets.110
  THE FLOWER GIRL. Ought to be ashamed of himself, unmanly coward! 
  THE GENTLEMAN. But is there a living in that? 
  THE NOTE TAKER. Oh yes. Quite a fat one. This is an age of upstarts. Men begin in Kentish Town with £80 a year, and end in Park Lane with a hundred thousand. They want to drop Kentish Town; but they give themselves away every time they open their mouths. Now I can teach them— 
  THE FLOWER GIRL. Let him mind his own business and leave a poor girl— 
  THE NOTE TAKER [explosively] Woman: cease this detestable boohooing instantly; or else seek the shelter of some other place of worship.115
  THE FLOWER GIRL [with feeble defiance] Ive a right to be here if I like, same as you. 
  THE NOTE TAKER. A woman who utters such depressing and disgusting sounds has no right to be anywhere—no right to live. Remember that you are a human being with a soul and the divine gift of articulate speech: that your native language is the language of Shakespear and Milton and The Bible; and dont sit there crooning like a bilious pigeon. 
  THE FLOWER GIRL [quite overwhelmed, and looking up at him in mingled wonder and deprecation without daring to raise her head] Ah-ah-ah-ow-ow-ow-oo! 
  THE NOTE TAKER [whipping out his book] Heavens! what a sound! [He writes; then holds out the book and reads, reproducing her vowels exactly] Ah-ah-ah-ow-ow-ow-oo! 
  THE FLOWER GIRL [tickled by the performance, and laughing in spite of herself] Garn!120
  THE NOTE TAKER. You see this creature with her kerbstone English: the English that will keep her in the gutter to the end of her days. Well, sir, in three months I could pass that girl off as a duchess at an ambassador’s garden party. I could even get her a place as lady’s maid or shop assistant, which requires better English. Thats the sort of thing I do for commercial millionaires. And on the profits of it I do genuine scientific work in phonetics, and a little as a poet on Miltonic lines. 
  THE GENTLEMAN. I am myself a student of Indian dialects; and— 
  THE NOTE TAKER [eagerly] Are you? Do you know Colonel Pickering, the author of Spoken Sanscrit? 
  THE GENTLEMAN. I am Colonel Pickering. Who are you? 
  THE NOTE TAKER. Henry Higgins, author of Higgins’s Universal Alphabet.125
  PICKERING [with enthusiasm] I came from India to meet you. 
  HIGGINS. I was going to India to meet you. 
  PICKERING. Where do you live? 
  HIGGINS. 27A Wimpole Street. Come and see me tomorrow. 
  PICKERING. I’m at the Carlton. Come with me now and lets have a jaw over some supper.130
  HIGGINS. Right you are. 
  THE FLOWER GIRL [to Pickering, as he passes her] Buy a flower, kind gentleman. I’m short for my lodging. 
  PICKERING. I really havnt any change. I’m sorry [he goes away]. 
  HIGGINS [shocked at girl’s mendacity] Liar. You said you could change half-a-crown. 
  THE FLOWER GIRL [rising in desperation] You ought to be stuffed with nails, you ought. [Flinging the basket at his feet] Take the whole blooming basket for sixpence.

  The church clock strikes the second quarter.
  HIGGINS [hearing in it the voice of God, rebuking him for his Pharisaic want of charity to the poor girl] A reminder. [He raises his hat solemnly; then throws a handful of money into the basket and follows Pickering].[27] 


Winston Churchill’s style, as mentioned was greatly influenced by the Bible, Gibbon, Dickens but he had a style all of his own. Churchill’s greatest speeches were during the WWII and early Cold War era.  For those speeches and for his biographies and histories Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.   On Monday, May 13, 1940, Winston Churchill made his first speech as Britain’s Prime Minister.    Hitler and the Nazis appeared to be on the brink of dominating all Europe having conquered Czechoslovakia, Poland, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, and Norway; Hitler was allied to Russia, Rumania, Hungary; Hitler’s U-boats threatened Britain’s trade routes from which she derived her food and war material.  The USA was neutral and Britain stood alone against the greatest army and air force the world had ever seen.   Many people believed England would surrender rather than see London bombed and thousands of civilians killed.  Churchill then made a relatively brief and subdued speech which became one of the most famous speeches of all time in which he recognized the situation was desperate but that surrender to “a monstrous tyranny” was out of the question and though  Hitler was very powerful he was confident that “our cause will not be suffered to fail among men” meaning that Britain’s cause was the cause of freedom and Churchill fully expected many volunteers to come to Britain’s aid and eventually many countries would join the Allied cause and that cause would achieve, in the end final victory.

Mister Speaker, on Friday evening last I received His Majesty’s commission to form a new Administration……

I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined the government: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory; victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival. Let that be realized; no survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal. But I take up my task with buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. At this time I feel entitled to claim the aid of all, and I say, “Come then, let us go forward together with our united strength.”[28]

Shortly after this speech in June 1940 France surrendered to Nazi Germany; Italy also declared war on Britain. Winston Churchill then spoke to the House of Commons about the Fall of France and what it meant.   Did it mean the end of civilization?    Did it mean they would come under murderous attack any day?    Did it mean Hitler might starve the British Isles into submission?    Churchill responded with his “Battle of Britain” speech.  He told his listeners later that “all our hearts go out with the fighter pilots” and he knew that many of these gallant young men would be killed as they tried to fight against almost insurmountable odds against Hitler’s Luftwaffe (Air Force).  Churchill told his daughter in law that she need not fear did and he did not fear death because he said, echoing the Bible, “There is a time to live, a time to love and a time to die.”

I spoke the other day of the colossal military disaster which occurred when the French High Command failed to withdraw the northern Armies from Belgium at the moment when they knew that the French front was decisively broken at Sedan and on the Meuse. This delay entailed the loss of fifteen or sixteen French divisions and threw out of action for the critical period the whole of the British Expeditionary Force. Our Army and 120,000 French troops were indeed rescued by the British Navy from Dunkirk but only with the loss of their cannon, vehicles and modern equipment. This loss inevitably took some weeks to repair, and in the first two of those weeks the battle in France has been lost……… This brings me, naturally, to the great question of invasion from the air, and of the impending struggle between the British and German Air Forces. It seems quite clear that no invasion on a scale beyond the capacity of our land forces to crush speedily is likely to take place from the air until our Air Force has been definitely overpowered. In the meantime, there may be raids by parachute troops and attempted descents of airborne soldiers. We should be able to give those gentry a warm reception both in the air and on the ground, if they reach it in any condition to continue the dispute. But the great question is: Can we break Hitler’s air weapon? ….. In the defense of this Island the advantages to the defenders will be much greater than they were in the fighting around Dunkirk. We hope to improve on the rate of three or four to one which was realized at Dunkirk; and in addition all our injured machines and their crews which get down safely–and, surprisingly, a very great many injured machines and men do get down safely in modern air fighting–all of these will fall, in an attack upon these Islands, on friendly soil and live to fight another day; whereas all the injured enemy machines and their complements will be total losses as far as the war is concerned……. What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation.[29] Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us.

Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’

Churchill would give many famous speeches including his post war “Iron Curtain Speech” and he would write many more books including the “History of the English-speaking Peoples” but his finest hour speech was surely his most memorable and most famous.[30]


Figure 8 RAF scramble; Hitler is coming!!

1940 German air attacks in Battle of Britain

Figure 9 Winston Churchill speaking


Figure 11 JFK giving his famous speech on religious tolerance Sept 12 1960

John F. Kennedy listened to Churchill’s speeches on the radio and heard him speak in Parliament in 1940.  Kennedy read and studied all his speeches.  In 1963 John F. Kennedy even asked Congress to make Churchill an honorary U. S. citizen.   Kennedy was an avid reader and historian and became an orator second only to Churchill or Lincoln.   John F. Kennedy often quoted the Bible and always traveled with his own personal Bible so another great influence on his speeches is the Bible itself as was true in the case of Lincoln and Churchill.  [31]Matthew 5:14 states, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” Those words are quoted in a speech of President-elect John F. Kennedy, Jan. 9, 1961. He is describing the type of leadership he would like to display when he is President.  This speech foreshadows Kennedy’s great inaugural address and his famous speech on Civil Rights in 1963.  In this speech, as in many of Kennedy’s public utterances we see the hand of a master rhetorician; his speeches are not for a day but are literature for all time.


But I have been guided by the standard John Winthrop set before his shipmates on the flagship Arbella three hundred and thirty-one years ago, as they, too, faced the task of building a new government on a perilous frontier.”‘We must always consider,’ he said, ‘that we shall be as a city upon a hill—the eyes of all people are upon us.’

History will not judge our endeavors—and a government cannot be selected—merely on the basis of color or creed or even party affiliation. Neither will competence and loyalty and stature, while essential to the utmost, suffice in times such as these.

For of those to whom much is given, much is required. And when at some future date the high court of history sits in judgment on each one of us—recording whether in our brief span of service we fulfilled our responsibilities to the state—our success or failure, in whatever office we may hold, will be measured by the answers to four questions:

First, were we truly men of courage—with the courage to stand up to one’s enemies—and the courage to stand up, when necessary, to one’s associates—the courage to resist public pressure, as well as private greed?

Secondly, were we truly men of judgment—with perceptive judgment of the future as well as the past—of our own mistakes as well as the mistakes of others—with enough wisdom to know that we did not know, and enough candor to admit it?

Third, were we truly men of integrity—men who never ran out on either the principles in which they believed or the people who believed in them—men who believed in us—men whom neither financial gain nor political ambition could ever divert from the fulfillment of our sacred trust?

Finally, were we truly men of dedication—with an honor mortgaged to no single individual or group, and compromised by no private obligation or aim, but devoted solely to serving the public good and the national interest.

“And these are the qualities which, with God’s help, this son of Massachusetts hopes will characterize our government’s conduct in the four stormy years that lie ahead.

Humbly I ask His help in that undertaking—but aware that on earth His will is worked by men. I ask for your help and your prayers, as I embark on this new and solemn journey.[32]

In his last speech never spoken[33] Kennedy said this, echoing the 127th Psalm:

We in this country, in this generation, are–by destiny rather than choice–the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of “peace on earth, good will toward men.” That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as was written long ago: “except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” [34]

File:Flag of the NSDAP (1920–1945).svg

The Enlightenment, the World Wars and the Cold Wars have added some German and Russian expressions to English.  Some have sinister connotation as they are related to Hitler and the Nazis (National Socialists): Der Führer (Hitler) Gestapo (secret police), Blitzkrieg (lightning war), ersatz (substitute),panzer, stuka (dive bomber), V-2 (vengeance rocket), U-boat (submarine), Herrenvolk (master race), swastika[35] (Nazi symbol), stormtroppers, anschluss (annexation of Austria to Germany), Zyclon B (poison gas), einsatzgruppen(action commandos or extermination squads), the Final Solution[36] , life unworthy of life[37], to strafe, Luftwaffe (Nazi air force), lebensraum (living space),Quisling (traitor/secret Nazi),Reich (Nazi empire),bunker, Wunderwaffe (wonder weapons)and of course, vertbotten (forbidden), kaput (meaning dead, finished).  Some German terms in English go back to a quieter time: kindergarten  (“a garden for children”), weltanschauung  (world view or philosophy), angst (fear or anxiety about life), kitsch (trashy sentimentality), leitmotiv (dominant or recurring theme in music or a novel), wunderkind(child prodigy),and  wanderlust ((desire to travel). Russian has given us gulag (Communist slave labor camp), zek (prisoner in Russian gulag), ukase (edict or command from Tsar or dictator), cosmonaut (communist astronaut), and sputnik (first Russian satellite in 1957.   Also more recently we find Glasnost (openness).

The rise of the British Empire (c. 1600-1948) led to the spreading of English all over the world (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India[1], Canada, Bahamas, Jamaica,  the Thirteen Colonies)  After Independence American English consciously developed as a separate dialect with its own spellings , grammar and jargon.  After the industrialization of Britain and then the USA, the English-speaking peoples became a world-wide military, naval and commercial powers often trailblazing new business techniques and new technologies.   There is a joke that the reason why the French or the English don’t speak German is, because of June 6, 1944 (D-Day).  But there is great truth to the statement that 1914-1945 prevented the homeland of the French from being occupied (perhaps permanently) by the Germans and simultaneous seriously undermined the popularity of German in the world, particularly in the USA. [2]  At the same time both the Cold War and the World Wars strengthened and internationalized English to its greatest extent ever. In the modern era  English has had many great and prolific authors, Dickens,  Twain, Cather, Crane, Wharton, Hemingway, Shaw and magnificent orators such as Lincoln,  the Roosevelts, Winston Churchill (Nobel Prize for Literature) and more recently John F. Kennedy[3](Pulitzer Prize) and Martin Luther King, Jr (Nobel Prize for Peace). English bestsellers are translated to dozens of languages and most of the great books of the world are translated into English. English is the de-facto standard language of software engineers and air traffic controllers.  English has become a sine qua non in business, law, medicine, computers, and education. English and American sports have become popular all over the world bringing their own specialized vocabulary.[4] English has a vast and famous literature, an influential musical culture and arguably the greatest film and entertainment industry in the modern world.

            The great age of the primacy of the English-speaking peoples have reached its apogee but I think it is a fair bet that English will remain important in my lifetime and for the rest of the 21st century.  The story of English is far from over; we must, as John F. Kennedy said of Churchill, “face firmly towards the future” though we may “never forget the past.”   Keep learning the “right true Saxon tongue”; continue studies in the excellent English language.[5]

[1] India is one of the largest English-speaking countries in the world with over 300 million speakers; Some Hindi words in English are bungalow, dungaree, pajamas, pundit, sahib (Mr.), shampoo, thug, jungle, loot, khaki and sari. 

[2]  It is estimated that 36 million Germans speak English more than Canada and of course 41 million Nigerians speak English and more than 200 million Indians speak English.

[3] JFK has inspired much art and poetry.

Elegy for J.F.K.

When a just man dies,
Lamentation and praise,
Sorrow and joy, are one.

Why then, why there,
Why thus, we cry, did he die?
The heavens are silent.

What he was, he was:
What he is fated to become
Depends on us

Remembering his death,
How we choose to live
Will decide its meaning.

When a just man dies,
Lamentation and praise,
Sorrow and joy, are one. 

— W. H. Auden

[4] Golf, football (soccer) , hockey   etc.  Much of America’s distinctive language is sports related (derived from baseball, football and basketball).

[5] The first part of the sentence is consciously “Anglo-Saxon” and the second part is almost entirely Latinate with the exception of the articles.


[2] Brush Up Your Shakespeare (1948)


(wm) Cole Porter (I) Musical: Kiss Me Kate by Harry Clark & Jack Diamond; 1953 film version by Keenan Wynn & James Whitmore

[3] Compare the Spanish saying Para la virtud , la educación y para la ciencia la instrucción. First teach manners for virtue (discipline) then instruct for knowledge”.

[4] Rhyme scheme: the pattern or sequence in which the rhyme sounds occur.  These rhyme schemes for purpose of analysis are presented by the assignment to each similar sound of the same letter of the alphabet. Shakespeare himself did not think of rhyme in these terms nor did he consciously seek to use elements of style or literary style.  Like Winston Churchill centuries later, Shakespeare assimilated rhetoric from the classical education he received in school and by his reading of classics. To Shakespeare language was a tool to communicate ideas.  Therefore, the most important thing about Shakespeare is to enjoy his messages and his sheer beauty and originality of language.

[5] “The Dark Lady of the Sonnets” is a 1910 short comedy by George Bernard Shaw in which William Shakespeare, intending to meet the “Dark Lady”, accidentally encounters Queen Elizabeth I and attempts to persuade her to create a national theatre.

[6]  Aline Florio, the wife of an Italian translator, who “loved for her own gratification”

[7]  “Lucy Negro”

[8] ANALYSIS: SONNET 130 C XXX. Structure (sonnet with three quatrains and summarizing rhyming couplet  More than three quarters of the words are Anglo-Saxon monosyllables and hence are very hot and direct. Are they perhaps directed to a person without much education?  The poem is interesting is that it has a series of negative similes and metaphors that seems to mock in ECHO (indirect allusion) the hyperbole and clichés of romantic songs of that era.  The rhyme scheme is simple ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.  Lines three and for have anaphora in the repetition of “if”.  Repetition…RED…RED…WIRES…WIRES….ROSES…ROSES…. CONTRAST (antithesis) perfume/breath that reeks. There is strong IMAGERY of color and sight (brightness of the sun) red, white,black,pink,red dun,gold,  IMAGERY of smell IMAGERY of human warmth,   Then there is parallelism in the use of similar grammatical structures….I have seen, see I, I love, I know. I grant I never saw, I think.  There is alliteration: M….M….S…S…S….R…R…R…R..R..Wh..Wh…B…B…H…H…then R…..R…..R…S…S…G….G…G.


ANALYSIS: SONNET 18 (XVIII) The poet begins with the stock convention of comparing one’s love or friend to something special or beautiful.  One recalls Wordsworth’s lines:
We’ll talk of sunshine and of song,
And summer days when we were young,
Sweet childish days which were as long
As twenty days are now.

ANALYSIS: Structure (sonnet with three quatrains and summarizing rhyming couplet. The rhyme scheme is simple ABAB CDCD EFEF GG . We begin with contrast comparing lovely young person to a summer day. Repetition: more…more.   Alliteration…DAY>>>DO>>>>DARLING. The sun is an “eye of heaven” (metaphor). And summer’s lease hath all too short a date; this is a legal metaphor and the idea is that summer holds a lease for a limited time only.  Shakespeare must have been experienced renting theaters or rooms.   Eternal summer is a metaphor for immortality found in art and literature. Death is personified as a boasting devil.  The Elizabethan use of “his” where we might say “its” helps personify the summer.  Nature’s course “untrimmed” is a sailing metaphor for to trim is “to adjust the sails.  Fair means beautiful or good weather as in fair weather.  Death’s shade is a metaphor that goes back to the Bible and Psalm 23 ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” In Latin literature the shades wandered helplessly in the underworld like groaning ghosts. Shakespeare surely knew Virgil’s account of Aeneas’ descent into hades in Aeneid Bk. VI; this is an echo or indirect allusion.  So long as men can breathe or eyes can see is a hyperbole for as long as English-speaking civilization or Western civilization exist.

[11] ANALYSIS: SONNET 19 (XIX). Structure (sonnet with three quatrains and summarizing rhyming couplet. The rhyme scheme is simple but not complete ABAB CXCX EFEF GG.  Possessed does not rhyme with least.  We have simple repetition…and, and and.  Chiasmus –parallelism in reverse order- is varied with antithesis (contrast): this man’s art, and that man’s scope. There is alliteration with FORTUNE….FATE….FEATURED….FRIENDS.   There is the strong contrast that the poet is wretched but then awakes to count his blessings: “Haply I think on thee…”  How happy are the small birds said one poet and surely the song of the bird –in this case a lark has to be one of nature’s most joyous sounds with the beautiful imagery of the lark rising and singing and the simile of the poet’s spirit rising like a happy bird. Of course, birds don’t sing hymns this metaphor is an exaggeration or poetic hyperbole.  One wonders if Shakespeare actually suffered a financial setback or some great disappointment in his career but of that we have no evidence except the evidence of experience: everyone has ups and downs in life. Luck has turned against the author and he feels that he does not belong any more to society but is instead an “outcast.” Bootless means bringing no profit; useless. The earth is “sullen earth” sad because it perhaps represents mortality and death.   He was all alone, not among friends but he remembers his great friend his great love.  The poet reminds us that material wealth and worldly status (fame) are not important as love, friendship and happiness.  A most beautiful poem which is the epitome of perfection of human utterance.

[12] ANALYSIS SONNET 116 (CXVI) This is a famous paean to true love, eternal love that endures. ). Structure (sonnet with three quatrains and summarizing rhyming couplet. ABAB CDCD EFEF GG    COME and DOOM is an off rhyme or perhaps a rhyme in Elizabethan English; PROVED and LOVE are similar. . We see alliteration here …marriage….MINDS…admit….impediments….mark….LET…LOVE…LOVE…..SICKLE ….COMPASS…COME…>BENDING….BRIEF>>>>.BUT…>BEARS….. There is REPETITION and polyptoton (the repetition of a word in a different form) remover…remove….alters…alteration…There is an echo of religious or biblical language with “let not.”    There is strong IMAGERY of the “wand’ring bark” and the beacon light of the lighthouse: “‘ever fixed mark.” The mark or sea-mark is vividly personified as he looks on tempests like a living friend.  This is a frequent metaphor in Shakespeare.  Julius Caesar boasts of being immovable, like the northern  (Pole star:
But I am constant as the northern star,
Of whose true-fix’d and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament.

We have a metaphor of the bark (ship) as for the journey of life and love as the beacon of hope and happiness. The remover in the poem is the partner who goes on a physical journey or the partner who has strayed. Rosy lips and cheeks are a metaphor for youth and beauty. There is an allusion to astrology that a star might have an “worth” or influence like a “lucky star” The edge of doom; doom is a sad, irrevocable destiny: old age and death. 

[13] In 1755 the French and Indian War began .  One of its first participants was George Washington; this war guaranteed  a certain marginalization to the French language in North America and led to the establishment of the USA.

[14] On the bravery of the English Common Soldier (1787) Vol. X, p 286

[15] I have heard it said that Johnson’s etymologies are poor but they are generally accurate in so far as Greek and Latin roots are concerned; Johnson was constrained by he level of etymological knowledge of his time and of course he did not know Old English, German, Welsh, Old Norse, Irish Gaelic or Scottish Gaelic.

[16] Compare to Emerson :
I do not find that the age or country makes the least difference; no, nor the language the actor spoke, nor the religion which they professed,—whether Arab in the desert, or Frenchman in the Academy. I see that sensible men and conscientious men all over the world were of one religion of well-doing and daring.—Ralph Waldo Emerson The Preacher. Lectures and Biographical Sketches, p. 215. 

[17] Just outside Samuel Johnson’s house at 17 Gough Square in London stands this statue of Johnson’s cat Hodge, perched atop Johnson’s Dictionary. He was a black cat, as depicted here, and by his owner’s account “a very fine cat indeed.”  Johnson fed him fresh fish and oysters.

[18] Johnson’s Dictionary and the OED constitute the two great landmarks in English lexicographical history.


[20] Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776). Chap. iii

[21] Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776). Chap. lxxi

[22] A spring in Macedonia sacred to the muses so therefore a source of inspiration.(Greek mythology)



[25] a minor parish official formerly employed in the Church of England to usher and keep order (historic)




[29] British spelling also correct; in America would we write “civilization”

[30] It is also among the most lampooned; in the 1970’s Purina Dog Chow ran a commercial in which they “interviewed” dogs about the quality of the new dog chow.  An English bulldog says, majestically, “this is dog food’s finest hour.”


See William Manchester The Death of a President (1967). Kennedy’s personal Bible disappeared November 22, 1963 and has never been found.


[33] the blood-stained copy was found in his suit on November 22, 1963.


[35] Hakenkreuz (“crooked cross” in German)

[36] Translation used by Himmler head of the SS (die Endlösung der Judenfrage) Final Soluiton of the Jewish question.

[37] Lebensunwertes Leben, Term used for people with incurable mental health problems, serious birth defects who should be euthanized (murdered) for the “good” of Germany.

[38] India is one of the largest English-speaking countries in the world with over 300 million speakers; Some Hindi words in English are bungalow, dungaree, pajamas, pundit, sahib (Mr.), shampoo, thug, jungle, loot, khaki and sari.