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Anglo-Saxon Words, Why Poetic - Art Philosophy

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The principles just unfolded are closely related—in connection, however, with one or two other considerations—to that preference which almost all English poets exhibit for words of native or Anglo-Saxon origin... The words of Anglo-Saxon origin include most of those used in our youth, in connection with which, owing to long familiarity with them, we have the most definite possible associations. Whenever we hear these words, therefore, they seem pre-eminently representative.

Then, too, we hear in the Anglo-Saxon derivatives, to a greater extent than in the foreign, the sounds which, when originally uttered, were meant to be significant of their sense. In fact, almost all the words instanced in another place as having sounds of this kind were Anglo-Saxon. On the contrary, almost all our words derived from the Latin through the French have suffered a radical change in sound, both in the French language and in our own. Therefore their sounds, if ever significant of their meanings, can scarcely be expected to be so now.

Again, we know, as a rule, the history of our Anglo-Saxon terms, inasmuch as we still use them in their different meanings and applications, as developed by association and comparison. But foreign words are usually imported into our language in order to designate some single definite conception, and often one very different from that which they designated originally. All of us, for instance, can see the different meanings of a word like way or fair and the connections between them; but to most of us words like dunce and pagans, from the Latin Duns and pagan, have only the effects of arbitrary symbols.

One other reason applies to compound words. If the different terms put together in these exist and are in present use in our own language, as is the case with most of our native compounds, then each part of the compound conveys a distinct idea of its separate meaning; so that we clearly perceive in the word its different factors. For in-stance, the terms uprightness, overlook, underwriter, under-standing, pastime, all summon before the mind both of the ideas which together make up the word. We recognize, at once, whatever comparison or picture it represents. In compound words of entirely foreign origin, on the contrary, it is almost invariably the case that, at least, one of the factors does not exist at present in our own tongue. Integrity meant a picture to the Roman. But none of us use the word from which its chief factor is derived. So we fail to see the picture. Nor do we use either factor of the words depravity, defer, retire. Poetry as a Representative Art, XVII.


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