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SAXONISM

SAXONISM, also Anglo-Saxonism. A semi-technical term for: (1) The use of, and preference for, expressions of ANGLO-SAXON origin. (2) A word or other expression of Anglo-Saxon origin or formed on an Anglo-Saxon or Germanic model, often contrasted with classicism, as in foreword with preface, folkwain with omnibus. Saxonisms are generally the out-come of a purist and nativist approach to the language. The aim behind many deliberately created forms has been to create compounds and derivatives to replace foreign borrowings; the device is rooted in the OLD ENGLISH practice of loan-translating LATIN words: benevolentia as wel-willedness (well-willingness); trinitas as thrines (threeness). LOAN TRANSLATION was standard before the Norman Conquest, but was limited from the mid-11c by the predominance of French. Since the decline of French influence in the 14c, Saxonism has resurfaced only occasionally. In the 16c, it was a reaction to INKHORN TERMS; in his translation of the BIBLE, John Cheke used hundreder and gainrising instead of centurion and resurrection. In the 19c, it was prompted by comparative PHILOLOGY, when folklore and foreword (modelled on German Vorwort) were coined, handbook was revived to compete with manual, and leechcraft was preferred by Walter SCOTT to medicine. DICKENS eulogized Anglo-Saxon times, when ‘a pure Teutonic was spoken’ (Household Words 18, 1858). The most enthusiastic 19c Saxonizer was William BARNES, who wished to turn English back into a properly Germanic language. Some of his coinages were structurally acceptable (bendsome for flexible, folkwain for omnibus), but others were awkward (markword of suchness for adjective). His work is now largely forgotten and where remembered is usually seen as quaint and unrealistic.

Currently, Saxonism occurs directly as a literary conceit and indirectly in campaigns for simpler English. In humorous writing, vernacular alternatives to established Romance words are coined and used for effect. In the magazine Punch in 1966, to celebrate the 900th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, the humorist Paul Jennings wrote ‘anent the ninehundredth yearday of the Clash of Hastings’, and rendered Hamlet's most famous soliloquy into ‘Anglish’, beginning with:To be, or not to be: that is the ask-thing:
Is't higher-thinking in the brain to bear
The slings and arrows of outrageous dooming
Or take up weapons 'gainst a sea of bothers
And by againstwork end them?


In the word list of BASIC ENGLISH, C. K. Ogden showed a marked preference for vernacular over Romance and classical words. Campaigners for PLAIN ENGLISH often urge people to avoid polysyllables and keep to everyday language, implicitly proposing a kind of Saxonism. In such movements, however, the main criterion is not linguistic pedigree but ease of communication.

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