History of the English Language

 Minna Sundberg
Minna Sundberg

This beautiful graphic shows that English extends far from any Anglo Saxon and Romance language roots into Indo-European, Finnish and Germanic languages. There are over 400 languages in total that have been melded together to make the modern English that we speak today.

What an incredible accomplishment by Finnish-Swedish comic artist Minna Sundberg. The size of each of the branches directly relates to the size of the population as of the year 0. Please take the time to explore this amazing work which packs a huge quantity of information into a well composed and meaningful, not to mention beautiful presentation. Once you start noticing the details, I bet that there is a language or two you may not have heard of.  I am not up on my ancient languages to the same extent as Minna, so  there a few that went right over my head. More research to do …

Many foreign words entered into common parlance as either Cant ( the secret argot of Gypsies, rogues and travellers ), as well as Slang – especially words surrounding different occupations and technologies. Minna mentions Skalds, who are native singers and story tellers who kept oral history alive. In other cultures, the Skalds were related to travelling bards or minstrels, though Skalds were more scholarly and tended to be attached to a society. All would have access to different populations, languages and oral histories, which they passed among themselves. In this way they could have easily influenced diverse populations with new slang in songs and stories. Passing through  new villages and dropping off words at each one. Many of the etymology sources I have read say early in the history of the English language, Slang was influenced by the arts: including drama, storytelling and song.

Now our vocabularies are a much stronger polyglot of words as our country is a strong polyglot of people. It makes sense in a country that welcomes everyone, that all types of words would find a home.

As a constant feature on this site, I am tracking down the etymology of many words that entered the language in unusual ways. Sometimes they continue to have the same definitions, as in bamboozle, which meant the exact same thing in Gypsy Cant as it does today, but obfuscate didn’t mean hidden. In 1859, it was considered gutter Slang. If you were obfuscated you were drunk. How it got from the first definition to the second is something I’m looking into.

You can find my Crazy Word History Here

Have fun, Cheers, M.






Taking back the streets of Beirut

This a very relevant and hopeful piece about a tagger in Beirut who is doing a whole lot more than spraying paint on walls – he is giving back a cultural focus to his community by replacing political posters with portraits of real local people combined with three different types of Arabic calligraphy to create a beautiful melange of what it means to be human in Beirut.

This is what good art is supposed to do! He even has a pass from the local government, who will leave his existing pieces alone, and allow him to create more without fear of reprisal. Read the story below, for something exciting and hopeful.

Iain Akerman

Yazan1Photograph: Yazan Halwani’s ‘Fairuz’ in Gemmayze

“There is an alternative voice rising,” says Yazan Halwani, the young Lebanese street artist. “I’m not going to say that what I do is going to free Lebanon or change the sectarian political system, or fix any regional problem, it’s far from that. But it tells people that you don’t have to accept what’s already there.”

Halwani has just finished university for the day when we catch up, his English carrying more than the hint of a French accent. On occasion he talks 19 to the dozen, such is his passion for graffiti, calligraphy and the reclamation of Beirut’s streets from the clutches of the city’s myriad political parties. For an alternative voice, he is both endearing and charismatic.

Following a brief misunderstanding in February this year, the possibility that much of his work – and that of other graffiti artists – would be removed…

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On Teaching the Graphic Novel

This is the perfect description of both the graphic novel and of comics. For anyone who wants to get involved with this genre, take a peek at the list in this post, and look up some of the graphic novels and comics that he suggests. It is quite a long list.

The one thing that I did not know that I found amazing, is that the drawings are able to provide a visual illusion or pun that prose cannot, and therefore is a medium all unto itself. This is an incredibly valuable piece by a college professor at Amherst who taught Graphic Novels as a class.


About once a month, I get asked by a colleague or friend for the syllabus I used to teach my seminar on the Graphic Novel at Amherst. Included below is a list of the texts that I used to teach students. In that seminar I allowed optional creative exercises and finals, and that led to me teaching tutorials in the making of comics, which led to me advising two graphic novel theses to summa honors. I’m very proud of those students, who were both also awarded the English Department’s prize for best thesis. Amherst’s English department was very generous and supportive in the teaching I did there throughout, and I’m incredibly grateful for the hard work of all of my students.

I taught the class as an experiment, even an expedition of a kind, and so it was never the same every time. I began teaching it because more graphic novels…

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