Where does the word “English” come from?

Do you ever wonder about the origins of words?

That is, their etymology.

Recently I was in Manila. The major language of the Philippines is Tagalog, which apparently comes form the word “tagá-ilog” — or “people of the river”.

Which got me interested…

Where does “English” come from?

Logically you’d think it comes from the word “England” — the name of the country.

But actually, that isn’t necessarily the case.

It’s just as likely, for example, that “England” was called so because that’s where the “Speakers of English” were. Which actually seems to be the case.

Supposedly, the word “English” is a corruption of the word “Anglish” — or, the “Language of the Angles”, one of the Germanic tribes that, along with the Saxons and the Jutes (collectively the “Anglo-Saxons”), invaded and colonised Britain from the 5th century after the Romans left. The Anglo-Saxons came from what is now northwest Germany, west Denmark and the Netherlands… and supposedly the Angles were called that because the place they came from—the Jutland peninsula—was shaped like a fish hook. The noun “angle” was derived from the Indo-European word “ank” meaning “to bend”, and the word “angle” entered the language in the Old English period and was used to mean “hook for fishing” (which of course is why we also call finishing “Angling”).

So there we have it.


P.S. If you want to speak British English, check out the first lesson of my best selling British English course, British Stories — do it here free.


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Julian Northbrook

Julian Northbrook is an unconventional punk of the business English learning world. A leading expert in English education and direct response marketing, he’s fully equipped to drag you kicking and screaming from English-mediocracy to speaking at an outstanding level. After being turned down for his dream job in the art industry, Julian suffered three long years as a crap Japanese speaker. He understands exactly what it’s like to feel like a total idiot every time you speak. But Julian overcame his language problems, mastered the language, and went on to work first as a freelance translator, then as an executive member of a Japanese company. But he soon grew sick of the corporate world and left it to pursue something infinitely more satisfying — running his own business helping small business owners and entrepreneurs get so good at English that they forget that it’s not their first language. He writes the infamous Doing English Daily Newsletter which you can (and should) subscribe to.