Academic McKenzie Hohenberger

The Power of Language: Just Bearing Around

Written by: McKenzie Hohenberger

We all bear.

I don’t mean that we all behave like bears, or even that we know much about bears (aside from the occasional Dwight Schrute reference). I am talking about the multitude of words in the English that are rooted in the idea of bearing or carrying.

In Latin—that infamous and ancient language—the verb ferre was a prince among men, or words. It means to bear, to carry, or to endure. Though Latin died out long ago, ferre managed to live on. It fathered several other Latin verbs such as conferre, offerre, and referre.

Now, having referred to these verbs, I offer to confer with you, dear reader, about their significance. The aforementioned Latin words are cognates, meaning that they are almost identical to their English counterparts in spelling and pronunciation. Allow me to unpack their similarities: to refer is to carry the conversation back, to offer is to carry to a recipient, and to confer is to bear information with a group of two or more.

Aside from conferre, offerre, and referre, all of which can be considered cousins of ferre, there are many modern English words rooted in the concept of ferre. In English, when we suffer, we endure pain, when we transfer, we carry across, and when we prefer, we carry a predisposed favor. These, as well as several other common words, are the descendants of our Latin Grandfather Ferre.

Despite the Romance languages  (such as Spanish, French, and Italian) having an obvious influence on English as we know it, our native language is excluded from the Romance family. Though English may seem like it rolls off the tongue to a native speaker, the language is actually Proto-Germanic in origin. While the language we read, write, and speak today seems closer to Latin than anything else, we can find the staccato Mother German tongue in early English texts such as Beowulf or Caedmon’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. However, through the incorporation of the Romance languages into English, we have accumulated quite a bank of loanwords and syntactical structures. Today, the English language is straying from its more abrasive German tendencies and looking forward to a future of smooth Romance.

Catch us next week for another lesson in The Power of Language!

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