Monday, March 25, 2013

John Ruskin on Language

I heard Leslie Noelani Laurio just finished working on a Modern translation of John Ruskin's Sesame and Lilies, a YR10 AmblesideOnline Book. I'd never heard of it so I downloaded it and nosing through, came across this interesting suggestion of his and thought it worth sharing:
Now, in order to deal with words rightly, this is the habit you must form. Nearly every word in your language has been first a word of some other language - of Saxon, German, French, Latin, or Greek; (not to speak of eastern and primitive dialects). And many words have been all these - that is to say, have been Greek first, Latin next, French or German next, and English last: undergoing a certain change of sense and use on the lips of each nation; but retaining a deep vital meaning, which all good scholars feel in employing them, even at this day. If you do not know the Greek alphabet, learn it; young or old - girl or boy - whoever you may be, if you think of reading seriously (which, of course, implies that you have some leisure at command), learn your Greek alphabet; then get good dictionaries of all these languages, and whenever you are in doubt about a word, hunt it down patiently. Read Max Muller's lectures thoroughly, to begin with; and, after that, never let a word escape you that looks suspicious. It is severe work; but you will find it, even at first, interesting, and at last endlessly amusing. And the general gain to your character, in power and precision, will be quite incalculable. 
Mind, this does not imply knowing, or trying to know, Greek or Latin, or French. It takes a whole life to learn any language perfectly. But you can easily ascertain the meanings through which the English word has passed; and those which in a good writer's work it must still bear.

Doesn't that sound like an interesting amusement? Only for those "suspicious" words of course ;-) Happy hunting!


  1. Happy Sigh. I love etymology.

  2. Thank you for this quote. I always include Greek and Latin in my kid's curriculum before they learn a modern language This is a good quote to back that up.