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Date: 09/10/2015
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Hinterland - get thee behind me

I was "shocked, shocked" (an Americanism) to read that the Italians are borrowing "the English word hinterland". Next they'll be borrowing the English word Schadenfreude, the English word Zeitgeist or the English word Weltschmerz. Even the English word frisson  has a certain je ne sais quoi. Actually, I don't find the phrase je ne sais quoi very simpatico. It's rather staccato. And Heaven forbid the Italians borrow those last two words.

We got over it - profited from it - so can they. We "borrowed" words and incorporated them, with interest, into our wonderful language. So it is "not very wonderful," as Jane Austen said, that our language is so wonderful:

And while English can mostly take it, being famously flexible and receptive to linguistic imports, able to accommodate them better than languages with smaller lexicons, there are languages, such as French and Italian, where the over-borrowing is getting truly annoying.

And why does English have a big lexicon? Because it borrowed, shamelessly and joyfully. And adapted as it adopted. When English borrowed "mutton", that word did not replace "sheep"; it added a word for "sheep meat". We gave our new words a hearty welcome, which is rather different from a cordial reception.

If other languages can't adapt as they adopt, then perhaps they don't deserve to survive. Survival is of the fittest, that is, of the most fitting.

By the way, Jane Austen, perhaps aware that the word "wonderful" was changing in meaning from "strange" or "surprising" to "marvellous", used the word only in a negative construction. Language change begets tension and uncertainty. She could not have anticipated Fats Waller's "When Somebody Thinks You're Wonderful". Are we the worse for this change? Not at all. Was it resented at the time? Natch. "Darn tootin." What do you think?

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