The contact between Latin and Old English started before Anglo-Saxon came to England, since Germanic tribes had already acquired many Latin words. The population also learned  Latin words from the Celts. A century and a half later, Roman missionaries introduced Christianity and an extensive adoption of Latin took place.


In order to determine the period when each borrowed word entered the language we must resort to different kind of evidence or varying value. For instance, if a word occurs in texts such as Beowulf or Cynewulf it indicates that it came into English not later than the early part of the period of Christian influence. However, we cannot be sure how much earlier it was acquired, since the first records belong to the year 700. Some words are not recorded before the 10th century (pīpe– pipe, cīese-cheese), so they can be assigned on other grounds to the period of continental borrowing. In order to establish the date when a term is acquire with resort to the following clues;

  • The character of the words (religious, Germanic) is key in order to trace back their origin. A number of words found in Old English and Old High German can hardly been borrowed before the Anglo-Saxons migrated to England; ‘copper’, which is rare in Old English, was borrowed on the continent (it can be found in more than 6 other Germanic languages).
  • We also find a clue of the origin of the borrowing in the phonetic form of a word; changes can be dated with some definiteness. In Old English –as in most Germanic languages- a change named ‘i-umlaut’ affected certain diphthongs when followed by ĭ or j. Thus, in words such as baƞkiz (benc > bench) or mūsiz (mȳs > plural of mūs, ‘mouse’), taking into account that the change happened in the 7th century, it indicates that the Latin word had been taken into English by that time. That also indicates that monēta (munit in Old English > mynet, Modern English ‘mint’) is an early borrowing. In many words, the evidence for their date of acquisition is funished by the sound changes of Vulgar Latin.

brit house before invasion

Fig.: Welsh house before the Roman invasion

The first Latin words acquired by Old English come from the contact between Latin and the Germanic tribes in the continent. There are hundreds of Latin borrowings in Germanic dialects. In the 4th century, the Germanic population was formed by several million people belonging to all ranks and classes of society. The populations close to the northern border were the most numerous; there were Christian churches set in military roads and trade with the Romans. The Germanic tribes adopted words from the more advanced Roman civilization and they were later adopted by Old English. Thus we find the following words from Germanic transmission;

  • We have some instances related to the main Germanic activities; agriculture, trade and war; pytt > pit; strœt > road, street; mīl > mile; miltestre > courtesan; segn > banner; pīl > javelin; weall > wall; cēap> (bargain, cheap) trade; mangian > trade [mangere > monger; mangung > trade, commerce; mangunghūs > shop;, pund > pound; mydd > bushel; sēam > burden, loan; mynet > coin [mynetian > to mint, to coin, mynete > money-changer]
  • Wine-trade with the Romans; wīn > wine; must > new wine; eced > vinegar; flasce > flask, bottle (note the similarity with Modern German Flasche); cyrfette > from Latin cucurbita, gourd; sester > jar, pitcher.
  • Domestic life; cytel > kettle, from Latin catīnus; mēse > table; scamol > from Latin scamellum, bench, stool; tepet > from Latin tapētum, carpet (note Modern German Teppish), curtain; pyle > from Latin pulvinus, pillow; pilece > from Latin pellicia, robe of skin; sigel > brooch, necklace.
  • Others; cycene > from Latin coquīna, kitchen; cuppe > from Latin cuppa, cup; disc > from Latin discus, dish; cucler > from Latin cocleārium, spoon; mortere > mortar, vesse; līnen > līnum, flax; līne > from Latin līnea, rope, line; gimm > from Latin gemma, gem.
  • Foods; cīese > cheese; spelt > wheat; pipor > pepper; senep > from Latin sināpi, mustard; cisten > from Latin castanea, chesnut; cires > from Latin cerasus, cherry tree; butere > from Latin būtyrum, butter; ynne > from Latin ūnnio, onion; plūme > plum; pise > from Latin pisum, pea; minte > from Latin mentha, mint.
  • Building; cealc > chalk; copor > copper; pic > pitch; tigele > tile.
  • Miscellaneous; mūl > mule; draca > dragon; cāsere > Emperor; Sæternesdæg > Saturday; Cirice > to Latin from Greek kyρikòν > church.
  • Adjectives; Sicor > from Latin securus safe; calv > from Latin calvus, bald.


Words through Celtic transmission; as we have noted in the previous blog entry, there are a considerable amount regarding place-names. An important word -in terms of subsequent word-formation- that the Celts borrowed is ceaster, from Latin castra and it is very common in toponyms; Chester, Colchester, Dorchester, Manchester, Winchester, Lancaster, Doncaster, Gloucester, Worcester. Some of these places were Roman camps, but not all of them. The English attached it freely to a place intended for habitation.

A few other words are thought to belong to this period; port > from Latin portus, harbour, gate, town; munt > from Latin mōns, mountain; torr > from Latin turris, tower, rock; wīk > from Latin vīcus, village.

Source: A history of the English language

Albert C. Baugh and Thomas Cable (Routledge)


The dialects brought by the Jutes, Saxons and Angles interacted with the languages spoken by the Celts, Romans and Scandinavians.

celtic art

In the case of the Celts it is apparent that they were not totally exterminated except in certain areas. A large number of them was assimilated into the new culture. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle narrates the struggle between natives and the new-comers, and the fact that Britons were annihilated certain in areas such as Andreceaster or Pevensey, although this is an exceptional case. In the East and South-East the Germanic conquest was fully accomplished with fewer Celtic populations left. A large number of Celts fled to the West, where we can find a considerable number of Celtic toponyms. Among Celtic place-names we find;

  • Kent – from Celtic Cant or Cantion
  • Deira and Bernicia (two ancient Northumbrian kingdoms) which have their origin in Celtic tribal names.
  • In the West and South-West; Devonshire contains in the first element the tribal name Dumnonii.Cornwall – Cornubian Welsh
  • Cumberland (now part of Cumbria) – ‘land of the Cymry or Britons’
  • London – it possibly goes back to a Celtic designation
  • The first syllable of Winchester, Salisbury, Exeter, Gloucester,Worcester, Lichfield.
  • The earlier name of Canterbury – Durovernum
  • Names of rivers and hills; Thames,
  • various Celtic words for ‘river’ and ‘water’ in Avon, Exe, Esk, Usk, Dover, Wye.
  • Celtic words for ‘hill’; Barr (Welsh bar ‘top, summit’), Bredon (bre – hill), Bryn Mawr (Bryn-hill, Mawr-great), Creech, Pendle (pen-top), crag, luh (lake)
  • Others: Cumb (deep valley) => Duncombe, Holcombe, Winchcombe; Torr (high rock, peak)=>Torr, Torcross, Torhill; Pill (tidal creek)=>Pylle, Huntspill; Brocc (badger)=>Brockholes, Brockhall.

A few Latin words were borrowed during the Roman occupation and are sometimes combined with these Celtic terms; castra, fontana, fossa, portus, vicus.

Outside of place-names the influence is almost negligible. There is only a score of Old English words which can be traced back to a Celtic source within which we find to distinct groups; words learned by the Anglo-Saxons through everyday contact with natives, transmitted orally and words introduced by the Irish Christian missionaries, which have a religious nature.

  • In the first group we find words such as ‘binn’ (basket, crib), ‘bratt’ (cloak), ‘dun’ (dark coloured), ‘ass’ (from Latin ‘asinus’) and ‘brocc’ (brock or badger), and those describing geographical features such as the aforementioned.
  • In the second group we find those terms inherited from Celtic Christianity; ‘ancor'(hermit), ‘dry'(magician), ‘cine'(gathering of parchment leaves), ‘cross’, ‘clugge'(bell), ‘gabolring'(compass), ‘mind'(diadem), ‘stœr'(history), ‘cursian'(curse).

Source: A History of the English Language.

Albert C. Baugh and Thomas Cable (Routledge)

Feral children and attic children

Over the centuries there have been several cases of children who grew up isolated from any human contact. Some of them grew up in the wild, adopted by an animal family, feral children, and some were excluded from almost any human contact or stimulus, attic children. Some of these cases have been studied in detail in order to learn more about the process of language acquisition, as in the cases of Victor of Aveyron, Kaspar Hauser, Amala and Kamala and Genie.


At the time of their discovery most of them had no linguistic abilities and showed signs of a lack of socialization.

Victor of Aveyron was a French feral child found at 12 years of age. He was exposed to society and education by Jean Marc Gaspard Itard, who adopted him. At first he was only able to spell ‘lait’ and ‘oh, Dieu’. He was taken to doctors to find out if he was deaf, which he was not, but they couldn´t make him speak although he showed signs of empathy towards human feelings. Some scholars state that he showed symptoms of autism. The case is shown in François Truffaut’s film ‘L’enfant sauvage’.

Kaspar Hauser allegedly grew in complete isolation. He was discovered at age 16 and lived locked up since 3. During his confinement he was only taught to write his name and say some sentences which he should say when released. Due to his confinement his legs were half-paralised for lack of exercise. In six weeks he was able to talk fluently although there was no sign of his use of language when he was released. Once he learnt to speak, he talked about his memories which described his life in a palace. His origins were never discovered and there were lots of theories linking him to aristocracy and Napoleon. Werner Herzog filmed ‘The enigma of Kaspar Hauser’.

Amala and Kamala, the feral girls from Bengal, India were allegedly raised by a family of wolves. They were taken to Joseph Amrito Lal Singh’s orphanage, where they displayed a wolf-like behaviour, showing calluses in hands and knees from walking on all fours. They howled and did not speak and were said to be nocturnal. But according to Serge Aroles, who studied their case, their behaviour could be but a hoax. He stated that the photos taken of the girls behaving like wolves were taken after their death, that they were other girls posing on all fours at Singh’s request and that the journal kept by Singh had been written after their death as well. Singh was also reported for having beaten Kamala in order to make her act as he described in front of visitors so that he obtained money for his orphanage. According to scholars, Kamala may have been afflicted with Rett syndrome, a neurodevelopmental disorder which impairs normal development.


Genie was discovered in 1970 at age 13 1/2. Daughter of a dysfunctional family, she started to speak late and a doctor suggested that she may have some intellectual impairment. Thinking that the authorities would take the child from him, her father locked her up in a room. Until she was 13 she hardly had human contact. She remained locked in a room, most of the time tied to a chair that also served as a potty, and tied and encaged at night. She was forbidden to produce any sound and if she did she was beaten up. She was hand fed and had no access to TV or radio. At age 13 she only understood 20 words, most of them orders or words with a negative connotation like ‘stop it’, ‘no more’ and ‘no’. The rest of the family did not live far better, as they had to remain inside the house, although they could go outside from time to time always watched by their armed father. Also the father forbade them to address any word to Genie. She was a victim of severe neglect. Her family lost her custody in 1975, but when the budget for Genie’s study were cut down, she was sent back to her mother. Then she found that taking care of Genie was too burdensome for her, and Genie was sent to six different foster homes were she was mistreated and experienced regressions; after vomiting she was so severely punished that she refused to open her mouth again and as a concequence stopped speaking.


Oxana Oleksandrivna (1991) was neglected by her alcoholic parents at an early age and lived surrounded by dogs. After treatment she learnt to subdue her dog-like behaviour and learnt to speak fluently but remains somewhat intellectually impaired.


The “feral woman” Ro Cham H’pnhieng, aged 27 was discovered on the edge of the Cambodian jungle when she was trying to steal food left under a tree. She was identified as a local village girl who disappeared at age 8 while herding buffalo. She couldn´t speak more than a few grunts and walked hunched like an animal; she could only say ‘father’, ‘mother’ and ‘stomachache’. Finally she escaped back into the jungle in 2007.


These cases and others have been subject to studies focused on the Critical Period theory, stating that if a person does not receive linguistic stimulation between ages 2 and puberty, crucial in lateralization -language being linked to the left hemisphere of the brain-, this ability will be severely impaired. This theory was firstly developed by ethologists to be then applied by Eric Lenneberg to language acquisition.

In fiction, Paul Auster deals with ‘attic children’ in The New York Trilogy.

Other feral children:

Wolf-child of Hesse, 1344, discovered at 7

Wolf-child of Wetteravia, 1344, discovered at 12

Bear-child of Lithuania, 1661, discovered at 12

Sheep-child of Ireland, 1672, discovered at 16

Calf-child of Bamberg, 1680

Bear-child of Lithuania, 1694, discovered at 10

Bear-child of Lithuania, discovered at 12

Kidnapped Dutch girl, 1717, discovered at 19

Two boys of Pyrenees, 1719

Peter of Hannover, 1724, discovered at 13

Girl from Sogny, 1731, discovered at 10

Jean of Liège, discovered at 21

Tomko of Hungary, 1767

Bear-girl of Fraumark, 1767, discovered at 18

Victor of Aveyron, 1799, discovered at 11

Kaspar Hauser of Nuremberg, 1828, discovered at 17

Sow-girl of Salzburg, discovered at 22

Child of Husanpur, 1843

Child of Sultanpur, 1848

Child of Chupra

Child of Bankipur

Pig-boy of Holland

Wolf-child of Holland

Wolf-child of Sekandra, 1872, discovered at 6

Child of Sekandra, 1874, discovered at 10

Wolf-child of Kronstadt, discovered at 23

Child of Lucknow, 1876

Child of Jalpaiguri, 1892, discovered at 8

Child of Batsipur, 1893, discovered at 14

Child of Sultanpur, discovered at 12

Amala of Midnapore, 1920, discovered at 2

Kamala of Midnapore, 1920, discovered at 8

Leopard-child of India, 1920

Wolf-child of Maiwana, 1927

Wolf-child of Jhansi, 1933

Leopard-child of Dihungi, discovered at 8

Child of Casamance, 1930s, discovered at 16

Assicia of Liberia, 1930s

Confined child of Pennsylvania, 1938, discovered at 6

Confined child of Ohio, 1940

Gazelle-child of Syria, 1946

Child of New Delhi, 1954, discovered at 12

Gazelle-child of Mauritania, 1960

Ape-child of Teheran, 1961, discovered at 14

Genie, USA, 1970, discovered at 13

Over 50 cases recorded since 1970.

Sources: The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. David Crystal.

The three discoveries of America

For thousands of years, the American continent remained undisturbed by the presence of humanity. It was isolated from the migration of human tribes, as proved by the lack of fossil remains previous to those of the Homo Sapiens. The first humans arrived in America probably from Asia across the Bering Strait between 25,000-40,000 years ago. This would constitute the very first discovery of the continent.  The human tribes from Mongolia spread throughout the continent in the course of thousands of years and several distinct ancient American civilizations, each one with their own idiosyncrasies, were born as a result.


The next incursion of humans from other parts of the world took place in the 11th century AD. In the 9th century, Scandinavians from Norway occupied Iceland and in the 10th century, the Icelander Eric the Red discovered Greenland. Of course, he wasn´t the first human in Greenland, where he found a colony whose economy was based on livestock and the export of walrus ivory and falcons. Then, one of Eric the Red’s men called Biarni Heriulfson saw land to the West of Greenland around the year 986, and Eric the Red’s son Leif decided to explore it, reaching its coast in 1001. Leif spent a winter there, in Newfoundland, and then returned to Greenland. Around 1010-15, another Icelander, Thorfinn Karlsefni, together with a group of Eric the Red’s men, explored the coast of Newfoundland -known then as ‘Vinland the Good’- and attempted to settle there, spending two or three winters with the natives. But the natives proved to be quite hostile and the Norsemen returned to Greenland and made no further attempts. Again, the American coast remained undisturbed until 1492.


Driven by social convention, people celebrate the discovery of America on the day Columbus reached the American coasts in 1492, but he didn´t really ‘discovered’ anything that hadn´t been discovered a long time ago. In the same celebratory mood, we could choose the fist option and establish a day 40,000 years ago to throw a commemorative party, or decide on Biarni Heriulfson’s sight of land in the year 986, or select Leif’s expedition in 1001 rather than Christopher Columbus’s arrival. The debate is open.

Source: A concise history of the American Republic, volume I.


As at this stage there was not a generally accepted spelling system, confusion increased as the pronunciation of words slowly changed. In some cases there was a clear discrepancy between the written and the spoken word, as certain letters inserted in it were not pronounced, as in ‘debt’ /det/ – in this case it is due to its Latin etymology, debitum, dubitare -or ‘gh’ in ‘light’. Many scholars thought that English spelling was arbitrary, as its written form even varied from one writer to another. Sir John Cheke, for instance, doubled long vowels; ‘taak, haat, maad, mijn, thijn’ = ‘take, hate, made, mine, thine’. Richard Stanyhurst wrote ‘thee’ for ‘the’, ‘too’ for ‘to’, ‘mee’, ‘neere’, etc. Also it is not clear to which extent is the writing indebted to the writer or to the printer, since most printers took advantage of the variability of English spelling to ‘justify’ a line.

Even in excerpts written by just one author we can come across different spellings for the same word, as in the case of the pamphlets written by Greene, where we find ‘coney’, ‘cony’, ‘conny’, ‘conye’, ‘conie’, ‘connie’, ‘coni’, ‘cuny’, ‘cunny’ and cunnie’.

As a result, there were several attempts to draw up rules;

  • in 1568, Thomas Smith increases the alphabet to 34 letters and marked the long vowels in his work “Dialogue concerning the correct and emended writing of the English language”.

  • In 1569 and 1570, John Hart in his works “An Orthographie” and “A method or comfortable beginning for all unlearned, whereby they may bee taught to read English”, he makes special characters for -dh, -sh and -th.


  • In 1580 there is an attempt at establishing a phonetic reform devised by William Bullokar in his “Booke at large for the amendment of orthographie for English speech”, in which he profits by mistakes made by Smith and Hart in the aforementioned works and invents few special characters but introduces the use of accents, apostrophes and hooks above and below the letters.

  • Later, in 1634, Charles Butler substitutes an inverted apostrophe for final e’s and a special character for -th, with scarce success in his work “The English grammar, or the institution of letters, syllables and woords in the English tung”.

  • Mulcaster clearly perceives all of the previous attempts as a waste in his work “Elemmentarie”, the most important treatise on English spelling in the 16th century and his virtue is moderation, being willing to compromise between the ideal and the practical. If the differences between one sound and another were too subtle, it was inevitable to use one letter for different sounds, which for him was not worse than using the same word in different senses. Also, since pronunciation changes constantly, he could not adhere to the proposals by the phonetic reformers. For him, popular approval was the final authority. Thus, he would get rid of superfluous letters (putt, grubb, ledd), would not omit necessary ones (fetch, catch), allowed double consonants only when they belong to separate syllables (wit.ting) and ended words in -ss as -sse (glasse), otherwise final -e indicating long preceding vowels (made-mad, stripe-strip) among other suggestions. He wrote “General Table”, a book with the recommended spelling for 7,000 words.

  • Ben Jonson drew from Mulcaster -as he acknowledged in the preface of his “Dictionary” in 1755, and finally established a solid basis for modern English spelling by 1650.

England before the English language I

There were a variety of cultures, each with its own language. The Stone Age lasted in England until 2,000 BC, although some stone weapons were still used at the Battle of Hastings. Eventually they gave way to bronze implements and these were finally displaced by iron in 500-600 BC.

There are no data about the language used in the Paleolithic era. The first people in England whose language we have knowledge about are the Celts. Then Latin, introduced when Britain was a province of the Roman Empire, was spoken extensively for 4 centuries.


Fig.: Implements found in Huntingdonshire.

In the summer of 55BC, julius Caesar invades England to discourage the Celts from coming from Britain through the channel to assist the Celts in Gaul. The expedition was an utter disaster. Finally, the Roman Conquest took place in AD 43, conducted by Emperor Claudius, who sent an army of 40,000 to Britain and subjugated it in 3 years. The Celt uprising lead by Boudica in AD 61 did not deter them, and the Northern frontier advanced to Solway-Tyne, where they built a stone wall.

The Romans built highways, roads, military and civil centers, houses, baths, temples, theatres, heating and water supply systems, created beautiful mosaics and painted stucco, brought their own fashion in dresses and ornaments, and made pottery, glassware and other utensils.  The Romanization was cut short in the 5th century.


Fig.: Roman pottery.

There is evidence of the use of Latin in inscriptions. It did not replace Celtic (as it did in Gaul) though. The use of Latin declined after the legions withdrew in 410.

In 449 there is another invasion, this time by Germanic tribes. For 100 years, bands from Denmark and the Low Countries  invaded the South and East of the island. Jutes and Angles (Denmark), Frisians and Saxons (Germany) came in waves through the years and established themselves in different sites. The Picts and Scots, natives in the islands had remained unconquered and kept their own culture throughout the Romanization. The Celts depended on Roman arms when they withdrew from the island, and reached an agreement with the Jutes in order to lead the Picts and Scots out.


The Jutes settled in Kent, the Saxons in the South coast, Sussex, then Wessex too, Middlesex and North of the Thames, and the Angles at the North of the Humber.

The Celts were driven to the West (Wells, Cornwall) and the Roman towns were burned to the ground. It’s the beginning of the Anglo-Saxon civilization. Society is organized in clans and families and class distinctions are established: Eorls -hereditary aristocracy- and Ceorls -simple freemen-. They also established local assemblies called Moots, and administered justice through a system of fines, the Wergild, which varied according to the crime and the rank of the injured party.

The Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy is born:

Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Kent, Sussex, Essex, and Wessex.





Non-Fiction Challenge (book 3): ‘Persepolis,’ by Marjane Satrapi (2001-2)

Shoshi's Book Blog


Back in 2015, when I put together my non-fiction reading list of biographies I owned but had chronically failed to open, ‘Persepolis’ seemed to be top of the list.  From blog comments, friends’ recommendations and the wonderful first page, it was the obvious choice to kick off the project.  Something of Satrapi’s independent stubbornness must have seeped through the pages though, because January, February and now much of March have sped by and this blog still lacks an adequately detailed rave review of this most lauded of autobiographical graphic novels.*

*A small aside, a brief internet trawl has suggested that ‘Persepolis’ falls into this confusingly titled genre.  ‘Graphic autobiography’ sounds wrong and suggests a book containing ‘graphic’ imagery, rather than actual images.  On the other hand, ‘Persepolis’ isn’t a novel.   If anyone has good suggestions for the best way to categorise Satrapi’s book, please do let me know.


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Word formation in English

Morphology is the branch that deals with the internal structure of words, whose structure are mainly modified by means of two phenomena: INFLECTION and DERIVATION.

  • Inflection: interacts with syntax. In English there are just a few examples left such as the genitive ‘s, but it’s almost inexistent in Present day English. In Old English inflection was quite rich.

  • Derivation: the introduction of new elements in the vocabulary leads to the creation of new words. It’s the most dynamic mechanism in word formation.

UM_pc012_A79-041_008_0007_005_0001 - Example of Elizabeth trance automatic writing

L.R. Trask pointed out the importance of other mechanisms involved in word-formation:

  • COMPOUNDING: the combination of two terms create a new term. One of the members usually qualifies (qualifier) the other (head). For example football, blackbird, greenhouse.

  • CONVERSION or ZERO DERIVATION: moving one word from a lexical category to another with no affixation or modificaion. Drink>verb>>noun

  • CLIPPING: reducing a word to a shorter form: telephone, brassiere, gymnasium > phone, bra, gym. It shouldn’t be mixed up with abbreviation. We don’t call it clipping until it has become a regular conventional word.

  • BLENDING: combination of compounding and clipping. Abbreviated forms of two terms combined into a single word: motel, heliport, Eurovision, brunch.

  • BACK-FORMATION: need of speakers to maximize existing strategies in an economic and convenient way. The suffix -er is added to verbs to denote the agent that performs the action (lover, singer). At different points English borrowed from Latin: sculptor, actor, editor. From Norman French: lecher, burglar. All these end up in what seems to be a phonetic variant of -er and are reinterpreted as one of their compounds: verb + agent indicator, and after accepting the noun, they start using the 1st morpheme as a verb.

  • REANALYSIS: using similar mechanisms to those of back-formation but more complex. Notion is similar to analogy. It’s necessary step previous to analogical development. Trask uses the following example to illustrate reanalysis: bikini = piece of clothing in two parts. Originally, Bikini was related to an atoll where the earliest nuclear bomb tests took place; thus, the meaning it confers to the piece of clothing is that it is supposed to have huge impact compared to bathing suits; as in English the prefix bi- = two, when a new bathing suit involving only the bottom part of the bikini was launched, it was called monokini, as bi in bikini was re-analysed as bi = two.

  • FOLK ETYMOLOGY: speakers give a transparent meaning to a word with a dark structure. For instance: bridegroom = in ancient times [guma = man + bryd = bride] = brydguma = brideman. When guma disappeared, the origin of bridegroom became obscure. Then, speakers associated it with groom = servant. Today groom = somebody who works with horses.

  • INITIALISM: reduction of a phrase or name to a few letters (usually the first one) of the principal words. When the letters are spoken one by one. As in FBI, BBC.

  • ACRONYMS: reduction of a phrase or name to its initial letters, but pronouncing it as a new word: RADAR, NATO.

(From Albert C. Baugh and Thomas Cable).

The People of the Abyss

The People of the Abyss (1903) is an account of the life conditions of the poor in the East End of London collected by Jack London during his first hand experience staying in workhouses and sleeping in the street as part of his personal exploration of the under-world. He carried out his experiment at a time of affluence, in 1902, but during which 500,000 people were estimated to live in the described conditions: “The starvation and lack of shelter encountered constituted a chronic condition of misery, which is never wiped out, even in periods of great prosperity”, he asserted. In January 1903, there was no space left in the workhouses and the means were exhausted.

casual ward

He visits Johnny Upright’s home in order to have a place where he could receive his mail and, work on his notes, and gets a cold treatment as he usually does in his shabby clothes, until he speaks to Mrs. Upright. He then starts looking for a room, and learns that even the largest families in this stratum of society took just a room and even took lodgers in. He´s offered a room with two other lodgers and exchanges impressions with a lower class youth: “From the moment of his birth , all the forces of his environment had tended to harden him, and he viewed his wretched, inevitable future with a callousness and unconcern I could not shake”, and learn about the aged poor, a 71% of the population of London, through a newspaper article, how they age alone and die of self-neglect, 450,000 a day. “The Abyss seems to exude a stupefying atmosphere of torpor, which wraps about them and deadens them (…) the full belly and the evening pipe is all they demand, or dream of demanding, from existence”. The environmental conditions they live submerged in are poisonous, as pollution forms solid deposits on every surface.
Jack London decides to see things for himself and not merely to be informed by other people´s theoretical work on the subject of poverty, such as Engels’ or Jacob Riis’s, so that he could see the human factor: “how they live, why are they living, what for”. He finds that there was a slum at a five minute walk from any point in London, but the cabbies refused to drive to the East End, which was a neverending slum packed with a “crowd of shabby white people” belonging to a new different race of “short, beer-sodden, wretched” individuals. He stops by an old-clothes shop and the shop owner thought he was a high-class American criminal. He arrays himself in the shabby clothes and sews one gold sovereign in the armpit just in case he encounters difficulties. He then experiences the different in status effected by his clothes and notices that “all servility – towards him- vanished from the demeanour” and he was called ‘mate’ instead of ‘sir’ or ‘guv`nor’, escaping “the pestilence of tipping and encountered mean on a basis of equality (…) I had to be more lively in avoiding vehicles. Life had cheapened in direct ratio to my clothes”. Lower classes “talked as natural men should without the least idea of getting anything out of me”. The fear of the mob vanished completely as London became –in appearance- one of them.

East End 1903

He got immersed in the life of the poor and dejected population of the East End where several men lived encaged in just one room working for 15 hours a day, with their teeth worn down by the friction of the metallic brads used in their trade –shoe-making -. He witnessed the lives of those half-starved men and women dying of consumption, those who could only afford to eat rotten meat once a week, who could only wait patiently for death; cramped rooms full of undernourished infants. He lived with those who couldn’t even afford lodging and tried to sleep in the Spitalfields Garden, a surface with patches of grass here and there and a sharp-spiked iron fencing to deter them from entering its enclosed space. Others, in search of a roof, slept on the benches within Christ´s Church; people covered in rags and filth, open sores and bruises, women who would sell themselves for a loaf of bread. He experienced life in the casual ward and the workhouses. “The Abyss is a huge man-killing machine”.