Old-timers might remember the subject heading as a line from the Bing Crosby song, “Swinging on a Star.” But I’m not here to write about Bing Crosby or music from the 1940s.
Instead, I’m going to tell you how an event that happened 950 years ago is still affecting your life to this very day.
See, 950 years ago, come autumn–on Saturday, October 14, 1066, if you want to be precise–William the Conqueror brought his storm troopers over from France with the intention of whupping the butts of the English army. He did just that, of course, and then had himself crowned king of England. Once in charge he set up his favorites in English castles (evicting the previous owners thereof) and made them noblemen. This created a new class hierarchy and a kind of prejudice that still affects us.
How, you say? Well, the cool people in William’s England–read that: the rich ones–spoke French, while the not-so-cool peasants spoke English. Thus, French acquired the reputation as a refined and lofty language. And in fact, it remained the official language of England until 1363.
The effect this had on you, gentle readers, is that French is still considered more cultured than English. Want proof? You have to look at current English words that also have a French synonym in English. Consider the English word “stink.” Its French equivalent is “aroma.” Now, isn’t that so much more pleasant? Would you rather emit a stink or an aroma? I thought so. But they actually mean the same thing. Other words for which the French equivalent seems more agreeable include: English “feathers” = French “plumage;” English “buttocks” = French “derriére;” and yes, English “hog” = French “pork.” I mean, really, who would eat a hog sandwich or hog loin?
So when you hear the object of your affections whisper sweet nothings to you in French, now you know why it sounds so romantic: 950 years ago a French guy bashed in a bunch of English brains just so you could enjoy the sound of French today.
Bon journée, lecteurs deuces!
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