Old English Words Still in Use Today

While modern English is peppered with words borrowed from Latin, French, German, and many other languages, it also retains a significant number of words from Old English. Old English, also known as Anglo-Saxon, was spoken in parts of what are now England and southern Scotland between the 5th and 11th centuries. Many of these words are so integral to our everyday language that we might not even realize their ancient origins. Here are some Old English words still very much in use today:

This verb means to pass on or leave something to someone else in a will. It comes from the Old English word “bequeathan,” which means to declare or to leave by will.
In her will, she decided to bequeath her entire estate to her niece.

Blithe means showing a casual and cheerful indifference considered to be callous or improper. It originated from the Old English word “blīthe,” which means happy or joyous.
His blithe ignorance of the rules infuriated his teammates.

Fathom is a unit of length equal to six feet, chiefly used in reference to the depth of water. It comes from the Old English word “fæðm,” meaning outstretched arms. The verb to fathom means to understand after much thought.
She could not fathom why he’d acted so impulsively.

To grapple means to engage in a close fight or struggle without weapons; wrestle. It comes from the Old English word “grapian,” which means to seize or to grasp.
He grappled with his feelings before finally deciding to confess.

Keen describes something that is sharp or penetrating, in particular. From the Old English word “cēne,” which means bold or brave, it has expanded to include eagerness or enthusiasm.
She was keen to start her new job and prove her capabilities.

Lore refers to the body of traditions and knowledge on a subject or held by a particular group, typically passed from person to person by word of mouth. It is derived from the Old English word “lār,” meaning instruction.
The old sailor shared maritime lore with anyone who would listen.

Quell means to put an end to a rebellion or other disorder, typically by the use of force. It comes from the Old English word “cwellan,” meaning to kill or to murder.
The uprising was quickly quelled by the troops.

Wholesome is an adjective describing something that suggests good health and physical well-being. The word comes from the Old English “hālsum,” from “hāl,” which means whole.
They enjoyed a wholesome meal made entirely from organic ingredients.

Yarn refers to spun thread used for knitting, weaving, or sewing. It comes from the Old English word “gearn,” which bears the same meaning.
She bought some colorful yarn to knit a sweater for her grandson.

Yeoman refers to a man holding and cultivating a small landed estate; a freeholder. It’s derived from the Old English “geaman,” which means commoner or servant.
The yeoman worked diligently, ensuring his fields were well maintained.

These words showcase the rich history of the English language and remind us of its evolution over the centuries. Understanding their origins can provide deeper insights into the language’s development and the cultures that have shaped it. Whether in literature, everyday conversation, or legal documents, these Old English words still play a vital role in our communication, proving that language is not just a means of expression but also a living archive of history.

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