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Origins of the word “geek”

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Where does the word geek come from ?

A word with a story

 This word originates from the German word “geck” and was used in the 16th century to describe someone who participated in the activities offered at funfairs or carnivals, knowing full well they would lose their money – in other words, a fool. But somehow by the 16th century it had become the word to describe the people who played a part in the carnival itself. This process of gradual change in meaning is known as semantic drift.  A 16th century funfair was pretty off-putting by today’s standards, as many of these geeks entertained people by biting the heads off dead animals…. pretty disgusting and definitely not today’s standards of fun. But by the early 20th century, a “geek” was also the definition of someone who played a dangerous role in the funfair – for example, the strongman or the fire eater, but it was still used as a word to describe people who performed freaky and sensational circus acts.

Modern geeks

In the second half of the 20th century, with the emergence of computers and new technologies, the word “geek” semantically drifted again.  Society needed a word to describe people who were devoted to and often obsessed with technology, and along with their passion for technical wizardry, were often socially awkward.  During the 1980’s these people began to be known as “geeks”. It was and still is, sometimes, used as a derogatory term, but geeks are finally beginning to have the last laugh. The increasingly significant role of technology in today’s world means that people with geeky skills are more and more in demand. In addition, if you call yourself a geek, it is generally in order to validate your knowledge and passion for technology, and not in the least offensive. An interesting journey then, for the word “geek”, which over time has changed its meaning from fool to expert.

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Wordpower

Origin of the word “freelance”

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  Maybe some of you are who reading this post are freelancers, like me. But have you ever thought about where this term originated? It actually began life as two words – free lance, then was hyphenated as free-lance and today is spelt as one word.

Well, it seems to have come into usage in the 19th century and was used by Sir Walter Scott in 1819, in his book Ivanhoe, to describe what we would call today a mercenary, i.e. a soldier with his own equipment, that is, his lance, who would accept payment for the use of his weapon and his fighting abilities. Does this sound like an analogy for a modern day freelancer?  Obviously, we do not go around killing people with lances ….but for example, freelance writers have our own equipment such as writing skills and a computer with Internet access for a start, and we sell our services to who we wish, rather than being a salaried member of an organization. And in keeping with the military tone, we often have our own, less bloody, battles to fight.

In addition, freelancers are often perceived as being happier as not only do they work independently from a boss, they are generally following their passion in life be it writing, painting, computer technology, you name it…………there’s bound to be a freelancer who offers this service.

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Wordpower

English is Alive !

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Words are like flames in a fire – they live, twist and turn, die out or revive.

  Yes, English is most definitely alive and kicking. It might sound strange to you that a language can be considered to be a living thing, but the English language is constantly evolving and has done so ever since the Anglo Saxon language developed into what we now call Middle English, which in turn became Early Modern English, leading the way to how we speak English today.

How changes happen

Of course, these changes do not happen overnight. They are shaped by society’s attitude to events, by circumstance, by the new inventions of the age – just think how many new words have been invented due to technological advances in the twentieth century, let alone the swirl of technology that surrounds us now.  Here are just six examples of common words or expressions that would bewilder our forefathers – Wi-Fi, broadband (technology), greenhouse gas, carbon footprint (circumstance), or transgender, manspreading (social change).

And of course, any language evolves due to the same type of events in its society and this is why there are many different types of English we can find throughout the world. Why do Americans say “sidewalk” when the British say “pavement”? Well, because before globalization, the English language developed one way in the U.S. and another in the U.K. Nowadays with the Internet, Hollywood films and globalisation, a great many British people are familiar with American terms, and even though they may never use the word themselves, they clearly recognise it and know its meaning.   Nevertheless, in the world of the Mayflower and the pilgrims, the English language was developing due to social change and circumstances in Britain, which were not the same as in the United States, so therefore language evolution was different in North America. 

Other Languages

And what is more, exactly the same process happened with Spanish in the Latin American countries after the first Spanish settlers arrived . Often, in the same way as American English, the emigrants retained the same word from the original language – for example, “carro” in Mexican Spanish, which originally meant “cart”, is now used to signify a car.  In Spain however, a new word for car was invented, “coche”.  Words like “trash” or “stove” – still used widely in North America – evolved into “rubbish” and “cooker” in Britain. Some people claim that American English or British English is better than the other – It seems to me that they are really just expressing a preference for the vocabulary used in their territory.

So what do you think? Do you believe one strain of English is better than another?

 

My blog

So, welcome to my all-inclusive, non-judgmental blog. If you enjoy reading about the English language for whatever reason, join me. I’ll be posting advice for exam students for the First, Advanced and IELTS exams along with musings on the idiosyncrasies of the English language for anyone who is interested. I look forward to blogging with you again soon.