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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Allons, enfants de la patrie

July 14th is Bastille Day, marking the start of the French Revolution, and time to look at some words that we owe to the Revolutionaries. First up, perhaps surprisingly, is “aristocrat”. Although English had had the word “aristocracy”, derived from the Greek aristos (best) and kratos (strength), since the 1500s to designate government by the privileged, it wasn't until the French started lopping their heads off that we started calling nobles “aristocrats”. On the other end of the social scale, we have the noun “commune” (ultimately from the Latin communis meaning “in common”) designating the smallest administrative jurisdiction established under the Revolutionary government. This word took on a life of its own in English, to designate groups of people living communally, a sense which it does not have in French.

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About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.