The German language went through a period of intense nativization, when Latinate words were ruthlessly expelled from the language, and German substitutes found, no matter how awkward. Many of us have forgotten that, in the nineteenth century, there was a fanatical group of scholars determined to return English to its Germanic purity as well:

Speechknowledge, or Philology, is one of the branches of Folkknowledge, or Ethnology. Folkknowledge shows us the several stocks to which mankind belong; Speechknowledge, their several ways of speech and the laws which these follow.

Note that, aside from the parenthetical explanations of the invented nativist terms, the only Latinate word in those two sentences is “several,” for which there is no good Germanic equivalent (“different” and “various” being Latin as well).

The movement to Germanicize English never succeeded, and one may well ask why German could do what English could not. Dr. Boli could think of several reasons:

1. Germans have always had a genius for ruthless expulsion.

2. English gave up blackletter type much earlier. German was regularly printed in Fraktur until Hitler’s minions decided that Fraktur was part of the Jewish conspiracy; but German printers had a tradition of putting all the Latinate terms in roman type, so that old German books look like they’ve come down with a bad case of the roman pox. The ugliness of the type was often mentioned by the nativist activists.

3. By the time English was having its own small nativist fad, it was a global language, and for the most part the fad was confined to England itself. In particular, there was a more or less unified English and American market for books and magazine articles. Standard German was mostly confined to one continuous area, most of which came under the control of an empire that was very much interested in establishing a native German culture. It is notable that dialects of German established elsewhere have proved very absorbent of foreign terms and resistant to nativism; witness Pennsylvania Dutch.

4. The English and American sense of humor must have had some influence. Germany made a national industry of its scholarship, and thus made scholars into authority figures. When that English passage quoted above was published in 1858, a large percentage of readers would have burst out into the same undignified derisive laughter that would greet the same passage today. As G. K. Chesterton said, “Without education we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.” Germany succumbed to that danger.

“Folklore,” a word invented by Germanicists in the middle 1800s, seems to be the one permanent contribution of the Germanicizing movement in English. It is a good addition to our language, because it is more general than the Latin “legend” or the Greek “myth.” It is also short and easy to read or say. But that the Germanicists utterly failed to introduce “speechknowledge” as a substitute for “philology” must be regarded as a triumph of the true genius of the English tongue.


  1. Adam Gehr says:

    The Nazis didn’t throw out Fraktur. It was considered a true German font and was used in their written materials. After the war it was considered a reminder of the Nazis and ceased to be used.

    • Dr. Boli says:

      We quote from Wikipedia:

      The Fraktur typefaces were particularly heavily used during the time of Nazism, when they were initially represented as true German script, the press scolded for its frequent use of “Roman characters” under “Jewish influence” and German émigrés urged to use only “German script”. However, in 1941, Fraktur was banned in a Schrifterlass (edict on script) signed by Martin Bormann as so-called Schwabacher Judenlettern (“Schwabacher Jewish letters”).

      It would be a mistake to rely on the omniscience of Wikipedia editors. However, in this case they have linked to a facsimile of the Bormann memorandum, which does indeed describe Fraktur as “Schwabacher Judenlettern.” For an extra heaping helping of cognitive dissonance, it is typed on stationery with a Fraktur letterhead. The Nazi reverse on Fraktur was sudden enough to cause whiplash.

      So it appears that you are absolutely correct to say that Fraktur was associated with the Nazis as the truly German type of type. And it is also absolutely correct to say that the Nazis banned Fraktur as part of the Jewish conspiracy. As Mr. George Orwell could explain, totalitarianism absolves one from any duty of consistency.

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