Farseers, farspeakers, and farwriters

Consider the etymology of the following words:

  • television: tele-, Greek “at a distance” + vision Latin, “seeing”
  • telephone: tele- + phone, Greek “sound”
  • telegraph: tele- + graph, Greek “writing”

English often uses words from Latin or Greek for scientific and technological terms. In German, the words are constructed in the same way but with Germanic roots:

  • Television is Fernsehen: fern “far” + sehen “to see”
  • Telephone is today Telefon, but an archaic term is Fernsprecher: fern “far” + sprecher “speaker”
  • Telegraph is “Fernschreiber”: fern “far” + “schreiber” writer.

Such part-for-part translations are called calques or loan translations. If we tried to use Germanic roots in English we’d end up with

  • farseer
  • farsounder or farspeaker
  • farwriter

Here’s another example: Latin subscribere means to subscribe or provide a signature, literally “to write under”. In modern English we use the word signature instead, whereas a subscription has a different meaning (“to sign up”). In German, a signature is a Unterschrift (under-writing). We also have underwriter in English, which has yet a third meaning. Interestingly, the German word for “sign” is Zeichen, which is cognate with English “token”, which was largely displaced from English when “sign” arrived from Latin via French.

Constructing compounds in this way is characteristic of Germanic languages. We have at least one such word in English constructed from Germanic roots: loudspeaker. Its Greek equivalent might be megaphone, and the Latin equivalents can be seen in Spanish alto-parlante and French haut-parleur.

There’s a linguistic purism movement known as Anglish, which aims to replace all borrowed words in English with their Germanic roots. Here is the start of an Anglish blurb describing the United States:

The Banded Folkdoms of Americksland (BFA) is the most dwelt-in land in the landstretch of North Americksland. Its makeup is that of an evenly banded rike, with three branches of rike: the Leaderly, the Lawmootly, and the Lawlordly. The foremost tongue in the land is English, though some Spanish is spoken also.

Americksland, its shortened name, has the greatest landgeld and warband in the world, and is thought to be the world’s lone overrike, since the fall of the Band of Workermootly Kithish Commonwealths (BWKC).

Americksland was banded with England until the Americkish Uprising, which began with the Saying Forth of the Selfhood of the Banded Folkdoms of Americksland in 1776. Americksland has since fought other wars, namely: the War of 1812, its war with Mexico, the Americkish Kith War, its war with Spain, and the two World Wars.