The following lies, which I have corrected below, are from a single table (4.2) on a single page (84) in a single book (Speech to Print, 2nd edition, 2010) by Louisa Cook Moats:
- ‘Sky’ is not Anglo-Saxon. It’s a Middle English word borrowed from the Old Norse word for cloud. The real Anglo-Saxons used heofones, ‘heavens,’ for sky.
- ‘Pants’ is not Anglo-Saxon. It’s a Modern English abbreviation of pantaloons, which was also a Modern English word borrowed from French, which got it from an Italian proper name.
- ‘Coat’ is not Anglo-Saxon. It is a Middle English word borrowed from French.
- ‘Want’ is not Anglo-Saxon. It is an early Middle English word borrowed from Old Norse. The Anglo-Saxons used the verb willan, which grammaticized into the modal auxiliary verbs will and would.
- ‘Touch’ is not Anglo-Saxon. It’s a Middle English word borrowed from French.
That’s 5 wrong out of 34 examples of “Anglo-Saxon” words. That is a middling B. In my college prep high school, it would’ve been a C. Not exactly impressive odds from a so-called expert.
- ‘Cuisine’ is not Norman or Old French. It’s a Modern English borrowing of a Modern French word.
- ‘Triage’ is not Norman or Old French. It is also a Modern English borrowing of a Modern French word, and its current sense dates to the 1930s.
- ‘Rouge’ was borrowed twice from French – once from Middle French in late Middle English (meaning ‘red’), and a second borrowing, in the 18th century, with the current cosmetic sense.
- ‘Baguette’ is not Norman or Old French. It’s a Modern English borrowing from Modern French, which in turn got it from Italian. The two present-day senses of a long loaf of bread and a rectangular-cut gem? Both 20th century.
- ‘Crouton’ is not Norman or Old French. It’s a 19th century borrowing, from the French word for crust.
Louisa must’ve been hungry while she was imagining her list: cuisine, baguette, crouton… Reminds me of that stupid non-word test that includes pettuce, hausage, kiscuit, and polonel — because apparently it was written over a KFC value meal.
But wait! There’s more! Louisa is like the Ginzu knife commercial of bad etymology.
- ‘Coupon’ is not Norman or Old French. It’s a 19th century borrowing of a Modern French word.
- ‘Nouvelle’ is not Norman or Old French. It’s a a Modern English borrowing of the Modern French feminine word for ‘new’ – it’s essentially the same word as novel, which was the borrowing of the Old French word. Nowadays it’s used mostly in collocations like nouvelle cuisine or nouveau riche.
- ‘Boutique’ is not Norman or Old French. The Normans were Vikings, Louisa. They did not have boutiques. This word is a 20thcentury borrowing of a Modern French word, which the French got from Provençal. This word is actually an old Languedoc bastardization of apothecary, which is Greek.
- ‘Ballet’ is not Norman or Old French. William the Conqueror didn’t like toe shoes or tulle, so, you know, no ballet. Ballet the word, like ballet the dance, is from the Modern era. It’s an Italian Renaissance thing. Modern English borrowed it from Modern French, which in turn borrowed it from Italian. The word is derived via Latin from a Greek root.
- ‘Croquet’ is not Norman or Old French. It is a 19th century word for a 19th century pastime. But at least this word does have a Viking root, the Old Norse krokr, also the source of crook and crooked, which are good words to describe Louisa Moats’s etymological exaggerations.
- ‘Coquette’ is not Norman or Old French. It is a Modern English borrowing of a Modern French word for ‘flirtatious or wanton woman.’ So, you know, let’s make sure that all the kids know how to read and spell this word.
- ‘Mirage’ is not Norman or Old French. It is a Modern English borrowing of a Modern French word. It means when you see things that aren’t there, like Louisa does wth etymology.
- ‘Debut’ is not Norman or Old French. It made its debut in the 18th century, which is Modern English, from Modern French.
- ‘Depot’ is not Norman or Old French. It’s an 18th century loan from Modern French. The Vikings did not have trains or buses.
This tallies up to 14 out of 19 examples of “Norman (Old) French” that are just plain wrong. That’s a big fat F on this section. Louisa doesn’t know the difference between Norman French, Old French, and Modern French loanwords in English, which is also evident elsewhere in her writing. But remember, this is one single table.
Now, if Louisa Moats were a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker, such promiscuous linguistic ignorance would not be a big deal. But Louisa Moats is none of those things. She is, in addition to being a leading critic of my personality, supposed to be a language expert. The Moatsian table I’m citing is not entitled “Mistakes Most People Make” – rather, it’s entitled “Features of English orthography by language of origin.” So she is actually providing baldly wrong examples of the very thing that the table claims to be elucidating.
Louisa calls me “arrogant” and “misinformed;” she says that the things I write are “nasty and undeserved.” And she barks these opinions of me behind my back, on her friends’ personal Facebook pages, where she and her fellow literacy dinosaurs can massage each other’s weathered mean-girl egos. If you are reading this and, like Emerson Dickman, feeling indignation and defensiveness on behalf of your “heroes,” maybe ask yourself why you don’t feel so damn hot in the face when you read Louisa’s linguistic lies.
Not done. On to the “Latin” section.
- ‘Pacify’ was not borrowed directly from Latin; like all words that end with an <fy> base, this one evolved through French.
- ‘Extremity’ also was not borrowed directly from Latin; like all words with a <-ty> suffix, this one came from French, where it had a <-té>, on its way from Latin, where it had a <-tas/-tatem>.
- ‘Locomotion’ was not borrowed directly from Latin either; it was built in Modern English from Latin parts. Like the Vikings, the Romans had no trains.
- ‘Paternal’ was borrowed in late Middle English from Old French.
- ‘Maternity,’ like extremity above, gives away its French roots with its suffix.
- ‘Hostility’ also has that French-form <-ty>.
- ‘Amorous’ was borrowed from Old French, which is to be expected, given its French-form <-ous> suffix. Words borrowed directly from Latin retain the <-ose> form of that suffix, like verbose and morose.
- Louisa claims that Latinate words are “organized around a *root” [sic – she means a base element], “many with prefixes or suffixes.” This is a repackaging of the very common false understanding that Latin doesn’t compound, but she provides two Latin compounds in her list (base elements in all caps):
a. < PACE + i + FY >
b. < LOCO + MOTE + ion >
Louisa misidentifies 7 of her 21 “Latin” examples. Guess you could say we’re all misinformed, as long as we continue to read Louisa’s work.
- While all of the Greek examples Louisa gives are indeed built from Greek parts, some of them are modern words and were not around in Greek. Louisa also makes the false claim that Greek-origin words are “constructed from combining forms” that “compound.” Nope, no combining forms. Just base elements that can compound or affix. Moreover, 3 of the 9 words that Louisa gives as examples of Greek only have a single base element:
a. < HYPN + ose + is >
b. < a + GN + ost + ic >
c. < cata + TONE + ic >
That’s a third of the items wrong again. That’s not quite an F, but it’s a pretty embarrassing D. Especially from someone who is supposed to be an expert. Especially especially for someone who built her career on screeding about teachers’ woeful lack of linguistically accurate knowledge.
All in all, this single table on a single page in a single book offers 83 examples, of which 31 are wrong. That’s 63% accurate — a D or an F, depending on the scale.
Would you get on a plane that had a 37% chance of crashing? Of course not, but that’s Louisa does every time she expects dyslexic kids and their teachers to believe what she writes.
You know what’s even shadier?
Louisa lists “Source: Henry (2003)” at the bottom of her shoddy table. She blames this foolish fakery on her beloved colleague Marcia Henry. And while Marcia Henry’s 2003 edition of Unlocking Literacy does have some etymological errors in it, none of them are anywhere near as egregious as Louisa’s lazy guesswork in Speech to Print. While the etymological framework Marcia presents in her work is deeply flawed, Louisa’s indolent examples are entirely her own. Not a single one of Louisa’s bad examples came from Marcia’s book. I know because I looked, in addition to looking up all 83 examples in an actual etymological dictionary.
It’s nasty and ungracious work, but someone has to do it.