English, the name given to the official language of England, is growing and changing every day, every year. From day to day, the changes are so slight we hardly notice them. For example, how many people write e-mail now and not email? Most editors and proofreaders still go for e-mail, but the people online are using email or just plain e to name what they’re sending back and forth. At some point in the future, everyone, including the editors and proofreaders, will accept email as good standard English. Much of the change happens when people move to a different part of the country, bring their habitual way of speaking with them, and pick up new local expressions at the same time.
The same was true when English got its start: people moved into (actually, invaded) England, bringing their own languages with them, and gradually their words caught on. Like flower. From about 500-1100 A.D., people spoke what we now call Old English, or Anglo-Saxon, and the word for flower then was blosme. They borrowed this word from the Saxons, or Germans, who had invaded the attractive little island in the North Sea and brought their word for “flower” with them. (Who knows what they called flowers before the year 500?) And blosme is still with us. It’s still a perfectly good word in the English language, and it still means “flower.” Except now we spell it “blossom.”
After the Germans came the French, and they had their own word for what the Anglo-Saxons called a blosme. The French called it a flour. Actually, the French weren’t even called “the French” in those days. They were called “Normans” (because they came from Normandy). The Norman invasion took place in the year 1066 A.D., or toward the end of the 11th century. And sure enough, by 1225, the word flour had popped up in the English language.
How did they pronounce this word flour? The Norman word flour sounded much like the present French word fleur. The “ou” made an “oo” sound. Middle English, however, sounded more like German. So the “ou” in Middle English made an “ow” sound…like “flower.” Flour with the “ow” sound is still around, except it’s the white stuff you bake with, not a pretty blossom.
But wait….where did the French get flour or later fleur? From the Romans! The Roman were busy invading France (and England) from 51-58 B.C. And the Roman word for flower was flora. Flora is still with us in various forms, too…Where do you buy your flowers? At the FLORIST! What do brides order for the tables at the reception? FLORAL arrangements!
The world is ever changing and growing….people move from here to there….and the languages they speak are growing and changing, too.