Changes to Old English vocabulary

Changes To Old English Vocabulary

Changes to Old English vocabulary

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Many words that existed in Old English did not survive into Modern English. There are also many words in Modern English that bear little or no resemblance in meaning to their Old English etymons. Some linguist estimate that as much as 80 percent of the lexicon of Old English was lost by the end of the Middle English period. Certain categories of words seem to have been especially vulnerable. Nearly all words relating to sexual intercourse and sexual organs were supplanted by words of Latin or Ancient Greek origin. Many, if not most, of the words in Modern English that are used in polite conversation to describe body parts and bodily functions are of Latin or Greek origin. The words which were used in Old English for these same purposes are now mostly either extinct or considered crude or vulgar, such as arse/ass.

Some words became extinct while other near-synonyms of Old English origin replaced them (limb survives, yet lið is gone). Many of these linguistic changes were brought on by the Norman invasion, but some were also spurred by the introduction of Old Norse words.


Modern English has no Germanic words left that mean "animal" in its most generic sense of "non-human creature." Old English dēor (cf. deer), gesceaft, gesceap, nēat, and iht were all eclipsed by animal, beast, creature and critter, all of Latin origin.
  • āðexe: "lizard." Lizard appeared in Middle English and is from Old French lesarde, from Latin lacertus......
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