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As I See It It's always worthwhile to ask questions

Thinking about the questions that can give you a headache is something I like to do in my free time.

Thinking about the questions that can give you a headache is something I like to do in my free time.

Did Adam and Eve have navels? Why did Kamikaze pilots wear helmets?

Why is it that we drive on parkways, and park on driveways? Why is it a cow when it is in the field, but beef when it hits my plate?

To that last question, I was actually able to find an answer, and it goes back to the odd makeup of the English language.

English, you see, is actually a form of German. A significant percent of our vocabulary, grammar, and syntax comes from German.

The native languages of England still exist in English, folded into the German dialect that evolved on the island, eventually become English.

But for the most part, the spoken language of English is strongly German.

One of the strange things that happened to the tongue occurred following the Battle of Hastings in 1066, when the Norman prince William the Conqueror (he was known as William the Bastard previous to his success in that battle) wrested control of the islands from his cousin Henry.

Into England strode a new monarch whose upbringing, education, and experiences were all had in the French lands of Normandy.

Along with his French-style feudal rule, William also brought the French language and French writing.

In fact, the official language of the English court remained French right into the late 1600s.

William was an enlightened conqueror in some ways, in that he sought to co-opt existing social, legal and political structures into his own court, as opposed to wiping the slate clean and imposing a totally Norman system on his new subjects.

It was from this attempt to assimilate the English peasantry into this new, strongly traditional, system of government that led to the cow becoming beef on my plate.

One of the first things William did was to ask for a census of the country to be taken. One of the first in history, the text still exists, and offers many statistical historians a wonderful glimpse into population trends in the English countryside in the latter years of the 1060s.

Another thing William did was to take on the existing English legal system, but like the Norman system of the time, tied this to legal records, creating the common law system that still exists today (we in Canada use this system, except in Quebec, which uses for provincial cases the Napoleonic civil law system.)

So as the court grew, and the hold of William's line was secured in England, the educated class became those who could speak and read French.

This led to a number of funny long-term impacts on English that bedevil many a student to this day.

Take the military title of Lieutenant. In the Queen's English, the pronunciation of this word is 'Left-tenant.'

This illustrates a difference between the spoken English word, and the French way of writing the word.

So when a farmer went out into his fields, he was dealing with his cow.

Cow is very close when spoken to the German word for the animal, kuhe (koo-uh would be how it is pronounced.)

But most peasants wouldn't eat much beef. A cow was too expensive to slaughter for the most part, and was worth far more as a breeder and milker than as a dinner choice.

Therefore, it was mostly the upper-classes who would eat beef. In fact, beef was such a treat, the guards at the Tower of London were (and still are) known as the 'Beefeaters,' because a ration of beef was included in their pay.

So with only the rich eating cow, and the rich and educated speaking French, they referred to the meat on their plates as the French do, beuf.

.So time passes, and centuries later we still see eccentricities like this pop up into our everyday spoken language.

I suppose in closing I should say this story was told to remind you that sometimes, those questions that seem unanswerable can be answered.

All you have to do is ask!