Uncleftish Beholding

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Uncleftish Beholding
Author(s) Poul Anderson
Subject Atomic theory
Purpose linguistic purism in English

"Uncleftish Beholding" (1989) [1] is a short text by Poul Anderson, included in his anthology "All One Universe". [2] It is designed to illustrate what English might look like without its large number of loanwords from languages such as French, Greek, and Latin, [3] especially with regard to the proportion of scientific words with origins in those languages.


Written as a demonstration of linguistic purism in English, the work explains atomic theory using Germanic words almost exclusively and coining new words when necessary; [4] many of these new words have cognates in modern German, an important scientific language in its own right. The title phrase uncleftish beholding calques "atomic theory." [5]

To illustrate, the text begins: [6]

For most of its being, mankind did not know what things are made of, but could only guess. With the growth of worldken, we began to learn, and today we have a beholding of stuff and work that watching bears out, both in the workstead and in daily life.

It goes on to define firststuffs (chemical elements), such as waterstuff (hydrogen), sourstuff (oxygen), and ymirstuff (uranium), as well as bulkbits (molecules), bindings (compounds), and several other terms important to uncleftish worldken (atomic science). [7] Wasserstoff and Sauerstoff are the modern German words for hydrogen and oxygen, and in Dutch the modern equivalents are waterstof and zuurstof. [8] Sunstuff refers to helium, which derives from ἥλιος, the Ancient Greek word for "sun." Ymirstuff references Ymir, a giant in Norse mythology similar to Uranus in Greek mythology.


Word in Uncleftish BeholdingWord in EnglishOrigin In English
UNCLEFTatomfrom Greek atomos "uncut, unhewn; indivisible," from a- "not" + tomos "a cutting," [9]
UNCLEFTISHatomicas above
BEHOLDINGtheoryfrom Greek theōria "contemplation, speculation; a looking at, viewing; a sight, show, spectacle, things looked at," from theōrein "to consider, speculate, look at," from theōros "spectator,"
WORLDKENsciencefrom Latin scientia "knowledge". [10] World + ken means "understanding the world".




from Latin materia "substance from which something is made," [11]

from Latin elementum "rudiment, first principle, matter in its most basic form" [12]







from Late Latin carricare "to load a wagon or cart" [13]


















from Greek for water [14]

from Greek for sun [15]

from Greek for stone [16]

from Latin for coal [17]

from nitrum in Latin.

from Greek for sharp or sour [18]

from Greek for the lodestone. [19] Glasswort was used as a source of soda for glassmaking

from Latin for Flint [14]

Latinised form of Potash [20]

YMIRSTUFF Uranium from Uranus (Norse equivalent is Ymir)
AEGIRSTUFF: Neptunium from Neptune (Norse equvialent is Ægir)
HELSTUFF: Plutonium from Pluto (Norse equivalent is Hel)

The vocabulary used in Uncleftish Beholding does not completely derive from Anglo-Saxon. Around, from Old French reond (Modern French rond), completely displaced Old English ymbe (modern English umbe (now obsolete), cognate to German um and Latin ambi-) and left no "native" English word for this concept. The text also contains the French-derived words rest, ordinary and sort.

The text gained increased exposure and popularity after being circulated around the Internet, [21] and has served as inspiration for some inventors of Germanic English conlangs. Douglas Hofstadter, in discussing the piece in his book Le Ton beau de Marot , jocularly refers to the use of only Germanic roots for scientific pieces as "Ander-Saxon."

See also

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