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Although I don’t usually talk about medieval times, Monday’s posts are called Medieval Mondays, because I like alliteration. In these posts, I look at the history of the English language.

… Okay, don’t worry guys; my neer is just fine.

Hands up who knows what a neer is?

*Cue tumbleweed*

Neer used to be a Scots word for kidney. I say “used to be” because I know no-one who still uses it, but apparently it’s still alive in certain areas of the country.

What I find interesting about historical linguistics (maybe because it’s more closely related to sociolinguistics) is why some forms die out, while others survive.

Take a look at this chart:

Referent:    
English English:

Kidney

Ear

Scottish English:

Neer

Lug

The same referent (i.e. the picture) existed in different forms in English English and Scottish English. Today, lug is still used commonly, whereas, like I said, neer has neerly (get it?) died out.

What happened was that when, after a period of separation, Scottish English and English English were in contact once more, people had conversations like this:

“I’ve got a neer infection…”

“Really? Can you hear okay?”

An ear and a neer sound… well, pretty much identical. It was a case of this town ‘aint big enough for the both of us.

When this happens, it’s the more popular word that wins. Communication is the primary aim of language, and so the most-widely used form will always win.

Lug however, sounds like no other words which might be used in the same context. As a result, lug is still alive and well.

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