25 Trivia Facts About the English Language

If you know English (or are learning it), you know English is a deeply strange language with nightmare rules that can create the most confusing sentences. For example: Read rhymes with lead, and read rhymes with lead, but read and lead don’t rhyme, and neither do read and lead. There’s also “will Will Smith smith? Will Smith will smith.” With so many weird rules, there are bound to be some weird facts about the English language. So here’s some trivia about the English language that might make you wish something else was the more dominant one.

25 Trivia Facts About the English Language

1. We promise we won’t make the list all confusing sentences, but you absolutely need to know that “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo” is a grammatically correct sentence. Buffalo is used as a noun (the animal, and the city), as well as a verb meaning “to intimidate.”

2. There’s no correct spelling of Hanukkah. They’re all English transliterations of a Hebrew word. 

3. “Dord” was a word for about 13 years before we figured out it was a mistake. It was submitted as “D or d,” intended to refer to the two symbols used to represent density at the time. But someone screwed up, and we got the word “dord” in Merriam Webster’s from like 1934 to 1947.

4. “Dust,” “off,” and “table” are examples of words that are auto-antonyms (contranyms); words that can mean the opposite of themselves.

5. The word ‘girl’ was used to refer to both boys and girls until the 1400s, when it took on its current meaning.

6. The ‘s’ in the word ‘island’ was added by people who wanted to link it to the Latin word insula.

7. Sahara’ is derived from ‘desert’ in Arabic, meaning its name is ‘Desert desert’. We’re thinking of getting some ice cream there just to have dessert in the Desert desert.

8. “Checkmate” (as in winning a game of chess) comes from a Persian phrase loosely translating to “the king is dead.”

9. Official Scrabble dictionaries list words that have a Q but not U. “QWERTY is one of them.

10. “Dermatoglyphics” and “uncopyrightable” are the longest words in English that have no repeating letters, at 15 letters each.

11. The term freelancer was originally used to describe a sword-carrying mercenary, literally a “free lancer.” Which is… A lot cooler than some of the side gigs most of us have done. 

12. The word “muscle” derives from the Latin word for “little mouse.” This is because the movement of muscles, particularly the biceps, were thought to resemble mice.

Having mice running around in our arms sounds horrifying, so let’s move on.

13. The shortest science “-ology” word is oology, the study of bird eggs.

14. A capitonym is a word that changes meaning when capitalized, like turkey. Uncapitalized it refers to the bird, but capitalized Turkey is a country. 

15. “Bandit,” “critic,” and “unreal” were all coined by Shakespeare.

16. The term “Solstice” is derived from the Latin words sol (Sun) and sistere (to stand still). This is because the Sun’s relative position in the sky at noon does not appear to change much during the solstice and its surrounding days.

17. The letter V is the only letter in English that is never silent.

18. A pangram sentence is one that contains every letter in the language.

19. “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious ” is not the longest English word–despite it meaning something along the lines of “fantastic.” Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis is longer and it’s also a type of lung disease, and has 45 letters.

20. Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis was a word invented by the National Puzzler’s League. 

21. An ambigram is a word that looks the same from various orientations; the word “swims” will still be “swims” when flipped upside down. Sɯᴉʍs.

22. Almost 25% of the world speaks English.

23. “Aibohphobia” is the unofficial phobia of palindromes. It is also a palindrome. 

24. “E” is the most frequently used letter.

25. “Callipygian” is an old English word meaning you have a shapely butt. 

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