English Is Crazy! (Or Not!)


Diana King, author of English Isn’t Crazy, would disagree.  Her short, easy to read book is about the history of the English language and how it has been heavily influenced by other languages, such as Latin, French, Greek, and the old Germanic languages (Anglo Saxon), and why words are spelled the way they are.

The Major Levels of English

Anglo Saxon

  • 27% of the words
  • Short words
  • “Peasant” words, such as farm, fishing (concrete words, easy to understand)
  • Build words using compound words (cowboy, sunset)
  • “Sight” words, tend to be irregular
  • Must be mastered by 3rd grade
  • ch sounds like /ch/ as in church
  • wh- words like when, where, who, what, why
  • wr- words (these words involve twisting or turning, like wrestle, wring, wrist, wrinkle, wrap, wrench, wreak, write)


  • 57% of words
  • Multisyllabic words
  • Build words using prefix – root – suffix (trasportation: trans = through or across, port = bring, carry, ation = the act of)
  • soft c before e or i as in city, cell, certain
  • Words ending in -ct and -pt are Latin (except, precinct)


  •  11% of words
  • Will find these words in science, drama, arts
  • Build words using  (prefix) – root – root – (suffix)
  • Words are more abstract
  • When y acts like i (cycle, gym, myth, type, pyro)
  • ch sounds like /k/ like character, Christmas, school
  • silent p words like psychology
  • ph words like graph, phoneme, philosophy, dolphin, physician
  • rh- words like rhythm, rhinoceros, rhododendron
  • words ending in -ology (the study of)
  • words ending in -ic like comic, music, panic


  • Not a significant layer
  • The Norman Conquest occurred in 1066, and for the next 300 years, no English king used the English language (“commoners” spoke English).
  • The Normans brought the following and their associated words:
    • law/government
    • code of chivalry and knightly conduct
    • hunting and falconry
    • cooking
    • fashion
    • architure


  • Not a significant layer
  • alligator, avocado, buffalo, taco, burrito, coyote, sombrero, chocolate
Gina Cooke Etymology Videos and Lessons

Etymology is the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.  It is actually much more interesting than it sounds!  Please watch the following videos, you won’t be disappointed!

What can spelling tell us about relationships between words?  While spelling may sometimes seem random or unexpected, this lesson illuminates how peeling back the layers of spelling helps us understand the complex history and meaningful structure of words. View the full lesson.



Say the word “doubt” aloud.  What is that “b” doing there? Does it have any purpose?  Gina Cooke explains the long and winding history of “doubt” and why the spelling, though it seems random, is a wink to its storied past.  View the full lesson.



The older the word, the longer (and more fascinating) the story.  With roots in Old English, ‘true’ shares etymological ancestors with words like betroth and truce…but also with the word tree.  In fact, trees have been metaphors for steadfastness and faithfulness for as long as the word true has defined the same qualities.  Gina Cooke describes the poetic relationship between ‘tree’ and ‘true.’  View the full lesson.





The levels of English mostly came from Ron Yoshimoto’s morphology class.