Why is our language like it is?

Why is the word lice in police (lice being negative and police being a positive word supposedly- same with all these other words), spit is in hospital, con in congress? This has really made me question the foundation of and reasoning behind the English language when there’s a negative part of something that’s supposed to be a word for something that is positive in nature and is supposed to have a positive meaning. Are the police and hospital’s really negative in nature and everything in the English language based on lies? Should I not trust them then? Why was the language set up like this in the first place? As a means of scamming and being deceptive? Thank you for your thoughts and answers on this.

The words have absolutely, positivly nothing to do with each other. There are a limited* number** of letters and sounds in the English language and there will inevitably be repeats*** in letter combinations****.

  • Has nothing to do with a mite.

** Has nothing to do with being numb.

*** Has nothing to do with peat.

**** Has nothing to do with a comb or a nation or an ion.

Nailed it in one.

(A lot of folks look down on pushers. But aren’t we all pushers? It has “us” right there in the word, people! And not just “us” in general, but “she” and “he” in particular! Along with “her” and “hers”! And even “ushers” are in on this!)

The English word “police” comes from from Middle French police (late 15c.), from Latin politia “civil administration,” from Greek polis “city.” Cite.

The English word “louse” comes from Old English lus, from Proto-Germanic *lus, from PIE **lus-*. Cite. The plural “lice” (Old English lys) shows effects of i-mutation (which was how plurals were formed in Old English, just like mouse-mice).

In short, there’s absolutely no connection between the words “police” and “lice.” It’s just a coincidence.

I’m intrigued. Who do you think might have set up the English language in order to fool people into thinking hospitals are positive when they’re really negative in nature? Why do you think they’d have done so? What “scam” is being run?

There are lots of cognates, especially German (since English is a Germanic language). Seems like Greek and Latin lasted pretty long, and maybe Aramaic.

The bigger false assumption in the OP is that some authority decides to create English words.

The scam that seems to be genetically/culturally programmed and highly prevalent in humans: pattern recognition and its interpretation.

We seem to be programmed/born with the ability to identify patterns in things. This gift is not confined to analysis of the physical and so we also find patterns in more abstract things like behaviour.

The problem is that our motivations and judgments are independent of this ability and we sometimes attribute ‘evil’ to one pattern but see other patterns as ‘good’ (and, of course, some see good where you see evil). Ultimately how we interpret the patterns we discover would seem to be a choice, but the default is to save our genes.

I fear for the species.

SCquestions, if you really want to know about how language works, read some introductory books on linguistics like these:

What Language Is by John McWhorter
The Language Hoax by John McWhorter
How Language Began by Daniel Everett
The Unfolding of Language by Guy Deutscher
Language: The Cultural Tool by Daniel Everett
Word on the Street by John McWhorter
How Language Works by David Crystal
The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker
An Introduction to Language by Victoria Fromkin
The Power of Language by John McWhorter
The Study of Language by George Yule

These are just some that came to my mind quickly. Other people in this thread can recommend you other books. On the other hand, if you want to create conspiracy theories about language, you won’t be very happy on this board.

Also, the false assumption that “words” originate in writing. The four letters “L-I-C-E” are not a word. They may represent a word, when written alone, but they are not a word by their own accord.

I was trying to get with it until lies, scamming, and deception. Reads like a troll. First post.

Words were around long before writing. Ancient Egyptians, Chines and Japanese (among others) used pictures (pictograms) to write stuff down. The alphabet we use today originated in the 7th century BC and has changed continually over the last 2500 years. It is simply a way of writing words so that someone else can read them. There are many other ways apart from the ‘Latin’ alphabet, but they all have the same purpose.

How ‘things’ got their names is usually lost in history. ‘Hospital’, we are told, came from Old French hospital, (ospital, since the initial aspirant is not pronounced in French) hostel, shelter, lodging. It had different meanings before it began to be used to describe a big building where ill people went. We also have hospitality, which is nothing to do with medics.

Many, if not most words contain other totally unconnected words: In England, there is a town called Scunthorpe. I bet that whoever named it had no idea that in the far distant future, it would be rejected by many forums as an obscene word that might offend someone.

Why is ‘long’ a short word?
Why is ‘abbreviated’ a long word?

Horse manure’s not that bad. I don’t even mind the word ‘manure.’ You know, it’s, it’s ’ newer,’ which is good. And a ‘ma’ in front of it.

Yes, English can be weird. It can be understood through tough, thorough thought though.

First, focus on sounds, not spellings. There are some sound units called phonesthemes, smaller than morphemes, that have acquired meaning. For example, the words flutter, mutter, putter, sputter, splutter all involve a series of small sounds or movements. The words mostly do not have a common etymology; the connection -utter = series of small sounds arose first by coincidence, but later got reinforced.

Sn- is commonly associated with nose — so much so that when I read about someone snarling or sneering I imagine their nose (or at least upper lip) playing a role in the action.

Phonesthemes sometimes allows one to guess at the meaning of new words. In “’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves” the toves may be harmless but some will find their slithiness unpleasant, even without finding the word in a dictionary. Are they writhing and slippery?

I think most linguists pay very little heed to phonesthemia. A large majority of occurrences of these sound combinations are just coincidences, and do not have a special phonesthemic meaning.

Internet Law makes it mandatory to quote James Nicoll here:

Since the factual answer to this was given in the first post, let’s move this to IMHO.

General Questions Moderator

And those are just about language in general. There are plenty of good books about the English language in particular and why it is the way it is.

However, one might point out that the “con” in “congress”, the one in “confluence”, the one in “consume”, and many other places all come, indirectly through French and other romance languages, from the Latin “cum”, which means “with”. But languages just grow. And English is especially bad being essentially a creole of Anglo-Saxon and French, with Anglo-Saxon already a mix of West and North Germanic languages. Not surprisingly a mess.