For those Who Decry the Degraded State of the English Language

Racist claims to the contrary (as in the Urban Dictionary’s definition of Ebonics as “A poor excuse for a failure to grasp the basics of English”), it’s good to remember that language is ALWAYS changing . . . and it’s so easy to forget–or claim shock on discovering–earlier meanings.

The pleasures of etymology can also bring pleasures of historical knowledge. Learning that at a certain point in ancient Roman society, some soldiers were paid in salt–hence our English word, “salary”–can remind us of the economic anthropologist’s first lesson: that currency can come in many forms.

Which raises the question: If Americans were paid in a staple food today, would it (sadly) be sugar?

For an excerpt of a fascinating compendium of such linguistic tidbits, check out Why Do We Say It? The Stories Behind the Words, Expressions and Clichés We Use.

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