Uncleftish Beholding (1989) is a short text written by Poul Anderson. It is written using almost exclusively words of Germanic origin, and was intended to illustrate what the English language might look like if it had not received its considerable number of loanwords from other languages, particularly Latin, Greek and French.
The text is about basic atomic theory and relies on a number of word coinings, many of which have analogues in modern German, an important scientific language in its own right. The title "uncleftish beholding" calques "atomic theory". The text begins:
- For most of its being, mankind did not know what things are made of, but could only guess. With the growth of worldken, we began to learn, and today we have a beholding of stuff and work that watching bears out, both in the workstead and in daily life.
It goes on to define "firststuffs" (chemical elements), such as "waterstuff" (hydrogen), "sourstuff" (oxygen), and "ymirstuff" (uranium), as well as "bulkbits" (molecules), "bindings" (compounds), and several other terms important to "uncleftish worldken" (atomic physics). ("Wasserstoff" and "Sauerstoff" are the modern German words for hydrogen and oxygen, and in Dutch the modern equivalents are "waterstof" and "zuurstof". "Sunstuff" refers to helium, which itself refers to Helios, Greek god of the sun. "Ymirstuff" references Ymir, a giant in Norse mythology similar to Uranus in Greek mythology.)
The vocabulary does not completely derive from the Anglo-Saxon word-hoard. Around, from Old French reond (Modern French rond), has completely displaced Old English ymbe (cognate to German um), leaving no native English word for this concept. And stuff itself is from Old French estoffe.
The text gained increased exposure and popularity when circulated around the Internet, and has served as inspiration for some inventors of Germanic English conlangs. Douglas Hofstadter, in discussing the piece in his book Le Ton beau de Marot, jocularly refers to the use of only Germanic roots for scientific pieces as "Ander-Saxon".
- Poul Anderson, “Uncleftish Beholding”, Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, volume 109, no. 13, pages 132–135, mid-December 1989, Davis Publications.