Uncleftish Beholding

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Uncleftish Beholding
Author(s)Poul Anderson
Subjectatomic theory
Purposelinguistic purism in English

"Uncleftish Beholding" (1989)[1] is a short text by Poul Anderson designed to illustrate what English might look like without its large number of loanwords from languages such as French, Greek, and Latin.[2] Written with the linguistic purism in English, the work explains atomic theory using Germanic words almost exclusively and coining new words when necessary;[3] many of these new words have cognates in modern German, an important scientific language in its own right. The title phrase uncleftish beholding calques "atomic theory."[4]

To illustrate, the text begins:[5]

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 science).[6] Wasserstoff and Sauerstoff are the modern German words for hydrogen and oxygen, and in Dutch the modern equivalents are waterstof and zuurstof.[7] Sunstuff refers to helium, which derives from ἥλιος, the Ancient Greek word for "sun." Ymirstuff references Ymir, a giant in Norse mythology similar to Uranus in Greek mythology.

The vocabulary used in Uncleftish Beholding does not completely derive from Anglo-Saxon. Around, from Old French reond (Modern French rond), completely displaced Old English ymbe (modern English umbe (now obsolete), cognate to German um and Latin ambi-) and left no "native" English word for this concept. The text also contains the French-derived words rest, ordinary and sort.

The text gained increased exposure and popularity after being 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."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Svishchev, Guennady V.; Amatov, Alexander M.; Tolstolutskaya, Eugenia V. (January 2015). "Language Regulation in a Global World". The Social Sciences. 10 (6): 1107–1110. ISSN 1818-5800.
  2. ^ Omissi, Adrastos (2015-07-11). "Swear words, etymology, and the history of English". OUPblog. Archived from the original on 2015-07-14. Retrieved 20 February 2019.
  3. ^ Allén, Sture, ed. (1995). Of Thoughts and Words: Proceedings of Nobel Symposium 92: The Relation Between Language and Mind (Conference publication). River Edge, New Jersey: Imperial College Press. pp. 217–266. ISBN 9781860940057. LCCN 96130659. OCLC 34912899.
  4. ^ "Uncleftish Beholding". Centre for Complexity Science, University of Warwick. 12 Feb 2014. Archived from the original on 2014-11-12. Retrieved 20 February 2019.
  5. ^ Anderson, Poul (December 1989). "Uncleftish Beholding". Analog Science Fiction and Fact. Vol. 109 no. 13. Davis Publications. pp. 132–135.
  6. ^ Hofstadter, Douglas R. (August 1994). "Speechstuff and Thoughtstuff: Musings on the Resonances Created by Words and Phrases via the Subliminal Perception of their Buried Parts". Nobel Symposium 92. Stockholm. doi:10.1142/9781908979681_0023.
  7. ^ R.L.G. (2014-01-28). "Johnson: What might have been". The Economist. Berlin. Archived from the original on 2019-02-20. Retrieved 20 February 2019.

External links[edit]