An inkhorn term is a loanword
or a word coined from existing roots, which is deemed to be unnecessary or overly pretentious.
An inkhorn is an inkwell
made of horn
. It was an important item for many scholars, which soon became symbolic of writers in general. Later, it became a byword for fussy or pedantic writers. The phrase "inkhorn term" is found as early as 1553.
Controversy over inkhorn terms was rife from the mid-16th to the mid-17th century, during the transition from Middle English
to Modern English
, when English competed with Latin as the main language of science and learning in England, having already displaced French. Many words, often self-consciously borrowed from classical literature
, were deemed useless by critics who argued that the understanding of these redundant borrowings depends on knowledge of classical languages. Some borrowings filled a technical or scientific semantic gap
, but others coexisted with Germanic
words, often overtaking them.
Writers such as Thomas Elyot
and George Pettie
were enthusiastic borrowers whereas Thomas Wilson
and John Cheke
Many of these so-called inkhorn terms, such as ''dismiss'', ''celebrate'', ''encyclopedia'', ''commit'', ''capacity'' and ''ingenious'', stayed in the language. Many other neologism
s faded soon after they were first used; for example, ''expede'' is now obsolete, although the synonym ''expedite'' and the similar word ''impede'' survive. Faced with the influx of loanwords, some writers, as well known as Charles Dickens
tried to either resurrect English words (''gleeman'' for ''musician'' – see glee
, ''sicker'' for ''certainly'', ''inwit'' for ''conscience'', ''yblent'' for ''confused'') or coin brand-new words from Germanic
roots (''endsay'' for ''conclusion'', ''yeartide'' for ''anniversary'', ''foresayer'' for ''prophet'').
Few of these words, coined in opposition to inkhorn terms remained in common usage, and the writers who disdained the use of Latinate
words often could not avoid using other loanwords. Although the inkhorn controversy was over by the end of the 17th century, many writers sought to return to what they saw as the purer roots of the language. William Barnes
coined words, such as ''starlore'' for ''astronomy'' and ''speechcraft'' for ''grammar'', but they were not widely accepted.
famously analysed and criticised the socio-political impact of the usage of such words:
* Classical compound
* Plain language
* Prestige (sociolinguistics)
* ''Uncleftish Beholding
Original texts from the inkhorn debate
Category:History of the English language