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PoiPoi's avatar

What was the first recorded word ever to be written in letters of the English language?

Asked by PoiPoi (274points) June 2nd, 2008

What I want to know is, what word was the EXACT first word, to be written in from the letters of the Latin alphabet, and recorded into the language that we’re speaking right now, English.

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25 Answers

richardhenry's avatar

Almost all English words are in some way derived from other languages, and the transition was very gradual. There was no ‘first word’.

PupnTaco's avatar

Do you mean the oldest known written Latin text translation? Or the oldest known Old English text?

richardhenry's avatar

Wait, are we looking for the first word ever written, or first word ever published? I guess the second would be easier to track down… (as in, not impossible like the first.)

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iCeskate's avatar

it could be word…?

iwamoto's avatar

maybe just “The”

richardhenry's avatar

Okay, after doing a bit of research for you, the oldest known document written in English is a translated version of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, also known as Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum. It was translated from Latin to English in the 9th Century.

The work was a series of five books detailing the ecclesiastical (means: related to the Christian Church or clergy) and political activity from the time of Ceasar’s rule through to the date of it’s completion in the year 731.

Interestingly, Bede’s use of something similar to the Anno Domini era throughout the work was very influential in causing the system to be adopted in Western Europe.

richardhenry's avatar

So I guess your first published word is the first word in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. I’m trying to track down a scanned copy to determine what that might be.

richardhenry's avatar

I just had a quick chat with a language professor I know. Two points he mentioned:

1) Early English evolved well before reading and writing, so it is impossible to posit one word. All writing involved multiple words, and documents were rarely recorded and kept. Your best bet to answer this question is to look at early publications.

2) Common assumptions are the words ‘Mama’ and ‘Dada’, leading to ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’. Not only are the Latin equivalents similar, but the two ‘baby words’ are very similar to congruous words in other languages.

richardhenry's avatar

@iwamoto: ‘The’ is actually a “fairly recent replacement of the masculine form word se, and feminine form word seo, from European roots.” (From the mouth of the English professor.)

richardhenry's avatar

@Wizard: ‘English’ is also quite late coming. A quote from the history and reference section on “English is derived from England, one would think. But in fact the language name is found long before the country name. The latter first appears as Englaland around the year 1000, and means “the land of the Engle,” that is, the Angles.”

@iCescate: ‘Word’ is also quite recent, actually later than ‘English’.

richardhenry's avatar

@Wizard: In reference to the country name, the common known date seems to be the year 900.

wizard's avatar

Man, you’re an expert!

gailcalled's avatar

@Richardhenry: so that is who The Venerable Bede is. I have wondered.

richardhenry's avatar

@gailcalled: I wondered this too, there’s actually a bundle on the guy when you start digging, and a bunch of schools and churches named after him (list from Wikipedia, so it could be wrong):

San Beda College in Manila in the Philippines
St. Bede Academy in Peru, Illinois, United States
St Bede’s Catholic College in Bristol, England
St. Bede’s Catholic Comprehensive School in Peterlee, County Durham, England
St Bede’s College in Christchurch, New Zealand
St Bede’s College in Manchester, England
St Bede’s College in Victoria, Australia
St. Bede’s Grammar School in Bradford, West Yorkshire, England
St. Bede’s Prep School in Eastbourne, East Sussex, England
St Bede’s School, in Hailsham, East Sussex, England
St. Bede’s School in Redhill, Surrey, England
St. Bede School in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, United States
St. Bede’s Roman Catholic Church in Carlisle, Cumbria, England

Also, correction for previous ”@Wizard” post: Typo on my part, should read ‘language name’, not ‘country name’.

richardhenry's avatar

First word ever published: ‘To’

(Only including the copy text, obviously. Otherwise it would be ‘Bede’ or ‘Contents’.)

The book is available digitally, here:

gailcalled's avatar

@Richardhenry; another interesting research project (just what I don’t need.)

I found this at wikipedia also, but it was w/o citation. “his title is believed to come from a mistranslation of the Latin inscription on his tomb in Durham Cathedral, intended to be ‘Here lie the venerable bones of Bede, but wrongly interpreted as here lie the bones of the Venerable Bede.’ ”[citation needed]

richardhenry's avatar

@gailcalled: Hmm, a cursory search shows two references, but nothing solid:–03/msg06684.html

Both are in newsgroups, so the thing could just be a myth. I guess you would have to scour other publications on him in order to properly find out.

Also, useful to know: if you enclose a phrase in “quotes” on Google, it will only search for exact matches for the phrase. Standard Google search, or a search through all books Google have in their archive… so not much, in this case. (Thought I’d slip that in for anyone who doesn’t know.)

gailcalled's avatar

@Richardhenry; I probably will not be scouring publications to find more info on the Venerable Bede or his bones, but thanks for doing all the work. (Do you ever see daylight? Or get outside and breathe the smog?)

richardhenry's avatar

@gailcalled: Me neither… the Internet is useful because it’s so easy.

Actually, I do most of my Fluthering from my iPhone while I travel, so I get all the smog inhalation one needs for a healthy lifestyle.

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gailcalled's avatar

@Richardhenry: Along with the pickled onions,occasional Scotch eggs and Sunday joint?

allengreen's avatar

@Richardhenry—you are the man! That was an awesome exchange.

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