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English, From Sausages to Car Insurance

You thought English was simple?

English is a terrific language. In other words sometimes it scares the hell out of me. You thought the word meant 'great', 'wonderful', 'superb'? Nothing like it. It's based on a Latin word 'terri' which means fear, and it comes from the same root as terrible, terrified, terrorist, deterrent. In other words it means the exact opposite of what we think it means. It is not alone and I can prove it. Probably.


So where do the words 'prove' and 'probably' come from? Probably came from the Roman word probalibis, which meant that something was absolutely, undoubtedly true. However so many beliefs in those days were absolutely not true. It was undoubted in those days that the sun went round the earth, the Emperor was infallible, the gods decided everything. Nonsense. People lost faith in what was probabilis, and decided that what was once undoubted was now on shakier ground.

Here's proof

But what about proof? Proof shows that statement is absolutely undoubted. No it's not. We proof read a book to make sure it's okay with no mistakes. If a product is taken to the proving ground it's to make sure it works. In old Norman – English did indeed mean 'test'.

So proof is no guarantee whatsoever that something is true but if it is probably untrue then it most definitely is, beyond a shadow of a doubt. Or something like that.

There is however another probability that can be proved. Botox is a treatment that is as widely popular as it is expensive because it can make skin look softer and less wrinkly. It is based of course on a horrible toxin called clostridium botulinum; or botulim to we normal folk. It works by paralysing muscles and making them relax. It was first discovered when it was found that people who ingested too much of it found their muscles getting so lazy that their whole bodies stopped working completely and they died. Where did it come from?


My father always used to call sausages 'bags of mystery' because we never knew just what went into them. Americans decided that were made out of dog meat which is why we call them hotdogs. The word itself comes from the Romans: 'salsus' was the process of salting meet in the hope that it wouldn't rot before it was easten. Unfortunately many more less attractive ingredients went into early sausages, many of which were full of bacteria and the first discoveries of botulism were found in people who had died of sausage poisoning.

It is now fashionable for some people have poisonous sausages injected into their faces to make them look younger. Do you still really fancy having bangers and mash for dinner tonight? Better make sure you have good health insurance.

Car insurance

So where does the word insurance come from? Some people are convinced that it was invented by companies like moneysupermarket.com but in fact it goes right back to Roman times when no one was interested in insuring cars but they like to feel 'securus', which meant carefree. In early English the word 'ensure' first appeared meaning 'to make certain'. However by around the 16th century it meant 'engagement to be married'. What on earth is this got to do with car insurance?

The word 'car' originated from the Latin 'carrus' which was a wheeled vehicle or cart, and the Gauls turned it into 'karros' which is what they called the chariots they used in warfare; and the French refined it further into the word 'char' which is not a hot brown drink but the kind of tank which is used in warfare. Chariots and tanks are nowadays what many young motorists have no doubt that their hot hatches evolved from.


Going back to sausages though; don't ring up your local fast food delivery driver for an English hamburger and expect to find ham in it! It's made of grated beef. So of course is a beefburger. The difference between them has never been satisfactorily explained although rumour has it that the word originated in Hamburg in Germany. The word 'ham' itself came from a germanic word for 'crooked'; the ancient English named their crooked knees after it and then it passed on to the meat of a pig that came from behind the knee.

A 'ham actor' isn't necessarily crooked though. It the days when professionals used greasepaint the poorer ones used concoctions made out of pig fat so they were 'hammy'. There's nothing simple, or black and white, about the origins of the English language!

Even blacker

But then even the venerable Oxford English dictionary is not sure whether black is white or white is black. Did the words come from the old German, when black meant black? Or the old French when blanc meant white? A blank piece of paper is usually white but even this word came to us from the French, just to confuse us. In Middle English the word 'blacke' could mean pale, jet black, dark, or even completely colourless. How we English ever managed to decide on anything is beyond me.

You thought car insurance was simple?

Car insurance has always been a very unfair imposition.

OK it is reasonably to make it compulsory for motorists to insure their cars because not everyone can afford the kind of financial penalties that liability for a road traffic accident can bring; but the way that it is priced has traditionally been unfair. However many people now have difficulty buying it at all now and sites that provide insurance for motorists who have been refused cover, or have had their insurance policies cancelled, such as refusedcarinsurance.com have proved so popular.

In the old days it wasn't the driving record of the individual motorist that decided premiums, but the average record of several groups that this motorist was placed in. This driver could be the most careful person on earth but live in the wrong postcode; have the wrong occupation; be a certain age and premiums could rocket. A better system had to be found.

Enter black box insurance

The answer; put a recording device in every car which records how it is driven, for how long and at what time of day. If the records look good the premium goes down. Too many infractions and it goes up or cover is withdrawn completely. It hasn't quite worked out like that though.

There have been innumerable complaints where motorists have driven over potholes and these have been recorded as collisions. Driving through a tunnel has confused the built in sat navs resulting in incorrect accusations of speeding. Going under an underpass has resulted in the computer claiming the car was driven across the road above. Cars undergoing MOT tests have been recorded as braking or accelerating excessively. The result; hundreds of thousands of motorists have found their premiums increased, or even had policies cancelled.

Perhaps eventually hardware and software detection systems will improve so car insurance premiums can be worked out more accurately and no drivers will be unfairly refused car insurance. Or perhaps the self driving car will become a reality. Who knows.

Copyright © 2021 Phil Daniels