Date: 26/11/2020
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Anglo-Saxon attitudes

Isn't it annoying when the Word grammar checker tells you to "consider revising" a perfectly good sentence? This tedious little tool can check for something called the "fog factor":

The grammar checker assess two key factors in a given passage: the length of the sentences and the number of polysyllabic words-words of three syllables or more.  The longer the sentences and the more polysyllabic words in a passage, the higher the reading level.   And the more difficult it is to read.

Passing your proposal sections through the grammar checker will give you immediate feedback.  If the number you get back is, say 15 (a college junior), then you know you either have longer sentences of more difficult words (probably both) than you need to get a reading level of 10.

 A reading level of 10 is what we should aim at, apparently. Perhaps we should follow the example of Spinal Tap, and go "one simpler" - a reading level of 9. No, let's not. Let's go for a real linguistic pea souper - hover in the fog and filthy air. 

The Spectator's Dot Wordsworth, who uses big words like "gerundive", would have little time for the fog factor. However, she has found a website that analyses your English - this one checks how Anglo-Saxon you are:

A company called Optimum has written drawing attention to a website it runs which analyses passages of writing and highlights the words that come from Old English in blue. Very pretty. They have posted up some examples from famous writers free at ‘Surviving words from Old English have a special power to communicate,’ says their introductory blurb. ‘Great writers, especially poets, have always understood this.’

By Optimum’s analysis, Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four takes 74.2 per cent of its words from Old English, only a nose ahead of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice at 74.1 per cent. The percentage for Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is 76.9, compared to 78.3 percent for Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and 78.4 per cent for a helping of T.S. Eliot’s poetry. But no one would reckon ‘Prufrock’ simpler than A Christmas Carol.

Nineteen Eighty-Four scored as low as 74.2 per cent because words such as April, clocks, effort, escape, slipped, vile, prevent and swirl do not come from Old English. Swirl may come from Low German, but the point is that the prose could scarcely be plainer. No word is simpler than clock for the object denoted. It just happens to come from mediaeval Latin, which might have borrowed it from Celtic.

Optimum's website is here. You can analyse up to 120 words of your own writing. My words in this post are 67.9% Old English, but the one I made earlier today was 78.6%. I am reluctant to draw any conclusions about this, however, since the extract below was found to contain only 17.65% Old English:

Hwæt! We Gardena     in geardagum,
þeodcyninga,     þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas     ellen fremedon.
Oft Scyld Scefing     sceaþena þreatum,
monegum mægþum,     meodosetla ofteah,
egsode eorlas.     Syððan ærest wearð
feasceaft funden,     he þæs frofre gebad,
weox under wolcnum,     weorðmyndum þah,
oðþæt him æghwylc     þara ymbsittendra