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beholding

Uncleftish Beholding

Uncleftish Beholding is a short text written by Poul Anderson. It is written using almost exclusively words of Germanic origin, and was intended to illustrate what the English language might look like if it had not received its considerable number of loanwords from other languages, particularly Latin and Greek.

The text is about basic atomic theory and relies on a number of word coinings, many of which have analogues in modern German. The title "uncleftish beholding" calques "atomic theory". The text begins:

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 physics).

The text does not completely derive from the vocabulary of the Anglo-Saxons: it uses 'around' and 'round' in several cases. This may have been an accident, but since English has no surviving descendants or relicts of ymbe (cognate to German um), Anderson may have realized that his only alternative to this Romance loan was laborious circumlocution. And "stuff" itself is from Old French.

The text gained increased exposure and popularity when 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."

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