Excerpt from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Your language is not your own. The words you speak have been borrowed, modified, and molded by the forces of linguistic evolution. And the sentences they form are not so much “English” as they are a shapeshifting hodgepodge of different languages that have intersected with English over the years.
Not that many of us would ever know it. Sure, the etymologies and histories of many words may only be a dictionary-reference away, but few of us have the time or inclination to investigate where these words — let alone entire sentences — actually come from.
Unless, of course, you’re Mike Kinde, who maintains the ridiculously enthralling data visualization blog Ideas Illustrated. Looking to better understand the role of foreign words in his day-to-day use of the English language, Kinde whipped up a program that would allow him to actually see precisely that:
Using Douglas Harper’s online dictionary of etymology, I paired up words from various passages I found online with entries in the dictionary. For each word, I pulled out the first listed language of origin and then re-constructed the text with some additional HTML infrastructure. The HTML would allow me to associate each word (or word fragment) with a color, title, and hyperlink to a definition.