Hesternopathia and why French pop music is crap….


The French cannot do pop music. Everybody knows this except the French. I recently met a fellow in my local pub who had a theory to explain this gallic failure. He said that all the best pop songs have Germanic lyrics.

English is basically made up of Germanic words like need or house and Latinate words like require and habitation. This fellow assured me that the lyrics to Yesterday were entirely Germanic in origin. This is not true. The words in bold are, ultimately, Latinate.

All my troubles seemed so far away;
Now it looks as though they’re here to stay.
O, I believe in yesterday.

There’s a shadow hanging over me;
I’m not half the man I used to be.
O, yesterday came suddenly.

Why she had to go,
I don’t know
She wouldn’t say.
I said something wrong,
Now I long
For yesterday.

Love was such an easy game to play;
Now I need a place to hide away.
O, I believe in yesterday.

That’s only seven Latinate words out of 84.. By contrast, whilst waiting for the kettle to boil, I went through the main news story on the Guardian website and thirty of the first hundred words were Latinate. I then tried Sonnet 18 which scored fifteen out of 104 (note to myself- I really must get out more).

It is well known that you can prove anything, everything and nothing with statistics. However, I think that this theory holds a little water.

Of the seven Latinate words in Yesterday none of them sound particularly Latin. There are no -ations and no -ities. I had always assumed that trouble was Germanic and had never connected it with turbulare. Sudden, which ultimately comes from sub-ire, meaning go up to, has lost the B that made the derivation obvious, and now finishes with a German-sounding -en.

But why?

I can think of two reasons.

1) The more basic the concept, the more likely it is to be expressed by a Germanic word. That’s because the Anglo-Saxons were here before the Normans. They got to name love and hate, while the Frenchies could only Christen attraction and disinclination.

2) Germanic words sound better for pop songs. The consonants are harder. Germanic words thud and bang about, while Latinate terminologies expire in languorous confusion.

And finally, if you were wondering (and I’m sure you weren’t), hesternal means of or pertaining to yesterday. Indeed, the song could usefully be renamed Hesternopathia, which means “yearning for yesterday”.

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