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Word for the Wise December 15, 2006 Broadcast Topic: Terms of 1791

The Bill of Rights, which guarantees to the American people certain fundamental rights and privileges, became effective 215 years ago today, on December 15th, 1791. While we Americans may think of the Bill of Rights as peculiarly American, the development of those rights and privileges owes a debt to (among others) the Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights, and the writings of numerous philosophers. (来源:专业英语学习网站 http://www.EnglishCN.com)

Today we celebrate the ratification of the Bill of Rights with a look at some of the terms that share its birth year.

We begin with a few apt political phrases: due process, human rights, and Independence Day all date to 1791. So do the all-American (that is, from Native American languages) pemmican and coontie.

But, like the Bill of Rights and the United States itself, other words that joined our language (and that date to 1791) claim some linguistic ancestry from other cultures. Magnum opus comes directly from Latin and pot-au-feu from French; rutabaga recognizes some Swedish ancestry while tam-o’shanter tips its hat to the Scottish Robbie Burns.

We’ll end with two words whose origins transcend language: willet and chuck-will’s-widow. Those bird names come not from other languages, but are imitative in origin; they come from the sounds of the birds themselves.

 
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