Learning Italian has increased my English vocabulary too!
I consider myself to have an adequate, if not decent English vocabulary (I better, it’s my native language!).
I have noticed though that the words on the tip of my tongue vary with my environment. In grad school I had a nerdy vernacular in my everyday speech, and could drone on effortlessly about topics like “contextualized linguistic input.”
Once I started teaching English to absolute beginners, I had to simplify my speech and slow it way down. Outside of the classroom, I found myself searching for words that used to come so easily.
But sometimes Italians stump me. They say a word that sounds like it could be an English word, but that I’ve never heard in my entire life.
I’m embarrassed to say, sometimes I have to look up these words in the dictionary, like servile, for example. It sounds close enough to servant, but I have never ever heard this word.
According to Merriam-Webster, servile means “very obedient and trying too hard to please someone.” And of course, it has Latin origins. (Italians, you have the Latin advantage for knowing all of those fancy English words!)
How do you say servile in Italian? Servile. But of course.
I wanted to dig deeper into this new word. Why haven’t I ever heard it before? I recently discovered (from an Italian) this amazing tool from Google: the Ngram Viewer. It searches Google books and displays the frequency of word usage over time in a nice little graph (you can even compare multiple words too).
So, as you can see, servile was most popular in the 1800’s, but it looks like it’s making a slight comeback. 😀