The oldest (known) words in the English language are, as you might expect, “building block words” – words that reflecting key elements in any developing human society. All of the ones we’ve listed here originate on or before 900AD.
The word I is the ultimate personal pronoun, referring to oneself. This word can be dated reliably to back to before the year 900. It makes sense that this should be one of the oldest words in English because humans will always need to refer to themselves. Self-identity was and always will be important. . Previous to this Old English would have used ic, ih
We, the nominative plural of I, indicating possession, was created at the same time as our previous word. We is used to denote oneself and another, or multiple others. Previous to this Old English would have used wē
Interestingly enough, black is another one of the earliest words in our language. Defined as “lacking hue and brightness; absorbing light without reflecting any of the rays composing it,” a simpler explanation might explain why this word was created so long ago: “simply the absence of colour.” . Previous to this Old English would have used blæc
Another key “building block” word in any society especially when you understand that this word supports the idea that the concept of “family” and therefore goes back thousands of years. For all this time, there’s been a way to describe the person who brought you into the world. Previous to this Old English would have used mōdor
Before we knew how to classify it, cooperation was a building block of human society, and it still is. It’s clear that when people don’t work together, tensions arise and little gets accomplished. A lesson to remember from our ancestors. Previous to this Old English would have used gefan, giefan
Basic gender ientifiers were obviously the key foundational words of the English language. Previous to this Old English would have used man(n) and wīfman (equivalent to wīf female + man human being)
Another of those most basic of essential concepts ‘fire’. This word’s creation was probably inherent to survival. Fire giving us the benefits of light, warmth, and a sense of security. Previous to this Old English would have used fȳr
People long ago identified what was at the end of each arm, before the year 900 to be exact. And, when you inevitably burn your hand by holding your dinner over that fire, you need a term to explain what part of your body hurts, too.
The concept of mathematics stretches back through the centuries. Basic ways to communicate amounts had to be devised in any early civilization. Makes sense for farming, planning, hunting, and gathering purposes. Previous to this Old English would have used ān, twā and thrēo or thrīo
This one is a bit of a surprise. Spit, obviously meaning “to eject saliva from the mouth; expectorate” is a little older than the others in our list a was probably created before the year 950. Clearly humans must have long needed a way to explain how to get that icky taste out of their mouths. Previous to this Old English would have used spittan
This word is included due to its relation to building or construction. Again it’s a little older than the others in our list and can be dated to before 1000AD. We’re sure humans had to pull a lot of wood, animals, stones, and so on in order to build communities and shelters. Previous to this Old English would have used pullian
The age of this wriggly little word proves we’ve had a way to talk about these rather innocuous, low-profile creatures for a long, long time. But, not nearly as long as they’ve been around. Previous to this Old English would have used wyrm
|The Evolution of the English Language|
|How Far Back in Time Could an English Speaker Go and Still Understand the Language ?|
|English Language History : What Caused the Great Vowel Shift?|