Here's How Far You'd Have to Go Back For English to Stop Making Sense

Language is evolving all the time. Describing something as naughty, awful, or terrific a couple centuries ago had very different connotations from what we now see today. And just as words (or non-words) are constantly popping up that would have meant nothing in the not-so-distant past, older parts of our language are also disappearing for good.

This video from the history-focused YouTube channel YesterVid explores how far back in time modern English-speakers would have to travel for their own language to become something they wouldn't recognize. Aside from not being able to understand some outdated slang terms, it wouldn't be too difficult to get by in the 18th and 19th centuries with the language skills we have now. The Great Vowel Shift took place during the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries, so while you still would have been able to recognize a lot words of the time, understanding their pronunciation would have been half the battle. (You have this confusing period to thank for the different pronunciations of "ea" in words like "knead," "bread," and "great.")

Though conversing with fellow English speakers would have been a struggle prior to 1400, it's not until the turn of the first millennium that English might as well have been another language altogether. You can watch the full video above and subscribe to YesterVid for more history-filled content.

[h/t Gizmodo]

Header/banner images courtesy of YesterVid via YouTube.

By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Photo of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, Purchased for $10, Could Be Worth Millions
By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Several years ago, Randy Guijarro paid $2 for a few old photographs he found in an antiques shop in Fresno, California. In 2015, it was determined that one of those photos—said to be the second verified picture ever found of Billy the Kid—could fetch the lucky thrifter as much as $5 million. That story now sounds familiar to Frank Abrams, a lawyer from North Carolina who purchased his own photo of the legendary outlaw at a flea market in 2011. It turns out that the tintype, which he paid $10 for, is thought to be an image of Billy and Pat Garrett (the sheriff who would eventually kill him) taken in 1880. Like Guijarro’s find, experts say Abrams’s photo could be worth millions.

The discovery is as much a surprise to Abrams as anyone. As The New York Times reports, what drew Abrams to the photo was the fact that it was a tintype, a metal photographic image that was popular in the Wild West. Abrams didn’t recognize any of the men in the image, but he liked it and hung it on a wall in his home, which is where it was when an Airbnb guest joked that it might be a photo of Jesse James. He wasn’t too far off.

Using Google as his main research tool, Abrams attempted to find out if there was any famous face in that photo, and quickly realized that it was Pat Garrett. According to The New York Times:

Then, Mr. Abrams began to wonder about the man in the back with the prominent Adam’s apple. He eventually showed the tintype to Robert Stahl, a retired professor at Arizona State University and an expert on Billy the Kid.

Mr. Stahl encouraged Mr. Abrams to show the image to experts.

William Dunniway, a tintype expert, said the photograph was almost certainly taken between 1875 and 1880. “Everything matches: the plate, the clothing, the firearm,” he said in a phone interview. Mr. Dunniway worked with a forensics expert, Kent Gibson, to conclude that Billy the Kid and Mr. Garrett were indeed pictured.

Abrams, who is a criminal defense lawyer, described the process of investigating the history of the photo as akin to “taking on the biggest case you could ever imagine.” And while he’s thrilled that his epic flea market find could produce a major monetary windfall, don’t expect to see the image hitting the auction block any time soon. 

"Other people, they want to speculate from here to kingdom come,” Abrams told The New York Times of how much the photo, which he has not yet had valuated, might be worth. “I don’t know what it’s worth. I love history. It’s a privilege to have something like this.”

[h/t: The New York Times]

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