hoep Everyone loves words, whether they know it or not. Even the least educated, literate or not, take pleasure in wordplay, creating and repeating slang, slogans, puns, doggerel rhymes, sarcastic quips, nicknames; man is the talking animal par excellence.

Most of us do this as second nature, oblivious of the long, weird, colourful history of English, once an obscure tongue evolving in a remote and primitive island but now virtually a global lingua franca — what linguists call a vehicular language.

But note that I’ve used one French and one Italian expression; English just adopted them, as it has so many words and phrases from other languages. Many more, though, have been fused invisibly from languages as diverse as Persian, Hindi and Inuit into a colossal and always growing vocabulary.

It’s a marvellous story and it’s been told over and over again in a myriad books, from the informal — Bill Bryson’s Mother Tongue, for example — to the more solid, like David Crystal’s Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language and determinedly recondite books, such as Eric Partridge’s Origins.

But the sheer volume of the reading necessary for the full story, not to mention the expense of all those books, is daunting.

The web comes to your assistance with a peculiar bastard of a neologism: a podcast.

It’s the History of English podcast

History of English podcast
and it cannot be recommended too highly, whether you’re a high-powered pedant or you have only a mild curiosity about why we talk the way we do.

As befits the subject, it has been executed on a grand scale; with 39 episodes of up to an hour’s duration, at the time of writing, its creator, Kevin Stroud, has not yet reached the time of the Norman invasion.

He has done this without being dull, stuffy or terribly technical, in a relaxed, conversational style that still manages to convey the complexity and the sheer weirdness of English and its origins.

The History of English podcast website shows that he has a lively community of fans. You can subscribe to the podcast from the site or via iTunes. It’s free, but well worth the modest donation he suggests.