The Inkhorn Controversy

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The Inkhorn Controversy

  • In the Early Modern period, writers like Christopher Marlowe, Edmund Spenser and Sir Philip Sidney borrowed words from the classical languages like Latin and Greek
  • Extensive use was made of processes like compunding (e.g. 'tragicomedy', 'thermometer') and conversion (e.g. 'essay', 'season')
  • Prefixation (e.g. 'nonsense', 'ampitheatre') and suffixation (e.g. 'relaxation', 'alienate') were also commonplace
  • These new words became known as 'inkhorn' terms, a word that refers to the inkwells of the writers, and controversy raged over their use
  • Some writers complained about the addition of foreign words, seeing it as helping to create an unnecessarily large and unwieldy language
  • They adopted a prescriptivist and even purist viewpoint
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