The French cannot do pop music. Everybody knows this except the French. I once met a fellow who had a theory to explain this gallic failure. He said that all the best pop songs have Germanic lyrics.
English is basically made up of Germanic words like need or house and Latinate words like require and habitation. This fellow assured me that the lyrics to Yesterday were entirely Germanic in origin. This is not true. The words in bold are, ultimately, Latinate.
All my troubles seemed so far away;
Now it looks as though they're here to stay.
O, I believe in yesterday.
There's a shadow hanging over me;
I'm not half the man I used to be.
O, yesterday came suddenly.
Why she had to go,
I don't know
She wouldn't say.
I said something wrong,
Now I long
Love was such an easy game to play;
Now I need a place to hide away.
O, I believe in yesterday.
That's only seven Latinate words out of 84*. By contrast, I just went through the main news story on the BBC website and thirty of the first hundred words were Latinate. I then tried Sonnet 18 which scored fifteen out of 104.
It is well known that you can prove anything, everything and nothing with statistics. However, I think that this theory holds a little water.
Of the seven Latinate words in Yesterday none of them sound particularly Latin. There are no -ations and no -ities. I had always assumed that trouble was Germanic and had never connected it with turbulare. Sudden, which ultimately comes from sub-ire, meaning go up to, has lost the B that made the derivation obvious, and now finishes with a German-sounding -en.
Some words have become so Anglified that they can be re-imported: use and utility, trouble and turbulence. So, that score of 92% Germanic underestimates the effect. I reckon the the chap was technically wrong, but effectively right.
And the cause? I can think of two reasons.
1) The more basic the concept, the more likely it is to be expressed by a Germanic word. That's because the Anglo-Saxons were here before the Normans. They got to name love and hate, while the Frenchies could only Christen attraction and disinclination.
2) Germanic words sound better for pop songs. The consonants are harder. Germanic words thud and bang about, while Latinate terminologies expire in languorous confusion.
I have never believed in Fowler's dictum that the Anlgo-Saxon word should always be preferred to the Latinate. Nor do I imagine for one second that Paul McCartney was consulting an etymological dictionary as he wrote. If he had been I doubt he would have got anywhere at all. I don't know how many conclusions you can draw from this tiny sample, I just find it interesting.
Oh, and if you were wondering (and I'm sure you weren't), hesternal means of or pertaining to yesterday. Indeed, the song could usefully be renamed Hesternopathia, which means "yearning for yesterday". With a name like that, it wouldn't have needed any lyrics at all.
*Not counting repeats
P.S. If I were an academic I would now repeat the process with every Beatles single. Thank God I am not an academic. This is an observation and not a study. Anybody making sarcastic comments about Michelle or the early Kylie hit Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi will be shot.