If you've always considered yourself more of a word nerd than a history buff, then the Norman Conquest might be way off your radar. But when William, Duke of Normandy, conquered England in 1066, the political enterprise had linguistic implications: the English lexicon would never be the same.
William had almost certainly been chosen as successor by the English king 15 years prior to the conquest, but that didn't stop the king from choosing someone else for the throne on his deathbed. That someone else was a powerful earl whom William eventually routed. The Norman Conquest, as William's takeover came to be known, set off many changes in English culture, including its language. William put French-speaking Normans in nearly all of the positions of power in the country, and the result was the disappearance of vernacular English from the written record for about two centuries. Meanwhile, English got Frenchified. French words—mostly Anglo-French words as we call the particular kind of Medieval French used in England—dominated the language of literature, law, and administration. Many of these dominating terms have stuck around.
In modern English, it's often the more formal- and fancy-sounding words that have the French pedigree—evidence of the prestige bestowed on the language. What follows is a list of pairs of words with similar meanings, each with a pre-Conquest and post-Conquest member. So grab a croissant and read on.