Anglo-Saxon is a term with several, related, meanings.
- Anglo-Saxon is often used to mean what AWE calls Old English - the form(s) of English spoken from the beginnings in the 4th century until after the Norman Conquest of 1066. In this loose usage, it refers to any of the dialects spoken by the newcomers to Britain who belonged to the tribes of the Angles, Saxons or Jutes.
- It is also used to refer to peoples of British origin who claim the same culture and many links: Britain, the USA, Australia and New Zealand can all claim to be 'Anglo-Saxon countries'.
- In some areas, it is unfortunately used as a codeword for 'ethnically European'. In other areas, the prejudice this shows is in opposition to 'Mediterranean'.
- Similarly, it can be "Used for ‘the English language’ ... freq. with the implication ‘plain, unvarnished, forthright’. colloq" (OED).
- this 'plain unvarnished' implication is probably why Anglo-Saxon is sometimes used as a euphemism for indecent words, or swearing.
Anglo-Saxon is still a common term, and was once the orthodox label for what we call Old English; but specialists in the history of language find it ambiguous. They prefer to use it for the dialect of the Saxon language spoken by those Saxons who had settled in England, distinguishing these from the 'Old Saxons' who remained in what was to become Germany. (There are still two Lander, or constituent states of the Federal Republic of Germany, with 'Saxony' in their names: the Free State of Saxony (Freistaat Sachsen) and Saxony-Anhalt (Sachsen-Anhalt).) On the other hand, OED says "In this Dictionary, the language of England before 1100 is called, as a whole, ‘Old English’ (OE.); Anglo-Saxon, when used, is restricted to the Saxon as distinguished from the Anglian dialects of Old English".
One of the key texts to illustrate Old English is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. This is a collection of short records (a few sentences) of each year since it was started, in Winchester during the reign of King Alfred the Great (871 - 899). Further entries were made in subsequent years, ending, in the case of the Peterborough version (the longest continued manuscript), in 1154. Some say that the last entry to be written in Old English was in 1131, and that the section covering 1132–1154 is in Middle English; but perhaps the disagreement serves to point out the gradual nature of language change.