Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The English Language

I once read a piece by William Safire in which he complained about the use of the phrase "from whence," which is wrong because "whence" means "from where," and about the phrase "it boggles the mind," which is wrong because "boggle is an intransitive verb, so the proper usage is "the mind boggles."

These have always stuck with, as have other examples of misuse of words.  But this recent (unattributed) email I saw takes the criticism of the foibles of the English language to a whole new level:

You think English is easy???

Read to the end . . . a new twist

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.

2) The farm was used to produce produce.

3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

4) We must polish the Polish furniture.

5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.

6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.

8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

10) I did not object to the object.

11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.

13) They were too close to the door to close it.

14) A buck does funny things when does are present.

15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.

17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.

19) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

20) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

Let's face it - English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't invented in England nor French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat. We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? One index, 2 indices? Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell? Park on a driveway and drive on a parkway?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which, an alarm goes off by going on.

English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all. That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

PS. - Why doesn't 'Buick' rhyme with 'quick' ?


You lovers of the English language might enjoy this:

There is a two-letter word that perhaps has more meanings than any other two-letter word, and that is 'UP'.

It's easy to understand 'UP', meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake 'UP'?
At a meeting, why does a topic come 'UP'?
Why do we speak 'UP' and why are the officers 'UP' for election and why is it 'UP' to the secretary to write 'UP' a report?
We call 'UP' our friends.
And we use it to brighten 'UP' a room, polish 'UP' the silver; we warm 'UP' the leftovers and clean 'UP' the kitchen.
We lock 'UP' the house and some guys fix 'UP' the old car.
At other times the little word has real special meaning.
People stir 'UP' trouble, line 'UP' for tickets, work 'UP' an appetite, and think 'UP' excuses.
To be dressed is one thing, but to be dressed 'UP' is special.
A drain must be opened 'UP' because it is stopped 'UP'.
We open 'UP' a store in the morning but we close it 'UP' at night.

We seem to be pretty mixed 'UP' about 'UP'!
To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of 'UP', look the word 'UP' in the dictionary.
In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes 'UP' almost 1/4th of the page and you can come 'UP' to about thirty definitions, and, if you are 'UP' to it, you might try building 'UP' a list of the many ways 'UP' is used.
It will take 'UP' a lot of your time, but if you don't give 'UP', you may wind 'UP' with a hundred or more.
When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding 'UP'.
When the sun comes out we say it is clearing 'UP'.
When it rains, it wets the earth and often messes things 'UP'.
When it doesn't rain for a while, things dry 'UP'.

One could go on and on, but I'll wrap it 'UP'.

For now my time is 'UP', so........it is time to shut 'UP'!

Now it's 'UP' to you what you do with this email.

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