Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Reflection on Yesterday's Post

Is English crazy? Sometimes.

However, I have really learned a lot from Wordcraft about our language and about linguistics. Indeed, I am now reading Ferdinand de Saussure, "Course in General Linguistics" for a Linguistics 101 course that we have opened on Wordcraft. Please feel free to join us as I seem to be the only student, though there are a number of excellent teachers!

The book itself has quite an interesting history. In 1906 Saussure began teaching a revolutionary course in linguistics. It was really from this course that structuralism developed and now has been applied to other areas, such as art, architecture, anthropology, economics, folklore, literary criticism, and philosophy. Saussure analyzed language as a formal system that revolved around the social use of verbal signs, rather than the real-time dialects. Saussure's students published the book, from their notes, after his death in 1913 (the book was published in 1916). It has become a seminal piece of literature for the study of linguistics.

While I am not finished with my study of Saussure yet (I've just started; join me!), it has already changed my thinking about language. The object of study for linguistics, according to Saussure, is the spoken language. The written language is merely a way to represent the spoken language. When you think of it that way, you can see why linguist are descriptivists and how that is truly the reality of language. Prescriptivists, while often helpful in fostering understanding, get too bogged down with the old ways of doing things. They surely aren't linguists or experts in language, at least according to Saussure.

How does this relate to yesterday's post? Well, language continually changes, so confusion is inevitable. Zmj, on Wordcraft, recommended that we do a total overhaul of spelling (orthography) every couple of hundred years or so. That sounds like a great idea to me. More on this tomorrow...(unless I get bogged down!)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Is English Crazy?

One of my friends, who knows I am a logophile, sent me this:

"Think English is Easy???

Can you read these right the first time?

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) The buck does funny things when the 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 or 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.

Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell? 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 .

And this UP is confusing: 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 can add UP to about thirty definitions. 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 awhile, things dry UP..."

Monday, August 18, 2008


Several of us in the aerobics class last Monday complained about the instructor tonight. Unsurprisingly, they've had similar reports before. Our regular instructor promised she'd let us know if that sub will ever be teaching so that we can cancel our class. I had already decided that if that sub were there tonight, I'd not stay.

For those of you who are limerick enthusiasts, today is the last day to enter the Washington Post Style Inivitational contest. Here is a link to it. Good luck! When they've posted the winners, I will post mine here. In the meantime, here is a DD I posted on Wordcraft:

Higgledy Piggledy
Cubs of Chicagoans,
Darlings on Addison,
Losing's their fate.

Fans are impatient cuz
Cubs haven't won it since

Thursday, August 14, 2008


It all started when I shared my last Blog entry with my ever-critical daughter ("Mom, your eyeshadow is too dark!"). She said she liked it, but that the word whippersnapper made me sound "over the hill." I suppose in one sense I am, but we won't go there.

So, I posted about it on Wordcraft, completely expecting to be exonerated on that one. Here is what "dear" zmj had to say:

"The stereotypical utterer of the word whippersnapper is a past-retirement age, crotchety-old man, upset with some below-voting age youngsters, and is said while shaking his fist at them or their retreating backs. Raspy, creaky voice is optional. Of course, anybody can use the word, it just may sound strange or have weird connotations."

Harsh! Others agreed that it is meant to describe only "young" people. One poster, indeed, said that the "youngsters" probably see me as 120 years old. Oh. my.

So after all of that, I finally decided to do what I should have done in the first place...look it up. Here is what the online entry says: ""an unimportant but offensively presumptuous person, esp. a young one." Now that is perfect! And, while it says, "esp. a young one," it surely doesn't make youth a prerequisite.

I do feel exonerated on this one. I believe I used it right! This lady was indeed an unimportant, persumptuous person. I am bad at guessing ages, but I'd say she was in her 30s. So there, Wordcraft!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Oh we think we know so much!

I had a fight with my aerobics teacher last night. Yep. Can't say that's happened before.

She was substituting, though I've had her before and don't remember her mood being that foul. She was crabbing at people for not trying hard enough, for not lifting our legs high enough or for not reaching our arms far enough back or for not using heavy enough weights. She said, "You've all been here for years now, and you must try harder!" We raised our eyebrows to each other, but no one commented. On and on she went, relentlessly.

Then it came. This skinny (though none too cute!) little whippersnapper said, "How do you want to die? On a hospital bed like Bernie Mac or like Issac Hayes, who was standing near a treadmill?" She went on to say how Bernie Mac died because he didn't exercise or eat right or live a healthy life. She was laughing and insinuating that if we didn't do better, we'd die just like Bernie Mac. Now I don't know Bernie's medical history, but I do know he had sarcoidosis, which is a rare autoimmune disease that attacks the lungs, and indeed he died of pneumonia. As a faculty member I conducted research on lung transplant patients, some of whom had sarcoidosis. Further, I cannot stand when people make judgments about people's health status. We all have different genes and issues, and it is not up to others to "judge" what someone could have done to have prevented death. I've seen health care providers walk up to a patient dying of lung cancer and the first thing out of his/her mouth was, "Did you smoke?!" It's too late for those sorts of judgments.

But I digress. Back to my story. I couldn't help but speak up at this point. Remember, I'd been slow boiling through this whole class (most aerobics instructers there are excellent). I said, "Well he had sarcoidosis!" She then argued with me that he really died of his gluttony (she knows his medical history?). I explained that sarcoidosis can be quite serious, and she had the audacity of saying, "I read about 'sarcoidosis' today, and it's mainly found in Blacks who neglect their health." She'd read about it??? Where? On Wikipedia? What balderdash! Here is a brief description for those who aren't in the medical fields. That was it. I pulled out the heavy ammunition. Normally I don't brag about my background, but she deserved it. "I have conducted research on patients with lung transplants," I told her. "Some of them were patients with sarcoidosis, so it really is quite serious! It is an autoimmune disease with an unknown etiology, and it most certainly is not caused from an unhealthy lifestyle!" I have to say, this know-it-all did quiet down after my diatribe.

I don't know what Bernie Mac's (or Isaac Hayes's for that matter) actual cause of death was. But for her to assume it was due to lifestyle is just beyond me. The worst part is, besides teaching aeorobics, she is a home health care aide. I'd not want her caring for any of my patients!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Is Spelling More Important than Grammar?

We've had an interesting discussion on Wordcraft, where the linguist gurus seem to think it's far more important to have spelling standards than grammar standards. We've had great discussions for years on how communication is understood even though there are grammar errors. We've laughed at Truss and Strunk & White, and I've made a 180 degree turnaround about my views on grammar (I used to recommend Strunk & White to my college students!). Now, though, I am hearing how important spelling standards are with communication. Yes, they are important in formal communication, I agree. But so are grammar standards. Yet, when one texts or uses hip-hop lyrics is spelling any more important than grammar for understanding the communication?

Perhaps the answer is that creative spelling slows down the communication. For instance, Bob says, "Youer argewmend iz perfickly tru, ahn thee uthah harnd yu cannut deeneye thart thiziz harduh tew reed than these last few words are." Yet misplaced phrases or the wrong use of a comma surely can cloud the clarity of sentences.

Are spelling standards more important than grammar standards? Can you be a prescriptivist with spelling but a descriptivist with grammar? That's what I am seeing.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

One by One...

One by one, people are learning about epicaricacy. And, as you can see from my comment on this Live Journal entry, I continue to keep the public educated on the roots of the word. It's not easy, but someone has to do it!

I have been out of commission in the last few weeks (work!) and have neglected my Blog, I am afraid. I am impressed by those who can post intellectual entries every day!