“Because it’s English, of course…!”


Have you ever stopped to think how many linguistic danger zones, masquerading as nuances, exist in the English language?

There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger, and 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.

It’s easy to take English for granted, especially for native speakers. However, if we explore its paradoxes, and think twice (or even three times) about some of the words we use, we may find ourselves scratching our heads.

Just think about it. Quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square, and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig. Writers write but fingers don't “fing”, grocers don't “groce” and hammers don't “ham”.

The plural of tooth is teeth, but the plural of booth is not “beeth”. Likewise, one plus one goose make two geese, so one plus one moose should make two… meese… right?

Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend, or that you comb through annals of history but not a single annal? 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 don't preachers “praught”? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?

Only in English 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

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

Because it’s English, of course!

 

Are you sure – 100%, pinky-square sure – that your translator understands important details like these…?

How can overlook and oversee be opposites, while quite a lot and quite a few are alike?

How can the weather be hot as hell one day, and cold as hell another?

Have you noticed that we talk about certain things only when they are absent? Have you ever seen a “horseful” carriage or a “strapful” gown? No, of course not. We are only familiar with “horseless” and “strapless”.

Have you ever met a “sung hero” or experienced “requited love”? Have you ever run into someone who was “combobulated”, “gruntled”, “ruly” or “peccable”?

Where are all those people who are spring chickens, or who actually would hurt a fly?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, you fill in a form by filling it out, and an alarm goes off by going on.

English was invented by people, not computers, and it is in a constant state of evolution – more so now than ever before, thanks to an “interconnected” world. Like all languages, English reflects the creativity of the human race (which, of course, isn't a race at all). That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

And why, when I wind up my watch, do I start it, but when I wind up this essay, I end it.

Edited and published by Come Alive Communications Inc.
©Copyright 2015 Linguists Everywhere