Wednesday, 2 October 2013

What a wonderful language

I suppose laguages other than English have their oddities such as giving inanimate objects a gender (How can a window be feminine?  It's too easy to see through.) but English most certainly has its quirks.  Or perhaps I am using too broad a brush and it is not so much the language that has the quirks as the way in which it is used by those whose mother tongue it is.  For example, what on earth could have caused somebody to come up with the phrase "right as rain" to describe something good?  I suppose if one lived in a place where there was an almost permanent drought the phrase might have some meaning.  But in England?  A similar phrase is "as right as ninepence".  What does ninepence have to do with the price of fish?  Of course, "the price of fish" (or sometimes tea) is simply a substitute for, well, anything, really.  Just another of those odd sayings that seem to have no meaning at all.  Like describing a bad-tempered person as a bear with a sore head.  And we link both rain and animals in the phrase "raining cats and dogs".

One can, perhaps, understand how some phrases have come into use.  A long wait for something would seem to be as long as "until the cows come home" to a farm worker centuries ago, although I have noticed cows congregating by a gate when they realise that it is getting close to the time for something, feeding or milking or whatever.

Some people say that English is the richest language in the world.  This opinion is based upon the fact that we have so many synonyms and near synonyms, words that describe exactly various different nuances.  Some of our words are derived from Latin-based languages, some from Greek, and some from Teutonic or Scandinavian sources.

Given the vast richness of the modern English language, it seems to me a great shame that so few of our youngsters can use even the smallest fraction of what is available to them.  OK, so it's not only the young who are so poor at communicating, it's something that afflicts all ages and probably has done for many centuries.  But why do so many people think it big and manly to sprinkle Anglo-Saxon sexual terms so liberally in every sentence they utter?  I remember my old scoutmaster suggesting that this was not such a good idea.  "What," he asked, "do you say when you get really angry?"

And then there are the "just a moment, I need to think" words.  "I mean, like, my mouth, like, is running, I mean, faster than my brain, like."

"Milton! Thou shouldst be living at this hour."  Or perhaps not.


With the "real" autumn approaching, there are signs that leaves are changing colour and the first are falling.  This is a view in Stanmer Great Wood.


The Broad said...

Like I wish they could outlaw the word 'like' like... It would be so 'cool' if they could do that!

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip, said...

You won't get an argument here.