(Posted By Evan)
Bryson discusses in Chapter 5 the rich vocabulary and extra shades of meaning in the English language, to the point of unnecessary synonyms (such as sternutation for sneezing) and redundancies (various different). On the other hand we seem to be missing terms for things we should have (like the positive of 'incorrigible') or pack multiple meanings into words (polysemous) such as fine (fine art, fine gold, a fine edge, feeling fine, fine hair, and a court fine").
He then lists six ways that words are formed.
1. BY ERROR.
He lists typographical errors, mistranslations and mishearings of words that stuck. This made me think of Rickyism’s for any Trailer Park Boys fans out there. (Language warning!)
I often use the word “lase” which I define as (v.) to emit laser light. This is an example of a ‘back-formation,’ discussed in the same section. A laser is (n.) a device that emits ‘laser light’. It’s actually an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission Radiation. It’s a historical convert from the MASER (M is for microwave). The R is completely redundant because Stimulated Emission is always Radiation so it could have just been MASE and LASE. “Laser” sounds more like a noun though, huh?
Laser light is fundamentally different from natural light, as different as a liquid is from a solid. A laser is not a light (or lamp), it’s a source of ‘laser light’. But a laser will not emit ‘laser light’ unless it is properly aligned. I’ve been trying to revive an old laser lately, so my reports to my boss recently have included sentences like, “I spent some time trying to get the laser to lase but it’s still not lasing.”
2. BY ADOPTION.
Interesting ones in this section are how words may come through multiple paths and arrive at the same time to give us pairs like "catch and chase, cave and cage, amiable and amicable". Also the doublets that are of half native - half foreign such as eyes/ocular ".. mouth/oral, book/literary.." or of two different Latin adjective forms ("earthly and terrestrial, motherly and maternal, timely and temporal").
3. BY CREATION.
Hats off to Shakespeare. He created some 1700 words or more, over 10% of the words he used, he made up. Now that's a writer.
4. BY DOING NOTHING.
This one was weak because there mainly just changes in connotation, but this was good boner joking.
(p. 81) Sometimes the changing connotations of a word can give a new and startling sense to literary passages, as in The Mayor of Casterbridge, where Thomas Hardy has one of his characters gaze upon "the unattractive exterior of Frafrae's erection" or in Bleak House, where Dickens writes that "Sir Leicester leans back in his chair, and breathlessly ejaculates."
5. BY ADDING OR SUBTRACTING.
I liked Bryson's point about how we can run roughshod with prefixes and suffixes and still make it sound pretty like taking the root word of hen and making incomprehensibility out of in, -com-, -pre-, -s-, -ib-, -il-, -it-, and -y.
Pronunciation is hard. I think Chapter 6 and 7 are probably best read aloud, in order to appreciate the differences in pronunciations Bryson is highlighting here (such as the "ng" sound in bring versus sing or the "th" sound in mouth, mouth, thigh, and thy). I did not subject my fellow UTA bus riders to this experiment, however. In addition, to these more formal intricacies, we are subjected to slurs. By which I mean Bryson talks about tendencies to slur words. The Baltimoron-ese is the pinnacle! I knew we were the best at something!
I never really had the accent and lost any trace I may have had. But ask me to say 'Orioles' and you might catch a hint. But the video below does a great job because this guy learned to correct his accent so he can switch in and out of it. When he is in it, he sounds just like my Uncle. This brings me to uncontrollable tears of laughter, I hope it does the same for you. Enjoy!
Between a dialect, a pronunciation, a creole, a pidgin, and a language I am now lost. But at least got to learn about Gullah or Geechee.
This YouTube page called Wikitongues is cool. You can find an example of someone speaking just about any language there. Here is Gullah – it's subtle, so I recommend watching the whole thing.
Spelling is hard too. This was my favorite part from Ch. 8.
(p. 130) In The English Language[page 91], Robert Burchfield, called by William Safire the "world's most influential lexicographer," talks about grammatical prescriptivists who regard "innovation as dangerous or at any rate resistable." It should be resistible. ...And in The Treasure of Our Tongue, Lincoln Barnett laments the decline of spelling noting: "An English examination at New Jersey's Farleigh Dickinson University disclosed that less than one quarter of the freshmen class could spell professor correctly." I wonder, for my part, how many of them could spell freshman class.
A quiz then follows to see if we can determine which of a list of words are mispelled. I got about half of them right.
(p. 131) So was misspelled at the end of the preceeding paragraph. So was preceding just there. I'm sorry, I'll stop.
Anyway, what this blog post needs is another YouTube video. Happy Saturday!