Random thoughts . . .

Consider the English language – a mixture of Teutonic, Latin and Greek. Recently I read “Mythos” by Stephen Fry; it’s a reader-friendly retelling of the Greek myths and I was astonished to see how many English words are Greek in origin. Any word beginning with ph, like phrase, photo, physical, and other words – grammar, geography, antiques, and millions more.

English is spoken all over the world now, second only to Spanish, and maybe Chinese? I’m not sure. But there is a lot of difference between English as spoken in Ireland, in Britain and in the United States. I sometimes think that if there was no communication at all between these countries for – say – a couple of centuries – each country would end up with a completely separate language. Because the words we use express how we think and what we believe, and we are all surely different.

Language grows and changes all the time anyway. The first poem (anonymous) in a poetry book I had at school goes as follows:

“Sumer is icumen in,

     Lhude sing cuccu!

Groweth sed, and bloweth med,

     And springeth the wude nu –

                                Sing cuccu!”

I have never forgotten it; I hear it in my head from time to time.

What about grammar? There are new verbs around – I seen for I saw; I done for I did; I should have went for I should have gone. And I hear eXpresso when the word is eSpresso, and eC cetera in place of eT cetera. I find these things terribly irritating but I know I am pedantic. And maybe I’m wrong; the point of language is to communicate so perhaps grammar and spelling and pronunciation aren’t that important.

On a lighter note, there are phrases I can’t get my head around. “She’s no better than she should be.” I know what it means – but I don’t get how those words in that order mean what they do. I take the sentence apart but it still escapes me. Another is “Put up or shut up.” I think about that one a lot. I wonder if other languages are like this. I speak Irish but not to the degree that I can examine it in detail.

And then there are double words, like – upset – how does the combination of up and set mean to be distressed? For-give; under-stand; for-get; and I’m sure there are many more like that.

These things puzzle me and I ponder them from time to time. That reminds me of the line from Alice in Wonderland – I’m not sure which character, the Mad Hatter maybe.

“I shall sit here off and on for days and days” – so deliciously ambivalent.

One thought on “Random thoughts . . .

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