The Punctuation of Pretzels

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The following story appeared in my Google Alerts update this week, and – after careful consideration – I decided I just had to throw in my two-penn’orth.

http://tiny.cc/20ozmy

Basically, a columnist wants the company to remove the apostrophe from their sign. On the face of it, I agreed at first, but then realised it wasn’t quite as clear-cut as it seems.

How many boys are there? That must be the nub of the question. If there are more than one, then – yes – the apostrophe needs some amendment. But…should it be removed altogether or simply placed after the word boys?

This establishment could be one, singular, boy’s shop. It could be several, plural, boys’ shop. Or, Pretzel Boys could simply be the title of the business.

Think of The Fabulous Bakin’ Boys. bakin20boys

This is the company’s name – ok, they have an apostrophe elsewhere – we’ll not go there in this post!

But, maybe we’ll leave the last word to Sainsbury’s, and their response to Mr M. He asked them why their name has an apostrophe – read their reply here:

http://tiny.cc/abpzmy

 

 

Vacancy Wanted – PLEASE

If only I’d known there was such a job, I would have done all my homework – on time – studied really really hard and not messed about at school for one single minute. Promise. Sadly, I didn’t know back then what I know now – that people are paid to create languages for a living. Oh heaven! It looks like I’m never going to see an advertisement for a brickie in Legoland, so this must have to be just about my dream job.

When the Klingons first opened their mouths in Star Trek, the Dothraki bargained for Daenerys to be Khal Drogo’s bride, or we marveled at the intricacies of Elvish, did you ever stop to consider that somebody had created these languages from scratch?

9780008131395

https://www.harpercollins.co.uk/9780008131395/a-secret-vice

In the book A Secret Vice, Tolkien’s lecture on his creation of the languages of Middle Earth is discussed in mind-blowing detail. He created the original versions of each tongue, then worked out how they would change throughout time by contact with other languages and with changing inflections. He realised that as each group moved slightly further from its original homeland it would acquire new words for the different flora, fauna and other phenomena they encountered. He realised that words would, through time, change meaning or acquire new ones. This is exactly how language works, and Tolkien was a master of the art.

He based his languages on ones he found grammatically interesting, such as Finnish. He created writing systems for them, designing runic characters to give a feeling of ancient mystery. He also understood how a language’s traditional tales and mythology affect its structure and phraseology. The book A Secret Vice makes for fascinating reading.

So, Dothraki, anybody?

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Image from http://nikolina-angelova.deviantart.com/art/Dothraki-308236043

The language was created by David J Peterson who is a leader in this, admittedly niche, area. He also created High Valyrian for GoT, along with languages for many other sci-fi shows.

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/04/the-man-who-invented-dothraki/471495/

If you fancy learning a few phrases, there is an online course offered, according to this site:

https://www.dailydot.com/parsec/dothraki-creator-game-of-thrones-online-course/

To make a language credible, it needs to have a complete grammar, orthography and other such components which you probably think are best left to Latin teachers! However, if characters just opened their mouths and muttered gobbledy-gook, they would soon sound ridiculous. The rich, full, characteristics of these languages is what gives them their own life and makes them so compelling to listen to.

So, we now come to Star Trek, and Klingon. Did you know that James Doohan, who played dear old Scotty, first devised the phonology and a small vocabulary for it? It was then turned into a full language by Marc Okrand and has been used to write books and an opera; there is even a Klingon language Institute!

One last Star-Trek related fact:

 

When they decided they needed a Vulcan hand gesture for ‘Live long and prosper’ – Leonard Nimoy suggested using the one he had seen used in the synagogue when he was young. Although, in the worship setting, it is done with both hands, the famous gesture is based on the Hebrew hand-sign for Shin. All Hebrew characters have intrinsic meanings and this one stands for Shekinah and Shaddai – names of God. Live long and prosper is, I feel, a lovely sentiment. Knowing the accompanying sign stands for the name of God makes it even more beautiful.

http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2010/06/the-iconic-live-long-and-prosper-hand-gesture-was-originally-a-jewish-sign/

PS. Sadly, Minion is NOT a language, despite having a wonderfully mixed vocabulary from many, many other languages. They do have real words – and below I have reproduced a handy phrasebook should you ever need it –  but unfortunately the rest of it is utter nonsense. From a Minion, you wouldn’t really expect anything else, though, would you?

http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/do-minions-speak-real-language

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Amanda Lichtenberg   https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/456482112202405140/

Well, ha/e/i/o/ullo!

poh

Simple little word, hello, isn’t it? We probably say it several times a day; we use it to answer the phone, to greet customers or clients at work maybe, as a greeting in slightly formal circumstances where ‘Hi’, ‘how do’ or other variants aren’t right, all sorts of ways. Try counting over a couple of days and see what the tally is.

So, Walter Raleigh to Queen Elizabeth I – ‘Hello, your majesty’

Romeo to Juliet ‘Hello, my darling’

The Wife of Bath to The Pardoner ‘Hello Pardoner [or maybe Pardy, they might have been on very friendly terms for all we know!]’

They don’t quite ring true, do they? The word hello is, actually, not that old at all. The OED records its first use as a greeting in 1853; not very long ago, is it? It had been  recorded being used to attract attention or express surprise as far back as 1826, but still, where and how did it suddenly become the default greeting for the English speaking world?

Raleigh would probably have said ‘Good Morrow’ to Bessy 1; Romeo might have said ‘How farest thou?’ to his Julie and Bathy could have greeted Pardy along the lines of ‘Ey, maister, welcome be ye’*.

The etymology of Hello is not totally clear – and why it suddenly grew in popularity is also open to discussion. It can, with varying degrees of frequency, be spelt hallo, hullo, hillo and even hollo apparently.  The tale goes that Thomas Edison decided the word was clear enough to be heard from 20 feet away and, therefore, would make a perfect opening greeting for the new-fangled telephone. Alexander Graham Bell, meanwhile, was insisting the word Ahoy was the correct way to open a telephone conversation. Thankfully, despite his inventing the phone, his idea of how to use it did not catch on. For more about this, see, among others, http://www.nytimes.com/1992/03/05/garden/great-hello-mystery-is-solved.html

So, where did it come from? Bill Bryson, in his book Mother Tongue,** informs us that it is a derivative/contraction of the Old English hal beo thu [hale be thou] – in a similar way to modern goodbye being a form of God be with ye. The OED, however, states that it originated in old High German halâholâ  –  being used to attract attention, especially of ferrymen.

death_as_a_ferryman

                     “Death as a ferrryman”, a satirical drawing from Punch, 1858

Hmmmm, if this is what a shout of ‘Hello’ could bring, maybe ‘Ey maister’, or even Ahoy could be safer words to use after all?

Picture from Kankakee Community College Power of Hello campaign. http://www.kcc.edu/campaigns/pages/power-of-hello.aspx
*http://www.zora.uzh.ch/44707/1/Jucker_2011_Chaucer_proofs.pdf
**https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/56790/mother-tongue/

Shun the disingenuous equivalent and Avoid the shifty metonym

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Hmmm, what on Earth does that title mean? Even Spock* looks puzzled. What it started out as, before I searched online for replacement words, is:

Beware the sneaky synonym.

Ok, why am I prattling on like this? Well, today a member of my family asked me for help with a cover letter for an application she was writing. As I was quite busy, most of the conversation was done by text messages:

Her: What’s another word for interesting?

Me: Tell me the rest of the sentence.

a few minutes passed………

Her: It’s ok, I found one.

Me: [Having been wrestling with good synonyms for interesting ]What, exactly?

Her: Intriguing.

I was firstly puzzled, then slightly alarmed, then I just had to stop what I was doing and phone her. I could not think of a single thing which she could describe as intriguing in a formal cover letter.

The original sentence had been What I find most interesting is palliative care. **

Now, although, when you look on a site such as Thesaurus.com and enter interesting in the synonym finder, it will return intriguing, it gives you many other suggestions too. Among these are:

alluring; amusing; delightful; exotic; fascinating and provocative.

Yes, they are all, in the right context, exchangeable for interesting. Surely, though, nobody would say What I find most amusing is palliative care. Please…you wouldn’t, would you?

The good old OED gives these two definitions:

Interesting; adj

That concerns, touches, affects, or is of importance; important.

Intriguing; adj

That intrigues; forming secret plots or schemes. Also, that excites interest or curiosity; fascinating.

As you can see, although they are similar in some ways, they are very different in others. The English language [as we were taught in my undergraduate days by Dr Vikki Hulse] has no exact synonyms.  Sites such as Thesaurus.com, and the synonym tool on Word, are very helpful when you’re not wanting to repeat a particular word too often. Remember, however, to avoid the shifty metonym at all costs and, whatever else you do, shun the disingenuous equivalent .

*image from http://abcwednesday-mrsnesbitt.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/i-is-for-intriguing.html
** the version we finally agreed upon was ‘The aspect of nursing which I am most drawn to is palliative care’

 

If you need help with a CV, cover letter or similar, please get in touch through the blog’s contact page or email me: starfishenglishservices@gmail.com

How Do You Do?

It’s a simple question, isn’t it? Not that we are expected to reply!

howdoyoudo

Image from http://simonelia.blogspot.co.uk/2010/08/how-do-you-do.html

Informally we often ask ‘How are you doing?’ Another simple question – inviting a proper answer, unlike its more formal cousin.

so-how-you-doing-hippo

Image from http://weknowmemes.com/2012/05/so-how-you-doing-hippo/

But recently I was asked by a foreign language student of mine ‘What does doing mean?’ Hmmmm, well that’s….errrr……actually not so simple. Doing and also Do don’t actually mean anything. Except they are quite vital to English sentence structure. The sharp-eyed among you will notice I had to use don’t = do not in the sentence before last. I quite probably will again. But….WHAT DO THEY MEAN??? [Yup, I used it again just there. Aaaargh]

The OED has a few suggestions:-

Do:

n  The action of doing, or that which is done; action, business.

vb  I. As a main verb.

1.trans.

a. To put, place. to do onoffinout,

Doing:

The action of do v.; action, proceeding, conduct, behaviour; performance or execution of something. Frequently with possessive, attributing responsibility to a specified agent.

So, there you have it – Do is the action of doing and doing is the action of do. What more could we need to know?

The best way I could try to explain this pesky word in any meaningful way was that it doesn’t [yup, there is is again!] really mean anything, but can be used as a sort of ‘catch-all’ verb to cover a range of activities:

Do the dishes [including washing, drying, putting away]

Do the housework [Hoovering, doing the dishes, dusting, emptying bins…not a range of activities I do very often!] [Yup, another 2 uses of it just there]

Do homework [reading a book, writing an essay, conducting an experiment in nuclear physiscs……I have no idea what homework might entail nowadays!]

But, you get the general picture – and, thankfully, so did they.

However, it doesn’t [another one] stop there. We need do to make negatives and questions. It doesn’t add anything of any semantic value to the sentence, but it is quite vital in English .

I like coffee – I do not like tea

Do you like tea? No, I don’t.

In this context, do has a rather wonderful name grammatically – the Dummy Do. Lovely isn’t it? Much better than fronted adjectival phrase or similarly boring titles. A vital, very useful, much-used word in the English language that really means very little at all. One last thought – should I tell my students about one of the other ways it can be used?

Maybe next week………we’re not learning about coarse language just yet!

 

 

It’s a Timey-Wimey, Spacey-Wacey Thing.

Imagine….no please don’t burst into a John Lennon impression…but imagine people who think of time differently from the way we conceptualise it in English. People who see the past as in front and the future as behind them. People who see time as static and humans moving through it. And…people who really don’t measure it in any numerical way.

 

time-shutterstock-112763713-webonly

Photo: Shutterstock

Whilst I was away last week at a language and linguistics conference at Colchester University [more about the beautiful city itself on my Travelling Hamster blog site], one of the speakers explained how she has been researching Amazonian villages where they only have the numbers 1 to 4, where they have no concept of how old people are, and..best of all…no concept of ever being late 🙂

It blew our minds as we sat through the talk. Time is, well, however long something takes. Words for tomorrow, today and yesterday simply don’t exist. They have stages of life which are marked by new names;  being ready to marry, being too old to work,  yet these are whenever they occur for each individual – not some arbitary age of consent or retirement age such as we have in our culture.

They use concepts such as rainy and dry seasons, height of the sun, depth of the flood-waters to refer to events, but again these simply happen when they happen – there is no set clock or calendar date to  announce the first day of summer and other similar chronological divisions. Somehow, in a way incomprehensible to we time-obsessed cultures, time does not exist as a separate concept to the event which is happening. How happy would Alice’s white rabbit be at that thought?

 

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For more on languages which encode time in different ways, the following may be of interest:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-13452711
http://language.ucsd.edu/papers/language-time.pdf – Boroditsky – How languages Construct Time
https://www.google.co.uk/search?tbo=p&tbm=bks&q=isbn:1483506088 – A Walk in the Garden of Time

And, the paper by the speaker at the conference [whose name is Vera and is great fun to have curry with]

https://www.academia.edu/32901057/When_Time_is_Not_Space_2016_from_Lewandowska_ed.pdf – Da Silva Sinha

Oh Auto-Predict! You’re no poet.

I was sending a text to a friend recently about foggy Frisco [San Francisco]. As I hit ‘send’ I noticed that the predictive texting had changed it to ‘fight frisco’. Hmmmmm. What else might it get up to? I decided to give it a real test…….Jabberwocky 🙂

Jabberwocky

So, with many, many apologies to Lewis Carroll…here’s the first verse, courtesy of my phone:

‘Twas brilliant and the slight gives

Did gyre and marble in the wave

All mimsy were the borogro estate

And the moment rather outgrabe.’

OK, so it would appear that gyre mimsy and  outgrabe are genuine English words it has no need to change at all. Off to the trusty OED for clarification.

Gyre, v.  appears as a genuine, though rare word, dating back to c1420. It means to Turn, or whirl round.

It is also a noun, from c 1566 meaning:  A turning round, revolution, whirl; a circular or spiral turn.  The word must have its etymology in the same root as words such as gyroscope then. Mr Carroll obviously knew his obscure old words.

Mimsy, it says, is a blend of miserable and flimsy,  nowadays meaning unhappy but…

Only in Carroll and later allusions. So it IS a word, though one apparently created by good old Lewis.

So, finally, we come to the most interesting of all – Outgrabe.

According to the OED, this is a factious word [sounds like another of Lewis Carroll’s creations, that!] and is the past tense of Outgribe. I have copied the entry below:

 

intr. A nonsense word; (most frequently) to emit a strange noise.

Etymology: A factitious word introduced by Lewis Carroll (used in the past tense), and described by him as follows:

1855   ‘L. Carroll’ Rectory Umbrella & Mischmasch (1932) 140   Outgrabe, past tense of the verb to outgribe. (It is connected with the old verb to grike or shrike, from which are derived ‘shriek’ and ‘creak’.) ‘Squeaked.’
1871   ‘L. Carroll’ Through Looking-glass vi. 129   ‘And what does “outgrabe” mean?’ ‘Well, “outgribing” is something between bellowing and whistling, with a kind of sneeze in the middle.’

Apparently intended by Carroll as a past tense, but generally understood subsequently as a regular verb, with present tense outgrabe and past tense outgrabed.

If you have access to the OED online, more can be read here:

 http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/133662?redirectedFrom=Outgrabe#eid

So, if you thought Jabberwocky was just a lot of nonsense words created to sound amazing, it looks as though Lewis Carroll actually knew his etymology and used it very cleverly indeed. RESPECT!

 

 

The Roman God of Dodgy Definitions

 

 

 

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As this post is written in English [ok, apart from the bits which are in Double-Dutch] I am making the huge assumption that you understand the definition of many English words.

Words such as:

Fast

Dust

Cleave

Left.

Simple, right? However, all these words – along with many others – are known as Contronyms, or Janus words.

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That’s him, old two-face himself. Janus looks both forwards and backwards; he’s the Roman god of doorways, and the deity from whom we derive the name for January.

So, what has he got to do with the words in the list above? Well, each of these can mean the exact opposite of itself ;

You can dust furniture or dust a cake – in one you remove dust, in the other you add a dusting of sugar or some-such.

You can cleave something into two parts, or a couple can cleave together in marriage.

Something fast might be stuck fast or moving very quickly

A bus may have left the bus station or be left in it.

According to my in-depth research* [a quick search on Google!] there are 75 examples of contronyms in English, something for word-nerds to maybe use to spread confusion far and wide. Thanks, Janus!

*http://www.dailywritingtips.com/75-contronyms-words-with-contradictory-meanings/

 

The Parable of …..

Today, I went to a cathedral. Not a brick or stone one but a glorious little patch of woodland a short bus ride from where I live. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned my anxiety problems before [well, you don’t think I actually READ this blog, do you?] but I used to love going for long wandersome walks. Nowadays, however, I really struggle to go out on my own with no real purpose, other than the sheer joy of going out on my own with no purpose [if you see what I mean].

Before even leaving my flat I started to feel the familiar butterflies in my stomach, so I decided to invent a reason for going out. I decided it was time that a small plant on my windowsill was released from captivity. On Mothering Sunday, all the ladies [I include myself in the loosest possible terms!] in our church were given a small primrose in a pot to take home, but mine is now showing signs of neglect and is suffering from my general ineptitude to care for anything other than weeds. I put the plant in a carrier bag, having given it a good final watering to help it along its way, and then set off on my mission. [Not having a garden, I don’t own any gardening tools, by the way, but an old cheese knife thingummy looked like the nearest thing I had to a trowel so I took that too!]

Getting off the bus and crossing over to the parkland, I was immediately struck by the intensity of the green [invented, I believe, by Lord Percy Percy during Elizabeth I’s reign]. Although several motorways run nearby and the traffic was rumbling away in the background, the foremost sound was definitely the birdsong. Immediately my anxiety gave way to curiosity – I could see tiny flowers, gnarled trees and the amazing timeless peace of the British woodlands.

I looked for somewhere I might plant my primrose and soon spotted a tree with quite a bit of clearing round it and fairly soft, diggable* soil next to it. Hoping to goodness that nobody spotted me, I took my plant and cheese knife from the bag and started to dig a small hole, before placing the plant in it and covering it back up as best I could. It did look much happier than it had on my windowsill, so I wished it the Vulcan ‘Live long and prosper’ then left it to settle in to its new environment.

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As I walked along a path once so familiar, yet which I hadn’t felt able to visit in over 7 years, I noticed so much of God’s beautiful creation. I saw a wall which I had never noticed before which had a tree growing through it; I saw a rabbit hole, and soon after, 2 of its inhabitants; I saw so many flowers and interestingly shaped trees; I watched the small river which flows through the area and I smelt the wonderful earthy aromas of the trees and soil. Despite going to church most Sundays, this is where I really feel close to my Creator.

Walking back to the entrance, I noticed a lot of Himalayan Balsam shoots. This is a beautiful plant, but totally alien to Britain and it chokes the indigenous flora. Heroically I did my bit by destroying as much as I could. I couldn’t help thinking how wrong it felt to be destroying what is, in its correct environment, a lovely plant and found myself wondering, if Jesus were preaching in modern Britain, would we have a Parable of the Himalayan Balsam?

Himalayan balsam

I said a last goodbye to ‘my’ plant, but realised that, having put it in this woodland park I would now have a reason to revisit many, many times to check on its progress and spend more time in this amazing cathedral.

*Auto-correct does NOT like my word ‘diggable’ – I don’t care. I’ve got a degree in English language so I feel I have every right to use it. So there!!! Take that, Microsoft.