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Posts from ‘August, 2013’

There’s a Word for That?!


Being a teacher of both French and German has unique challenges, but also distinct advantages. I tell my students that the English language came about in the following way — some Angles and Saxons were living in what is now England and put a form of German into a bag; the Normans invaded, conquered, and added a form of French to the bag; it all got shaken up over time, and out came English. That's overly simplified, of course, and I do go over the society structure that explains why certain categories of words are Germanic and others are more French. It helps my students to see how we can have so many words in our language that resemble either the French or German words they are learning.

The blending of those two languages is what helps to give English the breadth and depth of verbal possibilities. Exactly how large is our English vocabulary? Here's some information from the site of the Oxford Dictionaries:

The Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. To this may be added around 9,500 derivative words included as subentries.... This suggests that there are, at the very least, a quarter of a million distinct English words, excluding inflections, and words from technical and regional vocabulary not covered by the OED, or words not yet added to the published dictionary, of which perhaps 20 per cent are no longer in current use. If distinct senses were counted, the total would probably approach three quarters of a million.

You would think that, with a vocabulary that large, we would have ways to express just about anything. Through the years the English language has borrowed many words that add a certain je ne sais quoi to our vocabulary. Some borrowings are used well, and others, unfortunately aren't. I cringe every time I hear various faux pas.

An expression that many love to use is coup de grâce, which literally means "a blow of mercy," that kindly ends suffering. In essence it means "a mercy killing." The correct pronunciation is basically /coo-duh-grahs/. (Please note that the p at the end of coup is silent and the c in grâce is pronounced like an s.) When (mis)pronounced /coop-duh-grahs/ it means "a cup of mercy." When (mis)pronounced /coo-duh-grah/ it means "a blow of fat" (gras, with a silent s). And a merciless killing happens each time a person says /coup-duh-grah/, which is "a cup of fat"!

Ok, I know that I'm a French teacher and that most listeners don't catch those subtle nuances, but still! Why use a word, only to misuse it?! I actually have to admit a bit of Schadenfreude (joy at someone else's misfortune) when I hear someone trying to impress others by using coup de grâce, only to unwittingly hit them with a cup of fat.

Recently my dear wife sent me a link to a site with 38 Wonderful Foreign Words We Could Use in English on mentalfloss.com. Some of the meanings and uses of the words were humorous, and others I could have happily lived out the rest of my days without ever seeing. I decided to do some websearching to see what other words I could find. The more I found, the more I knew I wanted that to be the topic for this week.

I'm posting my favorites in alphabetical order. Some of the expressions give fascinating glimpses into the culture of the people who speak that language. It's strange to think that some ideas are important enough they would have a succinct way of expressing them! I hope you enjoy at least some of these as much as I did.

Age-tori (Japanese)
To look worse after getting a haircut

Appel du vide (French)
It is literally "the call of the void." It's the expression used to describe the instinctive urge to jump from high places, for example when close to the edge of a cliff or atop the Eiffel Tower.

Backpfeifengesicht (German)
A face badly in need of a fist

Betsubara (Japanese)
Loosely translates to "extra stomach." It is generally used to describe a woman who always has room for dessert.
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Beloit’s List of the Mindset of the Class of 2017

This week, as we are in Faculty In-Service at school and consider this new year of teaching, my thoughts always turn to the list posted each year at beloit.edu/mindset As I begin my 41st year of teaching, I know that I keep getting older each year while most of my students are between the ages of 18 and 22. Increasingly my range of experiences is vastly different from theirs.

Senior Freshman Meme

Our children Megan and Mark have taught or are teaching in elementary school. Both of them have students from their first year of teaching who are now college students. In some ways it's funny to hear them bemoan that those "kids" are now in college, especially since my first class of French 1 students are now eligible for senior discounts in some places! It's all a matter of one's perspective.

Today's post is about the perspective of this year's incoming freshman college students. Below is one of the introductory paragraphs on Beloit's site, followed by my favorite factoids from their list. Keep in mind that some of these statements haven't been true for the whole lives of these young people. For some things, it's simply all that the young people can remember.
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Road Trips and Signs

Road Trip

Since we just returned from several weeks up north, our many miles on the road are still fresh in our minds. Today's blog post is a partial travelogue as seen through my bizarre eyes, interspersed with some signs and scenes captured along the way. Unfortunately when the camera was tucked away, we missed some good ones.

In my post called Face Time I mentioned that Megan and the kids spent a week here in July and linked to her blog post about what we did during their visit. We took them back to Detroit, spent a night at their place, and then went on up to visit our friends Fred and Cheryl near Cheboygan.

On the trip between here and Detroit, we take I-40 through the mountains. For decades in the area around Canton, NC, we have seen a series of brown signs with numbers from 1 to 10 and then back down to 1, and we've wondered what in the world they are there for. According to some of their local legends, those numbered signs were put there to help people in that area learn to count without their fingers, as part of a government project called "Educating WNC." But I have learned that the signs are actually for gauging how bad fog conditions are. There is some sort of formula for visibility that tells the NCDOT how dense the fog is, based on how many signs can be seen.

As we went along I-75 in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan we saw a moose crossing sign like this one.
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Are You in a Time Warp?

Turtle and Snail

Do you have a love/hate relationship with technology? I mentioned in my post last week about using FaceTime to "be with" people at their reunion 700 miles away. I basically experienced what science fiction told us our phone calls would one day be like. For an old guy, I use quite a bit of technology, but things keep changing so quickly that there's much that I've never even heard of. I feel as if I'm holding on for dear life on a fast ride, and yet I know that compared to some, I'm not moving along very fast at all. Sometimes I feel as if I'm in a time warp. Strangely enough, time flies even when you're not having fun! I ran across a quotation recently from 1971 — "Technology ... is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other." — C. P. Snow

Today's post is a couple of jokes related to this idea.

A man was visiting his son and daughter-in-law one night when he asked if he could borrow a newspaper.

"This is the 21st century," said his son. "We don't waste money on newspapers. Here, you can borrow my iPad."

You know, that fly never knew what hit it!
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