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The English Language Is Crazy!


picture of languages

Have you ever studied a foreign language? If so, you have probably encountered enough vocabulary items or idiomatic expressions to know that there are things about a language that are inexplicable to speakers of other languages. If you are an English speaker who hasn't studied another language, then imagine trying to explain some English expressions to foreigners learning English. For instance, if you were to tell someone, "keep your nose to the grindstone," how would you explain that you mean that you want the person to keep working hard, and not to do an activity that would be not only stupid and unnatural, but also extremely painful and messy?

Being a French professor, former German professor, and having studied a little Spanish and Chinese, I have done my share of trying to understand some basic idiomatic expressions for myself and of trying to get others to understand them. As hard as it is sometimes to get my French students to accept and use certain idioms in French, I must say that the two summers my wife and I taught English in China were far more difficult. The differences between our cultures and our languages are so great that the gap is hard enough to bridge already. But then compounding that with the hundreds of inexplicable things in the English language makes the task all the more daunting!

Below is something I've pieced together, using various things in my files. You English speakers (anglophones) out there need to read the following with an eye towards being the one who has to explain all this to non-anglophones.

The English Language Is Crazy!

If we English speakers thought about it, we would have to admit that English is a crazy language. The reasons for that statement are almost endless. There is no egg in eggplant, no ham in hamburger, and neither apple nor pine in pineapple. A mushroom is not a room where we eat mush. English muffins weren't invented in England nor French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies, while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat.

We simply take English for granted. Yet if we explored its paradoxes, we would find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write, but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth beeth? One goose, two geese. So one moose, two meese? No. Just as we can have one mouse, two mice and one louse, two lice, but not one house, two hice. Crazy!

Doesn't it seem odd that you can make amends but not one amend, that you comb through annals of history but not a single annal? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If a teacher has taught, has a preacher praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? If you wrote a letter, perhaps you bote your tongue? And try to explain verbs like sing, sang, sung, ring, rang, rung, but not bring, brang, brung. Or better yet sink, sank, sunk, drink, drank, drunk, but not think, thank, thunk?!

Should English speakers all be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane? In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell? Park on driveways and drive on parkways? How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and wise guy are opposites? How can overlook and oversee be opposites, while quite a lot and quite a few are alike?

Have you noticed that we talk about certain things only when they are absent? Have you ever seen a horseful carriage or a strapful gown? Have you ever met a sung hero or experienced requited love? Have you ever run into someone who was combobulated, gruntled, ruly, or peccable? And where are all those people who *are* spring chickens or who would *actually* hurt a fly?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which an alarm clock goes off by going on. And when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible. And why, when I wind up my watch, I start it, but when I wind up a speech, I end it.

And then English teachers seek to enforce and reinforce all these things! They tell us not to use a double negative in English because a double negative forms a positive. If an English teacher told me there is no language where a double positive can form a negative, my reply would be "Yeah, right!"

In some languages, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative. In fact in French, you can have more than two negatives, and it's still just fine. "Personne ne fait jamais rien pour moi" is a perfectly acceptable sentence in French, but an English teacher would insist that the literal translation "No one never does nothing for me" would be better rendered "No one ever does anything for me." I somehow prefer the French on this one since the correction just sounds too positive.

So, do you agree with me that English is a crazy language?

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Our German house guests, Uwe and Diana, arrived last evening, and so far we are having a great time together. Diana speaks some English, but Uwe's English is stronger. I can say far more in German than I thought I could, but we've already talked about all kinds of things where my German vocab was either weak or non-existent. Trying to get our ideas across to each other has been challenging, but fun also. I'll give an update in a blog post next week.

I mentioned above that French fries weren't invented in France. Some people almost go into a panic when they hear that, but fries were invented in Belgium. The French don't mind that we call them French fries, even though the French tell Belgian jokes in the same way that Americans tell Polack jokes. In fact, in France I've told many Polack jokes, substituting "Belge" for "Polonais," and the jokes fly! Several years ago one of my cousins from France sent me the following funny picture of a bloody battle in Belgium.

War in Belgium (la Guerre en Belgique)...

picture of French fries in a bloody battle

(Click on the image for a larger version of it. In case you still can't tell what it is, it's fries with ketchup on some of them.)

I would love to hear some of your thoughts on our crazy English language and/or your funny mistakes in grappling with idiomatic expressions in another language. I've made my share of mistakes through the years!

quotation...

"God's plan in our trials is not to make us more self-sufficient. It's to make us more dependent on Him." - Alan Benson

=^..^= =^..^=
Rob

Refuse Novocain ... Transcend Dental Medication

Extra! Extra! Read All about It!


picture of news crier

For several years I have been hearing about the decline in newspaper circulation. But recently I have heard of newspaper publishers laying off employees or even deciding to publish online only. I know many people who love the newspapers and who read them regularly. But I also know more and more people who seek their news online, whether it be from the newspapers they've always read on paper or from other news outlets now available.

Recently I came across an e-mail I had received a long time ago that included some hilarious newspaper clippings. I thought now might be a good time to share them. I will pass them along with little or no comment – I'll count on you to comment on any of them that strike you funny. Some of the articles had to have been published on an extremely slow news day!

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picture of newspaper clipping

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picture of newspaper clipping

This correction hardly seems adequate....

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picture of newspaper clipping

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picture of newspaper clipping

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picture of newspaper clipping

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picture of newspaper clipping

picture of newspaper clipping

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picture of newspaper clipping

picture of newspaper clipping

picture of newspaper clipping

This final one makes me wonder why it took the man so long to notice the absence!

picture of newspaper clipping

Are you a newspaper reader? Do you trust newspapers in general or any one in particular?

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This is final exam week here on campus, with graduation this Saturday. I haven't been to Europe in 8 years, but lately Europe has been coming to us! Last week one of my former students who is from Germany and who majored in French here at BJU stopped by to see me while in town. This morning I was surprised to see a former student from England who is here for her sister's graduation. This Wednesday evening a German couple we don't know is arriving at our house. My office mate Phil and his wife are housing two people in the group and asked us to house this couple. They will be with us for a week and a half. My rusty German might have to come out of retirement — it's been 19 years since I last taught German!

This morning I read an excellent blog post by a missionary in Europe and left a comment. His blog is on blogspot.com and some Internet filtering where you are reading this may prevent you from going there. If you'd like to read the post, you can find it by clicking on the following link – Alcohol on the Mission Field.

quotation...

"I read no newspaper now but Ritchie's, and in that chiefly the advertisements, for they contain the only truths to be relied on in a newspaper." - Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Nathaniel Macon, January 12, 1819

=^..^= =^..^=
Rob

It's amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day always just exactly fits the newspaper.

New Haircuts


picture of letter man with different hairdos

Shorter hair helps a lot in the summer heat. With the advent of warmer temperatures, my wife and I are both sporting shorter hair, just in the past week. At lunch today, when someone commented on Becka's new do, someone mentioned a classic I sent out as an iv a number of years ago, pointing out how differently men and women behave after a new haircut. (BTW, I don't know who the guy is in the series of hairdo pix. Whew! Not his best looks, though!)

Haircuts - the difference between women and men

WOMEN'S VERSION

Woman 1: Oh! You got a haircut! That's so cuuuuute!

Woman 2: Do you think so? I wasn't sure when she gave me the mirror. I mean, you don't think it's too fluffy looking?

Woman 1: Oh no, it's perfect! I'd love to get my hair cut like that, but I think my face is too wide. I'm pretty much stuck with this style, I think.

Woman 2: Are you serious? I think your face is adorable. And you could easily get one of those layer cuts - that would look so cute on you. I was actually going to do that except that I was afraid it would accent my long neck.

Woman 1: Oh, now that's funny! I would love to have your neck! Anything to take attention away from this two-by-four I have for a shoulder line.

Woman 2: Are you kidding? I know girls that would love to have your shoulders. Everything drapes so well on you. I mean, look at my arms - see how short they are? If I had your shoulders I could get clothes to fit me so much easier.

Woman 1: Do you think so? Oh, you're just saying that!

Woman 2: No! Really, I mean it....

MEN'S VERSION

Man 1: Haircut?

Man 2: Ummhmm.

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The preceding reminds me of a blog post from over two years ago called It's great to be a guy that you might enjoy.

housekeeping items...

With the end of the school year drawing near, I know that some of you who read my posts by e-mail might be losing the e-mail address at which you are reading this. If that's the case with you, please click on the link at the bottom of the e-mail to unsubscribe, then go to the blog and use one of the links to posts by e-mail to sign up your new e-mail address, remembering to complete the process by clicking on the link in that e-mail you'll receive almost immediately.

Speaking of those who read my posts by e-mail, I mentioned in the last post that I was missing several images from a previous post. Two of my readers were able to supply me with the missing pictures! I'm glad I'm not the only "digital packrat" out there! :-D I have thanked them by e-mail, in an editorial update to my last post, and in the post that was missing the pictures.

Do you have any funny haircut stories to share? Or any haircut nightmares? Since I cut my own hair, I have no one else to be mad at but myself.

quotation...

"Where there is a neglect of Scripture, there will be a neglect of Christ." - Dr. Drew Conley

=^..^= =^..^=
Rob

Two hair-related questions:
Men: What hair color do they put on the driver's licenses of bald men?
Women: What hair color do some women put on their driver's licenses..."subject to change?"

“M” is for – - – ?


picture of letter M

Are you ready yet for Mother's Day? With Mother's Day coming up in less than two weeks, I thought I'd do a post about moms that might serve as a reminder to some readers to get that card, gift, or whatever you plan to give your mom. I'm posting three short pieces on the theme of moms.

"M" is for - - -?

Miss Jones had been giving her students in second grade a lesson on science. She had explained about magnets and showed how they would pick up nails and other bits of iron. Afterwards it was review time and she asked, "My name begins with the letter 'M' and I pick up things. What am I?"

A little boy on the front row said, "You're a mom!"

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Here's a little different twist on the "M" is for mom theme:

A little boy walked up to the librarian to check out a book called Comprehensive Guide for Mothers.

When the librarian asked him if it was for his mom, he answered, "No, it's for me!"

"Why would you be checking this book out? You're a little boy."

"Because," said the boy, beaming from ear to ear, "I just became a moth collector last month!"

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It's interesting to see the evolution that mothers undergo through the course of their children's lives.

4 years of age: My mommy can do anything!

8 years of age: My mom knows a lot! A whole lot!

12 years of age: My mother doesn't really know quite everything.

14 years of age: Naturally, Mom doesn't know that either.

16 years of age: Mom? She's hopelessly old-fashioned.

18 years of age: That old woman? She's way out of date!

25 years of age: Well, Mom might know a little bit about it.

35 years of age: Before we decide, let's get Mom's opinion.

45 years of age: I wonder what Mom would have thought about it?

65 years of age: I wish I could talk it over again with Mom....

Do you have any comments you'd like to share on moms or Mother's Day?

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(edited 29 April 2009):
When I had to blow away my blog because it had been hacked into, I lost some of the pictures that I hadn't saved on my computer. There were two in particular that I could not replace in the post nice bathroom humor - the sign in a restroom in the Philippines and the sign in the upscale restroom. Thanks to several readers, those images are now restored.

quotation...

"There's no reason to boast in your human pedigree." - Dr. Drew Conley

=^..^= =^..^=
Rob

As I thought about how mothers feed their babies with little tiny spoons and forks, I wondered what Chinese mothers use. Toothpicks?

A Baker’s Dozen of Funny Signs


Don't you love funny signs?! To me, unusual signs are among the funniest things in the world. You know that some are intentionally funny, but others make you wonder if the sign maker had thought twice about what those seeing the sign would think.

Today I'm posting a baker's dozen of signs for your amusement.

When we were at the Atlanta airport last weekend, we didn't see any signs like these two.

picture of airport sign

picture of airport sign

Here's one that hikers and bikers in Florida might be tempted to ignore.

picture of Florida road sign

I wonder if the crazy woman is in an RV or a tent.

picture of crazy woman

Some signs don't clear things up at all.

picture of cafeteria instructions

picture of sales sign

picture of road sign

Some signs make things crystal clear.

picture of village sign

Some warning signs make me smile or laugh out loud.

picture of pedestrian warning

picture of warning

picture of cig warning

picture of fire warning

picture of warning

What funny signs have you seen lately?

quotation...

"Your heart will fix itself wherever you put your treasure." - Dr. Drew Conley

=^..^= =^..^=
Rob

It's not an optical illusion. It just looks like one.