Posts Tagged ‘English language’

wtfAbsolutely fascinating article, if one can get past the subject matter.

It also reminds me that the origin for the “C” word is actually “clint”, which is an old German word meaning slit or crack in a rock.

So there.

so long as it's words

One origin story for fuck is that it comes from when sex was outlawed unless it was permitted explicitly by the king, so people who were legally banging had Fornication Under Consent of the King on their doors, or: F.U.C.K. But obviously that’s wrong. And if you do believe that, stop it. Stop it right now.

But right now there’s a post going round with a lovely image of a manuscript from Brasenose College, Oxford, proudly declaring it’s the earliest instance of fuck in English (although, it notes, that is apart from that pesky one from Scotland and that one that says fuck but is written in code). But even if we DO agree to discount those two little exceptions, it’s still not the earliest instance. I think the Brasenose fuck was considered the earliest in 1993, and that’s quite out-dated now.

So, for your enjoyment and workplace sniggering, here’s…

View original post 967 more words

Tongue twister
Is there a word you always somehow say wrong? There is? I’ve got one, too. Nuclear. For some reason I always pronounce it nukeyoular. Drives Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink batty.

Well apparently, “phenomenon”, “remuneration” and “statistics” have topped a list of the most commonly mispronounced English words.

That rings true to me. I have heard countless people talk about renumeration – which means re-numbering, of course – when they’re trying to talk all posh abut something you or I probably call “pay”.

Speakers also have a problem getting their tongue around “ethnicity”, “hereditary” and “particularly”, according to the UK body charged with recording public utterances.

The British Institute Of Verbatim Reporters (BIVR) is the UK’s leading organisation for professionals involved in taking down speech at court and tribunal hearings.

A poll of its members found the 10 words that Britons consistently find the most challenging to pronounce.

Completing the list are “conjugal”, “specific”, “processes” and “development”.

Leah Willersdorf, of the BIVR, said: “We work with many different types of professionals and hear all kinds of voices during our work.

“However, when it comes to the English language it always seems to be the same few words that verbally trip people up, with the speaker having to repeat the word in order to get it right, or just abandoning their attempts and moving on.”

BIVR members were quizzed by the team behind the popular word game Scrabble.

According to the words buffs, one in 10 players admit to being reluctant to produce words that they cannot pronounce.

Which could quite spoil Christmas for some people. Scrabble is a favourite with British families over the festive period, with an estimated 11 million going head to head on Boxing Day, according to its makers. (It’s banned in the Wellthisiswhatithink household. Now Pictionary, on the other hand …)

University of York sociolinguistics expert Paul Kerswill said the English language has evolved to compensate for tricky pronunciations but some words remain a challenge.

“People always find a way of simplifying words that they find difficult to get their tongues round, so that an everyday word like ‘handbag’ sounds like ‘hambag’,” Professor Kerswill said.

“Our forebears simplified ‘waistcoat’ to ‘weskit’ – but we’ve turned our backs on that.

“We certainly don’t pronounce Worcester and Gloucester the way they are spelt any more. And ‘York’ used to have three syllables, not one.

“And most people talk about ‘Febry’ and ‘Wensday’.”

So what’s your personal tongue twisting word? Let us know!

The 21st birthday, set in 1920s Chicago. No, it has not escaped my attention that she looks ever more gorgeous, and I just look fatter. Helas, it was ever thus.

So last night, see, for reasons which need not concern us here, The Family Wellthisiswhatithink are schlepping all over rural Victoria in the darkness and pouring rain. Cue an hour and a half of trying not to get written off by wayward road-trains, or driving off the side of the unlit road into a gum tree, or aquaplaning into a swaying oncoming caravan.

She Who Must Be Obeyed is very kindly driving as Father has cried off with sore eyes. (An inevitable result of too much blogging which does sometimes get one out of driving.) Fruit of One’s Loins is in the backseat, half asleep between texts to various friends.

We have all just listened to a fascinating but rather tiring BBC podcast about the history of mathematics, trying to keep awake – specifically about a Swiss guy called Leonhard Euler who is well worth checking out, interesting dude, actually – but understanding what he did that was so clever has left us all a bit brain numbed, so we have now resorted to desultory conversation and flicking around the outer reaches of Father’s iPod listening to “driving Music”. (Usually long-lost one-hit-wonder 1970s bands.)

The rain slows to a steady drizzle, Melbourne’s lights loom vertically and vaguely in the far distance, the largest skyscrapers punching through the gloom, and planes landing at Tullamarine light up the sky with their nose searchlights, picking out the way home. At this moment a warm bed and sweet oblivion seem worth trading ten years of one’s life for.

You get the general picture.

For some reason, we fall to discussing the foibles of Fruit of One’s Loins early conversations with us. The way, like all kids, she couldn’t pronounce certain words properly, so just did her best, and how those words pass into the fabric of a family, un-noticed and un-remarked, until they become a habit.

My nephew, par example, aged one and a bit, christened all road-working heavy equipment as “Tac Tacs” as he couldn’t manage “tractor”, and would scream “Tac Tac!” delightedly whenever the car passed any yellow-painted earth-moving thing of any type. Gradually, generations of us decided to agree with him and repeated it. I confidently expect Tac Tac to pass into the English language one day.

“I upped the adorableness meter a few notches, Daddy, is that OK?” (Un-retouched photograph from cheap bedside frame where it has resided for, oh, about 20 years.)

It was a gentle conversation as we drove through the night-laden, moonlessly sodden suburbs. I recalled that she christened wallabies wobble-ies, which in retrospect seems a better name altogether given their bizarre ambulatory habit, and their propensity for ending up as roadkill. For some reason, she never learned to say “By myself” as in, “I can do that by myself”. She preferred “By my own.” Which makes perfect sense, even if it’s incorrect English, and to this day, every member of my family now says “By my own” to describe a solitary act. Vitamins were morphed into “Bitamins”, and so on.

As she grew a little older, and established a command of the English language that makes her writer Father proud, she never, ironically, learned to apply a concomitant filter to her thought processes, encouraged, one supposes, by a laissez-faire attitude to free discussion that her mother and I encouraged as being about the only thing we thought we knew about parenting beyond “love all your kids to bits”, which seemed just obvious and sensible.

She would simply say the first thing that came into her fertile, creative mind, often long before she has paused to consider the logic of it, a characteristic which I am delighted to see she still exhibits. It makes her refreshing, charming and sometimes hilarious company.

So it was that in her middle teen years – and attending a Christian school – she was one day sun-baking on a forty degree day by the backyard swimming pool when she asked her parents, with all the seriousness of not stopping to parse an idle thought adequately, “It must have been hot in olden days too, before swimming pools and air-conditioners. I bet people died of the heat back then. I wonder what Jesus died of?”

Suggestions came flying as what she had said dawned on her. “Really bad diarrhoea?” “Smallpox? Wasn’t there a lot of smallpox around back then?” “Old age?” “Maybe a car accident?”

It would be some years before she would be allowed to forget that one. Correction, it will be some years. Perhaps never. Of such little moments are the history of a family made, and each family’s is unique, and really rather wonderful.

“Could someone get me up from here?” Kind regards, Big Bird

Swerving off the freeway to catch a turn-off to home that she had nearly missed, the car teetering on what felt like two wheels but probably wasn’t, the Leader of the Opposition suddenly said to me “I’ll tell you one you don’t know, if you promise not to tease her about it.”

“Sure,” I said, “Go for it. I promise.”

A worried little voice warbled up from the back seat … “Is it about ….?” No, it wasn’t. I knew that one already. “Then is it ….?” No, I knew that one too.

“Well,” said my wife, cheerfully carving up an incautious motorcylist or two who had dared to travel on the same road as us at the same time – obviously hadn’t got the memo – “She used to wake up with sleep in her eyes …”

“Oh yes, yes, I know this one,” came the backseat cry, “I know, I used to wipe the sleep from my eyes, and you told me it was Fairy Dust that the faeries had put there to send me to sleep, so in the mornings I would wipe the sleep from my eyes and then rub it into my shoulder blades, because then one day I would grow real fairy wings of my own.”

I turned to look at her, charmed by the story. With all the good-naturedness of her affable, life-affirming 21 years she beamed at me.

I turned back to my wife, and said to her. “That’s not silly at all. I can completely see that. I bet it works, too. I bet you do grow fairy wings if you do it often enough. Yeah, good one. I might try that myself.”

The car fell silent again as we negotiated the last few sets of traffic lights and roundabouts before home. The rain started up once more, hammering on the roof of the car, turning the whole landscape into some sort of vast film noir set. I half expected to see Phillip Marlowe standing in a bus shelter, collar upturned, silently watching the world for clues, head turned away from the icy Antarctic wind which by now was bending the trees almost horizontal again.

I glanced back at my daughter again, and was rewarded with another grin. And it occurred to me that she had never grown fairy wings, no matter how hard her little four year old hands had rubbed her shoulders and dreamed of flying through the air in clouds of glitter and magical primary colours. But that, huddled in the back seat, and secreted under the coat and scarf and wooly jumper and warm shirt and thermal undies, she was almost certainly hiding a fine set of angel wings.

And I made a mental note to remember that more often. And to be grateful. And to smile more, even on winter nights, even when the road winds on forever, and the sky cries its eyes out, and the dark seems darker than nothingness.

I hope this poem has the same effect on you as it did on me and then my re-posting it will be worth the effort.

It’s called “Walk with me by the water” – it really is worth the read.



I forgot the words.

(You are a very silly man, Simon. I am sure all readers of ‘un certain age’ will laugh. And my last few posts have been deadly serious. I also suspect Simon might be taking the pith out of my post “The Many Paths of Life:

Shakespeare ApartmentsFun article by my new mate Bill, on a recent blooper as a result of wrongly attributed quoting, and also a fascinating piece of Bernard Levin writing (how he is missed) on Shakespeare and his impact on the English language.

Read about ‘Le grande fuck up’ here:

Great way to start the day and recommended reading. Well done Bill!

I would also, at this time, like to record my lifetime of thanks to the teaching efforts of John Merriman, who was my A-levels English Literature master, who took a boy (well, a bunch of us, actually), with a mild enthusiasm for acting and reading and turned me into a lifelong advocate of fine writing, and Shakespeare in particular. He imbued in me an undying and undimmed love for the sonorous, rolling prose of the Bard and others, and was endlessly patient when my teenage mind strayed or was merely incapable of understanding the intrinsic beauty of what was being presented to me.

He also introduced me to the unbridled joys of Tom Lehrer, which had it been all he had done, would have firmly established him in my private pantheon of heroes.

John was a generous, brittle, wise, funny, urbane and endlessly world-weary man who covered his essential compassion with a veneer of well-worn Cambridge scholar cynicism.

School House, Lord Wandsworth College

School House, Lord Wandsworth College: if I recall correctly, John Merriman's rooms opened onto the balcony

Sadly, I am sure he is dead now. He was old back then. Old in that sort of granulated, canyon-lined face way that you knew instinctively betokened a life that had seen plenty of both joy and pain, with each careless and unavoidable emotion that human travails are victim to etched onto it; not a day that he had lived was not marked on that face somewhere.

I trust he has gone to that great Globe Theatre in the sky and that the sherry, as it always was, is impeccable and smooth and nutty and aged, and that he is often left alone with the bottle, as he often left us alone with his drinks cabinet in his rooms – which were all red chintz and antique prints, and had the air of a tableau of genteel living transplanted holus bolus for the later 19th century – thereby teaching us trust, as well.

Other than the joys of Shakespeare, nothing reminds me as much of John Merriman as the immortal Rowan Atkinson reading the class roll. It still plays brilliantly, some 30 years after Atkinson’s luminous star hit the entertainment firmament.

I saw Atkinson perform this skit at the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton just a few short months after leaving Lord Wandsworth College, about the time this YouTube clip was recorded, funnily enough, and I cried with laughter, then as now.

How Atkinson can make such powerful use of a pause is beyond my weaker ken, but John Merriman could undoubtedly do the same. Timing, you know. Performance is all about …

… timing.

“If I see it once again this period, Plectrum, I shall have to tweak you.”

“Anthony and Cleopatra is not a funny play … if Shakespeare had meant it to be funny he would have put a joke in it.”

Immortal stuff. Just as the impact of a creative and passionate teacher is immortal, in its way – touching so many lives – and I, in my turn, seek to teach my daughter why all those complicated antiquated words are worth stuggling with, and experience the joy of seeing the light slowly dawn in her eyes, in turn. And so it goes, and so it goes: and the learning rolls on, and we are all the better for it.

Is it my imagination, or was the world a wittier and somehow more innocent place back then? Hélas, maybe I am just getting old. Enjoy.