Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ramblings About Language

My first language is English; it's the first of several and the only one in which I am fluent. I speak Japanese like an incredibly talented infant, and French almost as well.

(I speak better Japanese, but possibly understand it less well, than this child.)

I can mispronounce certain Yiddish words and phrases more or less the way my American-born parents did; as children of immigrants, wanting to fit in and be as-American-as-thee, they shunned that rich and brilliant tongue and lived to regret it.

There are a few other languages in which I know enough words and/or phrases to understand, or, even better, make myself understood, in a pinch. I'm adventurous enough to get myself into a few pinches now and again. But it's English I know and English I love the best. Since I live in my native land, the United States of America, I find myself more often in a flinch than in a pinch.

Sometimes I flinch at the widespread abuse of the language I love; other times I flinch at a perfectly legitimate word or phrase that nonetheless, for one reason or another, rankles. An example of the latter is the use of the word "hysterical." It's in the dictionary; it's an adjective. It's generally used properly. However, the implication of the word (used to describe a state of panic) is that the person it describes is panicking because she is female, or panicking because he is feminine; the "hyster" in question is a womb. I think we should say a person who has reached a certain level of panic is testerical. That at least evens the genderic playing field.

(A real bitch)

I prefer not to call my enemies, of either sex, bitches. I live with a perfectly lovely female Sheltie (named Sarah, if you must know) and would not insult her with such comparisons. I have no standard substitution, though; I name my enemies on a case-by-case basis. (One is "toxic waste.")

Some feral peeves:

1. "Just between you and I." "I" is not an object, but a subject. Would you say "give it to I"?

(The translation is the transgressor.)

2. "That was so fun!" SUCH fun, folks, or so MUCH fun! "Fun" is a noun and is described by an adjective, not an adverb.

(Lip-syncing peeves me as well, but sometimes the artist doesn't actually have a choice... in Italy, anyway.)

3. "I could not help but do it." That means the opposite of what the user thinks it means, and yet is not used sarcastically, as in "I could care less!" (which generally indicates the user could NOT care less). "I could not help doing it" means the user was compelled. Therefore "I could not help BUT do it" means the user was NOT compelled, except possibly compelled NOT to do "it."

(The title is incorrect. I actually find anime pretty annoying, come to think of it.)

4. "I feel badly." Snobby! If you feel badly that means your tactile sense or your emotional palette is impaired. You feel bad. My fiancé smells badly; his olfactory facility is diminished. (He can't tell when dinner is burning!) If he neglects to bathe, he also smells bad.

Some guilty pleasures:

1. "Ain't." I know it ain't a real world; I ain't concerned about it. I use it for emphasis, and only to people who know I know better.

2. "Whatever." I use it to be deliberately dismissive; how rude!

3. "(expletive deleted)." I can stop any time I want. Honest.

(Do not play the above if you prefer your expletives deleted.)

Having exposed my linguistic flaws so publically, I am, quite suddenly, abashed, and no longer wish to pick on other speakers.

Oh wait. Yes, I do!

That relaxation of my linguistic ethics was only a tongue-fart. I beg your pardon.

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