“Language ought to be the joint creation of poets and manual worker.”

We’re back to dreary and cold. I had put away my flannels only to pull them out this morning. I’m even wearing socks. I spent a couple of hours earlier with my neighbor, the one who became a citizen. We just chat, my way for her to learn better conversational English. She is still having trouble with has and have. I don’t speak any Portuguese beyond please and thank you so I am quite amazed with her grasp of English, a language with weird rules and odd spellings.

I remember workbooks from elementary school. We had one for arithmetic and one for English.  My most vivid memory of a math page was the one on coins. It had a line up of a reasonable facsimile of each coin. I had to figure which coins and how many I needed for something like 35 cents. The answer had to be the smallest amount of coins. A quarter and a dime would get me a check; three dimes and a nickel would merit an X. Dollars were self-evident and didn’t appear in my workbook. We’d do a page or two during the lesson, and sometimes had to finish at home.

The English workbook was filled with things like contractions, subject-verb agreement, singular and plural words and verb tenses. There were pages filled with sentences which had one blank. You had to choose between he or him, she or her and all the rest of the pronouns. I’ve come to believe that many people were either sick at home or sleeping in class and subsequently missed that particular lesson. TV dialogue is rife with errors. I hear things like, give the book to him and I or to her and I, and it makes me cringe. I’ve been told that’s the way people talk now so I should accept it, but what’s wrong is wrong as far as I’m concerned.

I think music and language are similar. If someone plays or sings a piece of music off-key, people don’t find that entertaining. They cringe. They don’t say that’s the way people sing now. I wish language was given the same respect.

I find language beautiful. The right words strung together can fill you with love or longing. They can make you laugh or cry. They have the power to hurt, to cut. Our memories are images described in words.

I accept new words and I know old ones disappear from lack of use. Language is fluid, but the form doesn’t change. A name is a noun. An action word is a verb. The object of the preposition is objective case. It’s him, not he. It’s me, not I. That’s all I’m asking.

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21 Comments on ““Language ought to be the joint creation of poets and manual worker.””

  1. Richard Says:

    Oooh! So are we! I love it! We’re s’posed to get even chillier than we are now, so I’m a happy boy today.

    I still think (but probably not correctly in the idiomatic sense) in German sometime. Odd that, after failing to comprehend the ostensible beauty of the ‘Romance’ languages, Spanish and French made no more sense to me after two years study of each than they did at the outset. It was only when I studied German that I felt I’d ‘come home’ linguistically. It just made sense. Yes, German loves the 52-letter-long World Championship Letter Combination words, but none of that mattered. I understood it. It was comfortable. It was like putting on a favorite T-shirt that fit like no other ever could.

    I regret not ever having anyone nearby to speak German with on a daily basis. I realise my pronunciation and use of idiomatic expressions is probably close to useless by now, but I’d still give it a shot. Some things really do get worse over time when they’re not used – language is one of ’em.

    Workbooks … I remember those. Not the ones you mention, but I recall a few. The section of my English workbook (and English class) that bored the crap out of me was the diagramming of sentences. Hated that. The other things made sense – diagramming sentences was much too close to the memory of doing long division for me, what with the way the diagrammatic dissection was structured.

    There’s one thing that English lacks that, imho, makes it easier to learn … or maybe I say that because I grew up as a native English-speaking person: It doesn’t assign a gender to inanimate objects and everything else under the sun. Why is a table feminine and a pen masculine? Why is a frying pan not masculine? Why are clothes usually feminine? It’s enough to make a newbie go blind, I tell ya!

    I’m a real snot when it comes to spelling. I hate misspelled words. Today, for example, our local ‘news’ program was describing what our City Council planned to do with a certain ‘track’ of land. ‘Track’. Not ‘tract’. I still remember a story about fishermen that aired in New Orleans once upon a time. The article ostensibly was to tell the public about the evils of gill nets by the fishing fleet. The background graphic, however, carried but two words: Gil Nets! I was left to wonder who the hell is ‘Gil’ and what did / does he ’net’ … ? Sounds like they’re talking ‘income.’

    I have no quarrel when people who know the rules break them intentionally for effect. That’s legitimate. It’s when the rules aren’t even suspected to exist in the mind of the writer that it turns into an Ignorance Festival on display for all to see. The ultimate irony is to have the writer [sic], a charter member of the Illiterati, then become angry with the reader who fails to understand the simple truth and wisdom he seeks to impart with his ever-so-challenged delivery. The easy way to deal with that is to deliver a simple dope-slap to the ‘author’ of the grammatically-challenged piece … but that’s not (ahem) ‘politcally correct’ … pay me enough and then watch me care.

    You’re right that music and language are similar. Both, for example, transmit nuance thru intonation and dynamics. A piece of music, much like a familiar but distant fragrance, bring us back to a time and place in our life we hadn’t thought about in years. The scent of lavender, for example … or the opening notes of Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings’ …

    One of the greatest linguistic ironies was that of the French Academy’s attempt to ban the use of ‘loan words’ from other languages (say ‘English’) in the French language. Linguistic purity is an unachievable dream doomed to failure. People will strip away the useless bits of anything – including language – so as to make it work for them rather than against them. Now if only we could get the lawyer types to start writing in plain English …

    And now, Samuel Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings’ … it may become the ‘Earworm of the Day’ …

    • katry Says:

      Richard,
      It’s cold here so you’d be sporting a huge grin! The dampness makes it worse.

      I never took any German. In high school it was French while in college it was Spanish. I was gad for my great memory when about 15 years after high school I backpacked through South America. I had no trouble understanding then but they had a bit of trouble understanding me. My French came in handy in Africa. We often visited Burkina Faso where French is the national language. I could give directions, order food and bargain, all in French.

      Diagramming sentences is the best way to understand how the words in a sentence connect with one another. It is easy to figure out the adverb versus the adjective for one example.

      You are so right about English words lacking gender. It does make it so much easier than also memorizing the French genders.

      I also hate misspelled words as well. I see more of them now than I have ever seen. Some are quite funny. Sadly, though, I think it is another indicator of the breakdown of language.

      I think Icelandic is the only pure language left. All other languages have influences from conquerers and immigrants. The French wanted no English words used at all. They didn’t have French substitutes though.

      Many times I want to sent the newspaper all the corrections needed. I remember a headline on the sports page, “The pitcher bitched and batted his way to a win.”

      What a lovely way to end your comment.

      • Richard Says:

        I’ve tried – mostly unsuccessfully – to convey to others that words in many ways are no different from bullets once they’re in the air … they can’t be recalled, and no amount of ‘I’m sorry’ stops the bleeding … I’m glad you liked the music …

      • katry Says:

        Richard,
        Words spewing from you mouth can’t be unsaid and things can’t be unseen.

      • William Sandford Says:

        A recent newspaper obit said the woman enjoyed “yard sailing”. I like the image.

      • katry Says:

        Bill,
        I imagine she needs a really strong wind!

  2. olof1 Says:

    I can’t remember much from our math books or the ones with the Swedish language but I know we didn’t have coins, we had fruits. If tom has four bananas and give half to Pia how man has he given her and things like that.

    I’m like You when it comes to at least my own language (if it’s another language I’m happy as long as anyone understands me). Our biggest problem here is when they divide one word in to many. Today I saw a post in Fb about a man who had bought a new animal to his aquarium, a Thai dwarf spider crab. In Swedish that is one word but he had separated the word to several, so what he actually wrote that he had put in his aquarium was a human from Thailand, a dwarf, a spider and a crab. I sure hope the aquarium is big 🙂 🙂

    Have a great day!
    Christer.

    • katry Says:

      Christer,
      We also had fruits to help us learn to add and subtract, but for whatever the reason I remember the pictures of the coins, especially the quarter.

      Haha- I love that story of the man’s use of language.

      I see or hear mistakes which make me laugh out loud. I never can understand how the writer missed them all. I tend to read my work out loud sometimes because I need to hear how the combination of words sounds.

      Have a great evening!!

  3. Birgit Says:

    I probably make a lot of mistakes in English but what causes most headaches are all those of/by/for/at/from/in/on…, – without any logic and they are often different in German. Two examples: ‘look for’ would be ‘look after’ in German, whereas ‘look after’ would be ‘care for’. ‘Think of’ would be ‘think on’, whereas ‘think on’ would be ‘think over’ and ‘think over’ would be ‘overthink’.
    Richard and Christer already mentioned the compounding of nouns -quite convenient in German- so please ignore my blogcommentgrammermistakes. (Not to speak of names of former laws Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz and Grundstücksverkehrsgenehmigungszuständigkeitsübertragungsverordnung. And no, you don’t want a translation.)
    As Richard wrote German grammatical gender doesn’t often make sense and I feel sorry for all foreign students. Lots of English words are common in our language now so they also need a grammatical gender. Take the noun ‘download’ which we also use, is it female, male or neuter? Female just sounds wrong. When it was new in everyday language you could hear/read male and neuter but male seems to win so in a few years it will be officially ‘der Download’. Living language.
    I prefer math 🙂

    • katry Says:

      Birgit,
      I was an English major in college and taught it in Ghana and here. Ghanaians translate literally from their own language which makes English kind of fun. Return in English becomes I go come in Ghanaian English.

      I never think about the uses of all those prepositions you mentioned. They just are. I was a bit confused by the look after and care for. In English it means just abut the same. To look after someone is to care for them. Think of can be simple like think of my mother. Think over takes a bit of energy like think over your bad behavior.

      I loved your examples of compounding in German, blogcommentgrammermistakes. Those two laws are about the longest words I’ve ever seen.

      I never gave it a thought that English words don’t have gender, but it makes perfect sense to me. I always associate gender with people, not things.

      I am very bad at math!

    • olof1 Says:

      Birgit.
      Swedish is more close to german than english in many ways so I have the same problems 🙂 We don’t nap in the bed, we nap on the bed for instance 🙂

  4. William Sandford Says:

    “Me and her went to the mall.”. I told my granddaughters why this would be wrong: ” Me went…” or “Her went…”. They laughed.

    • katry Says:

      Bill,
      That’s the best way to teach it is wrong. You did a great job. I used to do the same thing. Fine to Tom and I became Give it to I. That one got a laugh too.

  5. The World Travels Says:

    Hi Kat. You probably don’t remember me but i sent you a message a couple years ago. ten + years ago i was in college and i loved looking at your blog. I am Portuguese and i studied here but your blog made me dream about visiting America if not live there. I never forgotten about your blog. It has a really great quality to it. It also makes me know about the times before i lived with those wonderful pics.i would love to stay in touch with you. Take care.

    • katry Says:

      Hi Ricardo,
      I am so touched by your comment. Portugal is just about my favorite country of the ones I’ve visited. My memories are wonderful.

      To think you still remember Coffee and have enjoyed reading it for so long. I have lived through many of the times those pictures show while other pictures are more my mother’s time. I believe I grew up in the best time when the world was safe. We wandered all over time, and my mother never worried. Life was gentle.

      Please do stay in touch!!

      All my best,
      Kat

  6. Caryn Says:

    Hi Kat,
    I feel your pain. For a long time I have fought a losing battle against “dove” instead of “dived”. “But it’s in the dictionary!” everyone wails. Yes, it is, but only because uninformed people insist on using it all the time. It’s considered colloquial or slang. But it’s not correct usage.
    “But it’s in the dictionary!” So’s “ain’t” but it’s not correct. Arrrgh! :/

    Lately the phrase “so impactful” has been making me twitch. It evokes images of serious gastrointestinal problems requiring surgical intervention.

    I’ve given up on pronouns. You and me? Sure. Whatever.
    Pronoun discussions remind me of Steve Canyon’s comic strip friend Mike Nomad. Mike was not well educated but he was intelligent. He always got his pronouns right except he always put himself before the other person.”I and Steve”. His dialogue was consistently written that way, too. It always made me smile.

    Today’s weather is miserably dank and grey. And where’s the 60º my weather widget keeps forecasting?
    I hope you brought the primroses inside again.

    Enjoy the day.

    • katry Says:

      Hi Caryn,
      We are fighting a losing battle. Snuck is universal while the proper sneaked is hidden in the fog. TV is big on snuck. I figure writers skipped grammar.

      I don’t think I’ve heard so impactful. If I had, I’d still have the rash. I do hear it impacted all of us. Impact is a noun but people have morphed it into a verb. That is becoming so common. I found out it is called verbing which is a great example in itself.

      I don’t remember Mike though I do remember Steve. That’s funny.

      It is raining now and has gotten chilly. It is in the high 40’s so I think my primrose is safe!

      Have a great day!!

      • Caryn Says:

        You hear “so impactful” mostly when someone is giving an interview or blogging about a “life-changing experience”. Perhaps people feel it makes them sound earnest.
        Or should that be earnestful? 🙂

      • katry Says:

        Caryn,
        I guess I’ll have to listen more carefully.

        The turn a noun into a verb movement has been going on for a while. I can’t remember the first time I heard one, but I figured it was just that speaker then I heard it many more times. Now it is common, whatever the word is.

        I like earnestful!


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