Category Archives: Language

Grammar Nazis.

nazi_flag_s

Dear reader.

Does this symbol mean anything to you? Does it perhaps even shock you? It is the Nazi flag. The flag that symbolised Hitler’s Third Reich. Don’t worry, I’m not going to take over the world. Yet. The flag symbolises something that bears down on me heavily though. You may know I live in the Netherlands which is a neighbour to Germany. In the 2nd World War we suffered a lot from Hitler’s goons. The Nazis. Which brings me to the topic of this post. The “Grammar Nazis”. The people who want to put things to the right concerning language and grammar.

concentratie kampWhy, I wonder, did someone choose the name Grammar Nazi? Someone who has no idea of what the Nazis actually did? And what happens to the victims of these Grammar Nazis? Will they be put to work in language concentration camps?

Really, come on. No language can ever be as foul and lowly as the Jews apparently were according to Hitler and his Nazis. Which user of language can be so lowly and foul that a Grammar Nazi has to act on her or him?

Is there a Grammar Nazi out there able to explain to me that this name is perfectly fine and respectable?

Grammar Police, fine. Grammar Hammer, fine. Grammar Purist, even better. But do the world a favour and stop calling yourself a Nazi.

I don’t know where you read this; on my blog, on Facebook, on Google+ or on Tumblr. If you consider yourself a Grammar Nazi, please stop following me, unfriend me, whatever. I don’t want to be associated with anybody who considers him- or herself anything related to ‘Nazi’.

Thank you. (I shall spare you an image of a mass grave near one of the concentration camps. I can’t imagine that even the toughest Grammar Nazi wants to be associated with such a view.)

Big words, small words. For writers.

Dear reader – and especially writer. Because this post is intended for writers for a change.

What’s this odd title, you may wonder. Because you know the difference between BigwordsSmallwords

If you wonder about this then read on. Or better, read on anyway. This post originates in a little exchange I had with Ksenia Anske that I had not so long ago. We both are writing in English and for both of us English is not our native language. She’s Russian, I’m Dutch. We talked about learning new words and how to memorise and use them. There’s hardly anything wrong with that, right?

Then I started thinking broader. We’re writing in what is not our native tongue, but that also means that we (and you!) are writing for people for whom English is not their native tongue. And that thought brought the big words back to my attention. Big words are the ones that sophisticated, mostly well-read people like yourself know. You have seen those words before:

  • Intransigent (uncompromising, stubborn)
  • Debilitating (weakening, crippling)
  • Vociferous (loud, noisy)

Stuff like that. And there is a lot more of them. Of course, for most native English speakers these words would not present any problem. At least I assume so much although I have seen some shreds of evidence that this isn’t always the case.

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky
Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Let me now turn the tables. You have mastered a fair amount of Russian and you pick up a book by your favourite Russian author, e.g. Dostoyevsky. And you try to enjoy the book. But then you run into these big Russian words that require a dictionary before you can enjoy the book. Words like калі ласка or здратвуите. (Bear with me, I have no idea what they mean as I only know a few Russian words. These are specifically for demonstrative purposes.) Would you still try to enjoy the book by your favourite Russian author? Or would you try to find a good translation in English so the reading isn’t so difficult?

Either way, what I want to say here is that using big, clever words isn’t always the smartest thing. Of course, it will show that you know them, but I suddenly realised (and this happened while I was waiting in line at the supermarket actually) that you should also take the grasp of words of your readers into account. If you plan to write for Harvard graduates only you can throw in the occasional profligate sycophant, but if you want to create something that all the world should be able to enjoy then keep in mind that all the world should be able to read your work without eating dictionaries for breakfast every day.

This doesn’t mean you should abstain from big words. Make things a bit interesting and challenging. Just don’t go overboard on them.

(By the way, a profligate sycophant is an extremely wasteful and highly immoral person who sucks up to others. I looked that up for you.)

 

Culture and language

Dear reader,

Have you ever noticed how tightly culture in many aspects and language are connected? A normal expression in one language doesn’t need to mean the same in another language – or even in a community that speaks the same language.

Language and Culture

How often, for instance, do you say (or hear someone say) that something is annoying as hell? That is something from your culture. Religion is part of someone’s culture and in the Christian religion there is a concept of hell as something unpleasant. Would you be surprised if saying that something is annoying as hell might offend people? There’s a small town in the north of Norway called Hell (see Wikipedia). Suppose you live in Palm Springs and you love it there. And then some plonker says that something is annoying as Palm Springs. Well, there you have it.

A very funny example of this is when you feel in seventh heaven. Did you know that this is not a Christian thing? Only in Judaism, Islam and Hinduism there are seven heavens. Christianity has only one and Paganism has the Summerland. It’s clear that the seventh heaven (which refers to the best of all heavens) is something that English and many other languages (this also exists in Dutch and German) borrowed from a different culture.

I hope you enjoyed this little banter into the world of language and culture. You may never know what you’re saying!

The wonders of language

Dear reader,

a few days ago I came across this wonderful line on a box of bananas:

chiquita

Immediately I wondered how someone would know what nothing tastes like. After all, if nothing tastes like a chiquita then logically a chiquita tastes like nothing. So when you taste nothing you know what a chiquita tastes like.

I assume something got lost in translation here…

Senn. A language and a film.

Senn
Senn poster

 

Dear reader,

This time I’m not writing about books but about a film and language. I’m fascinated by languages. All kinds of languages including constructed ones (the so called conlangs). I also like science fiction a lot, in writing and in films. That is why I had to see Senn.The film is something you need to experience for yourself. Next to the film itself I also saw the makers’ documentary on the Language of Senn. As you see in the top image there’s not much English in the images. That for me was intriguing already, and to learn that the one of the creators of the film had gone through a lot of work to create the language (in speaking and in writing) was fascinating. Do you remember Tolkien’s Elfish? The Klingon language as made for Star Trek? The Na’vi language for the film Avatar? Britton Watkins did that for Senn. He created the characters, the speech and the grammar. All the signs in the film were adjusted in that language. It was amazing to see how much work had been put into all the details.

Senn is more than just a science fiction film. It shows the observant viewer a lot of what is going on in the world today as well.

Senn 02

If you are interested in Senn (be it for the film or the language or even both), you can either click the image to the left or follow this link to have a more indepth look at Senn. The site behind the link offers you the option to purchase a Bluray disc of the film, a digital download or select one of the other options. You can see a trailer of Senn there as well.

More about Senn (who created it and more) is available at sennition.com.

If you like science fiction that has something to show and say (in English and in Senn’s local language) then you will like Senn. Still not convinced? Then take the quiz!

How odd language is

Dear reader,

You may not know more than one language. Usually that’s enough. Since I use more than one language I sometimes run into word combinations that make me wonder, smile and… wonder again.

silver

Today I was writing about people who had been seeking silver. I first thought they were silver seekers, but no, this would or could mean they were seekers made of silver while they’re very much human. In Dutch (my native tongue) or in German we’d simply glue the words together: silverseeker. But that’s not proper English. Hooray for the hyphen which allows me to make them silver-seekers.

Merry Christmas!

Weird wordification. You’ll want.

Dear reader,

Today’s wordification talks about the gentle care that many users of the English language display when addressing something that you want. Most of the time you don’t even know that you want it, but they’ll point you to it. It’s a mode of expressing that I have mostly encountered in North America.

The word in this case is: you’ll want. When you drive somewhere and someone is next to you, pointing where to go, it is common to hear “you’ll want to go left here”. (Unless you’ll want to go right, or straight on, depending on the situation of course.) There is no question about it, you will want to go that way, even if you don’t want to (but no one bothers to ask about that).

The point that the speaker wants (!) to make of course is that you need tomust, should or have to go in that direction. Otherwise you won’t reach your destination. I keep being surprised by the carefulness that so many people feel they have to (or will want to?) display when directing something. What’s wrong with saying you ‘have to’, or ‘need to’ do something? Why ‘will you want’ something? Is this a form of deranged political correctness? (Excuse me for this error, political correctness is already deranged.)

I sincerely hope that this way of expressing oneself doesn’t get any worse than what we’ll want, because if we ‘might consider the option to agree with the idea of maybe wanting to turn into this or that direction, unless you desire to discuss this option and weigh it against potential alternatives‘, we’ll shoot past our goals more and more…

Radio

Weird wordification. Old skool.

Dear reader,

Welcome to another post in Weird wordification. This time I want to talk about something real that’s really not so real as it might look.

old skool

Probably everyone has heard the expression Old Skool. A reference to days gone by where walkmans (MP3-players with cassettes) ruled the street view. When there only were dumb phones with smart users (which doesn’t mean that smart phones nowadays have dumb users – have you ever tried to use one of those? Smart phones, I mean, not their users).

I am from that era. Actually I am from before that era, so one might call me ancient skool. Were it not… that I object to both these expressions. And why do I, you wonder?

In old and certainly ancient schools people learnt how to spell correctly. Old skool would have been properly named Old School back then.

Of course, my objections are overruled by the rest of the world, and I understand that. Old Skool is a modern expression, it bears no relation to the spelling taught in old schools. Is this something that casts shadows over ‘our’ language? It seems to happen.

A while ago I had an interesting discussion with someone from America who claimed that ‘b4′ is exactly the same thing as ‘before’. I tried to convince him that this is not an absolute truth, because I (being Dutch) first interpret this ‘b4′ as ‘bay veer’. French people may interpret it as “bay kah-tr”. Trust me: “bay veer” and “bay kah-tr” in either language has nothing to do with ‘before’. It’s all fine for everyone whose native language is English. Or people who’ve been subjected to this kind of acronym or shorthand long enough…

Weird wordification – Ranch Dressing.

Dear reader,

You may know my habit of doing odd things with words. Today I had an encounter with an expression that probably every American citizen has encountered (and many more people around the world as well).
ranch-dressing

 

Ranch dressing.

These words appeared with someone holding a bowl. Immediately I wondered if that one bowl would be large enough to contain enough fabric to dress an entire ranch in it!

I delight in little things like that. My mind makes strange turns and finds the strangest paths behind words, thus finding hidden meanings behind them.

The next thing I thought of was: how would one go about to dress as a ranch? Unfortunately the interwebz did not have an answer for that, so I just assume it will involve a lot of wood that one fashions into a portable version of a ranch. That, sandpaper and a good lick of paint on the inside to prevent splinters. And suspenders. One needs suspenders to move about while dressed as a ranch.

Anyway… or thereabouts

Dear Reader,

I saw something horrible. Even to this moment I’m not certain how I found out what it actually means. Let me show you:

anyway

Can you see, at first glance, what’s meant here? If so, you are better at deciphering mutilated language than I am.

Who needs it an-y-way.

This clearly is an attempt to be popular in using as few letters as possible, like people who substitute ‘you’ by a mere ‘u’, and ‘are’ by a simple ‘r’. In this case however, the attempt fails entirely. Not only becomes the text highly illegible, it’s also longer than writing anyway. Only one character (a space) longer, but it’s longer.

Why do people want to make things so confusing?