Do you know the answer to this question? Can a horse hear a dog whistle? If you have an answer I will tell you it’s the wrong one. Dogs don’t whistle. And if you figured out this way of looking at the question I’ll tell you that the question actually refers to the fact if horses do or don’t hear the sound of a whistle that is used to signal dogs.
While the English language stays away from long words by splitting them up, there are also words like Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. Of course all native English speakers know that this is “an artificial long word said to mean a lung disease caused by inhaling very fine ash and sand dust.” (According to the Oxford English Dictionary.)
So long words exist in English. Go on. Give it a try. Get some free-range-eggs instead of free range eggs where no one knows if it’s the range that’s free or the eggs.
(This post came to life courtesy of a Facebook exchange I happened to discover. Now I go back to writing for Nanorwrimo.)
Have you heard of alot? If not then I hope you have amoment to read this post. Alot is creeping into the words of the world more and more. More than ayear ago this already happened. When I first encountered it I thought; “Alot is not aword.” But the world proved me wrong. Alot is here and it looks as if it’s here to stay.
And as we’re on the subject of alot, maybe we can have aword about more improvements and speed-ups to the English language. Why don’t we remove the space between ‘the’ and nouns as well? Then we can talk about thebook and thewriting process (or even thewritingprocess) which should make the many supporters of alot alot happier.
Don’t worry about getting long words like theinstrumentarium or therailwaystationmanagersoffice. You’ll get used to that soon enough, and your language could do with a few longer words. Dutch and German have a great history on that, although I have to admit that thehabit of that is falling apart as well. Some people can actually confuse me by breaking up theword on thesigns they put up. Then I don’t know what they mean and that is very annoying.
For example afew days ago I saw asign that announced “free range eggs”. In Dutch this would be one word. Or two. Depending on the meaning. The way it was splattered on thesign however gave me the options of ‘range eggs’ that were free or eggs coming from ‘afree range’.
And here is theproof (in Dutch) that even shops are scared of creating proper words these days. This is exactly how I saw it on thesign. Theway to write this correctly would be ‘vrije-uitloopeieren’. I am sure there will even be Dutch people who will stare at this in surprise and disbelief, but TheDutchWikipedia agrees with me.
So don’t worry, dear Englishspeakingpeople, there is no problem with thelongwords (I’m really getting thehang of this!)
So now go out and assemble alot of thewords that can go alongway. I hope I handed you athing or two to ponder, and whenever you see alot written down that you will remember thispost (why not?) where I explained thebenefits of alot alittle!
As you may know I write in two languages. English and Dutch. Usually not at the same time, but sometimes it happens. Now (not as in at this very moment, but lately and still) I do that. I write in Dutch and English at the same time. This is because of the sequel to ‘Wanted: hero‘. Yes. There will be a sequel. I wrote most of the draft text during last year’s Nanowrimo. In English. And now I am writing the text again, in Dutch. No, that’s not merely translating, it’s literally writing it because of the many difference between the two languages.
Word play, double meanings, expressions, those are language items you don’t simply translate. You write them again. This in turn means that I rewrite much of the English text again as well though.
Question from a fictitious reader: how does that happen? Didn’t you already write the English version?
Answer from the writer: yes, I did. I wrote the English first. I write the same sentence or paragraph in Dutch, which makes me think about the sentence and remodel it to Dutch style, grammar and spelling. Occasionally the sentence will come out much better in Dutch than in English which in turn makes me adjust the English sentence so it’s more like the Dutch one. And voila (which is French and means look there, since we’re on the subject of languages anyway), the English is rewritten.
I have found this a fabulous way to duplicate a story into Dutch. It makes me reconsider the English original, which in turn can make me change both English and Dutch a few times before it’s just right. Things like that take time. Lots of time. But in the end they’re worth it.
This post appeared on my Dutch blog earlier. In Dutch. Click here if you’re interested to see it. 🙂
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.
Why, 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.)
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
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.
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.)
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.
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!
a few days ago I came across this wonderful line on a box of bananas:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 to, must, 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…