Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Words, Glorious Words

I just finished reading The Word Spy (2008), by Ursula Dubosarsky, which invites all to “come and discover the secrets of the English language”. The school’s librarian handed it to me over morning tea-time, saying, “This just came in, and is very ‘you.’” Bless her.

Here are some of the delightful things I learned reading this book:
  • In NZ and other lovely places, the “u” we find in words like “color” and “labor” has been thrown in to make it look more French! After William the Conqueror (a French speaker) made French the official language of England, it was in vogue to throw in letters willy nilly to add “Frenchness”. Such as the “h” in the word “hour” or in “ghost”. Meanwhile, the “b” in words like “doubt” was added to make English look more Latin.
  • Acronyms used to always have full stops to show they were initials, now they often appear without, but still as capitals, to show they stand for words. Some of our acronyms are so successful however, that they aren’t even capitalised anymore, they’re just considered words – such as laser – which was originally “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation”.
  • Love letters during WWII would include sender addresses from countries soldiers weren’t actually in, because they wanted to send secret messages…mainly love messages! For example, they would send their letter from ITALY (which meant, “I Trust And Love You”) or HOLLAND (“Hope Our Love Lasts And Never Dies”). MALAYA is my favourite…try and guess what it could be, I dare you. (*Answer at post’s end.)
  • The word “mnemonic” comes from a Titan in Greek mythology, Mnemosyne. She represented memory.
  • Words like “electrocute” have been around for so long we have forgotten they are portmanteau words, (words smashed together), in this case, the words “electrify” and “execute”. I’ve since been thinking about how we live in an age of portmanteau words, because technology is forcing us to come up with new ways to describe things before we can coin something appropriate that is new. Thus podcasts, mockumentaries, and romcom (also abbreviated). I am always amused by married couples who create portmanteau words from their names – not so much the “Bennifer” phenomenon, but more people I KNOW. Some of them don’t do it, so I do it for them; Sherric / Erry, Mattherita / Makew, Philarie, Pave / Daula, Heatham / Adher, Marat / Natiah, Erikim / Timika. Fun, fun, fun. Haki and I played out Final Fantasy 10 with Angaki –it seemed highly appropriate for the Anime filmic sections.
  • Oscar Wilde took on the penname “Sebastian Melmoth” when he came out of prison so he could have a fresh start (and not be discriminated against for being a criminal ‘n’ all).
  • My friend, Sherry, has discovered in NZ we do not use the word “bathroom” so much, and she finds the more common kiwi word, “toilet”, a little awkward. What I find amusing, is that the word “toilet” was originally a euphemism from the French word, “toile” – a piece of cloth one put around their neck while washing. What this means, is that this, now awkward word, was originally conceived of so as NOT to refer to the actual thing you sit on, just like “bathroom”. Now it is apparently something some people wish to create a new, better euphemism for. I’m not a fan of “loo”, “potty”, “throne”, “water closet”, “can”, or “restroom”. I accept “bathroom”, “wharepaku”, and “toilet”…along with students holding up the “time out” signal from Basketball (my favourite…see that “u” in there…thanks William the C!).

*MALAYA stands for “My Ardent Lips Await Your Arrival”. Fan…tastic.

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