A couple of weeks ago I had the great pleasure of listening to (and taking part in) a couple of discussions on my favourite subject.
Before you say “Oh no – now she is going to go on one of her rants about sight, disability, inequality, etc,” and go and find something more exciting to read – stick with me and you may be surprised.
My favourite subject is words and how they can be used, I have GCSE's Grade C and above in (in the order I learned them) English, Dutch, French, and German. The two languages I use the most – even today – are English and Dutch. Give me a book in German and I can just about read it. However, my French is now useless.
The English language is a source of immense fascination for me – I have been known to read books on words, etymology (word origins), and grammar for fun.
Being brought up listening to two languages (sometimes in the same sentence) has given me a slightly odd habit of sometimes taking things literally at first. (A tip – never tell me you are “separated” without telling me that you are separated from your wife, husband, etc. My imagination will submit a response like “you appear to be in one piece to me”.)
On the flip side to that – there are certain words which I have to be very careful about the context of when I hear them. This is because there are certain words which appear in both English and Dutch but have totally different meanings (the spellings can be slightly different but the pronunciation is the same). The major “Trap” for me is that exact word. The English use it when they are talking about an object to catch creatures – the Dutch walk up and down it very frequently (“Trap” is Dutch for “Stairs”).
There is one thing about the English language which I find really frustrating though – and it is not the “I before E except after C” rule either. An excellent example is found in the Oxford English Dictionary. Don't believe me??? Look up the word “Snoop” and read the bit which tells you where the word comes from. It will say “From Dutch – Snoep”. Both pronounced exactly the same but one is nothing like the other when it comes to meaning. An English person accuses me of being a “snoop” and they are accusing me of going through someone's private papers without them knowing. A Dutch person would find it extremely difficult to accuse me of being a “Snoep” unless they had dipped me in chocolate or caramel first (and if you think I am staying long enough for anyone to do that to me you have another think coming) - “Snoep” is candy or sweet in Dutch.
The best bit about language is being able to use it in different ways – ranging from things like “that is the kind of grammar up with which I will not put”, used by Winston Churchill to make a point about people who say you shouldn't end a sentence with a preposition, to my favourite quotation. “Hostilities shall commence on the coastal perimeter” doesn't have quite the same effect as its more famous version of “we shall fight them on the beaches”, does it? The first version was used by Winston Churchill when he was trying to explain why he didn't like something the Americans had written in the Second World War.
The cleverest way of using language is to turn it into sentences which can be read two ways. I don't mean the risque double-entendres – I mean a sentence which is either like the “Four Candles” sketch by the Two Ronnies, or like the tweet I saw earlier about a sheep being seen on the hard shoulder of a motorway - “If EWE (you) see anything please tell us”.
Thanks to a conversation between my Mum and Dad I now have visions of a lot of vehicle exhaust parts in my brain whenever I hear anybody speak (or sing) about “Manifold witness”, At least I now know the difference between “Many-fold” and “Manifold”.
I am going to end this post with a Dutch phrase which is used on leaving someone. “Tot Straks” literally means “until later”. It also happens to be my favourite “Goodbye” phrase.
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