Thursday, June 5, 2008

Odd language

It's been brought to my attention what a strange critter the English Language is.
This week I've been asked what the difference is between inflammable and flammable and valuable and invaluable. Ummm. (Strums lips thoughtfully). Call me daft - I've been called worse - but don't they mean the same thing? Like slim chance and fat chance?

It got me wondering. I mean, what are the opposites of ruthless and gormless, for instance? Ruth? Gorm? I don't think so.

My grandma used to ask tricky questions like that when we were youngsters. (She knew how to show us a good time.) Why do we chop trees DOWN, but chop UP wood? We never could give her a satisfactory answer. Probably because there isn't one. Why do we get IN a car, but ON a bus, train, plane or ferry?

I had a look online, but even Google couldn't help. I did discover that “The sixth sick sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick” is the toughest tongue twister in English, though, and that Donald Duck's middle name was Fauntleroy. How weird is that? I mean who even invented words, anyway??

Luckily, I've pulled myself together. I shan't be doing any more Wondering. It hurts my brain.

11 comments:

ChrisH said...

Hi Karen, I've enjoyed reading your blog - I loved the difference between you and Carrie (congratulations on the hands!). Your observations on past rejections struck a chord too - I wince now at 'rejections' which were in fact 'try again' letters but, hey, guess who thought she knew best!

Debs said...

So funny. Grandmothers are clever when it comes to shutting children up and giving them something to contemplate, or maybe it's just a way to confuse them and get a little peace.

Lane said...

Well your posts are definitely invaluable! Couldn't do without 'em.

Is your brain sore after all that wordly pondering?:-)

TOM FOOLERY said...

I was born under a wanderin' star.
I was born under a wanderin' star.
Wheels are made for rollin', mules are made to pack.
I've never seen a site that didn't look better lookin' back.

Tommo! Clarkey said wondering not wandering. (Oh yeah,sorry my mind was wandering, what a difference a vowel makes)
:) Tommox

Quillers said...

I once wrote a story in which I said that 'children aren't inflammable', entered it for the toowrite comp then someone told me that inflammable and flammable meant the same thing. I wanted to crawl into a hole and die (but the toowrite folks were nice enough to change it).

The English language has a lot to answer for.

Lorna F said...

My favourite tongue-twister is this: 'The Leith police dismisseth us'. You could try alternating that with the sick sheikhs. After a few gins.

HelenMH said...

I have a German volunteer working with me at the moment, and I often have to explain why we say things in a certain way, or don't say certain things. Needless to say - she thinks we're all totally bonkers ...

KAREN said...

chrish - Thanks for dropping by! In future I'm going to treat my rejections with far more respect...

debs - It wasn't just my grandmother then? I did wonder!

lane - Thank you :o) The feeling's mootyewal. My brain IS sore...I need some of your WD40!

tommo - I've had that bloomin' song going round in my head all morning, thanks to you. You're right about vowel movements though...

quillers - It's quite confusing isnt' it? One of the children asked me, and I couldn't answer! Nothing new there though :o)

lorna f - I can't even do it sober. I might do it BETTER after a few gins!

helenmh - It's incredibly complicated. My husband has a couple of Polish guys working for him and he's all but given up trying to explain!

Yvonne said...

It's all too much for me, this language lark. I think I'll go and lie down...

Have a great weekend!

womagwriter said...

You need the book I'm reading at the moment - Bill Bryson's Mother Tongue. He sort of answers some of those questions, and is witty while he's about it, so worth reading.

Flammable and inflammable are interchangeable. Valuable and invaluable aren't - the first is to do with monetary worth, the second means you can't do without it. I think.

KAREN said...

yvonne - Me too! You too. If you see what I mean :o)

womagwriter - I do like Bill Bryson - I'm a recent convert after reading Thunderbolt Kid. You're quite right about valuable and invaluable. I was just being silly. Honest...

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