Friday, December 3, 2010

English is Crazy

After an entire semester spent struggling through Spanish, I've come to appreciate my native language much more. Spanish, like English, has its own set of rules to follow. There are exceptions, modifications and just plain weird things about the language that we, as English speakers, don't use. If I were better at Spanish, here's where I would whip out a few direct examples of what I'm thinking of. But I'm not good at Spanish.

Is it offensive that they used shades of brown to denote "Spanishness?"

As I learned the broad strokes of Spanish, it made me start to question English's oddities. Like, why do we say, “way to go?” What does that phrase even mean? I see the word “way,” which means a style or method, but I just get confused when it's placed with “to go.” Are we saying that someone did something just the right way? Perhaps it's a reduction of “that's the right way to go,” suggesting that someone did something good. Who's the guy who decided to reduce this phrase into a meaningless hunk of words, huh!?
I can't prove it, but I suspect this book had a lot to do with it.

Here are some more phrases that could very well confuse and infuriate someone who is trying to become more proficient with the language:
Break a leg
Keep your eyes peeled
Look sharp
By and large
The apple of my eye

What is up with our English? And lets not forget words with bizarre alternate meanings that relate to things that seem completely arbitrary.
Cold (Refers to low temperature OR viral infection)
My mother kept telling me that if I didn't wear a coat out in the cold, I'd catch a cold.
Rose (A type of flower OR “to go up”)
The rose rose from its humble beginnings in the dirt.
Brood (To ponder moodily OR “offspring”)
Charlie's brood were known to brood.
Blubber (Mammalian fat OR “to utter while sobbing”)
Teresa usually began to blubber when the subject of whale blubber came up.
Tender (Sore OR gentleness OR “to present for acceptance”)
Bill tenderly tendered his resignation, which was difficult because his arm was still tender.
Count (A European nobleman OR “to recite numbers”) (Sesame Street has known about this for years.)
The Count would count the tiles on his ceiling when he couldn't sleep.
Season (A specific annual time division and “enhance the flavor of food")
During the winter season, Mark noticed that Sarah would season her cooking more heavily.
Coast (Seashore OR “move aimlessly”)
While riding my bicycle, I coast down the hill by the coast.
Polish (To make something shiny by cleaning OR someone or something from Poland)
My Mom made us polish the Polish furniture.

Oh well, since it's the only language I have, I guess I'll just have to keep using it.


  1. I have always wondered those same things. Now, that you don't have school you write, Yay!!

  2. Hmm. Very interesting. I think most other languages have the same problems though, it's just that we're never taught them in class!

  3. Or how about all those military-like expressions, like "the coast is clear" or "shooting straight with someone"? It's like how things become hilarious when translated into other languages, because the sense of it only works in English.

    Makes me think of this one lady in the adult art class. She spoke Spanish, and to Spanish-speaking peoples, people talking Chinese sound like angry Mexicans. "Very high-pitched and metallic," as she put it. I thought it was really interesting.