Why They Don’t Speak English

Stunned Emoji

Why do you study English??! We all speak it.   😳

The lights are on, but there’s nobody home.
The wheel isn’t turning. The hamster is dead.

Once upon a time, on a sunny September afternoon in 1958, I sat in a high school English class. We were studying Shakespeare’s ‘Merchant of Venice.’ The teacher had just read a passage, which included the phrase, “By dark and divers ways.”

The SCUBA diving system was a relatively recent invention, having only been patented by Jacques Cousteau 15 years earlier, in 1943. Suddenly, Biff, the class jock who sat in the row next to me, put up his hand. “Uh, Mr. Johnson, are they talking about guys who jump off cliffs, or that new SCUBA thingy?”

Mr. Johnson is bewildered. As far as he knew, we hadn’t been talking about people throwing themselves off cliffs – and he had no idea what a “SCUBA thingy” was. As he was stammering for a reply, I hissed at Biff, “Put an E on the end of it!”
“Whuh??
No talking in class!
Well, I was in it now. Might as well be hung for a sheep, as a lamb. “Put an E on the end of it!”
“Uh…. Edivers??”
That’s right Biff; there are two ends to a word. Only you would pick the wrong one. Now there were at least two confused people in the room.

“What’s going on back there?”

I stood up. I’m sorry Mr. Johnson. Biff saw the word ‘divers,’ and wondered if Shakespeare was talking about people who dive off things like cliffs, or if he was referring to the new mechanical system which allows people to be SCUBA divers, and breathe underwater, even though it didn’t exist 400 years ago.

We just came here from French class, where the French word ‘divers’ (dee-vare) means of many types, different, various. I was trying to tell Biff to add an E at the end, to produce the English word, ‘diverse.’

This led Mr. Johnson on a spirited lecture about the origin and changes to many English words, and got me off the hook. Biff probably went on to fame and fortune, and a football scholarship, while I can only define the word ‘obscure.’ He was regularly outwitted by the tackling dummy, and needed a handler to tie his shoes, ‘cause Velcro hadn’t been invented yet.

WOW #54

Boustrophedon

Here’s another in a long line of words that you’ll never use in polite company – or in any company, I would imagine.

BOUSTROPHÉDON

Languages that are written in the Greek, Cyrillic, or Latin alphabets, are written from left to right. It only makes sense. 90% of people are right-handed, and the right arm moves away from what is being written. Asian languages like Chinese and Japanese are written from the top down, vertically. At least they’re getting out of their own way.

Forgive me for being un-PC, but languages like Hebrew and Arabic are just stupid. Both cultures – Arabs worse than Jews – make a big deal about being left-handed. Somehow it’s evil, allied to Shaitan, The Devil. Yet these languages are written from right to left. It’s only in the last 75 years that technology has partly rescued them, with instant-drying ballpoint ink, and word processors. Before that, writers’ arms covered what had just been written, smudging or smearing the pen or quill ink.

Cuneiform

Boustrophedon is a Greek name for some of the much earlier Sumerian and Akkadian cuneiform type of ‘writing.’   This was just wedge-shaped marks, pushed into soft clay tablets. Back and forth – to and fro. Since there was no ink to smudge, a line would be entered from left to right. Then the writer would just drop down a line, and enter the next one from right to left.

The word originally just referred to that form of writing, but the meaning, in Greek, is “oxen turning.” Nowadays, the very few times that it is used, (always by a licensed professional) it can refer to things like the back-and-forth pattern of tweed, or the appearance of an agricultural field which has been plowed – fortunately, with tractors, not oxen – back and forth, up and down, leaving a visual difference between alternating rows or strips.

My First (Imaginary) Car

Old Jalopy

Once upon a time, I owned a car – not of my dreams, but in my dreams. It had a 1-1/2 cylinder engine, and ran on Macassar Oil. Since I was much younger when I imagined it, it was a much older make. It was a Rolls-Cunardly. It Rolls real good down hills, but Cunardly make it up the other side.

It didn’t come with all the creature comforts that today’s cars possess. In fact, I don’t remember any comfort at all. It didn’t have a windshield because, even at its top, blazing speed, the breeze flow wouldn’t equal a hot-air hand dryer.

Its balky, 5-speed gearbox was shifted with a long, floor-mounted handle, in a wide W pattern. In first gear, you could have checked what was in the glove compartment, except this car only had a shelf where, until recently, a red lantern was kept, that a footman had to precede the vehicle with.

You couldn’t put it in second gear if there was a lady in the car – although my girlfriend Muriel, said she enjoyed the vibration. Putting it in third would have allowed you to tune the radio, if it had one. Even if it did, all you’d have heard were the faint beeps that Marconi got, when someone told him to go fly a kite in Newfoundland.

Fourth gear would have allowed you to check your pocket change, but there was no need, since neither toll roads nor parking meters had been invented. Fifth gear was where it began overtaking garden snails. Care had to be taken, not to hit the simple on/off switch on the steering column, and shut it down.

Keys, and locks, and security systems were dreams for the future. Who would steal this monster? I left it running in front of a store one day, and came back to find a silver dollar and a note on the seat. You poor lad, I feel so sorry for you. Buy yourself a bicycle.

Where was reverse, you ask? Toward the top of a steep hill! The brakes were mechanical, and none too reliable. Just don’t park anywhere it was necessary to back up – or convince two husky bystanders to push it back for you. I used a crank-start system to get it going. Not the bent, metal thing. I got the grouchy old guy named Archon who lived next door, to help push me and bump-start it.

Some of the above details might not be accurate. They’re just intended to remind the Millennials about how tough we old coots had to be. Actually turn on a stove and cook food??! Ewww! My condo doesn’t even have a stove. Couldn’t you just tell your smart phone to call Skip The Dishes, or DoorDash, and have your meals delivered? 🙄

’19 A To Z Challenge – X

Shrew

Why are women and children evacuated first in an emergency?
So that the men can think.

philosopher

I’m not saying that every wife is a shrew, nor that there are no husbands who need the occasional bit of constructive nagging. I am a case in point. For every testosterone-poisoned dolt who slaps, pushes, or punches his wife, there is a shrill-voiced termagant whose tongue can etch glass. Sometimes they are married couples who deserve each other, and it is the neighbors who suffer. Let me introduce you to

XANTHIPPE

Shrewish wife of Socrates
an ill-tempered woman

While history records her as being a nagging shrew, it is not complete enough to make clear what caused her ill temper. There are records of Socrates helping the widow of a friend, but help seems to be all he did. Perhaps she felt that he was spending too much time down at the Acropolis with the boys, running the country, when he should have been at home, running his estate.

Some while ago, the BBC presented a show titled “Rumpole of the Bailey.” It centered on a 1950s/60s British barrister (lawyer). He was intelligent, educated, and could have been far richer and more famous if he hadn’t been saddled with ethics.

He could often be seen working into the night for a client, or hanging out at a cheap bar down the street. He was asked why he didn’t go home. The running joke was that he had a wife, named Hilda, but she was never seen.

He preferred the long hours and the bad booze, to going home to her. Like Xanthippe, he referenced H. Rider Haggard’s novel, and called her, “She Who Must Be Obeyed”, only, if he didn’t go home, he didn’t have to obey.

This is the end of the fourth year of the A To Z Challenge, and available words for the letters at the end of the alphabet grow scarce. If I accept the challenge again in April, next year, for the letter X, I think I’m down to X-Men, and Xerox machines – and I don’t know which I know less about.

Book Review #21

Once upon a time, a man purchased a book. It was

A Brief History of Time

The book: A Brief History Of Time

The Author: Stephen Hawking

The Review:
Through luck, and association with a particular social group, the man who purchased the book, later got to actually meet the great man, Stephen Hawking himself. He informed him that he had bought and read the book. Largely through Hawking’s handler, the man who guided his wheelchair and who had learned to interpret his minuscule movements, he was asked what he thought of the book.

He replied that he had not understood a word of it. Well…. He got words like a, to, at, the, and, but the rest were over his head like an umbrella. Hawking was surprisingly pleased by this, because it proved that the man had actually read it, even if he didn’t get it.

I tried to get a copy of this book from the library thirty years ago, when it was first published, but it was too popular, and I finally gave up. Recently I thought I’d have another go at it. Hawking’s writing style is pleasantly clear and easy. He claimed that he wanted to provide this information for the ordinary person. Your ‘Ordinary Person’ may vary. MAGA-hat-wearing Trump supporters won’t be forming book clubs to discuss it, nor will it be a hot topic at truck stops.

Even though I’m retired, I’ve kept up my dues to the United Nerds International Union. I was a good halfway through this small (214 page) book before I had to start checking terms and concepts. After the body of the book, Hawking included 2-3 page bios on the likes of Einstein, Galileo, and Newton, to show how their works and discoveries have provided the foundation for modern understanding of the universe.

For a book on time, Hawking spent the first several chapters discussing/explaining matter. Matter and Time are interwoven. You can’t have time without matter. When I was born, scientists had only recently discovered that molecules were made up of atoms. The Second World War brought us the A-Bomb – the atom bomb. A few years later, the thermonuclear hydrogen H-Bomb was produced. These showed that the atoms could be torn apart, and jammed together, made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons.

More powerful and delicate devices, like the CERN Collider, have shown that even these tiny building blocks are made of even tinier bits. Like strange little trouble-making Gremlins, they have names like quarks, muons, pions, mesons, leptons, tachyons, baryons, gravitons, and bosons. While they are too small to reflect light, fun-loving physicists label them as red, blue and green, and insist that they have ‘spin,’ based on how they react with each other, and reality.

Hawking eventually got around to explaining time – how it (so far) only flows in one direction, from past to future. He showed how it is subjective, and is influenced by mass, and speed of travel. I’ve run into most of these terms and concepts before, but it was nice to see them laid out so completely and clearly.

Ordinarily, with a book so nicely written and presented, I’d be recommending it, but not this one. For most of you, your only concern with time is that you arrive at work before the boss gets grumpy about your ETA. If Hawking’s successors are successful at using black holes to reverse the flow of time, you’ll never have to worry about that again.

There was a young lady from Bright
Who could travel faster than light
She set off one day
In a relative way,
And returned the previous night

This book is different – a niche market. Unless the checkout clerk down at Geeks R Us knows you by name, I suggest giving it a pass. Don’t pass up the chance to read my next post. It will be available in no time at all.

’19 A To Z Challenge – U

AtoZ2019Letter U

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A USELESS TALE ABOUT ABSOLUTELY NOTHING

O Nostalgia, where is thy sting?

What do I do when a blog-post theme occurs to me while I am having lunch?
Keep munching! A good platter of nachos is like a contract with God Himself. You guys can read my blatherings any time.

Nachos

My Father was a minor performer. Before the advent of radios in automobiles, he used to regale us with ditties and folk-songs on Sunday drives and road trips. I have found most of them on Google, as folk or minstrel songs, but no indication that any of them were ever recorded. He must have received them as oral history.

The other day, as I was dashing through melted cheese and jalapeno rings, I recalled my mother crooning a little ballad to me in the late 1940s. At first, I thought it might have been just something that she had heard Dad sing. My friend, Dr. Google assured me that this had been a real, live song.

I typed in, Down In The Garden Where The Praties Grow.” If you tap, you will see that the title is merely, The Garden Where The Praties Grow. I remember asking my Mother what ‘praties’ were. She explained that this was an Irish term for ‘potatoes.’

I already knew what indignities the skirt-wearing Scots had inflicted on the language. It was no surprise to find that the drunken Irish couldn’t keep their words straight. Mom must have heard it on the primitive radio when she worked in the big city of Detroit. It was recorded in 1930, but the original version must have been written about 1870, with fashion references to Grecian Bend – women’s hunched stature, caused by a huge bustle – and ‘chignon’, a large, then-trendy, braid or bun at the nape of the neck.

I hope that some of you enjoy a bit of entertainment/fashion history. While I claimed that this story is useless, and about nothing, to me it is a fond remembrance of the soft, kind, loving support that my Mother gave to me as a growing child. This post, and the history/musical link, are particularly dedicated to 1Jaded1, who likes when I connect my story to a song.

Bad Math

Two plus two

Something Doesn’t Add Up

Trying to argue or debate with Christian Apologists is like trying to spar with fog. They’re never quite ‘there.’ They move the goalposts, or change the definitions. When they argue their positions, they add just enough reality to make it seem real. 2 + 2 doesn’t quite equal 4. They will claim 3.97 or 4.04, hoping that skeptics will concede the tiny difference.

They hold up portions of the Bible which are historically correct, and then claim that it ALL is. See, the Bible mentions Jerusalem, and Jerusalem exists, so the Bible must be true. It’s when you ask them to prove the existence of Sodom and Gomorrah, that the tap-dancing begins.

A very small percentage of archeology remains after three to four thousand years.
A very small percentage of surviving archeology has been discovered.
Of what archeology has been discovered, a very small percentage of it has actually been dug.
Of the archeological digs, only a small percentage of the total area is actually exposed.
Only a tiny fraction of what has been examined and published, has anything to do with the Bible.
Of the unidentified digs, one of them might have been Sodom, or Gomorrah.

Yeah??! And it MIGHT have been Jephthah’s bait shop and sailboard rental. We’re getting down to dancing on the head of that argumental pin.

A YouTuber complained that Atheists are so closed-minded, that even if they observed a miracle, they wouldn’t change their minds. As Proof, he quoted the story of Christ raising Lazarus from the dead. The Jewish leaders plotted to have both Jesus and Lazarus murdered, because all Christ’s miracles were bad for their business. But that was because they believed that the miracles were real. They accepted Christ’s divinity. The circular reasoning is hardly the best example to refute Atheists with.

One Apologist admitted that Christianity had got many things wrong, but defended its existence as a possible font of additional hunches/intuitions/guesses about the universe and reality, which science could then investigate, and either prove or disprove. Contrary to usual dogma, he insisted that Christianity and the Bible should be viewed as allegory, and not taken literally. What did I think about that?

That idea sounds weak and desperate. So far, EVERY one of religions’ wild-ass guesses/intuitions/hunches has proved wrong. I don’t think that any one of them need make any more. If organized logic and science can’t intuit something new, ‘Conspiracy Theory’ is the new growth industry.

Besides, Religion is the bully on the block. No Flat Earther has ever threatened me with eternal torment in Hell, or even worse, stretched me on a rack, burned me at the stake, or protested at my funeral because I had the audacity to serve in the military to defend my country, just because I thought the Earth was round.

No Area 51 fanatic has ever put det-cord around my neck and blown my head off, tossed me off a 10-storey building, or put me in a cage and drowned me, because I didn’t believe that the government performed an autopsy on an alien there in 1947.

I don’t feel that we should give any sanction or acceptance to most religions. It only validates and encourages the worst among them. They, and their desperate, insecure, ego-driven adherents, can be quite retrogressive and dangerous.

If you can’t take religion at face value, why take it at all? Playing ‘Pretend’ is for children.