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"Mighty oaks from little acorns grow"

LANGUAGE   FACTS

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English is a crazy language 

by Richard Lederer

English is the most widely spoken language in the history of our planet, used in some way by at least one out of every seven human beings around the globe... 

Half of the world's books are written in English, and the majority of international telephone calls are made in English... 

Eighty percent of all computer texts, including all web sites, are stored in English...

English has acquired the largest vocabulary of all the world's languages, perhaps as many as two million words, and has generated one of the noblest bodies of literature in the annals of the human race.  Nonetheless, it is now time to face the fact that English is a crazy language -- the most loopy and wiggy of all tongues...

In what other language do people drive in a parkway and park in a driveway?  
In what other language do people play at a recital and recite at a play?  
Why does night fall but never break and day break but never fall?  
Why is it that when we transport something by car, it's called a shipment, but when we transport something by ship, it's called cargo?
Why does a man get a hernia and a woman a hysterectomy?
Why do we pack suits in a garment bag and garments in a suitcase?   
Why do privates eat in the general mess and generals eat in the private mess?
Why do we call it newsprint when it contains no printing but when we put print on it, we call it a newspaper?
Why are people who ride motorcycles called bikers and people who ride bikes called cyclists
Why -- in our crazy language -- can your nose run and your feet smell?

English is crazy.

     If adults commit adultery, do infants commit infantry?  If olive oil is made from olives, what do they make baby oil from?  If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian consume?  If pro and con are opposites, is congress the opposite of progress?

     Why can you call a woman a mouse but not a rat -- a kitten but not a cat?  Why is it that a woman can be a vision, but not a sight -- unless your eyes hurt?  Then she can be "a sight for sore eyes."   

     A writer is someone who writes, and a stinger is something that stings.  But fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce, hammers don't ham, humdingers don't humding, ushers don't ush, and haberdashers do not haberdash.  

     If the plural of tooth is teeth, shouldn't the plural of booth be beeth?  One goose, two geese -- so one moose, two meese?  One index, two indices -- one Kleenex, two Kleenices?  If people ring a bell today and rang a bell yesterday, why don't we say that they flang a ball?  If they wrote a letter, perhaps they also bote their tongue.  If the teacher taught, why isn't it also true that the preacher praught?  Why is it that the sun shone yesterday while I shined my shoes, that I treaded water and then trod on the beach, and that I flew out to see a World Series game in which my favorite player flied out?

A waiter.  Why do they call those food servers waiters, when it's the customers who do the waiting?

I could care less.  I couldn't care less is the clearer, more accurate version.  Why do so many people delete the negative from this statement?  Because they are afraid that the n't...less  combination will make a double negative, which is a no-no.

I really miss not seeing you.  Whenever people say this to me, I feel like responding, "All right, I'll leave!"  Here speakers throw in a gratuitous negative, not, even though I really miss seeing you is what they want to say.

The movie kept me literally glued to my seat.  The chances of our buttocks being literally epoxied to a seat are about as small as the chances of our literally rolling in the aisles while watching a funny movie or literally drowning in tears while watching a sad one.  We actually mean The movie kept me figuratively glued to my seat -- but who needs figuratively, anyway?    

A non-stop flight.  Never get on one of these.  You'll never get down.

A near miss.  A near miss is, in reality, a collision.  A close call is actually a near hit.

My idea fell between the cracks.  If something fell between the cracks, didn't it land smack on the planks or the concrete?  Shouldn't that be my idea fell into the cracks (or between the boards)? 

A hot water heater.  Who heats hot water?  This is similar to garbage disposal.  Actually, the stuff isn't garbage until after you dispose of it.

A hot cup of coffee.  Here again the English language gets us in hot water.  Who cares if the cup is hot?  Surely we mean a cup of hot coffee.

Doughnut holes.  Aren't those little treats really doughnut balls?  The holes are what's left in the original doughnut.  (And if a candy cane is shaped like a cane, why isn't a doughnut shaped like a nut?)

I want to have my cake and eat it too.  Shouldn't this timeworn cliché be I want to eat my cake and have it too?  Isn't the logical sequence that one hopes to eat the cake and then still possess it?

A one-night stand.  So who's standing?  Similarly, to sleep with someone.  Who's sleeping?

I'll follow you to the ends of the earth.  Let the word go out to the four corners of the earth that ever since Columbus we have known that the earth doesn't have any ends.

It's neither here nor there.  Then where is it?

Extraordinary.  If extra-fine means "even finer than fine"  and extra-large "even larger than large," why doesn't extraordinary mean "even more ordinary than ordinary"?  

The first century B.C.  These hundred years occurred much longer ago than people imagined.  What we call the first century B.C. was, in fact the last century B.C.

Daylight saving time.  Not a single second of daylight is saved by this ploy.

The announcement was made by a nameless official.  Just about everyone has a name, even officials.  Surely what is meant is "The announcement was made by an unnamed official."

Preplan, preboard, preheat, and prerecord.  Aren't people who do this simply planning, boarding, heating, and recording?  Who needs the pretentious prefix?  I have even seen shows "prerecorded before a live audience," certainly preferable to prerecording before a dead audience.

Pull up a chair.  We don't really pull a chair up; we pull it along the ground.  We don't pick up the phone; we pick up the receiver.  And we don't really throw up; we throw out.    

Put on your shoes and socks.  This is an exceedingly difficult maneuver.  Most of us put on our socks first, then our shoes.

A hit-and-run play.  If you know your baseball, you know that the sequence constitutes "a run-and-hit play."

The bus goes back and forth between the terminal and the airport. Again we find mass confusion about the order of events.  You have to go forth before you can go back.

I got caught in one of the biggest traffic bottlenecks of the year.  The bigger the bottleneck, the more freely the contents of the bottle flow through it.  To be true to the metaphor, we should say, I got caught in one of the smallest traffic bottlenecks of the year.

Underwater and underground.  Things that we claim are underwater and underground are obviously surrounded by, not under the water and ground.

I lucked out. To luck out sounds as if you're out of luck.  Don't you mean I lucked in?

     Because we speakers and writers of English seem to have our heads screwed on backwards, we constantly misperceive our bodies, often saying just the opposite of what we mean:

Watch your head.  I keep seeing this sign on low doorways, but I haven't figured out how to follow the instructions.  Trying to watch your head is like trying to bite your teeth.

They're head over heels in love.  That's nice, but all of us do almost everything head over heels.  If we are trying to create an image of people doing cartwheels and somersaults, why don't we say, They're heels over head in love?

Put your best foot forward.  Now let's see.... We have a good foot and a better foot -- but we don't have a third -- and best -- foot.  It's our better foot we want to put forward.  This grammar atrocity is akin to May the best team win.  Usually there are only two teams in the contest.  Similarly, in any list of bestsellers, only the most popular book is genuinely a bestseller.  All the rest are bettersellers.

Keep a stiff upper lip.  When we are disappointed or afraid, which lip do we try to control?  The lower lip, of course, is the one we are trying to keep from quivering.
 I'm speaking tongue in cheek.  So how can anyone understand you?

Think English!