Thursday, July 23, 2009

Signs of the times

Savannah's obsession with Iceland really gives me pause. But I suppose there's many other things, worse things, to be obsessed with. Leeches. Twilight. Fleetwood Mac...wait, she's obsessed with that one, too.

I don't know where it comes from. Of course, I don't know where any of Savannah's thoughts come from, but I am glad at least that she has discovered in her Icelandophobia the group Sigur Ros. If you haven't listened to the music from this group, I can tell you it is... well, I don't know, because the CD has the uncanny ability to render me unconcious before the first song is finished. Which isn't a good thing when driving down the highway.

I guess I shouldn't be too hard on Savannah's obsession. I have developed a few of my own, usually in those long hours of not sleeping. Here's one: every day. Everyday. Ok, so that's two. Which is my point, exactly-- most of the time, when someone uses the term everyday, they mean every day but write everyday. One is a phrase consisting of an adjective, every, describing a noun, day. The other is an adjective, everyday, describing another noun, say... everyday hero; everyday events; I am everyday people. Seems pretty straight forward, but every day (yes, two words) when I drive into town, I am greeted with a sign outside the local hardware store that proudly proclaims:


It's enough to make me want to pull Sadie over, whip out a pair of scissors-- or a knife-- cut the sign down the middle between "every" and "day", and then separate them by a few planks of the fence. But, I know improper word usage is no excuse for destruction of property.

Closely related to this obsession is my struggle with the peculiar habit we have of verbizing nouns. No, verbizing isn't a word, but if we can turn the noun "text" into a verb, I can create any word I want.

I'm not one of those prudish English teachers who thinks the language is being destroyed. In fact, I am in awe of the flexibility of a language that can adapt and shape new words where there were none before. Savannah tells me this couldn't happen in Latin. I'll take her word for it. It's another one of her obsessions, so she would be much more equipped to discuss that than me. BUT- as an English person,I have a certain amount of academic curiosity about the phenomenom.

All languages are rule-governed. This is why we spend inordinate and frankly wasteful hours drilling our children on rules such as verb tense. A speaker of the language knows not to say "I writed you yesterday." He or she knows, likewise, not to say "I is here." Unfortunately, many haven't learned not to say, "I seen him," but let's stay with the obsession at hand.

So, if language is rule-governed, how are we to handle the issue of verbizing a noun? Nouns don't have tense. Therefore, if a noun like "text" is suddenly used as a verb, as in "I will text you," then what rule do we follow-- sending a text is a form of writing. I wouldn't say to you, "I writed you, but you didn't answer..." I would say "I wrote you..." On the other hand, a text is sent on a phone, but I wouldn't say, "I coll you last night." Is the proper rule for the past-tense of text "texted," or "toxt"? Neither comes off the tongue easily.

How in the name of all that is good is someone suppose to learn to speak English? WE don't even know the rules; we're making them up as we go!

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