President's Message April 2019

Words

Words are magic.  They describe physical objects and environments in a way that we agree is appropriate.  For example, we agree that “table” is an appropriate designation for a board on legs. They are also magic because they convey ideas and concepts and provide connections between individuals.  They are used to describe feeling, emotions and ideas and can be used to tell stories, sacred and profane, which amuse or closely link groups, families or nations.  They convey meaning only to the particular language group otherwise they are just markings on paper.  In themselves they may be depicted in beautiful forms.  The Muslim cursive script is used as wonderful decoration in mosques and the illustrations of old mediaeval manuscripts are also a delight.

English is rich because it can adapt new concepts and borrow from other languages.  The centuries of invasions and migrations of many people and the enforcement of their language gives us Celtic Norse, Norman, and Latin words. This is why we have more than one word for many things so can distinguish different forms, cattle, cows and beef, sheep lamb and mutton, pigs and pork

Foreign words which have no English equivalent are happily incorporated.  Ennui (French) and doppelganger (German) are just two examples. German just seems to add to an existing word and so has claim to the longest words in any language.   As Mark Twain put it, "Some German words are so long that they have perspective."

Frequently when we see people speaking a foreign language on the news the English subtitles can be read well before the speaker is finished.  For example, a thatched cottage is chaumiere in French but casa de campo con techo de paja in Italian.  The English seems much more concise.  In compensation Italian seems so well suited to the joy of operatic singing.

English has limitations, however.  Apparently, Inuit has about 40 words for snow and apparently the Scots have over 400 which I think says much for Scottish weather.  However, English has only one word for love, from the trivial to the deepest emotion.  I love your new coat and I love my child.  This most probably says quite a lot about English speakers!

We are also happy adopting new words. Shakespeare invented many new words still in use.  Each year the Macquarie Dictionary incorporates new words and deletes some out of favour. This year a new word was one close to my heart it is Tartle. This means 'the act of hesitating while introducing someone because you've forgotten their name'

A few words to consider.

Fine words butter no parsnips.

The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help. (Ronald Reagan)

It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words, like 'What about lunch?' (A. A. Milne)

Jocelyn "Tartle" Head

President, U3A Clarence