|Shaggy (or perhaps Daphne)|
* This Blog
* Words, Words, Words
* Shaggy and Daphne
Now - cry Havoc! and let slip the dogs of war...
Thanks for all your good wishes on my reaching the landmark 300th posting. And thanks, also, for your fortitude, patience and forbearance on staying the course with me and getting this far without permanent psychological damage.
Further exhaustive research has shown what an incredibly lively lot you are, too. You've left no fewer than 3,886 Comments on this blog; that's an average of almost 13 Comments for each posting!
The same research has revealed - as I suspected it would - that there are truckshunters in even more parts of the world than I at first thought. So please give a warm welcome to blogsters in Brazil, Poland, Greece, India, Belgium, Sweden and China. Occasionally, I find myself wondering what on Earth they make of my endless ramblings about local words, forgotten heroes and public transport in Lyon.
Maybe we should have an AGM in Brazil or Greece…
WORDS, WORDS, WORDS
Speaking of endless ramblings…
You should know by now that I find words and language hugely enjoyable. I really love delving into why we say what we do - in whatever language we happen to use - and why and how words came to mean what they mean.
Did you know, for example, that ‘silly’ originally meant ‘blessed by God’? Or that ‘with’ meant ‘against’? ‘Meat’ was any food at all. In the 13th century, a ‘girl’ was a child of either sex and in the 16th, a ‘bully’ was a 'sweetheart' or ‘fine fellow’.
English is indeed a language where words refuse to stand still and obey any rules; I reckon we’re lucky to speak it as natives, and are thus able to manage its intricacies and complications with comparative ease. From my chats with foreigners learning it - mostly French people - I’ve learned how slippery it can really be.
The meaning of ‘quite’, for example, is notoriously difficult to pin down for foreigners learning English. I was quite alone means that I was totally alone. You are quite right means that you are exactly, totally correct.
But York is quite nice means something much less emphatic. York is fairly nice. It’s acceptably pleasant (which is true, I suppose). I stay up quite late means I stay up fairly late - but not until dawn.
A native speaker of English knows the difference without thinking - instinctively. But a learner trying to guess which sense is intended can get into trouble very easily. After all, when we say someone is quite poorly, we usually mean that they are very ill indeed.
Quite a problem.
I had a satisfyingly word-based chat with a neighbour the other day. Fuelled by copious amounts of curiosity and craft-brewed cider, we began to wonder why, when we have inert, uncouth, disturb and ruthless, we don’t have ert, couth, turb and ruth. (Trying to research explanations was great fun: try it!)
And he drew to my attention a peculiar usage I’d not previously noticed. Why, he asked, is the phrase for long only used in a negative sentence? We say It didn’t take long but not It took long; I didn’t know her for long but not I knew her for long.
It also happens in a phrase like I won’t be long; yet we can’t say I’ll be long.
I haven’t a clue why this anomaly exists or what conceivable linguistic explanation there is for it. If you think you can shed some light on the matter, get in touch.
SHAGGY AND DAPHNE
My neighbour also drew my attention to a July newspaper cutting he had pinned to his noticeboard. He thinks it’s the perfect story of ‘survival against impossible odds’ - and so do I.
‘Two goldfish left behind during the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, which killed 181 people in February have been found alive after four-and-a-half months trapped in their tank without food or power for their filter. Shaggy and Daphne were on display in the reception area of Quantum Accountants in the downtown area, which was made off-limits after the earthquake. Company director Vicky Thornley, who has given them to her son, said she was sure they’d be long dead when she was finally allowed back into the building. The fact that three of their companions had disappeared may be a clue to their astonishing survival.’
I love that story.
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