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Yo-Yoing Around With English

Ihave been in love with the English language all my life. It has a mix of lots of languages--honest, strong Anglo-Saxon, dancing French, crisp Greek, sturdy German and Latin, which gives us the basis of our grammar, rhetoric and syntax. We have even borrowed an East Indian word or two, such as bungalow.

English can thunder, roll, sing like a meadowlark on a fence post in April, whimper like a puppy, anything you want it to do.

My love affair started when I was a child because I had rheumatic fever and couldn’t go to school. I spent my childhood on the couch in the living room and upstairs in my room. Books were my playmates, enchanted sailboats to exciting worlds.

I first went to school in the ninth grade at Beverly Hills High School. Before then, my father taught me at home. He was a lawyer and he had the Irish love of words, which he handed down to me.

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That is why I have not the slightest knowledge of mathematics. Because my father was bored with teaching me arithmetic, I reached the start of my formal education without the having had the slightest brush with fractions or decimals or square roots. My mother would say, “Johnny, I don’t care if she understands math. Can’t she just read?”

So I just read and words were my music. I couldn’t swim or ride a bicycle and by the time the doctor said I could, I was 12 years old and too embarrassed to admit I couldn’t do either. I still can’t.

I was a bystander on the fringe of a gathering the other day which gave me the fantods. I do not fear for the English language because I still think it is strong enough to withstand small attacks, but there are those who claim that you can really be pecked to death by ducks. And if that is true, we must hie to the barricades.

One woman there referred to “myriads and myriads of causes.” Myriad does not take kindly to an added s . It’s originally Greek, like kudos. A great many think there is such a thing as a kudo and that kudos are more than one of them.

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According to the speakers at the gathering, a surprising number of things and ideas seemed to have been impacted. That’s all right. It’s just that frequent use weakens this as it does every word. I would also like to nominate for retirement state of the art. When it is being used in reference to screwdrivers, perhaps it needs to rest a while.

The most annoying malfeasance by the speakers was adding ize to any handy noun to employ it as a verb. One that grated was prioritize, and when a woman said we must prioritize the priorities, I was nearly stunned. However, my favorite was agendize.

I also heard that there are many kinds of years, the personnel year, the calendar year, the fiscal year, the budget year. I think there were more but I’m ready to agree that my knowledge of this area was covered neither by my father nor by Sister Marie de Lourdes at Mount St. Mary’s College, a small, determined woman who gave Fs to those using cliches.

This was a women’s group, and toward the end of the gathering, a woman referred to a “yeoman’s scope.” When she realized she had allowed the dread word man into her speech, she back-pedaled and said, “Yeo-wo.” Then she realized that yeowoman really did sound too silly and she retreated to yo-yo and then dwindled off in dark despair.

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