On Language…… ENGLISH

By Eric K. Williams

Had been thinking about this lately, and shared these thoughts elsewhere.

Dig this: English is the ONLY language I know that has three separate Dictionaries. THREE!

Consider the Macquaire Dictionary for the Aussies and Kiwi’s in Australasia.

Then, for Canadians and USA-folk there is good old Merriam-Webster.

And finally, the Brits have Oxford. Amazing!

Consider this sentence in the Melbourne, Australia, newspaper THE AGE, written by the noted crime reporter and author, Andrew Rule. It was about a noted gangster family who took part in the Melbourne ‘Gangland Wars’ of 1995 to 2007.

“Tuppence Moran was known to continue his standover in order to support his punting.” Okay? ALL ENGLISH WORDS. A sure enough English sentence. But if you do not know what a ‘standover man’ is, let alone ‘punting,’ well, you’re lost.

Now, there was the mid-1970’s book, ‘STRICTLY SPEAKING: Will America Be the Death Of English?’ This one was penned by the late Edwin Newman, then a noted correspondent for NBC News. In that book, Newman is an advocate of precision to those who speak the American Language. He took aim at slangs, pauses, “you knows,” and touched on Black English ever so delicately.

Okay, I am American. I got into a BIG DISCUSSION with a couple of Brits years ago, while in London, over who actually speaks English. The Brits, of course, started it to ‘needle the Yank.’ Back and forth it went. That discussion ended in stalemate.

Upon returning home I found myself in a book store, and stumbled across the then recently revised 1930’s-era H.L. Mencken book, THE AMERICAN LANGUAGE. I bought it on the spot. The price of entry for me is the chapter called ‘SURVIVING DIFFERENCES’ between that of British English, and American English. Page after page, after page, after page it went, with over 300 daily, and commonly used expressions that go beyond, say, Flat / Apartment; Lift / Elevator; Newspaper Cuttings / Newspaper Clippings; Biscuit / cookie; round about / circle (as in Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C.)

I do sorely miss the weekly column in the New York Times Magazine called, ‘On Language.’ It was written by William Saffire, and detailed the origin of, and re-emergence of English words and expressions. Fascinating read it was, and lots of fun, too.

What can I say? English is a confusing language….. even for native speakers. It MUST be tough for someone learning English, be it the British, Aussie or American variety.

What do you reckon? Ha! Ha! Ha!


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