Living with English

Play a while

To continue our ranting on the vagaries of English:

If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,

Why shouldn’t the plural of booth be beeth?

If the singular is this and the plural is these,

Should the plural of kiss be nicknamed kese?

We speak of a brother and also of brethren,

But though we say mother, we never say methren.

Learn a little

Listening and reading are the receptive skills while writing and speaking are the productive skills of language. When one is working at a juice machine or waiting for popcorn to pop, the juice comes out only when fruit is fed into the machine and popcorn can pop only when corn kernels are fed into the popper. Crudely speaking, don’t expect a person to speak and write unless and until there has been a fair amount of listening and reading. Input determines output.

Intriguing words

The words of English swell in number daily. One productive phase was the early Modern English period when words from the Anglo-Saxons suddenly began to look ordinary to modern users and they began to use synonymous words from Latin to show off their level of education. This snobbishness led to many pairs of words with the same meaning (the first word in each pair is Anglo-Saxon, the second Latinate) such as: anger-rage, ask-inquire, heed-attention, freedom-liberty, give-provide, fall-autumn, mean-signify, teach-educate, wage-salary, speak-converse, see-perceive and god-deity.

Precise usage

The apostrophe plays two major roles in English: one, to show a possessive such as ‘the city’s main shopping centre’ or ‘the cat’s tail’; two, to indicate omitted letters as in ‘I’ll wait’ or ‘The book’s on this shelf’. In plural nouns, the apostrophe is placed after the ‘s’ as in ‘the boys’ locker room’. But, if the plural noun forms a plural without an ‘s’ ending but needs a possessive apostrophe as in ‘children’s games’, then the apostrophe is place before the ‘s’. When a word ends with ‘s’ as does Dickens, then an extra ‘s’ is added to the word only if it would be articulated as in ‘Dickens’s works’.