Why is the English language so weird?

Published 11:45 pm Friday, May 31, 2019


Contributing columnist

The English language is one of the most complex in the world. From its strange spelling rules to its weird pronunciations, it is a struggle to try to make any sense at all. I have always been fascinated by words and the manner in which people use them to express themselves. When I was in college, I was required to take some classes in a foreign language. I chose to study sign language. I was fascinated with the culture within this language and how thoughts and meanings are expressed without using verbal words at all.

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Many of the citizens in this country are taught English as a youngster — when our brains are able to soak up the complexity of the language. Imagine having to learn English as an adult and how difficult that would be. Let’s face it; English is one of the weirdest languages out there. What’s more is that it has evolved and changed and continues to do so. We can all remember reading a Shakespeare play in school and trying to figure out what in the world this guy was talking about. Even the English that was spoken when our country was first formed seems odd compared to today’s speech. Our language, like our people, comes from all over the world. New phrases and words come into play all the time.

To add to the confusion, English is filled with words that are spelled the same but have different meanings. Imagine if I wrote, “Since there is no time like the present, I thought it was time to present the present”. Very confusing. To add to the confusion, Americans cannot even speak the same language to each other. Slang words and expressions make perfect sense to one, and in another part of the country, they have no idea what is being said. For example, in the mid-west someone might ask you where the bubbler is located. I would have no idea that they are talking about a water fountain. When you go to the grocery store, do you use a cart, or a buggy? That would depend largely where you are from. Where I come from those little flying insects that light up the night are called lightning bugs. Our friends to the North may call them fireflies. I once rented a hotel room in the Northeast that bragged about their davenport in the room. It took me two days of looking for it before I figured out they were talking about the couch.

Of course, no conversation about language would be complete without mentioning carbonated soda. There is a vast array of brands and types but in some places they are just called “A Coke”. When I was growing up, I always just asked for a “Pop”. Others may refer to it as a soft drink. Do you clean your ears with a cotton swab or do you use a Q-Tip? I didn’t realize until I was grown that Q-tip is a brand not an item. If you pay attention, you will see this everywhere. One of my biggest pet peeves currently is with the new Millennium generation and how they make up new words by shortening perfectly good words. I heard a young woman recently say that something was “Just perf” to symbolize that something was perfect. I realized how my parents must have felt in the 1980’s when they heard me say something was “Rad” instead of saying radical. It was at that moment that I realized that I am officially old and I am fine with that.

Jack Godbey is a resident of Danville. He is a published author and historian. He has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in physical science.