Friday, August 08, 2014
English is just weird, man.
For instance, when your friend calls your cell and asks what you're up to, you don't reply with the present-tense structure almost every Romance language follows: "I go to the store." No, English only uses the present tense when it's referring to things you do habitually, as in "I go to the store on Tuesdays." If you want to explain to your friend about your specific, current trip to Trader Joe's, you have to use the present continuous tense and say, "I am going to the store." ...what? Why? Because that's how we do it, is why. Doesn't make a lick of sense. And why is there an extraneous "do" in the phrase "What do you do for a living?" It isn't necessary to make sense of the sentence, but if you leave it out and say "What do you for a living?" it's considered non-standard usage.
Then there are spelling/pronunciation issues. Heaps of them. Since we nick words from all corners of the globe, English rules of spelling and pronunciation (yes, they do exist!) tend to go right out the window. "Cachet," which ought to be pronounced "cash-it" if following English rules, is actually pronounced "ca-shay" since it was borrowed from French. "Nike," the running shoe company, looks like it should rhyme with "bike," but since it's borrowed from the Greek word for victory, it's pronounced "Nigh-key." Likewise, "chimera" looks like it should be pronounced "chim-uh-ra" (and for a very long time I pronounced it that way, not knowing any better), but no, it's another rip-off from Greek: "kye-mare-ah."And in the name of all that is holy, do not get me started on the "ough" combination in English. There are at least ten ways I know of to pronounce this combination of letters (and I've heard each and every one of them, since my surname happens to contain this combination): "uff," "off," "ow," "oh," "aw," "oo," "up," "uh," "ock" and "och." (For the record, the proper pronunciation in our surname is "oh," as in "Oh, I just know I'm going to screw this name up again.")
English plurals are a regular nightmare. Yes, you can add an S to the end of nearly anything and get away with it, but you may have to fiddle around a bit with the stuff that comes before it. If a word ends in a vowel, you usually have to add a silent E as well (tomato = tomatoes). If it ends in an F, you must usually tweak the F to a V (loaf = loaves, half = halves), BUT not always (roof = roofs). Some words don't change at all from singular to plural; you just have to determine which they are from context (sheep, moose, fish, deer). And then there are random plurals (again, borrowed from other languages) like "alumni" and "tableaux" that simply defy description or logic; they just sit there on the page going "THPHPHBPT! Neener!"
Finally, there are a few odd items for which English has no proper word. Consider this: the singular generic term for one animal is a "cat" (plural: "cats.") The male is a "tom," the female a "queen" and the young are "kittens." Now for another common animal: the male is a "bull," the female a "cow" (or if young, a "heifer") and the young are "calves." The plural generic term is "cattle." But what is the singular generic term for one of the commonest farm animals known to man?
Yup. Weird. But I still prefer English over Esperanto.