Tag Archives: English language

BBC: What is the future of English in the U.S.?

A few weeks ago, I recommended an article where the writer claimed the English language was a “bully,” elbowing out other languages and dialects. While I don’t agree with the descriptor “bully,” I did think the writer made some interesting points and had a good take on the issue.

Here’s another article about the position of English in the world — and what effect it has on people (like me) who speak only English. Writing Bryon Lufkin, writing for the BBC website says:

. . . over the last century, the English language has been the currency of global trade and communications. A 2013 Harvard University report found that English skills and better income go hand-in-hand, and that they lead to a better quality of life. Adults and children all over the world spend years, and invest a lot of money, in studying English as a second language.

The problem for those of us who speak English from the cradle is that we forget how easy we have it. Source: BBC – Capital – What is the future of English in the US?

While most Americans have never felt a need to learn another language, the future may see something differed, Lufkin argues. The changing demographics of America will probably mean that there’s an economic and cultural advantage to those who have at least a passable understanding of something other than English.

Some companies have ramped up the search more than others – a full third of job openings posted by Bank of America in 2015, for example, were for bilingual workers who could speak languages like Spanish, Mandarin and Arabic. The report noted that the fastest growth in bilingual listings were for “high prestige jobs” like financial managers, editors and industrial engineers.

Lufkin makes some other valid points that are worth considering.

 

H.L. Mencken and The American Language: the writer defends his native tongue

H.L. Mencken, writer and journalist, comes to mind when the American public or American culture needs criticism and a bit of biting satire. He knew how to do that and did it better during this 40-plus-year as a newspaper columnist and magazine editor than anyone else.

He did it so well that we forget that there was more to the man than his cigar-chomping, beer-drinking, fiery typewriter wit. Much more.

Mencken took a scholar’s and a collector’s interest in the English language, especially as it was used by Americans. He was fascinated by the language, beginning with the way Americans differed from the English. He began to take note of these differences early in his writing and editing career, and this notice morphed into a study of the language itself — the American language.

Mencken wrote several newspaper columns about his interest in the language and the items he had noticed in his wide reading and in his discussions with people in Baltimore — a hotbed of innovative language use.  In the second decade of the 20th century, Mencken decided it was time for someone to become a modern-day Noah Webster. That someone would be him.

The American Language was published in 1919 by Alfred A. Knopf, one of its earliest titles.

It sold well and received excellent reviews. It was revised three times during Mencken’s lifetime and has been revised since his death.

Unlike Mencken’s acerbic views of American politics and the collective ignorance of the American electorate, Mencken celebrated the American language and came to its defense when it was attacked, particularly by English critics. Here’s an excerpt from the section on the Characters of American:

The Characters of American

American thus shows its character in a constant experimentation, a wide hospitality to novelty, a steady reaching out for new and vivid forms. No other tongue of modern times admits foreign words and phrases more readily; none is more careless of precedents; none shows a greater fecundity and originality of fancy. It is producing new words every day, by trope, by agglutination, by the shedding of inflections, by the merging of parts of speech, and by sheer brilliance of imagination. It is full of what Bret Harte called the “sabre-cuts of Saxon”; it meets Montaigne’s ideal of “a succulent and nervous speech, short and compact, not as much delicated and combed out as vehement and brusque, rather arbitrary than monotonous, not pedantic but soldierly, as Suetonius called Caesar’s Latin.” One pictures the common materials of English dumped into a pot, exotic flavorings added, and the bubblings assiduously and expectantly skimmed. What is old and respected is already in decay the moment it comes into contact with what is new and vivid. Let American confront a novel problem alongside [Pg027] English, and immediately its superior imaginativeness and resourcefulness become obvious. Movie is better than cinema; it is not only better American, it is better English. Bill-board is better than hoarding. Office-holder is more honest, more picturesque, more thoroughly Anglo-Saxon that public-servant. Stem-winder somehow has more life in it, more fancy and vividness, than the literal keyless-watch. Turn to the terminology of railroading (itself, by the way, an Americanism): its creation fell upon the two peoples equally, but they tackled the job independently. The English, seeking a figure to denominate the wedge-shaped fender in front of a locomotive, called it a plough; the Americans, characteristically, gave it the far more pungent name of cow-catcher. So with the casting where two rails join. The English called it a crossing-plate. The Americans, more responsive to the suggestion in its shape, called it a frog.

The American Language is pure Mencken and a delight to read. While you can purchase a copy from Amazon, it is available free through  Project Gutenberg.

The Digital Reader: 8 Common Phrases that You May Be Getting Wrong; plus a bit from JPROF

Nate Hoffelder, the Digital Reader, gives us  – at a quick glance – eight phrases that we might be getting wrong. They’re all packaged neatly in a simple infographic.

The phrases:

  • for all intensive purposes (my personal favorite)
  • reign in
  • baited breath
  • sneak peak
  • mute point
  • case and point
  • extract revenge
  • peaked my curiosity

Hoffelder leaves out one my other favorites:

exact same

Now, what’s wrong with that one?

In any event, head over to the Digital Reader and take a look: Infographic: 8 Common Phrases that You May Be Getting Wrong | The Digital Reader

 

Henry Watson Fowler

A bit of wisdom from Henry Watson Fowler

Henry Watson Fowler’s book, Modern English Usage, is as a good volume to have for those who are interested in English as you can get.

One of my favorite topics is the English language — its history, development, and use. Over the decades, a number of great scholars have devoted their lives to studying the language, and they have shared their knowledge, understanding, and conclusions with the rest of us.

One of those scholars was Henry Watson Fowler, an English schoolmaster who lived from 1858 to 1933 and made the study of English his lifelong work. Fowler’s classic is A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. It was originally published in 1926 and has since been revised and updated. It is so well known and established as essential among scholars that its title is now Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage.

Henry Watson Fowler

Henry Watson Fowler

I bought a copy of this book early in my academic career of teaching about journalism and journalistic writing, and I have kept it ever since and referred to it often. Fowler is insightful and often wry, and the entries — long or short — are always fun to read.

If you have one book on your shelf about the language, Fowler should be the one.

Fowler is superb in writing about the nuances of the language, and I thought I would give some bit of flavor of his book. This is the entry on the word intended:

Intended, n. It is curious that betrothed people should find it so difficult to hit upon a comfortable word to describe each other by. ‘My intended’, ‘my fiance(e)’ , ‘my sweetheart’, ‘my love(r)’, ‘my (wo)man’, ‘my boy (girl) friend’, ‘my future wife (husband)’, ‘my wife (husband) to be’ — none of these is much to their taste, too emotional, or too French, or too vulgar, or too evasive. The last two objections are in fact one; evasion of plain words is vulgarity; and “my intended” gives the impression that the poor things are shy of specifying the bond between them; so too with ‘my engaged,’ and the modern word ‘steady’ does not necessarily imply serious intentions. And so in finance(e), they resort to French instead of vague English for their embarrassing though futile disguise. It is no doubt too late to suggest that another chance be given to betrothed. It means just what it should, i.e., pledged to be married, and is not vulgarized and would be a dignified word for public use. But it is so out of fashion as to sound facetious.

Fowler’s book is full of this kind of stuff. Get one for yourself or for someone who loves the language.

 

Another reader on free expression; Anger as temporary madness

This newsletter was sent to all those on Jim’s newsletter list (3,873) on Friday, Nov. 3, 2017.

Hi, 

Where did English come from? The origins of English are many and varied. If you don’t know much about it, there’s a great sub-five-minute video from Open Culture embedded at the top of the JPROF.com website.The Origins of English

Gardening is a year-round activity: I spent a couple of hours on my tractor on Thursday afternoon sub-soiling the garden. A subsoiler digs deeply into the ground, much deeper than a plow. The purpose is to turn over a lot of dirt and create deep furrows. The rains and snows of winter will freeze and thaw repeatedly inside these furrows, and by spring the soil will not have as many clumps and will be easier to till and plant.

Do not forget the victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate. These and many other disasters mean that people need our help. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to yours.

Viewing tip: Click the display images link above if you haven’t done so already.

Another reader’s take on the First Amendment and free expression

A couple of weeks ago I asked for your thoughts about the First Amendment and free expression and any of the current controversies related to these ideas. I have continued to get responses on this important topic. The latest was this week from Jim S. He says, in part:

. . . I believe in free speech. Chaos is not free speech. I also believe in the freedom to attend and listen or to not attend.

If an opposing point needs to be presented, let that be set up and let the dialog go forward in an orderly manner with each side showing the respect of allowing the opposite side to fully present (without dominating the time) their position.

If a demonstration is needed, a large demonstration in front of city hall will usually draw TV and other news coverage. Is this effective? Here is a piece from scripture that seems applicable.

“In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. 3 There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ 4 For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’” Luke 18:2-5 (NASB)

Yelling and screaming to block another person’s free speech is NOT free speech in any context of the phrase. Neither is violence. . . .

 

Jim’s entire statement is found below the signature of this email.

Other thoughts? I find the different thoughts and points of view fascinating, so please share them.

Something to think about: Anger as temporary madness

I ran across an interesting article a couple of weeks ago by Massimo Pigliucci, a philosophy professor, on how the Stoics of ancient Greece viewed and dealt with anger.

Seneca thought that anger is a temporary madness, and that even when justified, we should never act on the basis of it because, though ‘other vices affect our judgment, anger affects our sanity: others come in mild attacks and grow unnoticed, but men’s minds plunge abruptly into anger. … Its intensity is in no way regulated by its origin: for it rises to the greatest heights from the most trivial beginnings.’

I have been thinking a lot about that — and the entire article — since reading it. Take a couple of minutes to read it yourself.

James Callan: Where do ideas come from? Everywhere

Last week I included a bit about James Callan, an independent author, and a blog post on JPROF.com about where he gets his idea. Here’s another excerpt from that post.

A few years back, a number of church burnings occurred in east Texas. When they finally caught the two arsonists, the only reason given was, “Could we get away with it?” As I thought about it over a year, I just couldn’t imagine someone burning down buildings for no reason. What could be a reason? And that became Cleansed by Fire, where churches were burned. But there was a reason.

That’s just a part of my interview. Jim has lots of interesting things to say about his books. You can read the entire interview on JPROF.com.

Cleansed by Fire, Over My Dead Body, A Ton of Gold, A Silver Medallion, and other books by James R. Callan can be viewed on his Amazon Author page: http://amzn.to/1eeykvG or by visiting his website:http://www.jamesrcallan.com

Giveaways

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery/

More from The Devil’s Dictionary

I have been having a lot of fun reading and selecting entries from The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce, a book you should know more about. Here are a few more:

WEDDING, n. A ceremony at which two persons undertake to become one, one undertakes to become nothing, and nothing undertakes to become supportable.

SAINT, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. The Duchess of Orleans relates that the irreverent old calumniator, Marshal Villeroi, who in his youth had known St. Francis de Sales, said, on hearing him called saint: “I am delighted to hear that Monsieur de Sales is a saint. He was fond of saying indelicate things, and used to cheat at cards. In other respects he was a perfect gentleman, though a fool.”

SACRAMENT, n. A solemn religious ceremony to which several degrees of authority and significance are attached. Rome has seven sacraments, but the Protestant churches, being less prosperous, feel that they can afford only two, and these of inferior sanctity. Some of the smaller sects have no sacraments at all—for which mean economy they will indubitably be damned.

POSTERITY, n. An appellate court which reverses the judgment of a popular author’s contemporaries, the appellant being his obscure competitor.

Bierce was a Civil War combat veteran who became one of the nation’s foremost writers and cynics in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I promised to tell you more about Bierce, and that will happen in the near future. You can get a free copy of The Devil’s Dictionary in a variety of formats through Project Gutenberg.

Finally . . .

A friend asked that I do a painting of the farmhouse where her husband grew up. The house is gone, and there are no good pictures. She had a picture that gave me some information and said there was a road leading down to the house. I took it from there, and this is what I came up with.

Keep reading and have a great weekend.

Jim

Jim Stovall
www.jprof.com

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter

Statement by reader Jim S. on the First Amendment and free expression:

Free Speech

Jim, I started to respond to your enquiry about opinions on free speech. I found myself so wound around the axle that, what I wrote did not need to be sent. I became so emotionally involved that it became unworthy to be placed in public view.

Now, some may think what I just said is blathering and unnecessary. But, I imagine, and this is borne out by many I see yelling and screaming on the news, that many others have found themselves in that same position and need to calm down before they present.

I will do my best to put that aside because it does not add anything to a good understanding.

I believe in free speech. Chaos is not free speech. I also believe in the freedom to attend and listen or to not attend.

If an opposing point needs to be presented, let that be set up and let the dialog go forward in an orderly manner with each side showing the respect of allowing the opposite side to fully present (without dominating the time) their position.

If a demonstration is needed, a large demonstration in front of city hall will usually draw TV and other news coverage. Is this effective? Here is a piece from scripture that seems applicable.

“In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. 3 There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ 4 For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’” Luke 18:2-5 (NASB)

Yelling and screaming to block another person’s free speech is NOT free speech in any context of the phrase. Neither is violence.

As to listening, there is a principle that applies, not just to me but to all of us. I hold some of my beliefs much stronger than others. For the beliefs I hold strongest, I will only listen to the different point of view if the other person is willing to listen to my position.

My belief in Jesus as the Christ, the anointed one of God, is my primary belief. I believe he lived, I believe he died on a cruel Roman stake, and I believe he rose to life in power and I believe he lives today. I have had many evidences, enough to strongly believe all those elements are true. My hold on those points is very strong. I would only listen to an opposing view if that person would listen to my evidence.

I do not insist that you believe as I do. However, I know in my heart that you would be in a better position if you did and I can and will wish that you did. I do insist that you have the freedom to choose what I believe or to choose something else. That’s a significant part of free speech.

For those beliefs I hold less strong, I am willing to hear another side if it is presented in a thought out, reasoned manner. There may be areas of agreement and I may find a different way to think about things.

On the other hand, if an argument is presented, with screaming and yelling as its most persuasive points, I am not so interested. If a position is presented based on untruths, I really don’t want to hear it and I will turn it off, even if the person may have some valid points.

For example, the group that has the rallying cry, “Hands up. Don’t shoot.” probably has valid points to address. But I can’t get passed their cry based on a non-occurrence. I just can’t get passed the lie to hear any valid complaint.

Another example is when people intentionally kneel or sit while the national anthem is played.

First consider, why do we stand when the anthem is played? This is to honor our country, our flag and the privilege of being a part of America. When people who are able to stand during this brief time, choose to kneel or sit, what other conclusion can I come to but that they choose to dishonor our flag, our country and the privilege of being a citizen? For someone to say that was not what they were saying just does not ring true.

If they chose a different mode to present their point (and I believe many are available), I would be more likely to listen. As it is, I have made the choice to watch less TV on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays, and I am not likely to return to watching those events (I realize I am a small drop in the bucket.)

This is my two cents, and, I believe, worth every penny.

Thanks for the opportunity Jim.

Blessings, Jim Stow

4-star review: You have to love a female lead character set in the sixties whose storyline isn’t about getting knocked up or becoming a drug addict in an abusive relationship, this may well be a first for a YA female in a story set in the the 60s or 70s, a rarity for any historic setting unfortunately.
A good story with a strong female lead.

Kill the Quarterback

5-star review: An excellent book with building suspense that makes it hard to put down even for a little while. The characters are fresh and nicely developed with some gentle humour.

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