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English Matters

Discussion in 'Education & Personal Growth' started by Ansuya, Dec 20, 2008.

  1. Ansuya

    Ansuya Platinum IL'ite

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    ShardaSuresh

    I appreciate your clarifying your position on this matter. Like I said, I want to get on in this thread with issues relevant to how we can each make use of the English language in a practical way. People are entirely free to do with this information whatever they want, including ignore it completely. As you have mentioned, there is more on offer here than just grammatical rules. I enjoy the personal anecdotes people have posted here very much, and hope more people will come forward with that sort of story.

    And thanks for the compliment, which I must admit, I did not get at all from your original post! My own language use is riddled with errors of style and grammar, which is why I am so enthusiastic about this thread myself. I am learning a lot too. For example, I sometimes end sentences with prepositions (like the "upon" at the end of this sentence!) and start sentences with conjunctions (and, but), both of which are traditionally frowned upon. I know this, but I do it anyway. The important thing is knowing, and then choosing.

    Srama

    I'm not sure about "let us take a listen". I have heard it, but it doesn't seem to me like something Americans say very often. Isn't it more an informal or colloquial British expression? Whatever the case, it does not sound like it is appropriate to use in a formal context. However, I can't see it doing any harm in a more casual situation, as long as we can tell the difference.

    Your other point, about the past tense of verbs like "learn" and "dream", is a great example of what we're trying to do here. Quite simply, the past tense forms "learned" and "dreamed" are US English, and "learnt" and "dreamt" are British English. This means both forms are correct and acceptable, depending on where you are and what you decide to use. Interestingly, I have read online in researching this answer that the American forms "learned" and "dreamed" are even gaining acceptance in Britain now.

    The important thing, though, is to be consistent in your usage. This goes for all issues that have different applications in British and American English. So, when you speak or write, decide whether you're going to use the American or British form and stick to that particular form throughout your document or speech (or life, to make things easier!). This goes for spelling too. Here are some examples:

    American - British past tense

    learned - learnt
    dreamed - dreamt
    spoiled - spoilt
    spelled - spelt
    smelled - smelt
    burned - burnt
    leaped - leapt

    American - British spelling

    color - colour
    summarize - summarise
    fulfill - fulfil
    center - centre
    catalog - catalogue
    anesthesia - anaesthesia
    check - cheque
    pajamas - pyjamas

    This site

    Spelling differences between British and American English

    has a more comprehensive list of examples, so "give it a look" (this is a variation on your "take a listen" example!) if you're interested in this sort of thing.

    I want to appeal to the people reading this thread to come forward with questions and feedback, if you have any. It is really important to me that this forum is inclusive, so if something is on your mind regarding English usage, let us know. If you're not comfortable asking your questions here, you can always PM me and I'll give the answers here.

    Thanks!
    Ansuya
     
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  2. Ansuya

    Ansuya Platinum IL'ite

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    Here's another quick little note about words and how their meanings evolve. As I explained, in South African English, "coolie" is a derogatory term for a South African Indian person and it is considered as offensive as the "N" word (not Negro, the other one) is to African Americans.

    The derogatory word for black South Africans in South Africa is "kaffir" (a difficult word for me to type, even). It is entirely unacceptable, and if used (in any context) in South Africa is usually followed by a storm of controversy, and rightfully so. Like "coolie", it carries with it all the ugliest connotations of racism and discrimination from the darkest days of apartheid.

    Many of you will be familiar with this word, not from the South African context, but from the Arabic "kafir", which means unbeliever or infidel. How it came to have such a different and offensive meaning in South Africa, as applied to black South Africans, is a mystery to me, although I can probably guess how it jumped from place to place and changed meaning in varying shades along the way. Sometimes I will see listed in an ingredient list for a recipe, "kaffir lime peel", and although that is acceptable in that context, it still causes a discomforting twinge in me, as does "coolie" when I see or hear it in India.

    Words are capable of doing so much more than conveying a simple and literal meaning. They are inextricably bound to our pasts, to sociology and history and anthropology and psychology and all those other disciplines that illuminate the human condition. You may not agree with me here, and that's fine, but it can be important to think about how and why we use language and be aware of why we say the things we do, instead of just passively consuming and regurgitating.
     
  3. ShardaSuresh

    ShardaSuresh Bronze IL'ite

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    Let me add another interesting episode. My husband who is also in the IT business nick names himself as Kaataan (loosely translated it means un-cultured). There was this buddy of his who was very intrigued with this word and could never understand why a guy like my husband who is a successful software consultant would chose a nick name like that.

    Every time my husband came up with a out of the ordinary idea(crazy idea) like wearing jeans and T-shirt to a board meeting, he would remind this buddy about his nick name. He would say since I am a kaataan I can get away with this attire. Once they had a formal dinner at work. My husband in addition to not being properly dressed was also a vegitarian. He kept refusing most dishes, which I must admit most guests were compelling themselves to eat. Finally when the desert arrived, my husband asked for a second helping. The waiter actually gave him a nice large piece of Cheese cake and my friends buddy was really jealous.

    This trend has become the Kaataan trend. Where programmers wear shorts to work, eat what they like and don't care two hoots for the exisiting societal norms. It is now fashionable to be a kaatan in the open source world. I know there is a software company called Kaataan.

    In case some one from Thesausus is reading this post here is the definition for the word

    Kaataan: Adjective, means uncultured or some one who refuses to bow to the formal cultural practices. The other synonym for this word is 'cool dude'. Also means a person with high self-esteem(bordering into ego-mania), a person who will do the opposite of what is expected of him.

    If words like kumbakonam can make it to the English dictionay why not kaataan.
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2008
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  4. Srama

    Srama IL Hall of Fame

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    Ansuya,

    Thanks for the explanation - may be I am still old school and though I am getting used to the American English, the one word I find difficulty accepting is learned. This word as we grew up was always taught as in "he is a learned man" or "that is a learned behaviour" - yes I can hear you already shaking your head and saying "Srama, it is all about pronunciation". I do have to confess that while I have normally assumed American way of spelling, I have ways to go before I use the tenses and God, the 'z' substitute for 's' is always confusing for me and I can only thank spell check for saving me everytime! I absolutely agree with you on maintaining consistency.

    Anyways, as I was browsing the net, came across this page on yahoo - I am sure most of you might have seen, but still felt worth sharing it here - Banned words list offers no 'bailout' to offenders - Yahoo! News and the banned list from the University's web site Lake Superior State University :: Banished Words List :: Welcome.

    This actually brings me to my next question about the usage of 's vs ies vs usage of 's when used with a word ending with s. I know it is quite simple but thought it might be a good idea to speak about it - ex..univerties (plural), univerty's (belonging to) and Suess' - this is where I usually have a hiccup.

    Do I end up asking you to speak more technicalities - it is just in my earnest desire to keep the thread active while other ILs jump in and participate enthusiastically.

    Also this link here on English words of Indian origin makes an interesting read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English_words_of_Indian_origin
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2008
  5. Ansuya

    Ansuya Platinum IL'ite

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    ShardaSuresh

    Thanks for illustrating how new words evolve depending not only on geography, but factors like industry as well. I'm not familiar with the open source world, but I am dimly aware of an entire culture that has emerged as a result of it, with attendant new ways of using of language. I didn't know what Kumbakonam is, and had to look it up, so for others like me who are not familiar with the history/geography of India, it's a historic town in Tamil Nadu.

    Srama

    As usual, you've raised many interesting points in a short post! I'll get to some of them now, and others later.

    I am shaking my head, but not because it's a matter of how you pronounce the word "learned" in the example you give, but those pesky exceptions I mentioned earlier (there are ALWAYS exceptions!). In the example you give

    He is a learned man

    "learned" is not used as a verb, it is used as an adjective. You're right, it is pronounced differently, but that's because it's performing a different function in the sentence (remember, verbs are doing words and adjectives are describing words). So, we are giving more information about (describing) the noun "man".

    When words that look like the past tense of a verb (end in "ed") are used as nouns or adjectives, we pronounce them with an "-id" sound at the end. Here are some examples:

    My grandparents live in a retirement community for the AGED. (noun)

    Have you seen that WRETCHED boy? (adjective)

    Get out of those RAGGED clothes and put on something else. (adjective)

    Thanks for the links - I'm sure over-used or cliched words don't bother everyone, apart from the strange group of people who spend far too much time thinking about words, like me! I enjoyed reading the list. There's a specific phrase that's been getting on my nerves for the past few months. It seems to occur here in the US in popular culture a lot - people are saying

    It is what it is

    Apart from being a nonsensical and redundant construction, in my opinion, it is also reflective of a defeatist and helpless attitude along with a certain smugness. So, in style and content, for me it is the mental equivalent of raking my nails down a blackboard! But it seems to be spreading like wildfire, and I hear it on TV a lot (one more reason to stop watching, I guess). If any of you out there like this phrase and use it often, maybe you can convert me with an explanation of how and why it is useful :)

    Thanks for the contributions.

    Ansuya
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2008
  6. ShardaSuresh

    ShardaSuresh Bronze IL'ite

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    Kumbakonam is used as an adjective also. It means cheat (I hope like some banned words, this word to get what it deserves)
     
  7. Ansuya

    Ansuya Platinum IL'ite

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    ShardaSuresh, thanks for clearing that up! I was pretty sure I got the "wrong" meaning with my Google search, but now it makes a lot more sense!

    In case all of you haven't yet recovered from the New Year's Eve revelries, I thought it best not to inflict any grammar rules or serious discussions on you at this point! Instead, here is a lovely poem that quite amusingly details the confusion of even the experienced English speaker in trying to make sense of all the rules and exceptions that govern spelling and pronunciation. I hope you enjoy it!

    The English Lesson
    attributed to Richard Krogh


    We'll begin with box, and the plural is boxes;
    But the plural of ox should be oxen, not oxes.
    Then one fowl is goose, but two are called geese
    Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.


    You may find a lone mouse or a whole lot of mice,
    But the plural of house is houses, not hice.
    If the plural of man is always called men,
    When couldn't the plural of pan be called pen?


    The cow in the plural may be cows or kine,
    But the plural of vow is vows, not vine.
    And I speak of a foot, and you show me your feet,
    But I give a boot - would a pair be called beet?


    If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
    Why shouldn't the plural of booth be called beeth?
    If the singular is this and plural is these,
    Why shouldn't the plural of kiss be nicknamed kese?


    Then one may be that, and three may be those,
    Yet the plural of hat would never be hose;
    We speak of a brother, and also of brethren,
    But though we say mother, we never say methren.


    The masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
    But imagine the feminine she, shis, and shim!
    So our English, I think you will all agree,
    Is the trickiest language you ever did see.


    I take it you already know
    Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
    Others may stumble, but not you
    On hiccough, thorough, slough, and through?


    Well done! And now you wish, perhaps
    To learn of less familiar traps?
    Beware of heard, a dreadful word
    That looks like beard and sounds like bird.


    And dead; it's said like bed, not bead;
    For goodness sake, don't call it deed!
    Watch out for meat and great and threat,
    (they rhyme with suite and straight and debt)


    A moth is not a moth in mother.
    Nor both in bother, broth in brother.
    And here is not a match for there.
    And dear and fear for bear and pear.


    And then there's dose and rose and lose --
    Just look them up -- and goose and choose.
    And cork and work and card and ward,
    And font and front and word and sword.


    And do and go, then thwart and cart.
    Come, come, I've hardly made a start.
    A dreadful language? Why, man alive,
    I'd learned to talk it when I was five,

    And yet to write it, the more I tried,
    I hadn't learned it at fifty-five!



    A
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2009
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  8. sundarusha

    sundarusha Gold IL'ite

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    Dear Ansuya

    I enjoyed reading the poem which by itself seems like a guide for the spelling and the pronounciation of the various words. Thanks for posting.

    I have not been able to follow this thread due to the holidays, will do that soon and get right on track.
     
  9. Anandchitra

    Anandchitra IL Hall of Fame

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    Ansuya my dear friend
    I am not surprised you have started an intelligent and highly readable thread as this one.. all the replies are wonderful to read too...
    The past few months have been so hectic I have missed out this good thread. Though most of it is above me I still enjoy reading all your replies.
    This poem about the plurals is an absolute hoot... so funny. Yet so clever.
    Thanks my dear friend for writing on an intellectual level and encouraging so much stimulating conversations too.:)
     
  10. ShardaSuresh

    ShardaSuresh Bronze IL'ite

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    Great Poem, Ansuya,

    Keep coming with new ideas such as these
     

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