Chaucer’s Revenge?

Hilarious email that I thought was worth reposting:

The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the European Union rather than the other possibility, German.

As part of the negotiations, the British Government conceded  that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a 5-year phase-in plan that would become known as ‘Euro-English’.

In the first year, ‘s’ will replace the soft ‘c’. Sertainly,  this will make the sivil servants jump with joy. The hard ‘c’ will be  dropped in favour of ‘k’. This should klear up konfusion, and keyboards kan  have one less letter.

There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year when the troublesome ‘ph’ will be replaced with ‘f’. This will make words like fotograf 20% shorter.

In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more  komplikated changes are possible.

Governments will enkourage the removal of double letters which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling.

Also, al wil agre that the horibl mes of the silent ‘e’ in the  languag is disgrasful and it should go away.

By the 4th yer people wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing ‘th’ with ‘z’ and ‘w’ with ‘v’.

During ze fifz yer, ze unesesary ‘o’ kan be dropd from vords kontaining ‘ou’ and after ziz fifz yer, vevil hav a reil sensibl riten styl.

Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi tu understand ech oza.

Ze drem of a united urop vil finali kum tru.

Und efter ze fifz yer,ve vil al be speking German like zey vunted in ze forst plas.

“I go alone/ Like to a lonely dragon”

A conversation with the boyfriend –

Me: Did you know that Shakespeare made the word “lonely” popular? Like people didn’t use that word until Shakespeare. But that’s crazy ’cause its so common now.

Boyfriend: Maybe people were just really happy before and then Shakespeare came along and opened Pandora’s box. And everyone was sad. 😦

Well… not quite, although Harold Bloom’s Shakespeare: the Invention of the Human does make a similar (controversial) claim. Whether or not Shakespeare was the first to discover or conceive of individual psychology (and then make that concept popular), he certainly left us with a great set of new vocabulary with which to describe our inner selves. One of the most fundamental things that I believe and love about literature is that language can change the way we think and see the world. Shakespeare was a great inventor of language and he was so good at saying “what oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed” as Alexander Pope would put it. (Although, to temper my bardolatry, I will also say that he produced some duds like “unfix”.)

A lot of non-English majors I know shrug off Shakespeare like a chore, something they had to read in high school, and they wonder how Hamlet or Much Ado About Nothing will ever be useful. Maybe its because Renaissance drama is my specialization, but I really do feel like Shakespearean studies is important precisely because Shakespearean language has influenced so much of Western culture since the 1600s. Ever use the words “dejected,” “ruminate,” or “pious”? Or even “abstemious” – which is usually the second or third word on any SAT vocab list? You have Shakespeare to thank for that.

Now that I’ve given my “why I love English” speech of the day, it’s time to get back to converting citations for my professor’s article on Shakespearean neologisms. It’s tedious, but also insanely awesome because it’s like I’m reading a top secret unpublished manuscript. I love my new job.

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses!

I’ve always loved etymology; all words, like people, have a story – a past and, like people, the stranger the story, the more interesting the word seems. On Sunday, I received my customary Merriam-Webster word of the day, which was “oaf.” I typically associate “oaf” with Hagrid and other generally big-footed people. However, I found out that the origin of the word is actually something quite different:

A long time ago in England, it was believed that goblins sometimes secretly exchanged their babies for human babies. This was used as an explanation when parents found themselves with a particularly ugly or deformed child: these parents wanted to believe that their real baby had been stolen by goblins, and the other left in its place. The label for such a child was “auf,” or “alfe” (meaning “goblin’s child”), terms that were later altered to form our present-day “oaf.” Although the linguistic history is not entirely clear, “auf” and “alfe” are likely from the Middle English “alven” and “elven,” meaning “elf” or “fairy.” Today the word “oaf” is no longer associated with unattractive babies and is instead applied to anyone who appears especially unintelligent or graceless.

I think this explanation exemplifies the real reason why man invented superstition (and in extreme cases, religion): to account for the things he cannot control – and push any sort of blame onto someone else.

But the thing I’ve been wondering is: Why must parents of centuries past and in the present day find scapegoats and lame excuses to explain away their child’s disfunctional qualities (be it a crooked nose or a propensity for getting into trouble)? Despite any child’s flaws or abnormalities, aren’t parents supposed to think they’re perfect anyways?

Sometimes, I wonder about the existence of unconditional love.

Bald Spots

Recently I started subscribing to Merriam-Webster’s “word of the day” in an attempt to slowly increase my vocabulary for my GREs. I did the same thing during my SATs with but I have to say Merriam-Webster’s format is much nicer. In addition to the definition, they give you an example sentence and an interesting fact about the word’s origin. If you’re looking for some fun words to learn, you should also check out the Oxford English Dictionary’s “word of the day” although I feel that its format can be too formal for my tastes.

Anyhow, this morning when I got up to check my email, I found this word in my mailbox:

Trichotillomania: an abnormal desire to pull out one’s hair

Ironically enough, this is exactly how I’ve been feeling recently with all the things going on with my family, studying, and the terrible planning out of the next ten years. Oh, the stresses of modern day life. No wonder this word arose in the 20th century in connection to OCD. The way we live and think apparently drives us insane.

On a side note: I have a few posts in progress, including a review of Wall-E, so check back soon! 🙂