With the greatest respect due to one of the funniest and most informative writers I’ve ever read, Bill Bryson, I think that the above would have been a more apt title for his wonderful book about the evolution of the English language, Mother Tongue.
Of course I had no idea of its difficulty back when I picked-up at least the basics of English back in infancy by parroting the speech of my mother and others. Or, indeed, when I learned more of it by rote and later by wrote in primary school.
But now, some seventy years later, after decades more of hearing it spoken in countless accents and dialects, speaking it myself in its Australian version, and also writing it for a living, I realise how mother-lucky I was not to have to learn it as another tongue, as so many of my readers have so brilliantly done.
Because I still find myself stunned (stongued?) by not only its virtually infinite complexities and ever-expanding vocabulary, but also by the wealth of opportunities it affords for the invention of slanguage and other versions of and variations on itself.
But what else would you expect of a tongue so confused and confusing as to describe the collection of 26 ‘Roman’ letters it comprises by compressing the names of the first two letters of Greek into into the word alphabet; and, having partly originated from the ‘Anglish’ spoken by an invading Germanic tribe, to now call itself ‘Inglish’, which of course is spelt‘English’?
I could go on endlessly citing countless other examples of the alarmingly anarchistic nature of the English language, and the linguistic puzzles it presents to not just learners accustomed to other tongues, but also for a great many for whom it’s their mother tongue.
But rather than focus on the problems of English, I’d prefer to opt here for a discussion of its opportunities. One of which, as any reader of my columns, posts or blogs will be plainly and perhaps even painfully aware, is that it affords virtually endless scope for not only playing fast and loose with the sounds and often multiple meanings of its existing words, but for improvising variations on them and even outright inventing new ones.
And as I’ve said before, as a writer I find this loads of fun, even if at times my version(s) of English gives some of my readers cause for anguish.
As in the case of the one some time ago who wondered why I “write so weird”, as discussed in an earlier post, or the other who more recently accused me of what he called “corrupting the English I once knew.”
But I plead my complete innocence of this charge, on the grounds that, far from corrupting ‘correct’ English with my puns, homophonic neologisms and other versions of words that some eye-witnesses of my work might unwittingly mis-perceive me as doing, I’m actually doing my damndest to defend it against its perversion by every misuser and abuser of this and other languages, from political and commercial so-called spin-doctors to ruthlessly truthless dictators.
A list of formerly ‘correct’ or ‘proper’ English words that have been rendered totally ding-a-linglish by professional practitioners of everything from Spinglish to outright Lyinglish would be virtually endless.
So let me save your time and mine by considering just a few of the victims of especially vicious versions of verbicide. Starting with, as I’ve done before, that apparently innocent little word “people’s”, which has been rendered effectively extinct by people-enchaining Chinese Communist Party for the purpose of pretending to be democratic.
Similarly misused and abused, of course, is, as I have to admit again that I’ve alluded to many times before, the English noun ‘democracy’, which, along with its adjective ‘democratic’, has been so perverted by demagogues, demuckrats and democrazies around the world in their attempts to pass-off their dermocracies, dimocracies, dumbocracies, doughmocracies, diremocracies, doomocracies and sundry other dire mockeries of democracy as the genuine article.
And last but not least, at least for now, is one of my all-time favourite examples of the destruction of a formerly at least apparently respectable English word by the forces of Spinglish and outright Lyinglish, “family”.
Attempting apparent unawareness of the fact that the family, albeit admittedly at its best a haven of safety, comfort, caring and affection for its members, is also the scene of most physical, psychological and sexual crimes against spouses and children, right up to and including murder, and is misused as a model by such nefarious organisations as religions and the Mafia, politicians and their spinglish speechwriters love to cynically claim their support of alleged “family values”, whatever the hell they may be.
In short, so many and in fact an apparently increasing number of what may have formerly seemed to be perfectly innocent and straightforward words have been systematically stripped of their genuine meanings by lying mother-fakers in politics and mongrel elements in media, both online and off, that it’s getting harder every day to discern who’s speaking or writing with a forked tongue.
With the result that those of us who respect and seek to talk, write and above all think ourselves towards the truth, have to carefully analyse virtually every word, English or otherwise, that we hear or read, so as to detect and reject those that are lying, or, even better, turn them into new, true words of our own.
It’s a mother of a task, I know, But just as eternal vigilance is proverbially the price of freedom, eternal verbal vigilance is the price we can’t afford not to pay if we’re to prevent English or indeed any other language from being degraded from a mother down to a truth-suppressing or in other words smother tongue.