On a recent trip to Las Vegas, my fiancé – a nurse – and I were strolling along the famed Strip, and I, a veteran of Las Vegas vacations, was pointing out items of interest to her.
When we reached the Treasure Island hotel and casino, I pointed to the sign out in front, which said nothing about Treasure Island, and instead featured the letters “TI.” I told her that the casino had gone through a rebranding a while back, and while most people still called it Treasure Island, they went to great lengths to remind people that it was now, in fact, TI.
“But when I see TI,” she told me, “I immediately think of the terminal ileum.” The terminal ileum, as I have learned, is the spot where the small intestine ends and the large intestine begins.
It got me to thinking about what I like to call “sub-English.” It’s still the English language, but it’s composed of very specific terminology that only certain sub-sections of English speakers understand. For example, a plumber knows that MCL is the maximum contaminant level (the maximum level of a contaminant allowed in water by federal law), but a sports therapist knows that MCL is the medial collateral ligament, one of the four major ligaments of the knee. To the rest of us, they’re just letters.
A lawyer knows that a postpetition transfer is the transfer of a debtor’s property made after the commencement of a case. An electrician knows that an electronic ballast is a device that regulates the voltage of fluorescent lamps. And an editor knows that stet means “let it stand.”
And the most remarkable thing? Each sub-section adopts its own sub-English without even being aware of it. So while two investment bankers understand each other perfectly, to an outsider, they’re speaking gibberish.
So don’t be too hasty to judge the guy who’s referencing “king stud.” He could be a carpenter.
By Steve Boudreault
I’m endlessly fascinated by words. Of course I am, words are my bread and butter. I love the fact that in the English language there are three ways to spell two and two ways to spell one, and that there’s a really long word (sesquipedalian) which means “long word.”
But what I’ll never understand is how things ended up being called what they’re called. I mean, try to envision the world back when nothing had names. And someone just started pointing at random things and said, “Okay, that’s a frog. And that thing over there is a raspberry, and that’s a ball-and-socket joint, and this thing that you can’t see or touch we’ll call jurisprudence.”
And then, of course, it wasn’t enough to just name something. Then you had to give it more names. “Yesterday I named those flying things ‘birds.’ But today I think that one will be an eagle, and that one will be a falcon, and that one over there will be a dodo.”
An even better example: “You saw one of those creatures that I named ‘snake’? Okay, but was it a diamondback, a rattler, a cobra, a python, a boa constrictor, a black mamba, an anaconda, an asp, a viper, a sidewinder, a copperhead, a cottonmouth, or a death adder?”
Someone named it clothing and then someone else named it apparel. It was supper and then it was dinner. And then one person gets paid twice a week and someone else gets paid every two weeks? Meh, biweekly covers them both.
Is it any wonder English is so hard to learn?
By Steve Boudreault
Current editions of Mark Twain’s classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have replaced the word “nigger” with “slave.”
This is completely unacceptable.
There’s a very famous statement by Pastor Martin Niemoller regarding the Nazi rise to power, and it is as follows:
They came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
Twain isn’t around to defend his work, and unless someone stands up and says something, the change will be made and the original creation will be lost forever. This is an incredibly slippery slope – if it’s allowed to happen once, it will be allowed to happen again and again until the integrity of all of the classics deemed offensive or inappropriate are censored and sanitized.
And what’s with the double standard? Tupac Shakur, 50 Cent, and Snoop Dogg all have multiple songs with the word “nigger” in them. Why no censorship there? Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy used the word liberally in their acts in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Why aren’t they being similarly altered?
By the way, if you’re going after the word in literature, you’ve got a pretty long list to get to. To Kill a Mockingbird, Heart of Darkness, Tropic of Cancer, Crime and Punishment, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ulysses, Naked Lunch, Lord of the Flies, A Farewell to Arms, and many others all contain the word “nigger.” How long before those originals are forever lost?
Yes, some words are offensive. But authors use words, offensive and otherwise, to create rich tapestries that are handed down through the ages. Tug on just one string of one of those tapestries, and they all unravel.
By Steve Boudreault
This week I discovered there are two types of people when it comes to our little friend, the humble hyphen: hyphenators, and hyphen-haters.
Hyphenators are those folks who love to go on-line to a web-site and have a look-around to see if there are any hyphen-less spaces they can fill-in. These people are very annoying. Not as annoying as commanators, but we’ll discuss them, at another, time.
Hyphen-haters don’t even like the hyphen in hyphen-haters. These folks would live in a hyphen free world, with nothing separating bluish green or twenty three or unAmerican.
But what hyphen-haters don’t realize is how useful the hyphen can be, if used correctly and in moderation. For example, a man-eating shark is a shark that eats humans; a man eating shark is a man who is eating shark meat.
And wrap your brain around this one, if you dare: Three-hundred-year-old trees are an indeterminate number of trees that are 300 years old. Three hundred-year-old trees are three trees that are 100 years old. Three hundred year-old trees are 300 trees that are 1 year old.
See that, hyphen-haters?
By Steve Boudreault