Tue | Jun 22, 2021

May you be full of it

Published:Saturday | June 16, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Tony Deyal, Contributor

This was on a Christmas card from a foreign student, but a friend sent me something that was posted on a political blog in Trinidad that was even more entertaining.

A gentleman, obviously irate with one of the parties that form the ruling coalition, wrote, "I have burnt tonight my party card along with my wife and two children."

That, clearly, is not so much arson as damn arson. It reminded me immediately of the Trinidad rural politician who, after receiving a gift at a political function, remarked, "I thank you from the bottom of my heart and my wife's bottom also."

A female politician is reputed to have chastised the feuding women's group of a political party with the dire warning, "As long as there is a split between us, the men will continue to ride us." Yet, no Trinidad politician has outdone George W. Bush whose classics include, "Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many ob-gyns aren't able to practise their love with women all across this country" and "Rarely is the question asked, 'Is our children learning'?"; "The illiteracy level of our children are appalling."

When I facilitate communications workshops, I tell the participants that there is no perfect communicator, since there are too many variables and pitfalls, one of which is the English language itself.

Richard Lederer, the English-language maven, points out that English is the most widely spoken language in the history of our planet, half of the world's books are written in English, and the majority of international telephone calls are made in English.

Sixty per cent of the world's radio programmes are beamed in English, and more than 70 per cent of international mail is written and addressed in English. Eighty per cent of all computer texts, including all websites, are stored in English. Then he says, "English is a crazy language - the most loopy and wiggy of all tongues."

He uses as evidence the questions, "In what other language do people drive in a parkway and park in a driveway?"; "In what other language do people play at a recital and recite at a play?"; "Why does night fall but never break and day breaks but never falls?"; "Why is it that when we transport something by car, it's called a shipment, but when we transport something by ship, it's called cargo?"; "Why does a man get a hernia and a woman a hysterectomy?"; "Why do we pack suits in a garment bag and garments in a suitcase?"; "Why do privates eat in the general mess and generals eat in the private mess?"; Why do we call it newsprint when it contains no printing but when we put print on it, we call it a newspaper?"; "Why are people who ride motorcycles called bikers and people who ride bikes called cyclists?"; and, "Why - in our crazy language - can your nose run and your feet smell?"

The irrepressible Lederer also points out there is no egg in eggplant or ham in hamburger, neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins were not invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies, while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat. Quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square, and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig. Writers write, but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce, and hammers don't ham?

Peculiar plurals

The plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth beeth? One goose, two geese. So, one moose, two meese? One index, two indices? Is cheese the plural of choose? If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

How can the weather be hot as hell one day and cold as hell another? When a house burns up, it burns down. You fill in a form by filling it out and an alarm clock goes off by going on. When the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible. And why, when I wind up my watch, I start it, but when I wind up this essay, I end it?

My own two cents worth is that 'flammable' and 'inflammable' mean the same thing while 'decent' and 'indecent' are opposites. When it comes to the immolation of party card, wife and children, there are many similar examples in the classified advertisements. "A small pony belonging to a young lady with a silver mane and tail", "Wallet belonging to a young man made of calf skin" and "A collie dog by a man on Saturday answering to Jim with a brass collar around his neck and a muzzle". In the 'Help Wanted' section, you may find, "Two strong, clean youths for sausages", "Precast concrete man" and "Woman to run up curtains".

Signs are the best portents of poor English. A butcher's sign said, "Try our sausages. None like them." A tailor guaranteed, "If the smallest hole appears after six months' wear, we will make another absolutely free." A drug store boasted, "We dispense with accuracy," and a barber advertised, "Haircuts while you wait."

For me, the one that takes the cake is a recipe. First, heat up your pants really hot, then add oil. Then put the cabbages in salt water. Then sit in the sink until the morning. Next, chop all the vegetarians into little pieces. After, add a little Buddha and mix it all up. When you are finished cooking, find a suitable bowel and eat it with chopsticks. As George W. Bush said, "I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family", but this is ridiculous.

Tony Deyal was last seen repeating a statement by a student in the 'English as a Foreign Language' class, "You can't sleep with me because it is too crowded. But you can probably sleep with my sister. That's what most of my friends do when they visit."