I am fascinated by words, especially English words. English is a conglomeration, picking up words from all over the world. I believe this is particularly true of American English, since the country itself is a hodgepodge of ethnicities.
What we cannot borrow from another country, we invent. I’m thinking particularly of words like thingamabob, smog and television.
As we came into the twenty-first century, everything seemed to escalate and zoom. (Isn’t zoom an invented word?) Suddenly, new words and meanings started popping up every week–words like Google and defrag and cyber and terabyte.
Word meanings evolve also–grow is now something you can do with your business and cell is a synonym for mobile telephone. Gay has changed semantically from meaning happy and bright to referring to homosexuality; the original use has all but disappeared.
This year I’ve not only been helping a first-grader learn to read but I’ve met a family from Afghanistan. Both of these contacts are learning English. Both ventures have made me more keenly aware of the difficulties that entails.
Some things we say simply don’t make sense unless English is a person’s “first language” and they’ve been working with it a very long time.
The other day I told my husband, “The bluebells are almost over but the paintbrushes are blooming.” I imagined the roadside fields of blue being taken over by orange flowers called “Indian Paintbrush” and I suppose he did too. Then I started laughing as I thought about what my Afghani friends might picture.
I read the King James English in my Bible, so I am comfortable with old words, like assay, thwart, fortitude and gird. Not all my acquaintances are as familiar and I try to adjust my writing and my speech according to my readers or listeners.
As a result, sometimes I feel as if I must speak more than one language!