Posts Tagged ‘language’

B.S. Word of the Day

March 11, 2011


There’s no such thing. By calling something unspeakable, you just spoke of it.


Ye Olde Scotland Ho, Scurvy Dogs!

September 18, 2010
Two crudely drawn stick figures in ninja costumes at "Ye Olden Ren Faire" saying, "Yarr Matey! We be Klingons!"

When Nerds Go Senile.

Speaking of dorks, my wife has our three year-old son at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire for the second time this month. The theme this time is “Scottish Weekend,” which makes no sense at all to me since International Talk Like a Pirate Day is tomorrow. “Pyrate Weekend” (yes, that’s how they deliberately misspell it) was in August for some reason.

Does knowing when Talk Like a Pirate Day falls every year and criticizing the PA Ren Faire on a blog for not synching up with it make me a dork, too?

Anyway, for now I’m at home with our one year-old daughter and focusing on activities that hopefully won’t result in her getting beaten up on a regular basis in school, like learning to shout, “Hab SoslI’ Quch!” to random passers-by, especially if they’re Scottish.

Why Botanists Aren’t Writers

August 26, 2010

In common parlance, the difference between a “spore” and a “gamete” (both together called gonites) is that a spore will germinate and develop into a sporeling, while a gamete needs to combine with another gamete before developing further.

— From

I don’t believe that’s “common parlance” anywhere on this planet.

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

January 6, 2010

I live in a very conservative, deeply religious, and rather rural area. That combination of factors means one thing: there are lots of roadside signs emblazoned with some random vindictive King James Version Bible verse telling passerby to repent or go to Hell.

Most of them hang over or under the mailbox in front of farms, and they are generally permanent signs that appear to be professionally made. Most often, the sings will feature one verse on the obverse and another verse on the reverse. They’ve been a regular feature of the landscape of the Pennsylvania Dutch country for as long as I can remember.

However, nothing lasts forever. Change is coming to Lancaster County, and I encountered evidence of this region’s social evolution while driving along a back road several days ago. For the first time ever, I saw an angry Bible verse road sign, not with a different verse on each side, but with a brimstone-stoked King James verse on one side, and the same thing in Spanish on the other side.

Can’t you just feel the approaching enlightenment? Lancaster County is slowly becoming multicultural in its passively-aggressive vindictive obnoxiousness. That’s progress, right?

The Death of Language

October 17, 2009

This BBC article published today got me thinking: what exactly is lost when a language dies out? Is the death of a rarely-spoken language always a completely bad thing?

They’re not merely academic questions for me; half of my family is Pennsylvania Dutch, and my grandfather can speak the language fluently. A century ago, it wasn’t uncommon to see bilingual street signs throughout central Pennsylvania in both English and Deitsch, the proper name of this region’s twisted offshoot of German (the word “Dutch” in Pennsylvania Dutch is a misnomer coined by English speakers who misheard the word “Deitsch,” which is derived from the German “Deutsch”). 200 years ago, such bilingual signs were even common throughout Philadelphia.

In the past, both languages could be heard spoken regularly in public places throughout eastern and central PA by people from all walks of life. Today, Deitch is generally only spoken in the home by members of the “Plain” religious sects, like the Amish and Old Order Mennonites, as well as a dwindling handful of secular old-timers like my grandfather.

So what happened? For one thing, improvements in transportation and communication technology wore away at regional isolation. As more people became more exposed to a wider world in which people did not speak Deitsch, English increasingly became the dominant language because it was spoken throughout the country. World events had something to do with it as well — after World War I, the number of people speaking the language began to dwindle. Then, my grandfather’s generation was largely the last of the non-Plain people to grow up speaking the Pennsylvania Dutch language at home, as well as the last born before the Nazi takeover of Germany and World War II; those things occurring together are not coincidental. Ironically, my great-grandfather, also a fluent Deitsch speaker and a World War I veteran, was chosen to serve as part of the allied forces in the occupation of the Rhineland following the First World War specifically because he could sort-of understand and sort-of make himself understood by the local populace there.

My Dad’s family has lived in this part of Pennsylvania for about 300 years, and they clung to the Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch sprooch (language) for about 250 of those years. There’s a lesson in that for all the anti-immigrant/English-only hysterics out there: English was NEVER this country’s sole language, and speaking English is NOT what makes you a “real” American.

All the same, my father and I grew up speaking only English at home. I’ve often wondered if we’ve lost an additional perspective on the world for not having grown up bilingual, but I’ve also often wondered if I wouldn’t have had access to the opportunities I’ve been given in life if I’d grown up speaking something other than English at home. I also seriously doubt that my father would have eventually married the daughter of an immigrant from Manchester, England who lived in both countries growing up if he’d been born into an earlier, more insular, time period.

There are now attempts to revive the language, led by academics at places like Kutztown University, like what has been done elsewhere in the world with Irish Gaelic, Welsh, and Hebrew. Part of me hopes fervently this succeeds. After all, I chose to take German over Spanish in high school and continue studying it into college for the same reasons some professors and younger people are trying to spark a Deitsch renaissance today: it’s part of my background, and I would hate to see it die out.

On the other hand, another part of me wonders what the practical point of all this is. What purpose does speaking Deitsch fluently serve? German (or Deutsch) is a useful international business language, but Deitsch isn’t Deutsch. If you tried to speak it in a boardroom in Frankfurt, you’d be barely intelligible to everyone else in the room, and, worse yet, you’d probably sound like something several notches below that of hick.

Is spending a significant chunk of one’s education preventing cultural memory from dying out more important than spending that time learning other skills? Increasingly, more people in places like Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, and now perhaps even here are saying yes. I’m not sure what the answer is.

Random Thought of the Day

May 29, 2009

It’s a shame that words like “perfidious wretch” aren’t used in ordinary conversation anymore.

A Baseball Grammar Lesson

March 26, 2009

This was a pet grammatical peeve of mine when I worked as a collegiate Sports Information Director, and I especially hate to hear the professionals say it wrong:

“RBI” is an abbreviation for “Run Batted In.”

The plural of “Run Batted In” is “Runs Batted In;” it is not “Run Batted Ins.” The latter is not only incorrect, it also sounds idiotic.

Therefore, the proper plural of “RBI” is “RBI,” not “RBIs.”

Somebody really needs to tell that to the broadcasters covering Washington Nationals games on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. I’m frankly surprised they get it wrong, especially since their local newspaper uses the correct form. At least it’s spring training; they still have time to get it right.

I am well aware that some dictionaries list both “RBI” and “RBIs” as acceptable plural forms, but those are the ones with editors who have caved in the face of a pervasive error.

Why do I watch Washington Nationals games on TV rather than my beloved Philadelphia Phillies? It is because Comcast is full of petulant wankers. Even though we live in hard-core Philadelphia sports country, because we have satellite TV we do not get Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia. They do allow us to have Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic, though, which covers D.C. and Baltimore sports, as well as MASN, which covers the same area. Never mind that we live much closer to Philadelphia than either of those other places.

Enough crotchety kvetching for now. . .

Wikiality At Work

December 5, 2008

The fact that a word is “in the dictionary” does not automatically make the term in question a legitimate word. This is especially true when “the dictionary” in question is The Urban Dictionary, and the whole reason the term in question is in The Urban Dictionary in the first place is because you put it there a couple of years ago so that you can say it’s a real word because it’s “in the dictionary.”

Such is the case with my wife’s insistence that “foze” is an actual word, rather than just something she made up one day.

On the other hand, if enough other people saw “foze,” either in The Urban Dictionary or on the web site of a certain blogger stupid enough to have mentioned it, there’s an off-hand chance they might start using the word, in which case it could someday become a real word.

I have to go now, as I believe my brain has begun to melt.

Guuck fer Ardickel!

October 25, 2008

One of the weirder things floating about the Internets is the Pennsylvania Dutch version of Wikipedia.

That’s right, a version of Wikipedia in the Pennsylvania Dutch language exists. Contrary to popular belief, not all Pennsylvania Dutch speakers are Amish and/or Luddites. There aren’t that many of them who are not, however, so the variety and length of the articles are both rather limited.

Still, it’s pretty funny to see what the authors of “der Wikipedia in Deitsch” find important enough to say about their subjects. Take, for example, the comprehensive four sentence biography of Dick Cheney:

Der Dick Cheney iss alleweil der Vice-Bresident vun Amerikaa. Er hot mit em George W. Bush zwee Lekschionne gwunne. Uff der 11 Henning, 2006 hot der Dick Cheney der Harry Whittington, en Texas Attorney gschosse mit me Flint. Er waar Quail am Yaage mitaus en Permit.

My translation abilities are a little rusty, but this is the basic gist of what it says in English:

Dick Cheney is currently the Vice-President of the United States. He won two elections with George W. Bush. On 11 February 2006, Dick Cheney shot Harry Whittington, a Texas attorney, with a gun. He was quail hunting without a permit.

Really gets to the heart of the matter, doesn’t it?

Dada Dosage

September 10, 2008

This is not a sentence.

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