Freedom and Freedom and Freedom For All

Reading Wikipedia in Spanish the other day (because why not) and stumbling through my usual Nick Cage inspired pidgin-translation process (primavera = ad for pasta primavera sauce = first movement of Vivaldi’s four seasons la primavera = spring) I had a sudden realisation. The Encilopdia Libre is of course the Free Encyclopedia to us who like to piss off linguists by mixing Germanic and Latin in a single sentence, but in the process of translation (libre = liberty = freedom = we have to kidnap the president of the United States) I suddenly realised that one of the most popular pieces of American rhetoric is a load of tautological nonsense, given that Freedom and Liberty are in fact, exactly the same freaking thing. Freedom just happens to be the germanic way of saying the more latinate liberty for those of us who prefer not to sound like pompous knobs.

That lovable boob of a tyrannical warmonger George Bush was, of course, the prime culprit of this literal doublespeak, but even the great orator himself, Barry Obama, recently perpetuated this gaffe when referring to punk icon Margaret Thatcher as “one of the great champions of freedom and liberty” (though to be fair this may have had more to do with padding out an otherwise rather barren list of positive traits).

Please leave your thesis for why St. Thatcher was a great reformer who I’m not worthy of even speaking the name of in the comments section below, or better yet, let us know of any circumlocutious and superfluous tautologies that you’ve run into!

An image of a picture.

Courtesy XKCD



The next person to lament that English doesn’t have a word for schadenfreude is getting castrated. We have a word for schadenfreude, it’s schadenfreude. That’s how English works numbnuts.


An interesting extract from the Young Writers Guide I found while researching English anomalies:

WHO  The Old English word for who was hwa (both the h and the w were sounded). During the period 1200-1400 in the south of England, writers spelled this word with a w or wh because they incorrectly believed it belonged to the same family of words as what, where and which, and they wanted to make the language more consistent. However, the word wha was still pronounced /hwa/. From the 1400s, the pronunciation and spelling of the a changed to 0. At about the same lime, people stopped sounding the /w/ in /hwa/. So the word who was pronounced /hoo/ but still began with the letter w.

The same story is true for the words whom (Old English hwaem) and whose (Old English hwaes). For no real reason, between the years 1400 and 1600 several other English words with an /h/ sound before the letter 0 were also changed to wh- (whole, wholly, whoop). So English has this strange group of words beginning with a silent w.

Read more over at Google Books, and yes this has turned into one of those blogs, now get off my lawn.

The Patron Saint of Patronising

I’ve been having a horrible time of late trying to fix my pronunciation after a friend pointed out I was saying the word patronising the wrong way. Try as I might I couldn’t help but keep saying pate-ronising, which I would duly beat myself up for as a result. That is until I looked it up.

Turns out both are just tomato-tomato’s of the same word, both pronunciations coming from the Latin ‘pater’ meaning father, (and for you Harry Potheads out there, the later word ‘patronus’, meaning defender). I guess this makes the word ‘patroness’ a lot more interesting all of a sudden.

I must say I find it odd though, my friend really did have a justifiable point. For some reason Pat-ronising sounds more like looking down on someone than Pate-ronising, which sounds like you’re lovingly fathering over something. I think I’m going to keep using that distinction now too, I do rather like it.

It would seem I’ve just been effectively incorrected!

Som Thins Nevr Chang (Sometimes for the Better)

We’ve all from time to time come across elements of English that are just begging for improvement. The old ‘why do we even need the letter k/c’ question is forever being mulled over by anyone who cares to give the topic a moment’s thought, as is the need for multiple words with the same spelling/pronunciation, or, even worse, spellings that just make no gosh darn sense (take ‘one’ for example).

But the obvious dilemma is who do you turn to for reform? The masses? The dictionary? The classroom teacher? Surely any attempt at serious change is bound to fail at the feet of wider cultural adoption. So it is because of this that I am simultaneously delighted and a tad palmfaced to learn about an attempt by none other that my own government, the government of Australia, to reform English through the addoption of the reform standard SR1.

The changes were unsurprisingly shortlived in a country where most national linguistic influence is primarily driven by outside forces, but for a short time the ‘Ministry of Health’ became the ‘Ministry of Helth’ and any wry student could get away with spelling ‘through’ as ‘thru’ and ‘draught’ as ‘draft’, assuming his or her teacher were to agree with the direction of their Union, and I suspect many did not.

Not all of the reform’s changes were sensible or palatable, no doubt playing a part in the eventual downfall of the adoption itself, but oddly the standard is far from dead. At least one of the proposed mechanism of the contraction is alive an well in the online world today, the digital world being a notorious driver for all spellings bastardised, even if it is ironic in delivery. Users can be seen to ‘laf’ until they’ve had ‘enuf’ and going even further than any standard of reform would dare, the digirati are forever asking ‘wat’ or ‘wut’ of their predicaments.

Some might disagree, some will inevitably lament it, but it seems for the English language reform many of us dream of, there is yet hope, albeit from the unlikeliest of places.


[Might I point out that in writing this article in my browser, the spellchecker has faulted me on the words ‘draught’ and ‘bastardised’, but not ‘wat’ ‘digerati’ or ‘thru’.]

I’m Down With the Old Time Lingo

A tribe of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory of Australia were known to refer to what we commonly call a Digeridoo as a “Bamboo”, which has been suggested to be directly linked to the fact that the Didge resembles, and perhaps was once made from, the hollow giant grass of the same name. If this is the case, we share a word today with people 40,000 years ago that has remained completely unchanged in meaning and pronunciation since that time. That’s pretty impressive when you consider that our species potentially arose only 10,000 years before that!