Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Crazy Language

“Invaluable” means valuable and “inflammable” means flammable, but “invisible” is the opposite of “visible.” Laurance R. Doyle writes about some quirks of the English language in the Christian Science Monitor this week. For students learning English as a second language, some expressions can bewilder, such as the adage “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.”

We have to wonder why a package sent by car is a “shipment”, but when sent by ship, it is “cargo.” We drive on a parkway and park on a driveway. Rush-hour traffic is slow.

English is flexible, and evolving. A linguistics professor lectured: “Two negatives in the Russian language still make a negative (made more emphatic), while two negatives in English actually make a positive. However in no language do two positives make a negative.” To which a skeptical student replied, “Yeah, right!”

We recite at a play, but we play at a recital.
Our feet can smell, but our noses can run.
When a lamp is out, it is NOT shining, but if the stars are out, they ARE.

A tool for understanding, language can amuse and confuse. Chuang Tzu put our predicament into perspective:
“The purpose of a fish trap is to catch fish, and when the fish are caught, the trap is forgotten. The purpose of a rabbit snare is to catch rabbits. When the rabbits are caught, the snare is forgotten. The purpose of words is to convey ideas. When the ideas are grasped, the words are forgotten. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words? He is the one I would like to talk to.”

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