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July 22, 2010

Where Words Come From - Refudiate?

I love the English language for exactly the same reason I, and many others, find it frustrating. There are multiple words for almost any...

...word or action. And if there isn't, or we can't think of it at the moment, most of us feel free to adapt - or mangle - words to make them fit whatever it is we are trying to say.

Politicians and celebrities, just because they are in the public eye all the time - and every move and word is recorded and posted online - are particularly famous for such "gaffes".

So far this summer (2010) we have heard a variety of odd and inflammatory statements from all kinds of people from Mel Gibson to the ever-creative, and the never-limited-by-standard-syntax Sarah Palin.

While she may make up words on a regular basis, usually with meanings only approximating her intended - or eventual - meaning, her real grammatical gift is the vast, seemingly unending run-on sentence.

As I correct essays in my writing classes, I frequently see run-on sentences. These are usually one sentence which should be two sentences. If you listen closely to Sarah Palin's speeches and pay attention to her sentence structure, you will notice something rarely heard in the English language; whole paragraphs, what should be five or six - or even more - sentences congealed into a single meandering sentence.

Take warning from these. A sentence has a subject and a verb - and expresses a complete thought.

A vivid grammar lesson might be to watch a video clip of Sarah Palin - with closed captioning on - and follow the flow of her thought and what, under the standard rules of English, should have been the clear beginning and endings of her sentences. Be sure to notice her facial expressions as she realizes that she has thoroughly lost track of her original intended thought.

In spite of how complicated English grammar might be, the most important principle, one that Sarah Palin has long lost track of, is KEEP IT SIMPLE!.

When you write - or speak - keep a firm grip on your topic and don't wander.

We can learn a lot from those we read or listen to. We can learn from the mistakes of others as well.

I love poking around web sites that explore where our language comes from. These are only a few. I'll be posting more later - and if you have any favorites, let me know.

We are all always learning. And we, as well as the world around us, are always changing. And we never know what stray novel, song, poem or short story might shed some light on a situation or make us wonder or be thankful for the life we have.

It is always more fun to learn together, so let me know what it is about English that you find confounding, infuriating or endlessly intriguing.

Listen, read and speak. Make your new language your own.

My best to you as you make your way through this intriguing , constantly shifting linguistic landscape.


About the author of this entry:

Morf has a B.A.from the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and an MAT (Master's in Teaching English) from the University of Washington (Seattle). Morf prefers international and independent films, foreign foods he can't pronounce, music no one else has heard of and riding his bicycle in foreign cities.

Posted by mmorf at July 22, 2010 01:14 PM

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