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July 08, 2011

Myths About Words

There are many popular myths about English - and language in general. One is...

...that words stay the same - in spelling, use or meaning.

English, especially the American version, changes so quickly and so completely that I can barely keep track of it. And as I share just a few examples, you will see why have I occasionally have pity on those learning English as a foreign language.

Here's one example; when I was a kid I grew up in a house with lots of books and even a few magazines from the World War II era. Many of these stories featured a technology that made a huge impact on that war - the aero-plane.

As a kid growing up near a major US Air Force base I had heard the word airplane many times and I had just assumed that aero-plane was an early version, in other words just an old fashioned spelling of that word.

It took me many years to discover (accidently) that aero-plane actually referred to the aerodynamic properties of this new vehicle. Nothing to do with the air that the plane traveled through.

Now, of course, we rarely hear or use the word airplane - or even plane. As usually happens, this word got shorter as it got more common. Jet is the word I hear now.

Another word that changed as I grew up was the word teenager. In its earliest form it was teen-ager.

I can't confirm this right now, but I read somewhere long ago that the word weekend was originally week-end, thought I would guess that, way back in history it was originally week's end.

Here's another familiar - and vastly shortened word; did you ever think about how odd the word good-bye is?

We use it all the time and rarely think about it. This everyday term is an extreme contraction and comes from God be with you. It has been shortened gradually since the 16th century. Shakespeare used God be wy you. The substitution for good for God was primarily due to the influence of such phrases as good day and good night.

There are many words that got shorter, lost their hyphens or changed their meanings.

I'll be looking at more and sharing many other word histories later.

I confess to being a word nerd, but there are many possibilities in a language as flexible and fluid as English.Send us any words that make you crazy and be sure to let us know what it is about English and language learning 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 is currently a radio host (http://www.tacoma.fm/) and a newspaper columnist http://www.thenewstribune.com/opinion/columnists/morf_morford/ and would love to do either one of those somewhere else in the world.

Posted by mmorf at July 8, 2011 11:09 AM


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