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September 30, 2011

What's In A Name?

Have you ever thought about what we call things?

In my introductory English classes, when we talk about parts of speech, I emphasize that nouns...

...are essentially just tags that we put on things.

Noun names are usually the first things we learn when we learn a new language. We learn words like "car", "house", "man", "woman" and other names for actual persons, places or things.

Where words come from and how a certain sound sequence came to be associated with a certain object, action or idea is a puzzle many of us think about.

Here's one example; have you noticed that, up until fairly recently, extreme hurricanes and typhoons were given exclusively female names?

Now we alternate between male and female names, but doesn't it seem that the fiercest storms have female names?

And in North America at least, we describe long term weather systems as "El Nino" or "El Nina" - in other words as little boy or little girl weather.

The "little boy" weather, as you might expect, is more erratic and unpredictable.

William Shakespeare made the observation that, perhaps, names don't really matter. After all, he wrote "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet". But would we take the time to smell it if it had a name like skunkjuice or snoogle meister?

Shakespeare's line, of course, if from his play Romeo & Juliet.

As I'm sure you know, this play revolves around the continuing feud between the two families. Juliet says to Romeo "'Tis but thy name that is my enemy".

What if we could think of those different from ourselves not as their "name that is my enemy" but as the individuals that they truly are?

We share a language; we share a world.

As John Lennon put it;

"You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one "

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.

Morf

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).

Posted by mmorf at September 30, 2011 01:12 PM

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