Greetings. This week, I would like to take a much needed, and perhaps much awaited, hiatus from my regular political commentary. Instead, I would like to take the liberty as a columnist–or ‘calumnist,’ as I call myself–to offer some of my thoughts on the English language.
I don’t know precisely what combination of mishaps, miscreants, and misfortunes came together to form this contortion that passes as a language. If I ever find out, I have an arsenal of terms awaiting their description. Not only is English a nonsensical hodgepodge of ambiguity, it also seems to encourage colloquialisms that are about as reasonable as the pope is Croatian. You get the point.
Allow me to provide some examples. Something gross is repulsive, yet to be engrossed is to be deeply involved and to be “grossed out” is to be repulsed. Likewise, scribe comes from the Latin, to write, as in prescribe, subscribe, circumscribe and proscribe, so then shouldn’t’ describe be to un-write? If I’m apprehensive, I’m anxious, yet if I have apprehension, I understand, and if I’m apprehended I’ve been detained by authority. Accent is to emphasize, assent means agreement, and ascent is to have risen, but accession is to come into possession or increase, and assentation is extreme willingness to agree.
The garbage company refused to take our refuse the other week. And though I could spend years developing an intimate knowledge of English, I could still be confused about the intimations of colloquial speak. To be flinty is to be hard and unyielding though flint is softer than brass, which means brazen, bold, or clamorous, though brass is extremely dull when compared to opal (which means iridescent).
Upside, upstage, upstairs, upstart, upstream, and upswell are all self-evident. So where the hell does uptight come from? If something is illegal, it is forbidden, if it is illegible, it can’t be read, something that is luminous is lit or shining, so shouldn’t illuminate mean to hide or make dark? Deposit means to put in or deliver, and deposition to remove (as from a public office); logy constitutes a title of a noun, such as trilogy, methodology, scientology, or means sluggish, depending on context.
The postman appropriately seems to always come after I would like him to; the post seems to always be late, but I always write postcards during, and not after a trip, and I’ve begun calling the garbage collectors premen, for coming before I’d like them to.
An understanding of English is quite elusive, as many things that appear to make sense are in fact little but illusory, and words that seem concrete and straightforward contain many unclear allusions. In this essay, I do not affect to originality, though I attempt to effect an awareness of certain things, the effectiveness of which I am not sure, and the affects of which I shall not know.