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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Prevent English Language Abuses, But Love Wordplay


There’s English, and then there’s English. 

No, I am not referring to British English vs. American English, nor am I referring to different American regional dialects, though someone from Alabama conversing with a New Yorker could have a difficult time.  No, I’m just talking about the American English language and the many challenges posed to using it properly.

It’s under threat by all kinds of things and entities including:
·         Ebonics
·         Spanglish
·         Emojis
·         Slang
·         Dumbed-down education system
·         Poorly edited Internet communications
·         Social media’s introduction of new terms and phrases

America is a melting pot of ethnicities, nationalities, religions, gender identities, sexual preferences, and economic classes, and the language of the nation also reflects a melting pot of ideas and influences.  As the world is undergoing change, even under its fast-paced siege, language must revolve with it, to reflect these many revisions, expansions, and alterations to how we communicate with each other.

What are we to use to guide us through the maze?  

Luckily, there are many books about books and the nuances, quirks, and laws of the language.  One excellent handbook is The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need:  One-Step Source for Every Writing Assignment by Susan Thurman.

It covers things like:
·         Punctuation and style
·         Parts of speech such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, prepositions, etc.
·         Irregular verbs, verb tenses, indefinite pronouns
·         Basic sentence structure such as subjects and predicates, phrases, clauses, etc.
·         How to write better sentences
·         Avoiding common errors in word choice, spelling, misuse of clichés, eliminating repetition, dumping double negatives, etc.
·         How to write for a variety of formats from the five-paragraph essay and the abstract to a research paper and critical analysis.

It wisely notes on page 2 that: “Every rule will have an exception (and probably more than one).”

The book listed 1001 most frequently misspelled words – including the word “misspelled “-- from abdicate to zucchini.

There’s so much to get right when using English.  There’s grammar and punctuation, spelling, proper word selection, run-on sentences, capitalization, tense usage, and writing logically and with impact.  The book noted people commonly confused words, such as:

·         Adapt, adopt
·         Accept, except
·         Aid, aide
·         Complement, compliment
·         Good, well
·         Foreword, forward
·         Use to, used to
·         Whose, who’s
·         Your, you’re

The language has so many little things that could pose minefields to young readers.  Contractions, compound words, and homonyms can challenge some.  So can colloquialisms, sentence fragments, non sequiturs, and dangling modifiers.  Just a comma, hyphen, or parenthesis in the right place can make all the difference between understanding, misunderstanding, and not understanding the intent of a statement.  Don’t forget tense consistency, your gerunds, past participles, and split infinitives.  All of this might make you want to brush up on conjunctions and subordinate clauses!

As helpful as books like the Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need or Shrunk & White’s Elements of Style, a fun book to own is Tyrannosaurus Lex:  The Marvelous Book of Palindromes, Anagrams and Other Delightful and Outrageous Word Play by Rod L. Evans, Ph.D.

It’s a book of verbal wit.  Evans goes beyond the traditional definition of wordplay, which involves the manipulating of or calling attention to letters, sounds, and meanings.  He doesn’t just dazzle us with anagrams (rearrange the letters of Albert Einstein and you get ten elite brains) or palindromes (where sentences read the same forward and backward, i.e. Do geese see God/or Dennis and Edna sinned).

Evans suggests we read other books on word play, including Anguished English by Richard Lederer, which features real-life linguistic bloopers.  He also suggests consulting the hundreds of forms of wordplay in Dave Maurice’s work, The Dictionary of Wordplay.

He says the person who deserves credit for helping us put wordplay on a scientific footing is Dimitri Bergmann, who penned Language on Vacation:  An Olio of Orthographical Oddities in 1965.  He said it was “An excellent work on palindromes, anagrams, and many other forms of visual word play involving recognizing and manipulating patterns of letters, it presented wordplay in a scientific light, as a discipline with its own logic, concepts, and vocabulary.  Bergmann’s groundbreaking book earned him the title “Father of Logology,” popularizing a term for recreational logistics.”

His collection of word play and linguistic wit overwhelmed me the first time I took a stab at it.  I was taken aback by how thorough, well-presented, and humorous his critique on English was. It is packaged so well.

Here’s a small example of the things he collected:

literordinyms
Words with three or more letters written in consecutive alphabetical order.
i.e.DEFine or HIJack or STUpid

contronyms
Words that have opposite meanings when they have multiple meanings.

i.e. bolt
To secure – I bolted the door before I went to sleep
To depart – the boy bolted out of the room.

heteronyms
Words with identical spellings but different meanings and pronunciations.

i.e. – close means near and also to shut
when you’re close to the door, please close it.

i.e. – minute means 60 seconds and tiny.
I had only a minute to going to minute detail.

kangaroo words
Larger words carrying smaller synonyms.
Kangaroo words contain smaller words related in meaning to the larger parent word.  The smaller word is spelled with successive but not completely consecutive letters.

pleonasms
redundancy, such as:
absolutely essential
advanced warning
empty hole
tiny speck
revert back

eudonyms
Where a person’s name represents their strongest attribute

Russell Brain, neurologist
Chip Beck, pro golfer
Marc Rich, billionaire
Bob Rock, rock music producer
John Wisdom, British philosopher

He had this wonderful list of words where a letter is heard, but not seen, such as:

Beau=o
Cue=q
Passed=t
Gypsy= j
Seal=c
Colonel=r

Then he showed how every letter can appear in at least one word where that letter is silent, such as:

a=bread
b=debt
e=tape
h=ghost
i=thief
s=aisle
z=rendezvous

It would take me hours to convey the beautiful linguistic conundrums that he presents the reader.  He codifies many of the linguistic oddities that make English the best language ever created. But I will conclude with an excerpt from his introduction:

“Word play is a natural part of a language and is associated with riddles, puzzles, games, puns; jokes, double entendres, and even linguistic confusion (as in malapropisms).  It involves viewing or treating language as an art form, as a source of entertainment.  We can find it almost everywhere, including homes schools, offices, businesses, and even public restrooms (graffiti).   The advertisement and bumper sticker “I ♥NY” is based on a rebus, a message involving words and pictures.  A radiator repair business whose slogan is “Best place in town to take a leak” is also using wordplay – the pun."

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2017©. Born and raised in Brooklyn, now resides in Westchester. Named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs 

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