Sunday, July 15

How Macho!

I WAS on my fourth or fifth Lowe's trip of the weekend, headed back to my truck when I noticed the bumper sticker on the SUV parked next to me.
If You Can Read This, Thank A Teacher. If You Can Read This In English, Thank A Soldier

I was losing the light (even in Indiana, Land of the Midnight Sun Since 2006™), and had more painting to do, so I quickly passed on the urge to stick around and engage the owner in some linguistic fencing.

"You admire soldiers? Thank the French; it's their word. Marine, too. Maybe you should be thanking the Celts, for the poor soldiering that made way for the Angles and the Saxons and the Jutes, the much-less cultured invaders whose language proved flexible enough to evolve into modern English. Or the Vikings, the fearsome raiders from the north who left you the ability to lift your leg or take a husband. They came back two centuries later as Normans, and brought with them 10,000 items from Old French and a spur for the shift from Old to Middle English. For that matter, you might thank them if you didn't have to read Beowulf. While you're at it you can doff (contraction of do + off, both French) your hat (Old Norse) to Charlemagne for keeping literacy alive, and if you can count the number of words on your bumper sticker, hug an Arab. If there's a zero involved, hug an Indian, too. As in native of the Subcontinent, but go ahead and thank aboriginal North and South Americans for corn, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, chocolate, squash...and the land your Family Panzer was parked on.

"Y'see, that's the best thing about English, I think: the way it was able to take both high and low, from conquerer and subject, trading partner and scorned captive alike. English is wonderfully egalitarian; excepting a few dialects that Thou and You stuff died out before the Declaration of Independence ever switched on its beacon. With all due respect to Jonah Goldberg (thanks again, Subcontinent!) English has never had need of that Official Language and Culture crap because it's naturally resilient, and it's naturally resilient because of its openness. Ever tried to buy a French copy of Roget's Thesaurus? Or Dutch, Portuguese, Lap? You can't, because those vocabularies are tiny. They're closed. English is open to the world.

"Whazzat? Oh, you didn't mean that nativist crap? Just trying to celebrate the American citizen soldier? Well, you ought to be careful about that sort of thing, since The Liberals have a field day with that whole warflogger/anti-brown person bigot thing, y'know. But if you want to put it that way, I might suggest that while you're thanking the teacher who taught you to read you might look up the history teacher for a refresher course. The only time we were anything more than vaguely, theoretically in danger of being conquered our opponent spoke English, too, probably better than we did, unless you want to add some Newt Gingrich wet dream of a War of the Late Rebellion that would have resulted in the whole country pronouncing grits like it has three syllables, like that woman on the Food Network does. We could thank Russian soldiers that we don't speak German, I suppose; they'd beaten Hitler before we got off the transports. I don't think US conquest was ever considered a real possibility in Tokyo, but even so I don't think avoiding Kanji class is the real reason to remember the men who died on Tarawa or the nurses who lived in Japanese captivity on Luzon. If we avoided some real chance that we might be reading bumper stickers in Cyrillic or Chinese by now, you can thank diplomacy and the cooler heads who avoided war, not the sons and daughters of America who sacrificed in stupid, worthless, proxy wars, although that's not their fault, of course.

"No harm ever in remembering those who serve. That's what those three magnetic yellow ribbons on your hatch do. But twisting history--and glorifying bigotry in the process--is not what they fought and died for, and nothing we need send anyone else to die for, either."


bulbul said...

Now, now, Doghouse, let's not try to outwing the wingers, shall we? Of course the Dutch don't have a Roget's Thesaurus, they have
Van Dale Synoniemen. The Portuguese (and the Brazilians) have a Diccionario de Sinónimos. Even the small nation of Slovakia has a Synonymický slovník.
Measuring the size of a vocabulary is like measuring the size of your dick: yours always looks bigger.
And keep in mind: the only closed languages are the dead ones.

Aside from all of that, amen, brother!

ciocia said...

I get pissed off the same way when I get the 9999th e-mail that informs me that the soldier has done more to establish freedom of speech than the journalist. I want to ask the sender if this includes Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, which had bunches of soldiers but no freedom of speech. Let's be respectful, but not slavishly stupid

M. Bouffant said...

Don't let bulbul get you down, English does have a huge vocab. I could start, or commence, or even begin...but that's just one example. Theft is the best, & we 'Murkins & our Limey predecessors are the best at it.
And, wee-wee jokes aside, measuring is not about how something appears, it's about measuring, like one could, oh, count the # of words in a language, for example.

Anntichrist S. Coulter said...

:::bows in awe of the linguistic and historical skills of one badass intellectual:::

Next time, stick around, deliver said beautiful sermon in person, and send us the video.

bulbul said...

English does have a huge vocab
Sure it does, I never said it didn't.

I could start, or commence, or even begin
And I could začať, započať, počnúť, spustiť, pustiť sa... My teeny-weeny native language can do just as well as your mighty tongue. And it adds words to it on a daily basis, too.

measuring is not about how something appears, it's about measuring, like one could, oh, count the # of words in a language
It does seem simple, doesn't it? The truth is, it ain't.

Look folks, I wholeheartedly agree with our brilliant host - the second paragraph is priceless. Just check your facts, okay?

Donna said...

off topic but poetry (Ferlinghetti you know I'm talkin' about you man) which is sprinkled throughout with french and latin phrases just annoys the crap out of me. I know very little of either language -- how about some italian or german? Those I can read a little.
I would like to read a poem without having to go to the translation websites every second stanza.
Okay, I'm learning something, expanding my little world, so it's really a good thing. grumble, kvetch.

D. Sidhe said...

I'm gonna have to go with Annti on the video thing. Sometimes these folks actually need to be *made aware* of their idiocy so they can stop doing it.

Christ, I loathe those bumper stickers. Racism with clever plausible deniability.

Carl said...

Maybe he was afraid we'd all be speaking Canadian, eh?

arghous said...

Doghouse, the lacerates really flowed with that one. Thanks.

Carl said...

Arghouse, are you saying you went into a dolorium?

Rolan le Gargéac said...

Arabic numerals are only called such since they came to us via the Moors but in reality they can from India. Who invented zero by the way.

jackd said...

No such discussion is complete without the epigram from James D. Nicoll: The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary

Matthew H. said...

It is a brilliant rant, Doghouse, but I have one minor 'kvetch' with your etymologizing: "doff", a contraction of "do" and "off" (both "doff" and "don", IIRC, were coined by Spenser), isn't from French, but native Germanic stock ("do" is cognate with German tun, and "off" with auf). Other than that, a fantastic riposte.

Matthew H. said...

Also, as a "Celt" myself, I couldn't let that bit about "poor soldiering" go without a protest. We fought the Sassenachs hard, and often well (see, for example, Bannockburn), but in the end we were outnumbered (and traduced by our own, such as James I of England and VI of Scotland). Some of us are still a little touchy about the subject, even after all these years. ;-)

mjjzf said...

Sheer vocabulary is a useless indicator. Look at Russian, for instance, where words have many(!) forms and adjustments using prefix and suffix, or my own, Danish, where the vocabulary is smaller, and our expressions are constructed from a smaller vocabulary.
Would the number of letters make Chinese superior?