ENGLISH IS LIKE A CHILD.

I’ve seen a lot of attempts to explain why it’s a bad idea to expect purity, consistency, and logic of English, but I don’t think I’ve seen a fresher or funnier one than Kory Stamper’s:

English is a little bit like a child. We love and nurture it into being, and once it gains gross motor skills, it starts going exactly where we don’t want it to go: it heads right for the goddamned light sockets. We put it in nice clothes and tell it to make friends, and it comes home covered in mud, with its underwear on its head and someone else’s socks on its feet. We ask it to clean up or to take out the garbage, and instead it hollers at us that we don’t run its life, man. Then it stomps off to its room to listen to The Smiths in the dark.
Everything we’ve done to and for English is for its own good, we tell it (angrily, as it slouches in its chair and writes “irregardless” all over itself in ballpoint pen). This is to help you grow into a language people will respect! Are you listening to me? Why aren’t you listening to me??
Like well-adjusted children eventually do, English lives its own life. We can tell it to clean itself up and act more like one of the Classical languages (I bet Latin doesn’t sneak German in through its bedroom window, does it?). We can threaten, cajole, wheedle, beg, yell, throw tantrums, and start learning French instead. But no matter what we do, we will never really be the boss of it. And that, frankly, is what makes it so beautiful.

This is in the context of explaining to a correspondent why objecting to “irregardless” is futile; read the whole post for maximum enjoyment. (I assume many of you will agree with marc leavitt, who commented on her post to say “Of all the ill-advised concatenations conflated into words, ‘irregardless’ drives me mad, makes me maunder mindlessly at the moon, creates a crescendo of contumely, climaxing in a desire to depart from civil discourse. In a word, I despise the word, though word it is”; like Kory, I will defend to the death your right to despise that or any other word, but I hope you can bring yourself to recognize that your feelings have to do with you and not any inherent evil in the word, which is just out there frolicking and being a word. It can’t help it.)

Comments

  1. However, there’s nothing wrong with irregardful.

  2. Victor Sonkin says:

    This can be said, mutatis mutandis, about most any language. God knows such sentiments are more than widespread in Russia.

  3. I could care less about irregardless.

  4. It kind of riles me that people think only about ‘regardless’ when the other wronged party is ‘irrespective’. If we can say ‘Irrespective of what you think’, why can’t we say ‘Respective of what you think’? The injustice of it keeps me up at night.

  5. Speaking English is like making love to a beautiful woman.

  6. “Irregardful” is completely incromulent.

  7. Learning English is like making love to a beautiful, yet evil woman, who will dispossess you of everything you have worked hard to get and mess with your soul.

  8. Just so long as they stay off my lawn.

  9. You can speak English in the hosue only if you hose the mud off of it outdoors first.

  10. Latin may not sneak German in through the bedroom window, but if Fenster’s anything to go by, the reverse is not true, surely?

  11. According to Georges, lateinisch-deutsches Handwörterbuch, fenestra derives from φαίνω. Duden gives Fenster as derived from fenestra:

    Fens|ter , das; -s, – [mhd. venster, ahd. fenstar < lat. fenestra

  12. Yes my esteemed conym, that was point of my feeble attempt at language humour.

  13. I noticed that too late …

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