Volume 3 Issue 7
What Is A Word?
by Gary Grammar
A reader from Illinois recently e-mailed the following: “ I saw your paper for the first time this weekend and was taken aback by the headline "Homeschooling at its Funnest!" and its use of the nonsense word "funnest". Apparently, Gary Grammar was not consulted here. I'd be interested in hearing the reasons behind your use of an incorrect grammatical construct. Even if it is an attempt to capture the ingenuous and sometimes charming nature of children not yet possessing a mastery of their language, it is an irresponsible action for an education-based newspaper.”
One of the first points I make in speaking to young people about their language is that it is not logical -- never has been, never will be. Spoken English and spelling are both a hodge-podge of at least four languages and the "rules" are only rules of common practice, not the rules of a reasoned-formed system of communication. For instance: In Britain, what a judge renders is spelled j-u-d-g-e-m-e-n-t; in the U.S., it is spelled j-u-d-g-m-e-n-t, while other, similar compound words with an interior "e" keep the "e" when adding "ment". i.e. amaze, amazement. This is one minor example of utterly confusing nonsense which permeates English, both British and American. So, too, for some reason unknown to me, possibly illogical, we have "fine, finer, finest" but not "fun, funner, funnest". (Both are of Middle English derivation and are adjectives.) I am not advocating that "funnest" become a word. I am not suggesting for a moment that we make any attempt to alter English -- the Chicago Tribune, decades ago, failed to accomplish the goal of making certain simplified spellings become standard. Words such as "tho" for "though", "thru" for "through" and a few other worthy candidates for a logical overhaul. If the mighty Trib cannot throw off the yoke of illogic permeating English, one such as I would not even make a dent -- nor do I consider myself qualified to. Richard Lederer would be my choice to chair the committee to wrestle with such a task.
I am merely a person who enjoys my native language. I am not a Moses of the Mother Tongue, receiving the shining tablets writ by mist-enshrouded Romans, Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Normans, bringing them down to the huddled masses in the waning years of the 20th century. I cannot figure this stuff out! It defies my reasoning and sometimes insults my (and everyone else's) intelligence! What I can do however, is explain to others that English is not sensible. I say to my son, "Ask as many questions of me as you wish, with regards to English, but don't expect a logical answer. Once in a great while, one exists, but it is very rare. I will tell you if one exists as we discuss further." But I also convey that, on the other hand, if you are a native speaker, English is fun! It is such a soup of borrowings and spoils-of-war "foreign" infusions that thinking about it is often akin to working a jigsaw puzzle and can be delightful. I would not want to tackle English as a second language, tho! I think that the ideal language would be based upon reason, not the fortunes of war and would be flexible in its attitude of new word coinage enough to remain alive and worthy of being used by living, thinking, creating beings.
In my humble opinion, Spanish sounds much closer to just such a logical language -- more so than French, because as I understand the matter, the French Language Academy, which makes such decisions, has been very slow in allowing new words to be added to the tongue, thereby placing French behind English or Spanish in the "race" to be the dominant universal language in the 21st Century.
Back to the headline of Vol 3, Issue 6. As I understand it, the use of "funnest" was simply tongue-in-cheek word play. P-L-A-Y, that long-overlooked tool of creation -- leading to knowledge, leading to -- who knows, maybe enlightenment! It is also my understanding that The Link is not an education-based newspaper, but a family-life-based newspaper. My editor - in- chief is always saying that homeschooling is not as much about school as it is about lifestyle -- centered upon and reflective of the family. "Education" is what you receive in institutional school -- no thought (or is it "thaut"?), certainly no creation, and no P-L-A-Y. If I were writing for an education-based newspaper, I would resign immediately. While I do not wish to demean or belittle the e-mailer's (word?) sincere desire to uphold the purity of established practices of English, I do feel that his comments were indicative of a very stuffy "schoolish" outlook which is a major part of the "education problem" we have on our collective hands in America.
I love English and I love to play with it. For over 30 years I have written prose, poems and song lyrics, and consequently, have been very sensitive to the language play of others such as John Lennon, Paul Simon, Lewis Carroll, and many other wordsmiths. If I am able to impart 100% enthusiasm to someone else for this mish-mash we speak to each other each day, then I will not feel badly about the errors nor should the rest of the staff of The Link. Don't take my word for anything -- research! Don't seek education which someone will spoon-feed you like pabulum -- seek knowledge, which you can only know for yourself! I see our society as being educated to death, but with no knowledge. The average person hasn't a clue about Life or anything within it, but that person can give you the Latin name for all that he/she is missing out on! Toward the end of expanding your general knowledge, I can provide you the proper label for just such an over-educated, knowledge-starved individual: In Latin, the word "sophomore" means an "educated moron."Copyright © 2006 Modern Media