Armchair Ponderings
Simplifying the English language

Guy Geller

Donuts on Cake

It has been said that English is probably one of most difficult languages for anyone from another country to learn; still it is erroneously not in the top ten headed by Mandarin. Spoken English is not too bad; but written English has another challenge. I can vouch for that. Charles V, the king of Spain once said “I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men and German to my horse.” I can’t begin to enumerate the dialects utilized in this country.

Evidently, I am not the first to realize that the English language is at best cumbersome. Dr. Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof, attempted to construct a universal language in 1887 that he named Esperanto. This was intended to simplify human communication throughout the world. He published his vision in 1905 that would formalize the basic principles of the language’s structure and formation. The language had twenty-eight letters as compared to the twenty-six of English.

In fairness there are still over one million Esperanto devotees in the world. There are even songs written in Esperanto, one of which is “Can of Corn” by Heroin Jake and the Crack Addicts. Undoubtedly a candidate for The Billboard Music Awards.

I have mentioned in the past that the only English I knew by age ten was, “chewing gum and Coca-Cola.” I had a hard-fought time learning my new language in the fifth grade. Almost each afternoon after school, the bullies of my class and of the next grade decided that I they would help me learn English by getting me to fight simply because I was that stupid foreigner that did not speak English. I was getting better grades in arithmetic (as it was called then) but that did not matter; they were on a crusade! Those fights became an incentive for me to learn English quickly. I got tired of getting punched a half-a-dozen times, so I punched Kenneth Adams in the nose before he could hit me, his nose bled, he cried and I got in trouble for fighting. Nothing was ever said about the times I was the object of the bullying. Still, that took care of the after-school bouts; they didn’t seem to care when I would learn English.

Jumping ahead to now; Occasionally, I read the less than scholarly posts on face book. Wrong spelling, wrong tense wrong words and the struggle that some people may have with Homonyms, Homo-phones, Homographs. For those of us who may still be confused after many years of not diagramming a sentence; I looked up my lifelong friend Webster’s Unabridged for definitions that I may presume to share, maybe with tongue in cheek.

Homonym: Words that sound alike and have different meanings. Example: Bark like a dog and the outer layer of a tree.

Homophones: Words that sound the same, have different meanings and have different spelling. Example: Days and daze, Berth and birth.

Homographs: Words that spelled the same but have different meanings. Example: Bow as in to incline, as a type of knot or an instrument for launching arrows. Then there is a bat, a flying animal or a baseball bat.

For those who may be wordsmiths there are also heteronyms. If you really want to know the meaning; you may look it up. That’s what I used to tell our children when they were teenagers, they learned how much better you understand when you have to look it up.

Just as an example, I found a list of over 400 Homonyms and almost the same number of Homophones. So, what is the purpose of this essay or is it assay? Spell-check sometimes passes both.

I realize that this is an exercise in futility but just think, if someday a bright English Major could come up with a means of uncluttering our English or American language. We spent two years in England and I must admit that some words used there, have not found their way or could you use weigh? across the ocean.

Donuts on Cake