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hpr2596 :: Battling with English - part 2

Misunderstandings about English grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.

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Hosted by Dave Morriss on 2018-07-16 is flagged as Explicit and is released under a CC-BY-SA license.
Tags: grammar,spelling,punctuation,word misuse,English,apostrophe.
Listen in ogg, spx, or mp3 format. | Comments (6)

Battling with English - part 2

Further notes about 'then' and 'than'

In the last episode I mentioned the confusion between then and than. I referred to the etymology of the two words, but I didn't go into detail.

Reading the Online Etymology Dictionary, one interesting point in the page about than is that it was:

Developed from the adverb then, and not distinguished from it by spelling until c. 1700.

So, it would seem that the two words are related and historically were the same! However, I'd guess that it is unlikely that people using them interchangeably now are making reference to usage in the 1700's.

Problems with apostrophes

Let us now examine the apostrophe, which is a punctuation mark. It is used for:

  • Indicating that letters have been omitted, such as in a contracted form of words. For example when the phrase they are is contracted to they're.

  • Turning a word into a possessive form such as in the cat's paw

  • When the plural of a single letter (or digit) is required such as in dot your i's and cross your t's.

There are other uses but you can look at the Wikipedia article for them if you want to dig deeper. I may well revisit this topic in a later show in this series.

Long notes

I have provided detailed notes as usual, and these can be viewed here.


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Comment #1 posted on 2018-07-17T10:40:21Z by klaatu

great series

This is such a great series. I can honestly say that, having spoken fairly proper English for my entire life, I hate the English language. Of all the languages poised to serve as a global language, there could not be one more undeserving than an amalgamation of Germanic forced through a filter of Latin. It's inconsistent, confusing, over-complex, and yet also insufficient (see the FSF's struggle with the lack of an adjective form of "free" for an example).

I really wish a sensible, constructed language would be adopted in English's place.

Anyway, nice series, although your efforts are surely in vain, because English will never make sense.

Comment #2 posted on 2018-07-19T15:28:22Z by Dave Morriss

Is English really so bad?

There's no doubt (in my mind anyway) that English is weird and difficult; annoying (at times) and illogical. Possibly because I was a bad student at school in my teens, I have never properly understood the whole issue of grammar, parsing sentences, past participles and all of that. However, I have always had a fascination with words, their meanings and their origins, and I think it's English that has led to that interest.

Other languages also have their problems. I learnt French at school (and did a few years as an adult too) and never got to grips with the genders of nouns. Why is a table (furniture) feminine for example? How is it possible to remember them all? I still enjoy attempting to speak French nevertheless.

You point to the deficiencies of English with regard to the meaning of "free". Absolutely. That's a shortcoming. However, many other languages have their own idiosyncrasies. I worked at a university with a campus in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Bahasa Melayu, the local language, has a very different grammar compared to English. See for some aspects of it. I remember having conversations with Malay speakers, suggesting a English way of expressing a thing, to be told that that was pretty much impossible in their language. This led me to believe that English might be more subtle; though perhaps on the other hand it's more suitable for circumlocution, evasion and indirectness!

At school my French teacher was also an advocate of Esperanto. I wonder if that sort of language was what you had in mind instead of English? I don't know enough about its benefits to judge, but I wonder if a constructed language can really be as rich as a "natural" evolved language - even with all of its clutter and detritus.

Thanks for your comments - they really got me thinking.

Comment #3 posted on 2018-07-20T13:41:04Z by Hipstre

Thanks so much!

I am pleased you responded with more etymological information. For some reason, knowing that kind of history really brings these things alive for me. I am enjoying the series.

I hope at some later date there might be a connection to regular grammar and regular language. I've always been fascinated by the connection between Noam Chomsky's linguistic work and the simultaneous development of Lisp at M.I.T.—both endeavors being obsessed with recursion.

Comment #4 posted on 2018-07-22T00:02:03Z by bjb

the ownership apostrophe

I loved learning that the ownership-form of the apostrophe is really another example of a contraction.

Comment #5 posted on 2018-07-22T10:26:51Z by Dave Morriss

Hipstre's comments

I am fascinated by etymology. I learnt a lot of spelling and pronunciation by understanding word origins as a youngster, and spent a fair bit of time looking stuff up in a dictionary to find etymological information. I will try and share some of the historical context as I go for certain.

I studied what was being called "Comparative Psychology" at university, and this involved looking at some of Chomsky's work. I wouldn't say I was very familiar with it now 40+ years later, but I'm prepared to have another look.

I expect these shows will become a series soon, and you will be very welcome to contribute to it. You are welcome to contribute now!

Comment #6 posted on 2018-07-26T16:54:58Z by Dave Morriss

Re: Ownership apostrophe

Haha! I hadn't quite looked at it like that, but you are right.

I like looking for logicality in language. Sometimes it's a vain search (as I'm sure @klaatu would say), but a fair bit seems to conform to _somebody's_ idea of logic.

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