Our words make for one odd language

People have always called the English language an odd one. I suppose, in part, that’s because our mother tongue is filled with words from many other languages.

I remember the beginning of the old TV show, Ben Casey, when Dr. Zorba (Sam Jaffe) draws several familiar symbols on a chalkboard as he mentions what each drawing represents.

 

- man

- woman

- birth

- death

   - infinity

 

Most of these symbols can be explained. For example, the “man” and “woman” drawings are the mythological signs for the characters Mars and Venus (Roman god of War and goddess of Love and Beauty, respectively).

And the eight-line object could loosely resemble birth (I suppose). Of course, the cross represents death (specifically, the death of Jesus Christ on the crucifix).

But the final one, the symbol that looks like the figure eight that’s leaned over, might be a little tougher to comprehend.

That “8 turned sideways” thing represents “infinity” — a complete collection of everything that was, that is, and will be forever in the future.

And, believe it or not, it has a name — it’s called a “lemniscate.”

But it’s not the only word in the English language that was teamed up with an obscure definition. Below is a random listing of other English words that are odd and/or misused.

 

1. That fleshy trough that runs down from the bottom of your nose (at the nostrils’ openings) to the upper lip is known in medical circles as a philtrum.

2. Someone who describes himself or herself as a cat lover can be called an ailurophile.

3. There’s a new word going around this country in the past several years that originated in England.

Someone tells you something that you find totally incredible. Your reaction to that person’s comment leaves you gobsmacked.

4. Another word heard more frequently actually has some historical significance.

Defenestrate literally means to throw something (or, someone) out of a window. It comes from the Latin words de (“out”) and fenestra (“window”).

Simply put, at least twice in the history of Bohemia (1419 AD and 1618 AD), long-lasting conflicts were begun when people in power were thrown out windows.

5. Is there anyone among us who is not familiar with the “and” sign? Instead of saying, “Jack and Jill,” we’re many times tempted to use the ampersand symbol (&) to convey “and.”

Throughout history, the ampersand has also been included in the listing of the components of the English alphabet as if it represented the 27th letter (A through Z, and the Ampersand).

6. Did you know that nickel is one of the most misspelled words in the English language? It seems that most people have trouble ending the word, opting to go with the “nickle” version (as in “pickle”).

7. When you call someone a Frankenstein, you’re actually referring to that person as a mad scientist. If you’re talking about the poor, helpless creature Dr. Frankenstein made in his laboratory, then you really mean Frankenstein’s monster.

Yep, the English language is funny — and that doesn’t always mean in an amusing or comical manner. Sometimes it’s just plain old jocosa or waggish.

 

dwhirt@wcc.net

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