Friday, November 17, 2006

Word DNA

Etymology: the study of the origin of words.

(Not Entomology, the study of insects; another fascinating realm).

I may have given the wrong impression in that last post: I am frustrated with the need to learn a whole new vocabulary to take care of our house, not the idea of using Old and Middle English in word origins. I don’t mean to denigrate the “DNA of our culture” (a quote from NPR yesterday in a story about Barry Lopez’s intriguing new project, HomeGround).

I graduated from college with an English minor, and fondly remember deciphering the “different” English of Chaucer and Shakespeare. I also had a Biology major, which meant some heavy-duty Entomology along with my side of Etymology. I needed the words to stay sane, acknowledging the cultural context of the science I was learning.

Subtle variations in British/Canadian/New Zealand versions of English fascinate me. Of course, there’s the obvious ones: boot/trunk, bonnet/hood, etc. But did you know that, at least among the family I stayed with in New Zealand for a few months years ago, tasty food is “nice” but a really sunny day is “good”? It’s subtle, but around here, people tend to say “Wow, this cake is really good!” rather than “This cake is really nice!” I love that tiny bit of variety and the careful listening required to catch it. Garbage dumps become “rubbish tips,” moving companies are “removal companies” and kids don’t review for tests, they “revise.” Why? I have no idea, but it’s fun to hear.

Balance and variety in all things; even house door terms. But I still curse the kerf, for slowing down our quest for blocking the drafts in our entryway. So there!


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the comment re: black spots on buff orp feathers! Big sigh of relief! My worries, too funny, yet again...

Rurality said...

I love those variations! The one that I've noticed lately is how Brits seems to add the word "do"... or maybe it's the Americans who are omitting it. Instead of saying, "Yes, I can," they say, "Yes, I can do." Or "should do", etc.

Anonymous said...

It's also interesting on how people pronounce certain words. I heard about this quiz a couple months ago on NPR. It is suppose to figure out what region you are from based on phrases and word pronunciation. It had me nailed.