In September last year I posted a blog on the subject of abbreviations and words. Since then I have seen more on this, so I decided to do additional writings. There isn’t too much in this world that disappoints me, but one thing that does is when folk use odd abbreviations but presume that everyone will know their meaning. I do appreciate that many abbreviations will be so well-known that everyone ought to know them, but if someone asks for an explanation, it is surely both polite and kind to explain. Everybody has a bad day sometimes, most especially with what we are all having to cope with right now! When writing about a specialist subject, I was taught the importance of providing either a simple explanation to something like a TLA (Three Letter Abbreviation) and after that just the abbreviation may be used. Where quite a few technical terms are written it is expected that a full-blown glossary will be added as an appendix, with relevant links to where appropriate explanations may be found. In all the course work for my teacher training, that was mandatory! Whether it be in books or online, I appreciate that there are places where folk reading an item are almost certain to understand a particular TLA, for example in a Facebook group dedicated to a particular town, then spelling out the name of a local school is hardly necessary when just about all the members of that group will either know that school, having attended the establishment themselves or have had relatives educated there. In fact, that knowledge or something similar may be part of the series of questions which must be answered correctly before entry to the group is permitted. I have friends who were in the Royal Air Force, so technical terms relating to aircraft shouldn’t require explanation and if by any chance it is, then a very quick explanation keeps the focus on what we are reading. I do appreciate how difficult it can be in this modern world of ours, where so much online communication may be achieved globally within mere seconds through Facebook or similar and we have many and varied cultures. But words, even a smile, can bring us together. I am reminded of a quote by Srinivas Arka on this, which is:
Mentioning Facebook, I know that not everyone likes using this particular social networking site but it does make it easy for folk to connect and share with family and friends online around the world and there are safeguards. Today it is the world’s largest social network, with more than a billion users worldwide. One aspect that I like are the ‘closed user’ groups meant for those with specific interests or who have links to certain areas. As well as answering correctly a series of questions prior to joining, there are also Administrators and Moderators. Break the rules and you are barred or at least warned. I am in a Facebook group called G.A.S.P. (Grammar And Spelling Police) but this was set up by some people in America. So it can be entertaining at times, as there are quite a few British in the group besides me, as well as folk from other English-speaking countries. It is also used by some to improve their knowledge of English when it isn’t their first language. To my mind the idea of the group is to see how a simple spelling error can be so funny. It is not to make fun of anyone, but simply to see how easily errors can occur and create humour by doing so. Except of course we then come to that old saying, “Britain and America – two nations divided by a common language”. As well as spellings, there are many words which are the same but which have different meanings and this can be confusing. For example a British biscuit is an American cookie and an American cookie is a British cookie, but an American biscuit is a British scone and an American scone is, so far as I know, a dense wedge or triangle, compared to our British scone which is taller and usually round. An American scone uses much more butter than the British scone and has quite a bit more sugar. I am also a member of The Bollardorium group on Facebook, but as the description on there states, it is a public group so anyone can see who is in the group and what they post, it is visible, so anyone on Facebook can find this group. As the Administrator writes, “It’s all rather bollard and all rather simple. The Bollardorium is here to celebrate, collate, enthuse and reflect on all things bollardic.” So anyone finding bollards of any shape size, colour, even in an unusual location, may share the image. We do find fun examples to share and the comments can also be brilliant!
Whilst first at school and then later at work, we are taught various ways of remembering different things. So learning to type, in order to use and learn the location of keys on an English keyboard, the phrase ‘the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’ is taught because it uses all of the twenty-six letters of the alphabet and enables the typist to memorise their position on the keyboard. To remember the order of colours in the visible spectrum (Red, Orange,Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet) then ‘Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain’ is taught. Similarly, a way to recall the names of the eight planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune giving the order of the planets in our Solar System is ‘My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos’. But many of the terms we use may be uttered without thinking, such as a PIN, or Personal Identification Number. With the coming of Twitter, where only a limited number of characters may be used, acronyms are commonplace. But problems can and do occur when certain words are only found in a particular country. We should all know ones like ASAP, As Soon As Possible, but LASER, short for Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation may not be as well known! One that I didn’t know until fairly recently was SCUBA, short for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. Even in photography, a well-known image format, GIF, is short for Graphics Interchange Format. But one I did know, through delivering training courses, was making sure that things were SMART, meaning that they were Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely. The list of these is almost endless and too long to detail here, but I do recall SNAFU…
With the onset of wars and changes in industry along with weapons, many things have changed and new words have been brought in to our everyday lives. Even in the last fifty or so years the use and meaning of words has changed, as can be seen when looking back to when I was a child. There are some phrases we do not or perhaps even dare not use now. For example, back then a certain figure could be found on particular brand of marmalade, but after a time that was deemed unacceptable and was removed. Learning of different languages is becoming more expected, although English and Spanish are predominant. It is known that in some countries a particular term relating to a person’s skin is sometimes frowned upon but that too is changing. I am in the very slow process of learning Spanish and anyone learning or knowing that language will know that, as with other languages, there is often both a ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ form to a word, depending on its use. That is the case in Spanish, such that the colour black in its feminine form is ‘negra’, whilst its masculine form for the same colour is ‘negro’. In my previous blog post I mentioned ’Tonto’ as being the Native American (either Comanche or Potawatomi) sidekick of Roy Rogers in the children’s cowboy adventures created by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker. There, the name means ‘wild one’ but in Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish, “tonto” translates as “dumb person”, “moron”, or “fool”. As a result the name has been amended, especially in their dubbed translations. When I was a child, the term ‘bright and gay’ meant we were happy. The latter term now has a different connotation. Equally some phrases have more literal meaning, such as ’tip of the iceberg’, because a large percentage of an iceberg is hidden under the sea, with only a small part actually visible. So if something is said to be ‘the tip of the iceberg’, it means that something is only a small part of a much bigger situation. There are so many phrases nowadays, far too many to mention here, but one I caught recently whilst watching a game of snooker on television was ’nip and tuck’, where the two players were matching scores frame by frame, but a historical explanation for this expression is that it comes from sword-fighting, where a nip is a light touch and a tuck a heavier blow. Another use is in horse racing, where it means the same as neck and neck from start to finish.
Languages change over time, as anyone who has studied the history of the English language will know. Old English, or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest recorded form of our present language, spoken in England as well as southern and eastern Scotland in the early Middle Ages. It was brought to Great Britain by Anglo-Saxon settlers in the mid-5th century, and the first Old English literary works date from the mid-7th century. After the Norman Conquest of 1066, English was replaced for a time as the language of the upper classes by Anglo-Norman, a relative of French. This is regarded as marking the end of the Old English era, developing as it did into a phase now known as Middle English. This was spoken until the late 15th century. Changes continued and the Oxford English Dictionary specifies the period when Middle English was spoken as being from 1150 to 1500 when it saw significant changes to its vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, as well as orthography. Writing conventions varied widely and examples of writing from this period that have survived show extensive regional variation. The more standardised Old English language became fragmented, localised and was, for the most part, improvised. By the end of the period (about 1470) and aided by the intervention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1439 the Chancery Standard, based on the London dialects, had become established. This largely formed the basis for Modern English spelling, although pronunciation has changed considerably since that time. Middle English was succeeded in England by Early Modern English, which lasted until about 1650. Scots developed concurrently from a variant of the Northumbrian dialect (prevalent in northern England and spoken in south-east Scotland). Little survives of early Middle English literature though, due in part to Norman domination and the prestige that came with writing in French rather than English. During the 14th century, a new style of literature emerged with the works of writers including John Wycliffe and Geoffrey Chaucer, whose Canterbury Tales remains the most studied and read work of the period. I am also fascinated how some European languages have their ‘word order’ seemingly back-to-front, as in in Spanish. One example is our ‘green table’, where in Spanish it is ‘mesa verde’ (table green). Some years ago I saw a ’spoof’ list of car parts translated into German, where one part, the carburettor, became ‘Der gasundairmixensuckerbit’. I shall find that list again, one day!
Finally this week… personal memories.
My dear mother passed away just a few years ago, but were she still with us here on Earth then this May 9th would have been her 100th birthday. Instead she is with her soulmate, my father, the two of them resting together in peace.