Christopher D. Morley and languages

languages We reside in a world that is large enough to host so many languages that it is quite possible that if all were listed on a sheet of paper, most of us would not recognize to what country they belong. For example in Ethiopia the people speak Tigrinya, Oromo, Gurage, Somali, Arabic, 80 other local languages, and English, while in Bahrain, Arabic (Arabiyya) English, Farsi, Urdu are spoken.

If we were to dig deeper and look inward into a smaller realm, we will encounter sub-languages that consist of terms and words used only with those who are familiar within the a specific specialty. How often do we find ourselves confronted with a legal document that although it may be written in our own “tongue” we still need to take it to a lawyer to translate in lay terms what it means. If we were to read text with regards to computer programming, many would look to a person versed in technology just to translate its content for us.

And so it is the same for those confronted with the sport fishing section of the local newspaper. For here is a sample of an article written for those interested in taking day off with an angler; “Troll small hair jigs, 1-inch tube jigs, or grubs tipped with minnows along the bottom, or fish trout magnets, popeye flies, and small tube jigs tight to brush early in the morning, or later if the water is heavily stained.”…So it appears that a translator is also required to get the full gist!

christopher_morley(1) For today’s post I bring back to the esteemed thinker: Christopher D. Morley (1890-1957 ) an American author that has graced the pages of fiction and non-fiction with much of his humor although to our chagrin he has fallen into the world of the more obscure. Best known for his journalism, Morley was also a witty poet, where I have selected a work that further brings testimony to the unforgiving ways that language likes to toy with us. From his book, Mince Pie I bring you a clever piece.

THE UNFORGIVABLE SYNTAX

A certain young man never knew
Just when to say whom and when who;
“The question of choosing,”
He said, “is confusing;
I wonder if which wouldn’t do?”

Nothing is so illegitimate
As a noun when his verbs do not fit him; it
Makes him disturbed
If not properly verbed—
If he asks for the plural, why git him it!

Lie and lay offer slips to the pen
That have bothered most excellent men:
You can say that you lay
In bed—yesterday;
If you do it to-day, you’re a hen!

A person we met at a play
Was cruel to pronouns all day:
She would frequently cry
“Between you and I,
If only us girls had our way—!”

First image: 1941

11 thoughts on “Christopher D. Morley and languages

  1. Fascinating. And you haven’t even mentioned the issues around pronunciation. In the UK the group of four letters ‘ough’ has at least four different pronunciations.

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