Lost in Translation


“The single most notable characteristic of English,” writes Bill Bryson, “is its deceptive complexity.”


As native speakers, we might not feel this rings true. But consider for a moment just a few of its incalculable peculiarities and minutiae. The fact that the phrase “I could care less” means the same thing as “I couldn’t care less.” That words like sanction, cleave and betray can indicate both a thing and its opposite. That its grammar is a mash-up of incompatible conventions, spawning a trove of syntactical anomalies such as the adjective-noun reversals in “attorney general” and “heir apparent.” That its spelling seemingly has as many exceptions to the rules as there are rules.


Indeed, English is a veritable cabinet of wonders, a palimpsest of criss-crossing lexical histories, no less than a modern linguistic juggernaut. So how is it that in the age of globalization, where information is everywhere being condensed into ever-slimmer, more efficient packages, accommodating shorter and shorter attention spans, such a strange, rootless, lumbering, Frankenstein of a language could manage to “go viral”?


Read the rest on Obit-Mag.com.

Tags: English, books, language, linguistic anthropology, linguistics

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Replies to This Discussion

There are a few other words that can mean their opposites too, like "prone", and "extra" (can mean "outside of", or "more of the same").

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