Language laws leave us speechless
(Charles Memminger is on vacation. Here is a "Honolulu Lite Classic" from Nov. 8, 1995.)
I've always considered the insistence that words be spelled just one way a weird hang-up propagated by the anal-retentive guy, Daniel Webster.
Let me ax you a question: Shouldn't spelling keep up with the current pronunciation of words?
You can't turn on a television these days without people "axing" each other to death with questions. If kids spend their early years in schools where questions are "axed," not "asked," how are expected to know that the letters "s" and "k" are somehow associated with the word?
And that's an easy one. How about all the words out there that mean exactly the same thing but are spelled differently? How do you explain to a youngster that the wild beasts called "wildebeests" in Africa and "antelopes" in the Americas are old "gnus" in Southeast Asia?
Gnu, by the way, is one of the gnarly words that gnaw and gnash like Gnostic gnats on the common-sense lobe of our brains. Why does the letter G command such a prominent position in these words and yet pull no actual duty?
The G whiz who invented such gnu-age lingo doesn't realize how hard he's making life for anyone trying to learn the English language. Consider this sentence: "The new gnu knew which witch a night knight might now know, but not which waves waifs waive when surfing serfs, where we were, wear wire ware at noon and from one to two, too."
That's the kind of sentence that might make a child flee to another country where language adheres to certain natural laws, like gravity. But in the English language, there is no gravity. Even marginal laws of spelling, like "I before E except after C" are regularly contradicted. For proof, just look to "science."
Is it so surprising that kids 2day find spelling 2 hard 2 handle and look 4 ways 2 take shortcuts? And technology is no help. The cheapest computer on the market can slice pi to the three-millionth digit but can't tell the difference between "cent" and "sent." If you want my 2 scents worth, that stinks.
Yes, language tyrants like Webster make life hard. Just remember, while seasonings change, thyme marches on and the brave gnu, whirled, keeps turning.
Charles Memminger, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' 2004 First Place Award winner for humor writing, appears Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org