Fun with language

Sometimes when I’m knee deep in another project, I have a time constraint in preparing these columns. Sometimes during that situation I begin looking for something that is entertaining, at least to me, but has nothing to do with local history.

This is one of those times. I just wrote and presented a program for NARVRE (National Association of Retired and Veteran Railroad Employees) about the Katy Railroad and Denison’s history. I’m working on a program about the Yellow Jacket Boat Company for the wooden boat enthusiasts for next weekend. I also am learning my new computer with Windows 8 on it and if you have looked at “8” you will know the quandary that I am in.

So maybe its time for all of us to do something that is a little fun. Friends and my sister frequently send me things that are sent to them by their friends and other relatives and I save them for just such an occasion.

The English language seems to be the subject of many of them. I don’t know who has the time to sit down and think up some of these things, but I’m glad they did. It helps me a lot.

Take the word “present.” It can mean “right now” or it can mean “a gift.” And if you put emphasis on the “pre” it can mean to give as a gift. An example could be: “Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.”

That’s just a sample of what the English language can do to thoroughly confuse someone studying it as a second language. Then there are a few things that really tick people off and are called “Only in this stupid world” (OTSW) phrases.

One that I’ve often thought about is OTSW do drug stores make the sick people walk all the way to the back of the store to get their prescriptions filled while healthy people can buy cigarettes at the front? I grew up in my dad’s drug store and we had the prescription department in the back of the store. At the time I never realized how that sounds.

Have you ever thought about why banks leave vault doors open then chain the pens to the counter? I have, because when I was in the active work world, I could leave a small amount of money on my desk for days, but every time I placed a pencil or pen on my desk, it was gone before the day was over.

Why do we leave our valuable cars worth thousands of dollars in the driveway and put our junk in the garage?

Why must we buy wieners in packages of ten when packages of buns come in eights? My freezer is always full of those extra buns that never get eaten but I cannot stand to throw them away or feed them to the birds.

Have you ever wondered why the sun lightens our hair, but darkens our skin? Why don’t you ever see a headline “Psychic Wins Lottery’? Why is “abbreviated” such a long word? Why it is that doctors call what they do “practice”? It’s kind of scary when you think about it.

Why is lemon juice made with artificial flavoring and dishwashing liquid made with real lemons? Why is the man who invests all your money called a broker? Why isn’t there mouse-flavored cat food? Why didn’t Noah swat those two mosquitoes?

You know that indestructible black box that is used on airplanes. Why don’t they make the whole plane out of that stuff?

Why don’t sheep shrink when it rains? Why are they called apartments when they are all stuck together?

Here’s one of the best ones. If con is the opposite of pro, is Congress the opposite of progress? Sometimes it seems so.

If flying is so safe, why do they call the airport the terminal?

OTSW do people order double cheeseburgers, large fries and a diet soda?

Now that we have poked fun at all these plays on words that give us food for thought, let’s go back to those English words that have multiple meanings.

We polish the furniture (sometimes) and our neighbors next door may be Polish.

A person can desert from the military and even eat his dessert in the desert.

A bandage can be wound around a wound.

A farm might produce produce.

He could lead if he would only get the lead out.

A bass (a fish) was painted on the head of the bass drum.

When the gun was fired, the dove dove into the bushes.

The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

When I saw the tear in the painting, I shed a tear.

The police had to subject the subject to an interrogation.

How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

Yes, English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger. There is neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren’t invented in England and French fries are not a French delicacy.

Writers write, but fingers don’t fing. Grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham. The plural of tooth is teeth, but the plural of booth isn’t beeth. We have one goose on the pond, but if there is more than one, they are geese. So why isn’t the plural of moose, meese?

Take the word “up.” That little two-letter word has more meaning than any other word of its size. We know that up means toward the sky or at the top of the list. But why do we wake up in the morning. Why does a topic come up at a meeting? Why do we speak up and why are the officers up for election. Why is it up to the secretary to write up a report?

The craziness goes on and on, but space doesn’t so that’s enough craziness for today.

Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at