The Prankster And The Plural

english

Ever since I learned to read, English has been my renegade lover.  She is a rapiered pirate with a pistol in her belt and a stiletto on her sleeve.  She moves like a tango, cool-eyed and serious — the scent of the Trade Winds tangled in her hair and the salt of the sea still lingers on her lips.  But when she speaks you must listen carefully – her words are full of wit and unexpected – because she is a prankster, a trickster, a conjurer of jests that make her giggle and clap and crinkle her eyes.

“Would you like some more?” she says, the temptress not even hidden in her voice.
“It’s very easy,” she says, sly as the fox.
“All you have to do,” she says, looking away, “Is add an ‘S’ and you will have two, four, ten, even a thousand — if you like.”

And then you try it, and she has you trapped because it’s her game and she made the rules.

We all know the plural of house is houses, but what about mouse — cuz the plural ain’t mouses.  It’s mice, like lice is the plural of louse.  And it works the same way with a word such as noose.  Though the plural is nooses, you can’t do that with tooth, cuz more than one tooth is never called toothes. They’re teeth just like geese is the plural of goose.  Then it all goes to hell when there’s more than one moose!

But let’s get serious.  No, moose doesn’t get a plural.  Why?  Who knows?  But they’re like several other animals – sheep, swine, deer, bison, shrimp, etc.  One sheep, two sheep, ‘nother sheep, ‘nother sheep; it just doesn’t change.  It’s as if these particular animals were bad or something.  My theory is they pissed Noah off when they were late for the Ark, and he lobbed off their ‘S’ as punishment.  Either way, it’s clear: the “add an ‘S’ rule” doesn’t always work.  Especially since some singular words sound like plurals right from the beginning, and nobody bats an eye.  Look at scissors, pliers and binoculars.  They all get the extra ‘S’ before they even need it.  And some of those singular plurals start off as pairs.  Not like a pair of socks (which is two) but like a pair of pants — which is only one.  And I’m not even going to speculate how we arrived at a pair of pajamas.

Then there are other badass words that don’t care if they’re singular or not.  They just use the plural and strut around like a bunch of linguistic anarchists — words like criteria, media, data and our old favourite, graffiti.  This crew has been wrong for so long everybody thinks they’re right.

Plus there are some pretentious words that don’t bother with the ‘S’ and choose to use an ‘I’ instead because – OOWW! — they’re from the Latin, dontcha know!  These are words like fungus and focus and octopus and cactus.  Personally, I avoid these words because anyone who drops “foci” or “cacti” into a conversation might as well wear a sign that says “Pompous Ass.”  FYI: for all the other pompous asses in the neighbourhood, the plural of hippopotamus is NOT hippopotamiHippopotamus is a Greek word, so the Latin rules don’t apply.  On the other hand, the octopus (also a Greek word) is a smart little cephalopod and snuck into the Latin section when no one was looking.

And from here it just goes nuts.  It’s as if the English language got totally wasted one night on Jamaican rum and was dancing around, naming things.  The plural of dice is die.  The plural of thief is thieves.  The plural of aircraft is – heh, heh, heh – you don’t get one.  More than one child is children — figure that one out – although it happens again with ox and oxenMan becomes men and women don’t get a choice.  Then, just as she collapses on the sofa, laughing, she says, “Oh yeah!  And the plural of person is people.”

So, if you’re studying English as a second language and she’s sitting slumped in a chair with her boots on the table, cleaning her fingernails with a dagger — just do as you’re told!  It’s easier that way.

Gods Of Old!

gods

Although old is a relative term, generally, old people never get anything and (some would say) deserve even less.  Children annoy them, teenagers avoid them and adults talk to them in that voice we reserve for pets.  Their stories are long, their habits are confusing and they play way too much “Remember When.”  However, old people have it over everybody else on the planet because they have their own set of gods!  These gods and goddesses, like the pantheon of Valhalla or Olympus, govern all aspects of “older” life.  They appear to us slowly as we tack on the years.  They slyly watch as we slowly trade in our tequila for iced tea, push-up bras for baggy sweatshirts, stiletto heels for comfortable shoes and muscle cars for minivans.  And by the time we’ve replaced vodka shots with a glass of wine and clubbing with crossword puzzles, they have our fate firmly in their hands.  These gods should not be ignored because we’re all going to have to deal with them one day.

Cutonya – The goddess of beautiful grandchildren.  With one glance, she turns any grandchild into the cutest, funniest, most talented little kid on the planet.

Kwikus – This is the god who manipulates the calendar so that days, weeks and seasons magically disappear, and suddenly it’s Christmas– again.

Noxia — This is the god who finds joints and muscles we never knew we had and torments them with annoying little aches and pains.  This is punishment for all the times we were mean, thoughtless and rude when we were younger.  Get used to it!

Poof — The goddess of the unexpected fart.

Scritch – The god of the inappropriate itch.

Folus — The god of aggressive nose hair.

Wat – The god of selective hearing.  This god saves us from all the stuff we didn’t really want to hear in the first place.

Notagin — This is the most helpful of the gods.  He’s the one who protects us from all evil.  He keeps track of our experiences and steers us away from making the same stupid mistakes we made when we were kids.  We should never overlook Notagin, because old people who do, end up giving all their money to Nigerian princes or greedy grandchildren who have no honour.

Myosotia – Sometimes called the Goddess What’s-Her-Name, she takes proper names and puts them just out of reach.  She also hides small objects like keys in the very place we left them.  Oddly enough, Myosotia doesn’t bother with memories that are 20, 30 and even 40 years old — which remain crystal clear.

Metamorpho – This god transforms professional people like doctors, lawyers, accountants, police officers and even judges and politicians into children – who get younger and younger every year.

Kilomornow and his twin sister Saggeth – These two tricksters love practical jokes like shrinking clothes that hang in the closet, adding extra numbers to bathroom scales, distorting mirrors and moving body parts just a little lower to the ground.

But mostly, old people’s lives are governed by the Queen of the Gods:

Idonkare – The most powerful goddess of all, Idonkare spends her time lounging around with her indolent lover, Sowat, playing backgammon and eating nachos, yet her power is so awesome that merely invoking her name brings harmony and comfort to the universe.  For example:

“Looks like you lawn is gettin’ a little long there, Herb.”
“Idonkare!”

Or:

“It’s the trendiest restaurant in town and I’ve got reservations!”
“Idonkare!”

And, of course:

“Grandma, nobody wears a Hawaiian shirt and Lederhosen!”
“Idonkare!”

Sneaky Words!

sneaky

English is an incredible language.  It has the delicate touch of Da Vinci’s smile or the turbulent sweep of a Constable sky.  It is the paint we use to conjure our audience’s imagination.  With it, we can flutter a hummingbird’s wing or charge the gates of Hell with righteous fury.  We can do anything with English — including hiding what we want to say in the very words we use to say it.  These are the sneaky words.  They’re usually an oxymoron like “preventable accident,” which sounds totally benign until you realize it actually means “You weren’t watching, you ignorant dolt.  If you’d been paying attention, none of this would’ve happened!”  Face it, folks: that’s exactly what a “preventable accident” really is.  There are a bunch of sneaky words like this that carry all kinds of baggage with them.  Here are just a few more.

1 — Minor crisis – This is a sneaky way of either ramping up the drama or playing down the problem.  The truth is, if it’s a crisis, it isn’t minor; and if it’s minor, it isn’t a crisis.  Either way, anyone who starts yipping about a “minor crisis” is probably riding the incompetence train.

2 — So-called – This is one of those tattletale words that instantly lets us know who the author is cheering for.  No matter how objective they may claim to be, when somebody says “so-called,” it’s never positive, and the connotation is always, “You can call it whatever you like, but we all know what’s going on here, you lying bastard.”

3 — Least favourite – These words have gotten a lot sneakier in recent history.  Back in the day, it was just a slippery way to say, “I don’t like that” without hurting anybody’s feelings.  But, these days, with the addition of 21st century sarcasm, the sky’s the limit on how far down the scrotum pole this can put you.

4 — No offence – These are the words we use when we’ve just offended somebody and we’re worried about getting punched in the face.  Normally, we tack them on at the end when we suddenly realize what we just said.  However, sometimes, when we want to get a kick in, we lead with them, and then add a “but” and a pause to let everybody know we’re the ones doing the punching this time.

5 — Open secret – Here’s another couple of tattletale words that tells us the author thinks he’s a lot smarter than we are.  The premise is there’s secret information available, but only a select group of people who are in-the-know, know it — and the connotation is always – not you.

6 — Zero tolerance – These are the words we use when we know we have a problem but we also know we can’t (or won’t) do anything about it.  For example, “Our school has zero tolerance for bullies.” means the skinny kid with glasses is still going to get kicked around like it’s World Cup, but once a year, we’re going to let him wear a pink t-shirt.

7 — Working holiday (vacation) – These are the sneakiest words in the universe.  They can mean anything.
a) – Your husband forces you to take a vacation, but you can’t stand the man, so you stay in the hotel and work.
b) – You want a vacation, but you have too much work to do.  So you go to Mexico and party with your girlfriend for two weeks and do all the work on the flight home.
c) – You want a vacation, but you’re broke– so you talk your company into sending you to a conference somewhere.
d) – You discover the dream vacation you booked online is a pestilent hole – “Oh, well!  Might as well get some work done.”

And finally:

8 — Passive aggressive – We all know what this means.  We all know someone who practices this dark art with delicious glee.  We all know we’d like to slap them for doing it.  However, we just don’t have the cojones to call them on it.  So instead of creating a scene with shouting, denial and tears, we say they’re passive aggressive (as if it’s an incurable mental condition) and put up with their manipulating bullshit.