The Prankster And The Plural


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.

I Don’t Speak English — Anymore

english-22I don’t speak English anymore.  Apparently, for some years now, I’ve been speaking a dying dialect from the 20th century which hasn’t been English since Brad jumped from Jennifer to Jolie.  (And we all know how that worked out.  Just sayin’!)  Anyway, I’m literally no longer literate in my own language and that upsets me.  I see this as yet another stone in the Yellow Brick Road to hell that’s leading my world to extinction.  Culture is tied to language, and language is the canary in any society’s mineshaft.  Once the canary stops singing, it’s only a matter of time before it’s pushing up daisies.  (BTW, if you caught any of those references, you probably don’t speak 21st century English, either.)

The problem is, as a linguistic dinosaur, I have no idea what half the words people use these days mean.  So, for the most part, I guess.  However, as the world fills up with  bromances, bait-clicks, metrosexuals, and binge watching I find it harder and harder to understand what the hell people are talking about.  Here are a few more of my best guesses.

Cosplay — Derived from “costume” and “play,” this word covers a range of meaning, but I believe it’s actually just a euphemism for someone whose life sucks so badly they spend their time dressing up and pretending to be somebody else.

Mansplaining — This one is very complicated.  On the surface it’s a portmanteau word for a man explaining something.  Dig deeper, and it’s a man explaining something in a very condescending way — usually to a woman.  Dig even deeper, and mansplaining actually means some men have not yet surrendered in the gender wars and they still insist on talking about football and automobiles and other boring, technical stuff — like anybody cares about that crap.

Sideboob — “Sideboob” is one of those words that relies entirely on the speaker, and, oddly enough is not actually about boobs, at all.  It’s about the dress and the woman wearing it.  It illustrates our contemporary attitude towards women.  It suggests that the same dress is both sultry and sleazy and that the woman wearing it is attractive, stylish and sophisticated — but probably a skank.

There’s also:

Askhole — Everybody asks stupid questions but me.
Snowmageddon — Our winter was worse than your winter.
Plutoed — Nobody wants me around, but I’m here anyway — and there’s nothing you can do about it.

But by far my favourite is

Screenager — This is an all-purpose word for the latest generation’s obsession with phones, tabs and computers.  However, what it actually means is contemporary teenagers are all losers — why aren’t they out at the Drive-in theater, drinking illegal beer and trying to get pregnant, like we did at their age?

As we used to say, ’nuff said.

Slurring our Words Part 2

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine couldn’t access her e-mail.  She was working on an important deal and it was falling apart.  She was devastated.  She wasn’t upset, or annoyed or even pissed off — she was devastated.  It gave her license to be short-tempered with me and rude to the guy at Starbucks.  She was devastated.  She was entitled.  She was a victim.  Some un-named, unknown, unthinking, unfeeling, gigantic corporate Internet provider had gone out of its faceless, mindless monolithic way to hurt her, and she needed time and sympathy to get over it.  She told me so.

I remember when devastated was a strong word.  We used to use it for earthquakes, forest fires — carpet bombing — things that went way beyond simple destruction.  It was a great word.  Not anymore!  Now, all it means is a Fair Trade dark roast Mauna Loa slope coffee, a cookie the size of Rhode Island and twenty minutes late for work because “They’ll just have to wait!”  My friend wanted to stop for cookies and coffee but she didn’t have a legitimate reason to do that, so she took a minor situation and turned it into a major problem.  Basically, she was just cashing in the blank check we give people who are having trouble.  For example, there are several million people down on the Gulf Coast who just can’t get a break.  A couple of years ago, Hurricane Katrina came calling and it was like Mother Nature found the Mississippi delta and flushed.  Then one of British Petroleum’s gi-hugic oil rigs exploded and pumped black Vaseline all over everything that Katrina left behind — sand, surf, and swamp.  These people have been devastated.  They’re genuine victims; their anger, their frustration and their behaviour is understandable and excused.  It’s widely accepted that if your house is underwater or covered in an inch and a half of crude oil — or both — you get to stop and have a cookie on your way to work.  Even if it means you’re twenty minutes late, nobody is going to question it because sometimes in our society, you get to break the rules.  Unfortunately, we’ve started manufacturing meaningless words to accommodate anybody who wants to even bend those rules just a little bit.  If your plane is late and you’re stuck at the airport, that is not an “ordeal”.  It just isn’t.  You’re in a thermostatically controlled building with restaurants, bathrooms, tons of security, TVs and WiFi everywhere and a reasonable assurance that your plane will take off eventually.  So no matter how many times you say it, it’s not an “ordeal”.  On the other hand, if your plane crashes in the Andes and you have to eat some of the other passengers, that’s an “ordeal”.  There’s a difference.  Similarly, if you’re trying to untangle a bureaucratic foul-up – that’s not a “nightmare”.  The Dark Lords at Motor Vehicles are not trying to steal your soul.  They made a mistake, that’s all.  It doesn’t allow you to shout obscenities at them.  Of course, if you’ve just been sentenced to ten years in a Colombian prison on drug charges, that is a “nightmare.” and you can swear all you want.  Good luck.

Again there’s a difference, but it’s more than a question of degree, you see, every time we casually use a victim word to describe ourselves we slide a little further into actually thinking of ourselves as victims — hopeless, helpless, haunted, victims — until eventually we spend our whole lives lurching from crisis to crisis, with our actions and our attitudes controlled by, and at the mercy of, terrible unseen forces. And the number one, kickass, kung-fu, Lara Croft, Mac-10, victim word?    Issues!  This little dynamo is so soft it’s going to be the one that finally does us in.

Part 3 – How issues solved all our problems.