How strange is the English language? 35



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Listen up everyone: today’s trick question is….WORDS.

Have you ever thought it odd that a word with the same spelling can mean two very different things?

Imagine what it must be like for children and those new to the language when confronted with a word like, say “ live”, to make sense of it.

You could say, Katy went to “live” in America or, Katy went “live” on the air with her new show – same word with two totally different meanings.

Then there is the old tried and true favourite “dog”.

Now we all know that a dog is that flea ridden, scruffy four legged being who poops and pees on the new flooring and chews your favourite furniture, but, it is often used to describe a person with questionable habits who pretends to be a human.

Admittedly the only real difference here is that one has two legs and the other 4, but still you get my drift.

Ah! But how about the ubiquitous “girl”.

Now this one used to be used in the correct context to describe a young female.

Now it is used as an insult, or as a term to belittle or lessen the standing of an older female.

All, we are assured, well intentioned and in good humour. It’s a bit hard to explain that one to a woman in her 80s.

Then there are the ones which seem to relate almost exclusively to men – they are weak kneed.

I am not sure if this means that their knee caps are in danger of collapsing or some other dire medical disaster awaits.

This phrase is more likely used to put across the message that they are not doing what the speaker thinks they should be doing. Despite the boring fact that the man in question has probably made a very quick, balanced decision that what he is being asked to do is either not feasible or jut plan stupid.

Now we come to the universal one: “kids”.

I always thought that a kid was a baby goat, but somehow it has entered the language to describe those angelic, perfect, irritating, mind blowing smart mini people previously known as children.

How does a new student of the English language work this one out?

On one hand you have someone’s pride and joy who you are supposed to coo over and equate their birth to the second coming, with a hooved and horned, wiry, smelly animal who eats your knickers.

OK, I grant you with the exception of the knicker eating aspect, there is not really that much difference between the two species, but you get where I am coming from.

How about “lie”? Now this one can mean that the person you are speaking to comes out with some of the most unbelievable garbage know to man.

You know, he knows it, but you are still expected to believe it. Or it could simply mean that someone is just bone achingly tired and wants to “lie” down on the bed and get some kip.

Any way you look at, totally confusing.

Or, if someone says the word “run” to you, what does that mean? Your initial thought might be that they want you to take part in a marathon, or that you are operating or “run” a complex business venture.

Which is it?

If you have not been listening closely to the preceding conversation, you would not have the foggiest notion.

That last word brings me neatly to the next word “notion”. In previous times, and still to some extent, a notion was a sewing item, needles, cotton, ribbon.

Now it is used as I did in a totally different context. Which one is right? Probably both. How about “Babe”?

When I asked my husband to think of some words with parallel meanings, this was his first thought. You’ve gotta love that man!

The old meaning of the word was of a “babe” in arms. A very tiny, new being. Now that “babe” in arms is a whole different kettle of fish.

It usually refers to someone who is drop dead gorgeous, unattainable or if you are really lucky and she acknowledges that you may just be interesting, someone that you can show off to your mates. Or, with thanks to the film industry, there is now a whole new generation with their own “babe”.

Ask any person under the age of 10 what the word “babe” means and it is almost a certainty that they will describe a small, pink, porcine being with a squashed up snout and squeaky voice. Same word, same spelling, three very different meanings.

Confused yet?

So your challenge is, how many more can you come up with?

Jean Prince

  1. I think we just have to remember that language is constantly evolving and I find that interesting. Always love listening to Roly Sussex on the English language and the origin of words.

  2. This is the reason why the English language is difficult to learn and also why (kids) find it difficult when learning to spell. 🙄😒😕

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    • At least in English we don’t have genders to worry about like in other languages where the gender of the noun affects the adjective preceding it. Also other languages have their sayings which don’t make sense in English until you think about it. For example, in English we say that “someone doesn’t have a look in”. In German they say “he’s away from the window” (direct translation), which means the same thing when you think about it 🙂

  3. Your description of dogs ???? Do you not know about guide dogs for the blind, police dogs, man’s best friend etc etc???.

  4. Working on a telephone exchange when calling cards first came in, they used to put a list of stolen or wrong numbers people were using , a german lady was horrified when 1 was listed as invalid, she said im not asking people if theyre an invalid!

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  5. The English language is being bastardised, come on LOL is a word…..NOT ….and words that sound the same but with different spelling and meanings……here, hair, hear….

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  6. We should endeavor to create new words, possibly longer than four letters, to avoid ambiguity.

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