The English Language

You’ve got to love the English language. Who else would use ‘Fed up’ not to mean you’ve enjoyed a good meal, but the world in general is a bit blur? I’m not even sure if that’s spelt correctly as so many of the words we use are rarely written down, but make a lovely noise when expressed.

One of my favourite words in Maltese is Mela! Always with an explanation mark, and it can mean anything from ‘of course, it’s obvious, naturally’, or ‘I agree with you.’ Although I had a good education, being a writer means knowing your past participles from your third person absolute gerund. No, I didn’t know what a gerund was either until I looked it up. Thank goodness for Google and emojis.

As a native English speaker, it’s more that something feels wrong than understanding why, and it’s usually pretty obvious to identify when a writer is using English as their second language. Only English would use a word meaning beautiful or attractive to describe a word meaning understandable? You couldn’t make it up. but you could use make-up to make you more attractive.

I wonder how many people actually use the expression ‘Woe betide’ in normal conversation? Language changes over time, and although I try to stay ‘hip and with-it’ (sorry, a bit of 60s jargon slipped in there) it does seem a shame the advent of computer and text ‘speek’ has resorted to the use of fast and furious initials to get a point across. Fast I can understand, but why should you be angry?

How would you feel if someone called you ‘simple?’ In these days of political correctness, you would probably get a ton, (or 1,106 kg if you want to be pedantic) of abuse, and what has that got to do with feet, apart from reminding you of pedicures? Originally a simple man was a compliment meaning honest, upright and hardworking, but times change.

There is an old saying, never discuss money, politics or religion and usually that’s advisable for social media, but the latest flavour of the month does leave me confused. I can understand the connotations of the ‘N’ word not being acceptable as it implies a second-class citizen or slave, as was the use of ‘coloured’ at one time. It was considered an insult to call someone black, so I adjusted my language so as not to inadvertently cause offence. Now ‘black’ or a ‘person of colour’ seems to be the in thing and it’s difficult to keep up.

I asked my friend of Jamaican heritage but born in London what she would prefer to be called in an effort to try to toe the line (back to feet again, I wonder why?) Her answer? ‘Angela,’ or ‘BB’ which stands for Black bird. Her idea, and a nickname which has stuck over the years with all the affection true friends share. Not only is beauty in the eye of the beholder, (another expression which is related to body parts,) but perceived prejudice in the use of words can have unexpected consequences.

As if it wasn’t hard enough for authors to get their books noticed in a plethora (I love that word) of others, you have to contend with someone, somewhere taking exception to a random word or phrase. ‘You can please some of the people, some of the time’ is another old saying which has never been more true in this climate of instant communication, and can destroy a writer’s career before it has even begun.

I follow various writers Facebook groups and it’s heart-breaking (whoa, another body part. I never realised how many there were until I started writing this post) to hear about authors being given one-star ratings without comment, when previously their books have received four and five stars on Amazon, implying they are worth reading. Famous authors with thousands of reviews can ignore the trolls, as their dedicated followers can’t wait for their next book release: for a struggling new author it can be soul destroying.

It’s a different kettle of fish; at least it’s not body parts, but who includes Agnatha, (thanks again Google,) when they are making a brew? For an author with a dozen or so reviews it’s much more of a problem. Not everyone will love your work, but negative reviews which point out shortcomings can only help an author improve for their next book. Allowing an anonymous one star without a comment, so potential readers are dissuaded from giving newbie authors a try, is a retrograde step.

With such a wide range of words to choose from, it shouldn’t be a problem to keep your manuscript interesting by not repeating the same word. However, a friend recently asked advice for an alternative word for snow. Not as easy as you might think. ‘White stuff’ gives the wrong impression, frozen water seems bland, (unless it’s an addition to alcohol), precipitation infers rain, (which in some countries can be warm,) so perhaps the only option is to resort to Father Christmas, which doesn’t sit well in a story set in ancient Rome.

Which language has the most words for snow? Research came up with some surprises. Apparently Russian has around 100, Swedish has 200, but the winner is -Wait for it –Drum Roll
(A drum is also slang for the place where you live)

...Scottish with 421. Wow!

So now you know, and ‘Glush,’ meaning melting snow has such a lovely ring to it, I might have to sneak it in somewhere.

If you ever had the urge to check out my books and see if I practice what I preach, you can find them here:

I was delighted to be included in the ‘Book of Book’s published by Sweetycat Press
which is a comprehensive catalogue of books covering most genres, and introducing some of the best emerging writers on the worldwide scene today.

Happy reading, folks, and see you next week.

© Val Portelli September 2020

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