Sunday, August 08, 2010

English: a Love Affair

I am in love with the English Language, and have been as long as I can remember.

I love words. I like their sound, and I like their rhythm. Most of all, though, I love their meanings, the often subtle shades of connotation that make apparently interchangeable words just a little bit different.

I like the history of English. I love that English is a Germanic language that took a French lover. I love that this couple adopted Greek and Latin and loved them as their own children, and I love that this raucous, tumultuous family parties with every language on the planet. (Did you know that "ketchup" is Indonesian and "boondocks" is taken from the Tagalog? How can you not love that?)

I don't read much poetry, and I haven't read much literary fiction. Most of my reading is nonfiction and essays. But that doesn't mean the quality of prose doesn't matter to me. I love reading writers that love language as much as I do. Some of my favorite essayists are primarily poets: Donald Hall is the only person for who's autograph I've stood in line. I love the twinkle-in-the-eye elegance of E. B. White, the brittle beauty of Joan Didion, and the riotous combativeness of Tom Wolfe.

My interests are many, and I'm always open to a new one. So, I'm less concerned with a writer's subject than with his craft. I've loved Roger Angell on baseball, Lewis Thomas and Richard Selzer on medicine, Witold Rybczynski on architecture, and John McPhee on many different things. Years ago, the library where I work created a bookmark with titles I'd chosen from each of the ten classes of the Dewey Decimal System.

I love puns, the more groan-inducing the better, and I love them best of all when they contain a play on meanings as well as sounds. I love word histories, although most of the ones you see outside of reference works are bogus. I love how etymology can suggest connections between ideas and concepts that I'd never considered.

English makes me happy.

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T Minus Two by Bob Pedersen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.