Friday, 10 September 2010

More Strange Language

More strange language, but not necessarily stranger language, even though "more strange" equates to the comparitive form of the adjective "strange."

If you think that the English language is confusing, try the (in)famous English pastime of cricket. My (Welsh) sports master, Mr Evans, used to refer to it as "that ancient English rain-making ceremony," and he was not far wrong, as rain often stops play. Anyone not exposed to the activity, laughingly termed a sport or a game, becomes more confused than poor Alice as she observed the crazy game of croquet (no relation) in Wonderland. Here, then, is a perfectly good explanation of the game of cricket, for the uninitiated:

A foreigner will possess the essential knowledge of cricket when he fully understands the following:
You have two sides: one out in the field and one in in the pavilion.
Each man that's in the side that's in goes out and when he's out he comes in and the next man goes in until he's out.
When they are all out the side that's out comes in and the side that's been in goes out and tries to get those coming in out.
Sometimes you get men still in and not out.
When both sides have been in and out, including the not outs, that's the end of the game.



English verbs are relatively easy, though even they can cause confusion. The pluperfect tense of the verb "to have" is elegantly simple, yet strangely offputting:

I had had
you had had

Nothing more than the pronoun, followed by "had had."

This simplicity can lead to some strange structures, including what is probably the longest repetition of the same word in a perfectly good English sentence. Here it is without punctuation:

Tom, while John had had had had had had had had had had had the master's approval.

That's eleven hads in a row!

Adding punctuation offers some relief:

Tom, while John had had "had", had had "had had"; "had had" had had the master's approval.

(Two pupils had asked to write something by their teacher; one pupil used the "had" form, whereas the other used "had had." The teacher preferred "had had.")

Again, it's not only English that produces strange combinations. I expect that all languages have their peculiarities, tongue-twisters, strange exceptions to rules, and so on. In German and Dutch, it is quite easy to form longer words by combining individual words. As a result, an exhibition of aboriginal camping equipment might in Dutch be referred to as a hottentottententententoonstelling. Mind you, Welsh doesn't do badly in this respect, either, and in the 19th century the small village of Llanfairpwll changed its name in an attempt to attract that new breed of traveller, the train tourist. The name of the village was changed to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch and the rest, as they say, is history. (If you'd like to know more about LlanfairPG -- not least what the name means -- simply visit the village's very own site.)

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