Humans evolved approximately 5 million years ago and we took about 3.5 million years to develop and start using language. It played a key role in ensuring our survival and in accelerating our development. Steven Pinker and Paul Bloom theorize that a series of calls or gestures evolved over time into combinations, giving us complex communication, or language.
English is the most widely spoken language in the world followed by Mandarin, Hindi and Spanish. The number though change dramatically when we take into account only the native speakers and that is when Mandarin takes the numero-uno spot followed by Spanish, English and Hindi.
Every language though is unique and has its own distinctive eccentricities as well, which not only make it fascinating but also worth studying. Today we will try to observe some of this quirkiness of the English language. I seek forgiveness for using the word ‘quirkiness’, as it is not being used to affront English as a language, but just to reflect on some of the oddities we witness while using it to communicate.
- Abbreviation – Imagine a word as big as ‘Abbreviation’ to describe something short. It has 12 letters, which may not look as big; however, consider the average length of an English word, which is 4.79 and against that, it is 5 times bigger. When we realize the abbreviation B.C, stands for Before Christ and it also has 12 letters in it, I hope you will understand the point I am trying to make here.
- Abbreviation, Acronyms and Mnemonics– Similar meaning but entirely different words.
A lot of people are mostly confused about the difference between these words and often used it interchangeably.
- Abbreviations are made using the first letters of a longer sentence. g. (this is also an abbreviation for ‘exempli gratia’-Latin) U.N.O (United Nations Organization) and C.B.I (Central Bureau of Investigation). An abbreviation is always pronounced individually and not as a word.
- Acronym is pronounced as a word and is made up by taking the first letter of the full name or sentence. g. SWOT refers to strengths, Weakness, Opportunity and Threats and is pronounced as a word. Another example is ‘LAST’ commonly used in the service industry and refers to Listen, Apologize, Satisfy and Thank.
- Mnemonics are majorly used as a memory tool to remember phrases, mostly with a pattern of letters. g. to remember the names of oceans you can remember – PAISA (Pacific, Arctic, Indian, Southern(Antarctic), Atlantic) and to remember names of the planets, can remember the phrase – ‘My Very Energetic Mother Just Served Us Noodles’ where the first alphabet of every word in the phrase refers to the name of a planet – Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune)
- Resign and Re-Sign – Similar sounding words with opposite meanings. These two oxymoronic words can confuse anyone. While Resign refers to leaving a job, re-sign implies continuing with the contract. Just a hyphen can make or break your career.
- Café, Entrepreneur, Ballet, Genre, Rendezvous, Fest, Glitch, Macho, Plaza, Ninja, Tsunami, Jungle, Gung-ho – This is a very small list of word borrowed from French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Hindi and Mandarin. Food and fashion in English language is easy to comprehend, thanks to the generous contribution of these languages.
- American and British English – The Americans although speak English but still refer to theirs as American English, while there seems to be very little difference in how the language is written or spoken with minor changes in spelling and pronunciation. One thing I have always been confused about though is why they call Football, Soccer. I am a football fan and I somehow find the word repulsive. University of Michigan professor Stefan Szymanski though blame Britons for this confusion in his recent research.
- The Words Set and Drunk – They are the probably the words with the most synonyms and contextualized meaning. ‘Did you set your TV volume high after getting drunk?’
- Abibliophobia – I never thought there could be a word for someone who is scared of running out of books to read. However, when I came across this word, I realized I too have this, just as we get all the illnesses when we read about them.
- Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis – 99.99% people won’t even read all the alphabets of this word. You need patience, bravery and attention to detail to be able to read it. Forget about remembering it. The word refers to a lung disease caused due to silica particles. I think we need to create a mnemonic to remember this one. But, wait if we do that, it won’t be a mnemonic and according to the definition it can’t be an acronym either. So, we are left with only one option – to create an abbreviation of this monster to be able to remember it. Will anyone try?
- A and I – So we have tried reading the longest word. What about the shortest ones. We are lucky we have two alphabets, which are also words in themselves. ‘A’ and ‘I’ help you communicate without any additional baggage.
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