What’s in a Word? -Ough Of Course!

ough sounds

Source: Google Images/ieltsonlinetests.com

Whaddya Mean You Don’t Understand?

I can’t imagine what it’s like for someone whose first language is not English and arrives in America with all their hopes and dreams but little or no (American) English language skills. Our conversational styles, which vary from region to region, idioms (“knock on wood,” “under the weather,” “bite the bullet”), buzzwords/buzz-phrases (“new normal,” “kicks” for shoes), clichés, ambiguous remarks and just the way we pronounce words (“drawer” vs. a Bostonian “draw”) must be beyond confusing for foreigners wanting to understand and communicate.

English, brought to this country by colonials (Anglo-Saxons), is considered a Latin-based language also made up of words with roots in many other languages (Greek, French,  Arabic, African, etc.). According to ilovelanguages.com and Wikipedia, the roots of English actually began with Germans, Angles, Saxons, and Jutes (Germanic tribe that settled in England after the Romans left). The transition to early modern English began around 1480. Then there was The Great Vowel Shift shortly after that and then a large-scale migration from England to North America; late modern English came in around 1800. This lead to a new strain of English that we know and use today here in the U.S.

Wait, How Do You Pronounce/Spell That?

The point I’m making is there’s such a long history of words changing in spelling and pronunciation it’s got to be hard for new arrivals to learn our language. One example of this is the suffix -ough, used in a variety of words with different pronunciations, different meanings and same spelling. Imagine being a new immigrant; try to pronounce, spell, and understand the following words and their contextual use.

There are 9 distinct pronunciations of -ough; see if you can differentiate:

1. -ow (like ‘cow’), oh (long Ō), oo (as in ‘moose’): bough (like ‘cow’), borough (like ‘burrow’ but a different word), dough (the kind you knead or use to buy stuff), though (not ‘thou’ in the Bible), through (like ‘threw’), although, slough (‘slew’ – Scottish origin), thorough, plough (as in ‘plow’)

2. -uff (short U), uh (short U), upp (short U in ‘up’): enough, rough, tough, hiccough (‘upp’ sound)

3. -aw (as in ‘awe’), au (as in ‘hat’), ah-ff (as in ‘off’): bought, cough, draught (spelled ‘draft’ in U.S.), drought (we say ‘drowt’), ought, thought, wrought, slough (this one is ah-ff, as in ‘skin sloughs off daily’), trough, fought

4. This one’s just for fun: lough (pronounced läk) – a lake, bay or inlet sea (Ireland); loch in Scotland

Phew. Confused yet? You find slough in #1 and #3 with different pronunciations and meanings. Have fun with that one!

More of Me Being Silly (and still making the point)

Online I found a sentence (yes, ONE sentence) that uses all NINE (there are actually TEN) pronunciations:

“The wind was rough along the lough (#4) as the ploughman fought through the snow, and though he hiccoughed and coughed, his work was thorough.”

It’s kind of silly but this is one I came up with:

“As I took my bow (I didn’t tie a bow with a long Ō) in the outdoor theater, down came the tree’s bough upon my head. And even though it was rough I was tough and fought to stay alert. “Enough!” I yelled as I thought I ought to see a doctor about my wound; he can give it a thorough cleaning and slough off the dead skin around the edges. I wrought my hands in anguished thought about whether I could go through with it and if I had enough dough to pay the man. I came to my senses quickly and thought I might first have a draught to make me brave.”

Then I came up with this:

twiddle twaddle diddle dawdle (catch that?) fiddle faddle… yikes…it never ends…welcome to English, people…

#whatsinaword #vocabulary #englishlanguage #ESL #comingtoamerica #writtenword #fridayfunfacts #authorsoninstagram #writersoninstagram #writersgottawrite #write #spelling #blogging #bloggingaboutwriting #historyofwords #languages

A Bone to Pick

bad grammar3

Source: Pinterest

I can’t help it. I honestly can’t. No matter what I read, whether it’s a blog, an article in a magazine or newspaper, or a book, I can’t help but edit as I read. I instinctively pick out the grammatical errors, found online and in print all too frequently these days: run-on sentences; sentences ending with a proposition (which seems to be more acceptable but it still bugs me); incorrect words, mainly homonyms (for example: their, they’re, and there) and misused possessive pronouns (its versus it’s); not knowing when to use a (precedes a word beginning with a consonant) versus an (precedes a word beginning with a verb); and placement of commas or their overuse. They stick out like sore thumbs for me. I’m sure it harkens back to my private Catholic grammar school days (pun intended) where Catholic nuns with metal-sided rulers were quick to whip knuckles for the slightest error in English composition. Before the typewriter found its way into our home, I wrote and rewrote every paper I ever had to write, all the way up to and through eighth grade and my early high school years.

This morning was no different when I opened an email from a writer’s blog I follow. His specialty is advice on finding paid work as a freelance writer. Today’s blog was so full of blatant errors I couldn’t take his advice seriously. Immediately I thought does he write like this for clients? The article overflows with grammatical errors: excessive/incorrect word use (using most when best is appropriate, the overuse of very and just, and redundancy, to name a few); misuse of homonyms (verses instead of versus when talking about writing a comparison article); and past/present tenses and singular/plural nouns all in the same sentence. I gave up before I was halfway through the blog.

Back in June, I wrote a blog titled Graphic Un-Design, where I moaned about a new book cover that did not materialize as I’d hoped. What bothered me was the quality of the final product. I wrote “how devalued graphic design work has become with the advent of the Internet” and that so much of the work lacked “style and originality.” I believe this to also be true of English grammar and writing in general, what with the advent of the Internet and the plethora of “online experts.” Far too often, I read articles and blogs where people are writing as they talk instead of editing for flow and clarity (and, ugh, spelling). A lax attitude has superseded the ability to accurately convey information. Writing, a once proud field where it was as important to be grammatically correct as it was to inform and entertain, is now chock full of lazy copy, prose, and poorly presented information. This younger generation concerns themselves less with the details because they’re more focused on having their say, regardless of how they say it, and no matter how ambiguous the message.

We cannot give up the good fight to maintain our writing integrity if we want our work to be taken seriously. Take advice from people who write as well as they speak (and vice versa) because it raises the bar – and demands more of us and our work.

That is my bone to pick.

Grammar, It Ain’t That Hard, Right?

Is grammar dead? Read any number of internet articles, including those written by journalists and professional writers, and you just might think so. In a previous article, I criticized the overuse of the word thing. It is supplemented far too often as a noun where a more respectable and appropriate noun would do. Grammar clarifies both our writing and our thinking. They are forever joined together; the more clear and precise our thinking, the more clear and precise our writing. Hence, a better story or article is the result of that positive relationship. The lazier our thinking is, logic dictates, then the more muddled our writing is. As writers, we want to inform and/or entertain our readers, so doesn’t it make sense to keep our words as precise and concise as possible?

I was (un)fortunate enough to have been sent to a private Catholic grammar school for eight (long) years. I have vivid memories of nuns with their rulers and clackers, kept at the ready for any expression of unacceptable behavior, including mistakes in grammar when called upon to read (yes, out loud) or conjugate (yes, out loud). The following is an excerpt from a funny and informative grammar book, Who’s (…Oops!) Whose Grammar Book Is This Anyway? by C. Edward Good. The scene is eerily familiar to me (my comments are in parentheses):

“Up front, under the watchful eye of Miss Hamrick – our no-nonsense English teacher – Billy Wombie tries to diagram a sentence on the chalkboard. Momentarily uncertain where to put the prepositional phrase, he regains his composure and finishes with a flourish, smirking at Damron, the troublemaker in back taking aim with spit was in cafeteria straw.

Miss Hamrick spots him. “Up front with you, Damron. On your feet. In front of the class.” (I have similar embarrassing memories.)

“All right, Damron. Now perhaps you can help the class with verb conjugation.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Damron dutifully responds.

“Good. Now conjugate the verb to ride in the third person.” (How many of you have done this or can do this now?)

Third person?” Damron groans. He knows what will come. (I’m groaning, too, I’ve been here.)

“Third person. That’s right, Damron. No go ahead.”

“He rides, he rode, he will ride…”

“Damron, be fair. Include all third persons.” (Still following?)

“He/she rides…”

“No, Damron. Don’t forget to include it.” (Sheesh. You getting this?)

Beads of sweat forming on his troubled brow, Damron begins, “He/she/it rides, he/she/it rode….”

The class erupts, delighting in Damron’s pronunciational discomfort.

“He/she/it rides, he/she/it rode, he/she/it will ride, he/she/it has ridden, he/she/it had ridden, he/she/it will have ridden.” (I still don’t know how to use all but the first three; better read more of the book.)

“Very good, Damron. Now the progressive tenses.” (Huh? Don’t remember those…)

“He/she/it is riding, he/she/it was riding, he/she/it will be riding, he/she/it has been riding, he/she/it had been riding, he/she/it will have been riding.” (I give up.)

Grammar, a forgotten relic of the past? Nowadays, schools aren’t offering it in their English classes. Why not? As you can see above, it’s vital to understand the tenses and which one to use. I, for one, will be reading more of this delightful book so I can be more like Miss Hamrick. Sheesh.

 

good grammar

 

 

Walking & Writing Down Memory Lane

As I continue to unpack my life in my new home (hey, the older we get, the longer the process takes, wink wink), I discovered some long-forgotten gems I’d packed away. A friend is bringing by a TV with stand later today, so I had to make room. There were still two containers, one packed with Christmas decorations and the other marked “Memorabilia” that I needed to either put away or go through and discard unwanted items. I stored the Christmas box in the storage closet then set about rifling through the box packed with memories of my past. 

That container walked me through parts of my life I’d long forgotten, including many of the papers I’d written while earning my Psych degree back in the late 90s. I chuckled and snorted my way through the papers – Philosophy (the life of Socrates), English 202, and several of my clinical psych papers on serial killers (yep, that was my specialty – their psychopathology and crime scenes). At the bottom, tucked in an old scrapbook, I discovered some poems and short stories I’d written as a teenager. Seems I’ve been writing for longer than I remember. I stacked those papers in a neat pile to scan into my computer at some point. I enjoyed reading them again, to see how much I have (and have not, in some ways) changed over the decades.

Strong memories flooded my mind; in particular, of my favorite professor, the late Dr. Eugene Policelli. This man was not only a brilliant professor and writer; I clearly remember he was also fluent in Italian and, of all languages, Latin. We’re talking old school here. But his exuberance, kindness, generosity, and gentle guidance were what I remember most of him and his writing assignments. Because of him, I wrote some damned good stories. One of which he liked so much that he told me to “tighten it up” (I wasn’t sure what he meant by that at the time) so he could have it printed in our local paper (he had a friend who worked as an editor or something there). I remember it was a Christmas story of my family. Then I came across handouts he’d given us on the writing process and I share one with you here. Take notes.

the-writing-process

 

I also discovered a booklet printed upon my graduation from high school and, there among the poets, was one of my very own poems. I’d completely forgotten about that booklet, and even about writing the poem. I realized some of my emotions and perceptions have remain unchanged by time.

We take many turns along the road of life but in looking back we can see patterns emerge that shape who we are or will be at any moment in time. I realized this morning that I have been a writer for most of my life and the need to express myself is part of who I am, memories and all.

 

memory-lane-quote