Friday 11 February 2011

Yester day

Sir B's comment about yesterday's post reminded me of a conversation I had with my son Ro when he was a small child.   I was talking of something that had happened the day before, and he said "but that wasn't today."  "No, it was yesterday."  "No, it wasn't today."  "I didn't say it was today, it was yesterday."

It was some time before I caught on, and took him a few minutes more to take in the difference between 'yes-today' and "yester-day."  And at least they did sound the same, very nearly (cf the extremely funny link that Rog put up the other day, on a newspaper article correction that hinged on mishearing "20 sows and pigs as 20,000 pigs).

I can remember many occasions, as a child, when something completely mystified me and it wasn't until years later that I worked out that I'd misheard or misunderstood an expression.  And children try to turn something that they don't understand into something that they do - lots of well-known examples of that, such as Pontius the Pilot: mind you, one only had to think of Mondegreens to realise that we all do that.  Even in everyday speech, that so many people say "could of" instead of "could have" is simply a mishearing of "could've" - and so, it's becoming an acceptable alternative, even if people who know it's wrong don't like that.  I've become a great deal more tolerant of this sort of thing in the past couple of years.  Language does and should evolve, and it's part of the complexity and fun of English.

What I don't like is simplifying things on the assumption that people won't understand the original and so it's best avoided.  It's by having to learn more complex things that one becomes able to - for example, back when I was a child, we all learned the 12 times table pretty quickly.  We had to.  There were 12 pennies in a shilling and 20 shillings in a pound, and everyone knew what tables were for, and so had an incentive to learn the 2, 3, 4, 6 and 12 times tables, at any rate.  7 was entirely useless so children had to be forced into learning that.  It's 40 years ago next week that decimalised currency hit this country, and the purposefulness of everyday multiplication was lost instantly as well as the value and cost of everyday items, something that has never been caught up with since.  I'm not for a moment suggesting a return, it would be too damn difficult for everyone, including me, and even the extraordinary Secretary of State for Education, who probably regrets the passing of the slide rule and the introduction of the pocket calculator, hasn't come up with that.  But Dilly, who is doing one-to-one tutoring in schools at present, was telling me the other week that the biggest problem is that reasonably able teenagers have missed out on learning some basics, and so can't keep up. The biggest difference is in knowing times tables.  It so happens (and I didn't raise the subject) that a Learning Support teacher at the high school told me exactly the same thing about tables the next week.

Same with writing and spelling.  Back in the day when, as a parent, I used to go in to help at the village school, I was listening to a child read her book.  Neither her first nor surname was spelled phonetically, but she was a bright child, probably 5 or 6 at the time.  We talked about the spelling of the word "laugh" and I said, you can't sound it out, it's one of those words that you just have to learn.  And, I pointed out, her own name of Laughton contains laugh.  She could spell her name, and was quite tickled by the idea. And I bet she had no difficulty with the different 'augh' and 'ough' pronunciations that language-simplifiers complain about, because the peculiarity of such a thing was an everyday matter for her.


Unknown said...

Yesterday I wrote a cheque, and as I wrote the date (10.2.11)I realised that it was ten to eleven all day, which must be quite an unusual day ?

Connexion :- misleading pronunciation of words.

Unknown said...

P.s. Glad to see your blog is back in English, Z. Latin's a bit of a strain, after sixty years of trying to forget it.

Dave said...

Of course, M&A, today is a palindrome: 11.02.2011.

Oddly, only last week I was discussing times tables and calculators with my daughter (who learned her tables - it was she who was moaning about modern youngster's inability to multiply.

Of course, many folk in Norfolk found the 12 times table easier, having been born with 12 fingers.

Dave said...

Excuse me, I'm heavily drugged-up.

Z said...

Sorry about yesterday, Mike, I was impressed by all the Latin that turned up in the comment box, as well as other languages.

I love playing about with numbers, glad I'm not alone.

Dave, we need a few extra fingers to allow for those we lose in agricultural or engineering accidents. Of course, the webbing between the digits helps too, in understanding the concept of fractions.

BTW, for non-native English speakers, Laughton is pronounced Lorton - obviously you'll know that laugh is pronounced larf.

Unknown said...

By the way Dave, my second daughter tells me that the first ever human remark was almost certainly a palindromic one. When Adam first saw Eve, he introduced himself by saying "Madam, I'm Adam".

Z said...

So was the second. She replied "Eve."

martina said...

Good comeback Z! Here we pronounce Laughton..Lawton. I used to think the line in the DoReMe song was "tea, a drink with Janet Red" instead of "tea, a drink with jam and bread". Wondered who this popular girl named Janet Red was.

Z said...

There are so many song lyrics that I have got wrong for years, Martina!

Anonymous said...

Variation (and I think art in general is variation) is only possible on the basis of a given foundation, a set of rules; for example grammar and orthography: A writer should be able to use these tools. In Germany we had I-lost-count-how-many "reforms" of orthography in the last twenty years: It's terrible.
Big shots like Grass and others made absolutely clear that their texts are not to be touched. Others have to face re-editions or "Bearbeitungen".

An interesting topic: basics and variations; standards and standardization - thank you for the impulse.

By the way, decimalization was introduced into Germany after 1871 as part of the unification and, yes, prussification. In Bavaria and Franconia systems based on twelve and twentyfour had been in use in daily live: Money, measures of capacity, weights, distances. Only through WWI these old measures were finally abandoned when the Supreme Command (OHL) took over and practised "Kriegswirtschaft", based on total unification.

luckyzmom said...

"Gotta" gets me so rankled.

Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy. Kids will eat ivy too wouldn't you?

Z said...

So I've heard, Mago. Language should evolve, not be subject to decree. Of course, the French try to keep their language pure and not allow new words, especially if they're Anglicised, but that goes to the other extreme.

You're right, it was an impulse. When I started writing, I didn't know how the post was going to take over. Duodecimalisation is a far more sensible concept than decimalisation except for the fact that most of us have ten digits - apart from lucky Norfolk natives, of course.

there's always something that really jars, isn't there - I've got several words that really annoy me and I'm working on not minding them!

Anonymous said...

There is one bagger at the local store whose parting words are always "have a good one". A good what? Why can't he say thank you and leave it at that?

Eddie 2-Sox said...

"Laugh" is pronounced "laff". Actually.

I bet you say grarce too.

Z said...

No, come on darling, you live the right side of the North/South divide. I'm sure I blogged that when I visited KL a few months ago.

It does show, however, the impossibility of phonetic spelling in this country, Because I Larf and you Laff.

Received, understood and appreciated, Anon!

Dandelion said...

Siobhan, was it? Katriona? Hermione? Or Penelope, perhaps?

Language-simplifiers get my goat, because you don't just lose the richness of the language, and the thread of the evolution, you lose an important way of being able to think about the relationship between words and their meaning. Such people are in my view ignorami, and should shut up and get on with reading the Sun, instead of trying to bring us all down to their level.