‘Food is more useful than pencils’

A few days before Christmas 2006, I was discussing ‘holidays’ with one of my classes in Daejeon, South Korea, starting with Christmas, continuing with New Year(s) (international/solar and traditional/lunar) and so on through the year. People also mentioned national observances which are not public holidays (like Teachers Day) and social observances (like Valentines Day and White Day). Toward the end of the lesson, a student mentioned Pepero Day. 빼빼로 (transliterated in many different ways) is a cookie stick, dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with crushed nuts, manufactured by Lotte Confectionery. As a marketing exercise, Lotte plugs 11 November (11/11) as ‘Pepero Day’; people buy the product and give it to their significant others. The student explained “11/11 looks like sticks, and so does pepero”. I asked ‘What about giving pencils? They look like sticks.” The student replied “Food is more useful than pencils”.

Six words never before spoken in that precise order, and spoken and written since only by me (unless that particular student remembers that particular class). I searched the internet, and that sentence only appears in the online diary (now defunct) of my time in Korea, and in my comment on someone else’s linguistics blog.

Stephen Fry said: “… our language, hundreds of thousands of available words, frillions of possible legitimate new ideas, so that I can say this sentence and be confident it has never been uttered before in the history of human communication: ‘Hold the newsreader’s nose squarely, waiter, or friendly milk will countermand my trousers.’ One sentence, common words, but never before placed in that order.” A never-been-uttered-before sentence does not have to be that complex. It does not even have to make sense. Noam Chomsky wrote “Colourless green ideas sleep furiously” as an example of a sentence that is grammatically correct, but semantically nonsensical.

Oscar Wilde placed into the mouth of Algernon Moncrieff: “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” For this blog, I have inverted those words to apply to language: “never pure and rarely simple” – but endlessly fascinating despite (or maybe because of) that. This blog will focus on language, particularly English, but my interests are many and varied, and I will no doubt touch on many other parts of life, the universe and everything along the way.

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One thought on “‘Food is more useful than pencils’

  1. Pingback: the sewer of Armageddon | Never Pure and Rarely Simple

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