Ummm …

On two different occasions since I got back from Korea I have met two different elderly women whose respective husbands were ailing when I went away. How do I inquire about their life and health?

Is [Fred] (still) alive?
Is [Fred] dead?
Has [Fred] died?
Did [Fred] die?
How is [Fred] (these days)?

I said something like ‘I haven’t heard anything/any news about Fred recently’ (awkward pause), and  each woman told me that her husband had died, one while I was in Korea and one since I got back. I knew each couple through a different organisation, and it’s possible that the deaths were announced on those organisations’ social media. If so, I missed them. The older I get, the more often this is likely to happen.

It must also be awkward for a widow or widower, too. Do they say ‘Oh, did you know that [Fred] died?’? If so, for how long?

I’m honoured to have known those two men, and to know those two women. Joe and John – Rest eternal rest grant them, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine on them.

24 years old v 24 years older

Last night my wife pointed to a Youtube video about the new president of France, Emmanuel Macron, and asked ‘Did you know he married a woman 24 years old?’. I’d read headlines about ‘an older woman’, so ’24 years old’ didn’t sound right, but ’24 years older‘ didn’t sound much righter. Except she is. My wife really did know that Brigette Macron is ‘older’ and really did mean to say ‘older’, but either her pronunciation failed at the last syllable or I wasn’t paying attention.

It is perhaps more likely that a 39-year-old man would marry a woman 24 years old than a woman 24 years older. Thinking about it, I was grateful that she isn’t, for example, 15 years older than him. ‘Did you know he married a woman 15 years old?’ really doesn’t sound right.

Some time ago, she was reading about a host/judge on a cooking competition program here in Australia. She said ‘His wife is 19 years old!’ (he was then in his 40s). This is possible, but I wanted to check. The article said ‘his wife of 19 years’. (I remember, many, many years ago, being confused about this phrasing as well. It that case, it was something like ‘his wife of 13 years’.)

lookout v look out, wildlife v wild life

We drove to a small town in the Blue Mountains famous for its autumn leaves. On the way, I saw a sign which might have said:

LOOKOUT

PEDESTRIANS

ABOUT

which makes sense in the Blue Mountains. The second one definitely said:

LOOK OUT

PEDESTRIANS

ABOUT

Just as we were leaving the small town, I saw a sign saying:

WILD LIFE

I guess to those living in a quiet mountain town, everything else seems wild.

the sewer of Armageddon

My fear of heights began when I climbed down the sewer of Armageddon during a thunderstorm.

Every language user has the ability to create sentences which have never before been spoken or written in that language, and every other user of that language has the ability to understand them (assuming linguistic competence, performance and cooperation by all).

Yesterday, one of my nieces, who is studying linguistics, wrote the sentence above as part of a Facebook post about the pipe organ she’s practicing on. Yes, she really did visit Israel, yes, she really did visit Tel Megiddo, yes, she really did climb down the former sewer/emergency escape route / current alternative route (with metal steps) for tourists, yes, there really was a thunderstorm at the time.

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bodack

On a wet weekend, while recovering from a perfectly ordinary but nonetheless annoying cold, I was catching up on some language and linguistics blogs I rarely read, possibly because those bloggers are far less active these days than previously. One of those is David Crystal. One of his posts relates the story of Gerard Manley Hopkins contributing Irish words and phrases for the English Dialect Dictionary, published between 1898 and 1905. Some of the items don’t sound dialectal at all, some are amply attested elsewhere, and some were new to me.

My eye was caught by

bodach, sb, an old man; a churl

Ireland. GMH [no example]

I immediately flashed back 40 years to my last year or two of primary school in country Victoria, when and where the word bodack (however spelled – it was rarely written) was used as a one-word reply to express disbelief or derision at someone else’s statement. (The exact level of disbelief or derision depended on the exact amount of inflection in the pronunciation.) Are the two words connected? It’s impossible to say now.

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