goodest and baddest grammar

Most English have adjectives have comparative (-er or more/less) and superlative (-est or most/least) forms. The three major irregular adjectives are good-better-best, bad-worse-worst and far-further-furthest. One student wrote farer and farest. I said ‘Those are clear and fit the pattern, but we’ve got these special words further and further’. No-one wrote or said gooder, goodest, badder or baddest. I commented that those are clear and fit the pattern as well, but badder and baddest sound slightly better than gooder and goodest. Jim Croce calls Leroy Brown ‘The baddest man in the whole damned town / Badder than old King Kong’, not ‘The worst man … Worse than King King’. The spell-checker in Pages for Mac accepts badder and baddest, but not gooder and goodest. (It also accepts farer. I assume that’s related to fare (farer – ?a paying customer/traveller) not far. Compare wayfarer. The spell-checker in WordPress accepts badder and baddest, but not gooder, goodest or farer.) (Possibly, the regular adjective forms of far should be farrer and farrest, but it’s not necessary to decide.)

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heatable, heatful

I don’t like students depending on dictionaries in class (in fact, I don’t like them using dictionaries at all), for several reasons, another of which I might write about in a future post. Last night the students were practicing changing nouns into adjectives and vice versa (for the sake of completeness, I also added the appropriate verbs and adverbs). Most nouns change to adjectives and vice versa by the addition or subtraction of a suffix. However, there is a group of words which are clearly related but include other changes (long > length, strong > strength etc), sometimes enough to classify them as two  different words (poor > poverty).

One word was heat, for which most students had no trouble finding hot. (Though one student wrote tropical.) Another student then said ‘What about heatable and heatful?’. I said ‘What?!’. He pointed at the dictionary app on his phone. I said approximately ‘Well, I understand I those words but I’ve never seen or heard them in my life. Forget them. If you’ve ever got a choice between hot, heatable and heatful, keep it short and simple, and choose hot.’
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saeng-il chuk-ha ham-ni-da v Happy birthday to you

This morning my wife was watching a Korean tv reality program about a young man (possibly a K-pop star) travelling around with his grandmother. During the episode, she celebrates her birthday. He sings happy birthday to her in Korean (slowly), then English (up-tempo). Koreans use the standard tune but alter the rhythm to 3/4 + 4/4 by adding a beat to the equivalent of ‘you’. (I get caught out every time.)

The Korean words are: saeng-il chuk-ha ham-ni*-da (extra beat), saeng-il chuk-ha ham-ni-da (extra beat), sa-rang-ha-neun (name) (pause), saeng-il chuk-ha ham-ni-da – approximately: birthday congratulations (to you) we do, loving (name). [*The Korean has an extra syllable here and in the second and fourth lines. These two syllables fit into one beat (dotted quaver – semiquaver).] He made two changes: he sang shin (the formal word for ‘day’) instead of il and hal-meo-ni (grandmother/grandma) instead of ‘(name)’. Korean names traditionally have two syllables, so usually fit those two notes better than English-speaking names (with a greater range in the number of syllables) do. Except that he sang hal-meo-ni, which required two small notes (dotted quaver – semiquaver) in that beat (compare ‘Jennifer’ or a similar name). (hal-a-beo-ji (grandfather) has four syllables: compare ‘Olivia’.)

When he sang it in English, he changed the whole rhythm to 4/4, with an extra beat on ‘day’ as well as ‘you’. Instead of ‘dear grandmother/grandma’, he sang hal-meo-ni, which really messed up the rhythm.

(I’ve been meaning to write about the Korean version of Happy birthday. The tv program was a convenient prompt.)

Optometrist’s examination

I had my eyes tested yesterday. Maybe I should have soon anyway, but my wife ‘persuaded’ me. It’s probably no secret to say that the eye tests exploit the fact that some letters look more similar than others, for example K and X, or C, O and Q. At one point, the optometrist took my glasses out of the room, so I looked around to see what I could read without my glasses. A nearby machine was labelled as a XXX-XXXXXXXXX XXXXXXX XXXXXX. With a bit of squinting, I could easily make out the first three letters as ‘NON-’ and the last word as ‘CAMERA’, especially as it looked like a camera. With a bit more squinting, I made out the middle word, which was ‘RETINAL’ – okay, I’m reasonably familiar with retina and retinal. But the second half of the hyphenated first word defeated me until I moved about 15 cm closer, and made out MYDRIATIC, which is a totally new word for me – I couldn’t even guess what it means. My point is that we will recognise familiar words quicker than unfamiliar or unknown ones.

After the optometrist determined which lenses I need (slightly weaker than my current ones), she put a contraption with those lenses in it on my face then gave me a page filled with various kinds of writing at various sizes. One of the examples was music, and I always try to identify music: is it real, if so, what is it; or is it more or less obviously fake? At a first read through, it sounded familiar. At a second read through, I said ‘Oh, that’s Ebony and Ivory’, before realising that she is probably too young to remember that. My first guess was 1985; it was in fact 1982. If the optometrist was alive in 1982, she was very young.

Mary’s Boy Child

My first exposure to a non-standard variety of English was probably the Christmas song Mary’s Boy Child. One of my grandmothers had the sheet music and various members of the family sang it in various combinations when we visited at Christmas.

I vaguely remember vaguely thinking, ‘oh, this is different English’, not ‘oh, this is bad English’. Researching for this post, I found that Jester Hairston was born in a rural community in North Carolina, but grew up in Pittsburgh and later studied at Tufts University (Medford, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston) and the Juilliard School (Manhattan, New York). An obituary in the Los Angeles Times refers to his Boston accent, which he had to ‘lose’ for (stereotypically Black, at the time) radio and tv roles.

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I scream for eyes cream

Yesterday the topic in the textbook was money and shopping, and one of the questions was about what men and women (stereotypically) buy. One (male) student said that women buy cosmetics, such as make-up and (what sounded like) ‘ice cream’. I figured that he meant ‘eyes cream’.

There are two issues – turning ‘eye cream’ into ‘eyes cream’, and turning ‘eyes cream’ into ‘ice cream’. In English, cream for your eyes is ‘eye cream’, not ‘eyes cream’. ‘eyes’ has a /z/ at the end and if I had to say ‘eyes cream’, I would emphasise the /z/ and make a little break after it. However, it is very easy to devoice a final plural noun /z/, especially here because the next sound is the unvoiced /k/ of ‘cream’.

From ‘ice cream’, it’s just another small step to ‘I scream’, but that’s been done before. (That’s the first time I’ve actually heard that song.) (More information.)

Sunshine on my [noun]

This afternoon when I arrived at my second workplace, the blind was up and sunshine was streaming onto my desk. As I pulled down the blind, I said/semi-sang ‘Sunshine on my shoulders’ and a colleague (about 10 years younger than me, and the only other person in that office who grew up in Australia) ch    ipped in with ‘makes me happy as it should’. Huh? Those last three words aren’t in the song that I know. I said ‘I’m surprised you know that song’. He said ‘Oh, Spiderbait. I know all of theirs.’ Double huh?

Some quick searching online revealed that there are two relevant songs: Sunshine on my shoulders by John Denver and ‘Sunshine on my window’ by Spiderbait. In fact, there are three relevant songs; the official title of Spiderbait’s song is Calypso, which immediately brings to mind John Denver’s song of the same name.

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