I want …

Somewhere on the internet (though I can’t find it right now) is a digitally edited photo of Freddie Mercury, the former leader singer of the English rock band Queen, as a contestant on the tv quiz show Who wants to be a millionaire? The ‘question’ is ‘I want …’ and the ‘answers are ‘… it all’, ‘… to break free’, ‘… to ride my bicycle’ and ‘… to make a supersonic man out of you’ — lyrics from four Queen songs.

Every English (and possibly every language) verb comes with rules about what other elements must or can or mustn’t follow it, usually related to the meaning of the verb. The first meaning of want is that we want something: Freddie wants it. And once we want it, we can specify ‘how much of it?’ (all), and ‘when?’  (now). Another is that we want to do something: Freddie wants to break, to ride and to make. These last three verbs also come with their own rules about what other elements must or can or mustn’t follow them. We usually break something, but we can also break out, loose, away or free. We usually ride something or on or in something, but we can just ride (but usually something is implied: I walked and Freddie rode (his bicycle)). We usually make something, but we can also make sure or out.

A third pattern after want is that we want someone else to do something. I can’t recall that Queen provides an example, but Cheap Trick does. 

Advertisements

10,000 miles

One of the items my local choir is singing is a medley of the American folk songs Shenandoah (which I previously knew) and He’s gone away (which I didn’t). Because of the folk origins of both songs, information about them is confused and confusing. Shenandoah might be the Oneida Iroquois chief (“I love your daughter”) or the river in Virginia and West Virginia (“Away, you rolling river”) or both. On the other hand “Oh Shenandoah, I love your daughter” might just be a poetic way of saying “I love a young woman who lives in the Shenandoah Valley”.

The only information I could find about He’s gone away is that it’s from North Carolina. It contains the line “Look away over Yandro”. Where is Yandro? It probably isn’t. There is a possibility that it’s a local name for a local watercourse or mountain which (the name) didn’t survive, but the consensus of opinion on a discussion site for choral directors is that it’s a local pronunciation of yonder (indeed some versions of the words render it “over Yondro”, which might have originated as “over yondro”). One participant linked to what looks like a personal blog which claims that yandro means “the place we put our hopes and our longings. It is the place of reunions dreamt of fondly. It is the place, wherever it may be, that we meet our hearts”.  Yeah, right. That blog is private, so I can’t check its writer’s credentials. Continue reading

Trimming

I’m back to choir rehearsals, courtesy of my new, daytime job. My local choir was practicing ‘Steppin’ out with my baby‘ (video) by Irving Berlin (not the choir’s usual repertoire). For a moment, I thought the words were ‘There’ll be smooth sailin’ ’cause I’m trimmin’ my nails’ (well, the bit just before that is ‘I’m all dressed up tonight’ and the bit just after is ‘In my top hat and my white tie and my tails’. What else does one do before a night out?). Then I looked again and saw that it’s actually ‘I’m trimmin’ my sails’. 

The relevant definition is:

Nautical.

3. to adjust (the sails or yards) with reference to the direction of the wind and the course of the ship.

 

My name is Indo-European

My very last lesson as an English language teacher provided an interesting insight into languages … twice. I was using the Schoolhouse Rock and Grammaropolis songs to illustrate the main points of English grammar. My students on that day were from South Korea, Colombia and Nepal, so along the way I commented briefly about similarities and differences between English and Korean (eg, basic word order of subject-object-verb), and English and Spanish (eg, basic word order of noun-adjective). I could say absolutely nothing about Nepali. The only two things I know about Nepali are that it’s Indo-European and most closely related to Hindi and Urdu. So towards the end of the lesson, I went to the Wikipedia page on Nepali  in the hope of gleaning something of interest. One of the example sentences is My name is Bryan Butler, which is given in Nepali script as मेराे नाम ब्रायन बट्लर हाे । and then transliterated as mero nām brayan batlar ho.

mero nām – Indo-European much?

The Spanish student provided me with mi nombre and I know the Korean 내 이름 (nae i-reum) (usual/natural) and 제 이름 (je i-reum) (polite). Clearly, Korean is not an Indo-European language. Continue reading

‘Swiss fork song’

Today is our 10th wedding anniversary. Our wedding was held in a major church in Seoul. Everything was said in Korean and English (my father, sisters and brothers-in-law and all but one niece and nephew travelled and there was a sprinkling of colleagues and people from the English-language congregation of the church). The Korean priest speaks English passably, but the English part of the service was read by a Canadian deacon, who was in Korea as an English teacher. He read the new testament reading in English then Korean, and a friend of my wife read the old testament reading in Korean and English (delightfully mixing up ‘there was everything [viz ‘evening’], and there was morning – the sixth day’). We sang one hymn and said the Lord’s prayer together in both languages.

Afterwards, there was a buffet dinner in the church’s dining room, at which I welcomed people in Korean then English, then about 50 people attended a quieter, more informal reception at a small reception centre near Namsan. I also welcomed people and made a short speech in Korean there, and my wife and I sang a song in Korean.

There was a karaoke machine, which was kept busy. One song listed was Eidelweiss, a ‘Swiss fork song’. This is wrong three times: it’s not a fork song, it’s not even a folk song,* and it’s not Swiss. In the world of the musical/movie, it’s an Austrian song of unexplained origin. At the concert (at least in the movie – I’ve never seen it on stage), Captain von Trapp introduces it as ‘a love song’, and expects the audience to know it and join in. In real life, it was written by the Americans Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers. So it’s really an American Broadway musical song.

(*I could write more about the English letters l and r and the Korean letter ㄹ, but I won’t.)

(PS A Swiss fork song might be sung while eating fondue.)

Schoolhouse Rock songwriter Bob Dorough dies

I have mentioned the Schoolhouse Rock songs on English grammar. I use them in class occasionally, but have not fully explored them here.

In the news is the death of the songwriter Bob Dorough, whose name I had not encountered or thought to ascertain. He wrote many but not all of the songs.

Profile

A convenient playlist of the grammar songs

 

celebrate celebrities, because because

One recent grammar activity in the textbook was building abstract nouns from a given concrete noun, verb or adjective plus one of give set of seven suffixes: –hood, –ship, –dom, –ity, –ness, -(a)tion and –ment. One of the given words was celebrate. The expected answer is celebration, but one student wrote celebrity. In real life, yes, in this activity no. Maybe in these days of manufactured famous-for-being-famous “celebrities”, we lose sight of the fact that we (should) celebrate celebrities and celebrities are, literally, celebrated. A celebrated tv star is very different from a celebrity tv star (though in one or two cases I won’t name, it could be arguable exactly which side of the coin s/he is on).

But in this activity celebrat(e) + ity results in celebratity, which is wrong. But are we limited to root + suffix, or can we make other spelling changes? There’s the drop-the-e rule, obviously, and another example was possible > possibility, which needs the insertion of an i. And is celebrity an abstract noun? No and yes. We most often talk about a celebrity (concrete), but we can also talk about the idea of celebrity (abstract). Continue reading