Language doesn’t stand still, not even the fusty old English language. Right now it seems in the throes of some kind of seismic shift, getting freaky with hash tags and acronyms. It seems likely that a hundred years from now, whatever’s being spoken and ”written” around these parts won’t look a hell of a lot like what we have now. Which is why it’s also worth reflecting, on International Mother Language Day, that Australia is the custodian of the oldest known languages on earth. And that most of them are endangered.
English Is Essentially __________.
“English is essentially Norse as spoken by a gang of French thugs.”—Benct Philip Jonsson
“English is essentially a language that uses vowels no other language would accept.”—Luís Henrique
“English is what you get from Normans trying to pick up Saxon girls.”—Bryan Maloney
“English is essentially a French menu stuttered by a fish-and-chips dealer.”—Kala Tunu
“English is essentially the works of Joyce with the hard bits taken out.”—Jon Hanna
“English is essentially all exceptions and no rules.”—Jonathan Bettencourt
Speaking of cliché’s, Alan Axelrod retrieves some golden oldies in his The Cheaper the Crook, the Gaudier the Patter: Forgotten Hipster Lines, Tough Guy Talk, and Jive Gems. The title, quoted from the 1941 film The Maltese Falcon, exemplifies the lingo of “the Greatest Generation” that Axelrod does not want us to forget. Inspired by Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe’s heroic, albeit terse response of “Nuts!” to the Germans when asked to retreat at the Battle of the Bulge, Axelrod has amassed this colorful lexicon of regularly employed terms and phrases from the Depression era through the Age of the Beatnik; in fact, an entire chapter is devoted to “GI jive.” Definitions and, whenever possible, origins are provided. Talking like a hipster or a tough guy is entertaining, and you can easily do it yourself. Taking a date to a nightclub? No, you’re “trucking your oomph girl to a frolic pad.” Who knows? This material could really “come on like gangbusters” with texters. This fun but informative retrospective for young and old alike captures the robust flavor of American life during the first half of the 20th century.
— From Christina Connolly’s “The Promises and Pitfalls of Language: Quirky Reference Works for Word Lovers,” on LJ Reviews.