or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Holy Cow

I was poking around the Internet with the help of Stumbleupon when it fed me 21 Reasons Why English Sucks, which is a list of sentences containing words which are spelled the same but pronounced differently:

3. The dump was so full it had to refuse more refuse.

17. The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

As the computer people like to say, that's a feature, not a bug. We often pronounce identically-spelled words differently to indicate their different parts of speech, rather than having to use endings. There are a great many pairs of words in which the stress on the first syllable indicates one part of speech, usually a noun or an adjective, and on the second a different part of speech, usually a verb, such as "refuse" up there, plus "record", "invalid", "desert", "minute", "annex", and lots of others.

English being English, though, there are no hard and fast rules. Some other words, out of sheer perversity, are pronounced the same: noun and adjective "mobile", for instance. Sometimes we'll have two nouns or verbs but will still pronounce the vowels differently to distinguish them: "primer", say, or "read". "Abstract" is another special case, because it serves as three parts of speech, so the second-syllable stress serves as usual for the verb while the first-syllable stress denotes both a noun and an adjective, and depends on context to make its meaning clear.

Still, beyond a doubt, that has to make English tricky to learn, especially if you speak a language that doesn't rely on stress patterns. I don't think it's reason enough to say that the language sucks, though.


It's Easter Sunday, which I don't celebrate, not being Christian or any kind of religious, because my opinion of religion, not that it matters, is that it's based entirely on wishful thinking: all our enemies get punished for eternity (the Abrahamic religions), we all have latent superpowers (Scientology), we don't die (the hopeful origin of most religions, actually), we can live together in peace and harmony except for gay people (Baha'i). But that doesn't mean I don't know anything about religion. In fact, in my experience, atheists generally know more about religion than religious people, because atheists have to defend their position while religious people have the "Because God says so, that's why" fallback position.

I am in the middle of reading--actually reading, not audiobook-reading--"Filthy English" by Peter Silverton, which is a sort of history and etymology of swearing in various languages, mostly English, and not really as good as I had hoped (it could have used a good editorial pruning: not every anecdote and derivation is fascinating). but I was seduced by its joyous cover.

It could have used a copy editor, too. Here are a few sentences from page 168:

...there are two possible views of the Virgin Mary's immaculate conception. One, that she really was impregnated by an angel--via the ear, if I remember my catechism right. Two, that the virginity of HolyMaryMotherOfGod--as the same catechism taught me to refer to her--was conceptual and symbolic. The immaculacy of her conception was a way of desexualising maternity, of taking the fucking out of motherhood.

I suppose it's safe to assume that Silverton is Catholic*, but if so, how can it possibly be that he does not understand the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, one of the four guiding principles of Mariolatry, or devotion to HolyMaryMotherOfGod**?

The Immaculate Conception (see second footnote) is not the same as the Virgin Birth, which is the doctrine that Jesus was born of a virgin who was impregnated magically by God himself and not through messy carnal intercourse. I will never cease to be amazed at the number of Catholics--for whom this is pretty much the cornerstone of their faith--who don't know this.

*He may have said, but I've been reading the book in three- to six-page chunks, and I don't remember, and I don't feel like going back over the preceding 167 pages to find out. I could be wrong.

**If you must know, they are the belief that she was a virgin before, during, and after the birth of Christ and therefore existed in a state of Perpetual Virginity; that she, being the mother of Jesus, who was part of the trinity of GodTheFatherGodTheSonAndGodTheHolyGhost (to use Silverton's formulation) and therefore is God, must therefore actually be the Mother of God; that she, to be a fit vessel for the Saviour, must have been born, unlike every other living human, without the stain of original sin, and therefore was the product of an Immaculate Conception; and finally, that, being without sin, she did not have to be judged after death, but was simply Assumed Bodily Into Heaven.


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