English can be annoying. Lack of words when you need them, an overabundance of words when you don't, random spelling and grammatical quirks, differences of spelling, pronunciation, and terminology between the American and British dialects...the list goes on. (On, and just in case you missed the sign coming in: Alex Adrian. Diary of an Atomic Man.) So, this week--and incidentally, in the first Wednesday post in awhile--we'll take a look at the improbabilities and illogicalities of English, differences between American and British English, and spell-check.
First, some history of the language. English in the modern form is one of the younger and possibly the most heavily-borrowing of the major languages. This may have something to do with the origins of the tongue; as the joke goes, it was the result of, quote "Norman armsmen fucking Anglo-Saxon barmaids", close quote. In all seriousness, though, English is a hybrid, motley tongue, comprised at base of Old Norse, Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, French(mostly loanwords), Latin (ditto), Dutch (you're starting to see my point about loanwords, right...?), Welsh (according to John McWhorter's terrific Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, and mostly grammatical), and various others. As you probably noticed from the parenthetical notes, one thing English does ridiculously well is pick up loanwords; the languages cited above are but a fraction, a mere fraction, of the languages English has begged, borrowed, or stole words from. (perennial exception: Finnish, which is a pity because it looks and sounds awesome.) This is all well and good, but a in-depth examination will have to come later. One thing that's been annoying me recently is word origins. Take, for example, the word "pretty". By way of analog with witty and gritty, and wit and grit there must have been--perhaps in Englisc, or Old English--a noun form "pret"; would those Anglo-Saxons have referred to a now-extinct quality we Men of later days call prettiness? And, moreover, will the same fate happen to the other two words? We speak of being overwhelmed and underwhelmed; presumably there's some way of being "whelmed", the exact right amount of emotional impact. The English "Hell" seems obviously derived from the Norse "Hel", the Viking death-goddess--but where in the Nine Worlds is "heck" derived from? I learned fairly recently that "darn" is an extreme modification of "eternal damnation", and is thus related to damn etymologically, but still: enough to keep a guy up at night thinking. Now, so far in this post, Jarte's spell-check hasn't recognized, in order, armsmen, fucking, McWhorter's, Englisc, pret, underwhelmed,(though 'whelmed' itself raised no flags, which gives me hope) Hel, and "Jarte's" itself. I've added all of these in due time, but it draws this to my next point: the eventual conquest and replacement of all life on Earth by our benevolent robot overl--er, I mean spell-check.