Tuesday, August 19, 2008

English Wish List

My Dear Reader,

I love our language. I majored in it, after all. We have a stunning vocabulary and we have written some of the best prose and poetry in history. But as lovely as it is, it does have some flaws. Yes, I think that "flaws" is the word. There are some things that we don't just have words for, and I'm not just talking about a what we should call some new Chinese confection or how we should translate some phenomenon that only occurs in France. In some instances, we stumble trying to describe common, everyday situations, and as an English speaker I am often greatly frustrated when I am unable to fully express myself. The following is by no means an exhaustive list, but merely three examples of gaps that I would like to see filled, such as:
  • A plural "you."

In Early Modern English (i.e. the language of Shakespeare and The Holy Bible), there was a word for this, and it was "ye." You know, as in, "Hear ye, hear ye!" It fell out of usage, but I say that we should bring it back! I'm somewhat serious. "Ye" is majestic and bold, bringing to our remembrance the best words spoken by English speakers in days of yore. "Y'all" is the closest thing we have today, and though it is loved by many, I believe that you will agree that it doesn't carry the same oomph as "ye," I guess though, that while it's not my favorite, I'm willing to settle. After all, I'd do anything to stop those awkward, "I love you! No, I meant all of you as a group, not necessarily you personally. I mean, it's not like I hate you, but saying that you love a group of people means something different that saying that you love someone individually, and I don't even know you that well. . . I mean, I guess I could have said, 'I love you guys,' or something, but that always sounds so informal . . ." moments. Don't those bother you on a daily basis as well?

  • Feminine and masculine forms of "cousin."

We have word pairs like aunt/uncle, mom/dad, brother/sister, grandma/grandpa, and etc., but "cousin" stands alone. Does that seem horribly unnatural to anyone else? Maybe I'm alone in this, but when somebody is talking to me about a family member that I haven't met, I like to visualize the person in my mind. How can I do that if I don't know which gender your cousin is? Besides, it leads to conversations like this:

Person 1: I wish to share some information with you about my cousin, whom you don't know personally.

Person 2: Oh, I'm not sure which gender your cousin is, and since it is awkward for me to ask at this very moment, I will hazard a guess.

Person 1: You used a feminine pronoun for my masculine cousin, and now I have to correct you without appearing confrontational so you don't assume that I am offended, even though I kind of am.

Person 2: I wish that you would stop talking to me about your family if you're going to be a jerk about it, but I refuse to say so to your face.

Person 1: This is awkward.

Losing friends because you confused the gender of their relations should be a thing of the past! The only way I've seen that people get around this is by using the terms "girl cousin" or "boy cousin," and both of those make you sound like you're still in kindergarten. Does anyone have an idea for an alternative that they would like to share?
  • A gender-neutral pronoun.

In the days of political correctness, this is becoming increasingly problematic. As pointed out by Lemony Snicket, the old adage "He who hesitates is lost," is now horribly sexist. In fact, in The Grim Grotto, Lemony Snicket's characters spend the whole book trying to figure this one out, eventually coming up with, "He or she who hesitates is lost." Doesn't that make the statement seem so . . . hesitant? And let me tell you, when this is applied to that large scale, such as an entire paper which necessarily must have dozens of "he or shes" and "his or hers," things get pretty annoying. BYU's 100 Hour board has come up with a solution for this dilemma: "werf." One of the nice things about English is that when you can't find a suitable word, you can just make up your own. "Werf who hesitates is lost," still doesn't sound as good, though it is strikingly hilarious.

So, as you can see, Gentle Reader, our language has a few areas in which it could improve. Feel free to offer solutions to these dilemmas of dialogue or add your own items to this wish list in the form of a remark or comment.

Regards, best wishes, and ease in comminucating,

-Cecily Jane


Kiki said...

Well, in actual usage, "they" is used as our gender neutral pronoun, despite many high school English teachers' protests. It may not be official or very appropriate for formal situations, but most people use it in their every-day speech.

Anonymous said...

Please, let's eliminate "you guys" from our lexicon. The expression "you all" is so much better in application. The English language has been hijacked pop culture promotors. mjh

~Stappsters~ said...

I use you people, you missionaries, you out there in the congregation... Spanish takes care of these problems a little better, vosotros, YES! I like the word herim/shehe for neutrallity. Can you see it?

Anonymous said...

we should all speak korean ;0)
they have solutions for all of these, i believe
your awkward situation is my favorite
and yes, i read ALL of this.

Anonymous said...

Y'The problem with "you all" is that is too often turns into "y'all" and that is NOT okay.

Another thing we need is a word for "yes, on the contrary".