BITS OF ENGLISH III

Thomas Russell Wingate 

February, March, June 2011

November 2012  

March 2014  

 


                   1

 

We are informed by Geeta Pandey in BBC News (14 February 2011):

 

A new goddess has recently been born in India. She’s the Dalit Goddess of English.

 

The Dalit (formerly untouchable) community is building a temple in Banka village in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh to worship the Goddess of the English language, which they believe will help them climb up the social and economic ladder.

 

About two feet tall, the bronze statue of the goddess is modeled after the Statue of Liberty.

 

“She is the symbol of Dalit resistance,” says Chandra Bhan Prasad, a Dalit writer who came up with the idea of the Goddess of English.

 

“She holds a pen in her right hand which shows she is literate. She is dressed well and sports a huge hat—it’s a symbol of defiance that she is rejecting the old traditional dress code.

 

“In her left hand, she holds a book which is the constitution of India which gave Dalits equal rights. She stands on top of a computer which means we will use English to rise up the ladder and become free for ever.” …

 

“They say Hindi is our national language, but all official work is done in English. If you don’t know English, you are a failure,” says farm-worker Om Prakash.

 

Labourer Sarvesh Kumar says Dalits were never respected and “whatever little we have gained is because of the efforts of Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar [Dalit thinker and the architect of the Indian constitution].

 

“Ambedkar said English was the milk of a lioness, he said only those who drink it will roar,” Chandra Bhan Prasad says.

 

                   2

 

The final draft of the Declaration of Independence has become an authoritative text for lovers of liberty everywhere.¹

 

It has been pointed out by John McCarthy that the insertion of a single word would improve its cogency. I place his suggestion in boldface.

 

WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, in that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—

 

Here I reword (and modernize) the immortal passage, preserving its rhetorical strength and cadence.

 

That all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that herein all men are equal—We hold these truths to be self-evident.

 

         

                    3

 

When a human birth is announced (or a sonogram examined), it is common to say it’s a boy or it’s a girl.

 

What is this it?

 

The reference is to an event, not to a child.

 

The expression means:

 

The pregnancy (or: delivery) has brought forth (or: is expected to bring forth) a child who is (or: will be) a girl (or: a boy).

 

We can make that short, sweet, and safe.

 

          Lo! A girl!

 

          Lo! Twins! One of each!

 

Courtesy, biology, and grammar combine. You were properly he or she from conception forward. Never were you it.

 

Even when you are dead, you will not be called it. We say, write, and mean he died six years ago, never it is a corpse for six years. We say, write, and mean she was buried wearing lipstick, never it wore lipstick in its coffin.

   

                     4

 

No one doubts that Scots the world over are an ethnic group. They are not bashful about it.²

 

It is most fitting to refer to Scots, to Scotsmen, and to Scotswomen. One may also speak and write of Scottish women, the Scottish people, Scottish culture, and so on. Their dialect of English, called Scots or Scottish, has Highland and Lowland variants. As an adjective, “Scots” is slightly archaic and formal, as in “Scots law and foreign [e.g., English] law.”

 

Scotch is a whiskey—and only that.

 

Shakespeare wrote we have scorched the snake, not killed it. A printer’s error invented a verb.

 

Romantics, activists, take note: my Scottish-English dictionary gives us several words for stupidity. The first is feelness.

 

                   5

 

Jorge Luis Borges

 

The Scots in general tend to be more intellectual than the English. Or better said, the English are usually not intellectual and almost all the Scots are.

 

Niall Ferguson

 

As a nation we are cursed with a superiority complex. We really do believe that we are better—not just better than the English; better than everyone. We regard it as only right and proper that the world sees in the New Year by singing a Scottish song. We take it for granted that half the broadcasters on the BBC are Scotsmen. We don’t envy the English. We pity them. There is no Scottish cringe, in the Australian fashion. There is only the Scottish swagger—a swagger inspired by the authentically Calvinist certainty that we and only we (by which of course I mean we White Aggressively Scottish Protestant males) are the Elect.

  

                    6

 

This website takes no position on the likelihood, imminence, or prudence of juridical independence for Scotland, Quebec, Catalonia, Venice, or other places astir.

 

                    7

 

Languages can outlast the empires they have spurred and ridden.

 

No one now living need worry that our protean English will cease to be the global language and polisher of competitors unsmoothen.

 

Richard Lederer (Mensa Bulletin, November/December 2012) informs us: “English boasts by far the largest number of words of all languages—615,500 officially enshrined in the Oxford English Dictionary. That’s almost four times the vocabulary size of its nearest competitor, German, five times the size of third-place Russian, and six times the size of Spanish and French. As a result, English possesses a plethora of synonyms that allow greater nuances of meaning than are available in other tongues.”

 

But what lasts forever? Why aren’t you speaking Sumerian?

 

Readable and comprehensive overviews³ are becoming available. Writers and readers should pay them some heed.

 

 

 

NOTES

 

 

1 For textual developments in committee, see The Declaration

   of Independence by Carl L. Becker (1922, 1942). For wider

   context, see the same historian’s The Heavenly City of the

   Eighteenth Century Philosophers (1932). 

2 See How the Scots Invented the Modern World by Herman Arthur

   (2001) and The Mark of the Scots by Duncan A. Bruce (1996). For

   a (deeply English) dissent, see The Invention of Scotland: Myth

   and History (2009) by Hugh R. Trevor-Roper.

3 See Empires of the Word by Nicholas Ostler (2005). See also the

   same author’s The Last Lingua Franca (2010). The plural is linguae

   francae. See Bits of Translation 8 on website.

 


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