April 7, 2005

When I was a kid sleepwalking was a scary thing. Of course a lot of things were scary because I got most of my information from cartoons. Martians, abandoned amusement parks, and anything made by the Acme Company were, in my mind, incredibly dangerous and therefore fun things to have around. Sleepwalking was scary because, according to the cartoons, people doing it always walked around with their arms outstretched and talking like Boris Karloff. Also they had their eyes closed so they couldn’t see where they were going. The scary part was that the other characters always believed that waking someone who was sleepwalking could be dangerous. I even heard this from adults, who apparently also got their information from cartoons. I understood that waking someone who was sleepwalking could kill them. Or rather this is what I was told. I didn’t understand it. I still don’t understand it, but at least now I don’t think it’s true.

My wife tells me I occasionally sleepwalk. Most of the time I just lie in the bed and talk like Boris Karloff, but I’ve been known to get up and stand at the foot of the bed. Once I even reached up and pulled a picture off the wall. Although I was asleep I had a very good reason: I was trying to open the safe behind the picture to get a very important computer disk. The fact that there was no safe behind the picture is a minor detail. This is apparently sleepwalking even though there’s no actual walking involved. It falls under the blanket term "somnambulism" which is psychology-speak for "Latin word that means ‘sleep-walking’ but which we’ll apply to everything so ordinary people without Ph.D.’s won’t use it". And it’s something I’ve been doing ever since I was a kid. The first time I went to summer camp one of my fellow campers told me that I’d spent the previous night beating the hell out of my pillow. He had to say "the hell" because when I was eight years old this was an incredibly shocking and amusing thing for eight year-olds to say to each other when there were no adults around. This was before the word "hell" started being thrown around a lot in cartoons, although Yosemite Sam, Sylvester, and various other cartoon characters seemed to spend a lot of time going to Hell. They just didn’t call it Hell. It was just a red cave where everybody had horns and goatees, even the women. Some people call that Hell, but for others it’s Atlantic City. But I digress. I was brought up Presbyterian, and can never remember the minister ever mentioning Hell either. To this day I’m not sure whether Presbyterians believe in Hell, although I do know that even if they are going to Hell the first concern of Presbyterians is that someone needs to wash and put away the dishes first. But I digress. I still sleepwalk on occasion. I’ve even been known to write whole columns while sleepwalking. See if you can guess which ones.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

If you’ve learned to speak fluent English, you must be a genius! This little treatise on the lovely language we share is only for the brave. Peruse at your leisure, English lovers.

Reasons why the English language is so hard to learn:

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.
2) The farm was used to produce produce.
3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
4) We must polish the Polish furniture.
5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.
6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.
8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
10) I did not object to the object.
11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
13) They were too close to the door to close it.
14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.
15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
18) After a number of injections my jaw got number.
19) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
20) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
21) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

There is no egg in eggplant or ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren’t invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat.

Quicksand works slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig. And why is it that writers write but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham?

If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it? Is it an odd, or an end?

If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship?

Have noses that run and feet that smell?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out, and in which, an alarm goes off by going on.

English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all. That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

P.S. – Why doesn’t "Buick" rhyme with "quick"?

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