The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

LIFE AND THE NOTENGLISH LANGUAGE: You probably couldn’t prove something like by checking Wikipedia, but based on my personal observation, and I see no reason why my personal observation shouldn’t be just as valid as Wikipedia’s; after all, I’ve written an article for them and got paid exactly the same amount I get for writing these screeds, which is to say, zip zilch nada rien absolutely nothing; it would appear that there are exactly two languages spoken in the world today: English and NotEnglish. There are many differences between the two languages, some subtle, others not so subtle, but the way I tell the difference between the two is that when someone speaks English I usually understand what they are saying and when they speak NotEnglish, I don’t. This method may work for you or it may not; I merely offer it as a suggestion; you do not have to pay royalties to me or anyone else for it.

I also learn from Wikipedia that the majority of the people on this planet speak NotEnglish as a first language, most of them not bothering to learn English at all or, if they do, that their language skills are so minimal as to render communication impossible. This fact stunned me, or it might have been that door closing in my face that did the stunning—I’m better now, thank you, even if my nose still hurts like nobody’s business—and I checked my copy of the 1979 World Almanac to see if this allegation were true. Strange as it may seem, this is true—most NotEnglish speakers not only do not speak English, but have no intention of learning English—the World Almanac confirming what appeared to me at first to be utterly incredible. This is very troubling, as you might imagine, since lack of English language skills almost guarantees that most of these people will have trouble finding work after they graduate from high school. Furthermore, most NotEnglish speakers tend to be foreigners, when they are not actually teenagers. Teenagers are a singularly uncommunicative group, especially when their parents are around, their NotEnglish skills limited to a series of grunts, shrugs, and exasperated eye-rolling undecipherable to all save other teenagers and several small species of East African baboon.

Having said that, I should point out that modern NotEnglish also comes in a wide variety of dialects, not all of which are mutually intelligible. This seems to be a result of geography and a bad phone plan, and also as a result of these people being foreigners, although the need to avoid census takers and lawyers may also play a role in this linguistic distribution. After census takers come tax collectors and then tort lawyers, life insurance salesmen, and Red Sox fans, and the sensible thing to do when confronted by any of these vile miscreants is to move as far away from them as possible lest they attempt to perform their loathsome religious rituals upon you and yours while keeping one eye peeled for the cops. Pretending that you don’t know what they are saying also helps and, no doubt, provides the basis of a good many NotEnglish dialects.

The main problem with NotEnglish, insofar as I can see, is that the grammars of the various dialects differ wildly, with no two sets of grammar being exactly alike. There are occasional convergences, as in those places the Romans once ruled, but on the whole, most NotEnglish speakers understand each other about as well as I understand them. Where English has only the one set of grammar and comes complete with rooms full of Irish nuns who will box your ears in if you forget that the I comes before the C except after E or that its and it’s are not the same word, its being the possessive pronoun and possessive adjective form of the personal pronoun it and it’s being a contraction of the words it is or it has—English is very big on contractions, for some reason or other; I’m not sure why, though; English certainly has enough words in the dictionary so that we can afford to use the whole word and not just the good parts, but no one asked me for my opinion when they made this decision—the dialects of NotEnglish have neither a set standard nor the pugilistic power of Irish nuns to back them up. I hear that in Paris, the government sponsors an organization that aspires to this sort of linguistic authority, but this same government will not allow the members of this organization to commit assault and battery, and without the ability to knock small children on their backsides with a single stroke of the hand, an ability that many nuns raised to the level of a marital art, no dialect can hope to standardize its own grammar, much less outdo the other speakers of NotEnglish.

You may point out that the members of this Parisian organization tend to be quite elderly and therefore incapable of using an art, martial or otherwise, to enforce the rules of their particular brand of NotEnglish, but those of us who have gone to parochial schools know better than that. I once saw Sister Mary Agnes knock Billy Harrigan on his backside for speaking disrespectfully to her, and Billy was 6’4” and 250 pounds when he was thirteen years old, and Sister Mary Agnes was eighty-five, five foot nothing, and if she ever weighed more than one hundred pounds in her life it was when she was carrying a box of books from the convent into the school. Billy went down fast and hard, just like a keg of beer at the firemen’s annual family day party, and I don’t think he ever saw what hit him. I don’t think the fight was entirely fair, though; I’m pretty sure I saw Sister Mary Agnes wrap her rosary beads around her fist just a couple of seconds before she walloped Billy, but the judges didn’t see her do it and so she got away with what was definitely a clear violation of the Marquis of Queensbury rules. On the other hand, I never did like Billy Harrigan; he was a thoroughly disagreeable sort, all told, and much given to the vile practice of giving his smaller classmates wedgies, so I and a lot of other witnesses to the good sister’s cheap shot weren’t inclined to help Billy one bit when he complained to the principal about getting decked by an old nun. In truth, we all enjoyed watching Billy get his comeuppance and we were not at all inclined to help him one way or the other. I know that vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay, but this was one of those times when He repaid in real time, so we could all see the mysterious ways His wonders to perform. Watching the heathen fall by the wayside was truly a wondrous thing, yes, it was, and all God’s children said, Amen.

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  • At 10:07 AM, Blogger lgude said…

    I am being amazed by people from NotEnglish areas who are also foreigners by necessity - as the night following the day - who are speaking English not bloody bad at all. Take this Red Mosque business at Metroblogging Islamabad and I am taking the loud explosion by explosion coverage at a very high standard better than Reuters which must have been taking tea in the Blue Zone. The comment thread was also being full of very goodly English too. Stop - TAKE NOTE - the preceding is entirely unfair and inaccurate - there was no such idiosyncratic subcontinental usage at all and only one blogger who thought the Pakistani Media in the hands of the Zionists. Given the standard of English I think there is a secret transfer of English speaking virgins to the NotEnglish world where they are disguised with burkas and equipped with cudgels to produce all these excellent NotEnglish English speakers.


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