Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Borrowing

"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary."
- James Nicoll

This is one of the things I love best about English, but I must admit there there is significant pillaging left to do. Other tongues still have wonderfully useful words and phrases that we should hunt down and graft onto English, the Borg of modern languages. We've stripped a lot of good stuff off of French since 1066, but even after all this time there are a few gems left in French that English has not yet absorbed. My primary candidate for immediate assimilation is "si."

If I were to say to you, "the Packers didn't really win the Superbowl this year" in English you have the choice of two brief responses to correct my shameful ignorance: yes or no. But both of these have a clarity problem - yes they did win the Superbowl, or yes, I'm correct, they did not? No they didn't win or no they did? In French the proper response to this question is "si," which says in one very short syllable, "the negative statement you have just made is incorrect and its opposite is true." Ripe for the picking.

I'd also like to annex "revenons à nos moutons," an idiomatic expression which means "let's get back to what we were talking about before" but translates literally to "let's get back to our sheep." I just think it's cute.

1 comment:

  1. That is darling! The second I am able to pronounce that phrase correctly I will use it!

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