Learning (or, in my case, trying to learn) another language provided high entertainment for those around me.

In English, I rarely if ever used a word in the wrong way. I was a serious reader very early and had a big passive vocabulary. By passive, I mean I knew a lot of words, but had never used them in conversation. I know what they meant and how to spell them, but not how they sounded.

I had no idea that Too-son and Tucson were the same place. Or that ep-ee-TOME was epitome. I remember those two examples well because of the extreme amusement they caused around me. I was all of 8-years-old. Adults weren’t as nice to kids back then as they are now.

language school

I was much more entertaining in Israel. I am sure that my fumbling attempts to learn the language, having caused extreme hilarity, probably played a part in my never actually learning Hebrew.

My first big discovery — very early in my life in Jerusalem — was that Zion (Zy-un) means penis. Properly in Hebrew, it’s tzee-own. So if you say (fondly) that Israel is the Land of Zion, using your good American pronunciation, you will reduce Israelis within earshot to tears of laughter. They can be a rough crowd.

To add another layer of problems over the difficulty in just getting the words out through my teeth which were clearly not designed for all those gutturals, many words in Hebrew are very much like one another, yet have hugely different meanings. Sha-ah is an hour. Shan-nah is a year. So there you are saying “My Hebrew isn’t all that good, I’ve only been here for two hours.”

After a while, I mostly spoke English and used Hebrew words as needed when I could fine no English equivalent. Eventually, I came home to where almost everyone could be expected to understand most of what I said. Without laughing at me.

You might ponder this when you meet immigrants who are trying to learn English. I mention this only because, having been on the other side of this experience, a little kindness to people trying to work through a difficult life transition while learning a new language (and culture) can go a long way to make them feel less lonely, threatened, excluded, and generally miserable. Just a thought.


Ignoring the minor detail that they aren’t words, but semi-English local dialect, “shoulda” “coulda” “woulda” perfectly describe the essence of the rapidly disappearing subjunctive tense — or as some modern grammarians prefer it, mood.

All romance languages lavishly employ the subjunctive because it lets a verb indicate more than action (as verbs are wont to do). It includes a feeling about those actions. Longing, perhaps. Uncertainty. Hesitancy. Hope. Sometimes, it indicates “a hypothetical state or a state contrary to reality, such as a wish, a desire, or an imaginary situation.”  Which is something difficult to express if you don’t have a grip on the subjunctive thing.

Consider that a generous use of the subjunctive mood or tense can raise literature from the mundane to an art form. Wait, isn’t it supposed to be an art form?

In one of my favorite songs, Rod Stewart says “You are my heart, you are my soul. You’ll be my breath should I grow old.”

I love that he used the subjunctive to indicate the uncertainty of the future, that maybe he would not grow old, but IF he does, she will be his breath. That’s elegant. That’s subjunctive. He does not say “when I grow old.” He could have, but specifically chose to leave the matter up in the air, quivering with possibility. Saying so much by choosing this word rather than the other one.


We’ve been dumping parts of speech for a while now. Americans seem to feel we need to just get on with it. Stupid grammar, it just gets in the way of spitting out what you mean. We don’t need no stinkin’ adverbs. Or tenses, for that matter. Let’s just go with the present and ignore everything else. Simple, direct. Eventually, we can eliminate pronouns, too.

If you ever listen to sports on TV or radio, you’ll notice they speak their own version of English. Adverbs have been banished. These highly paid professionals don’t know an adverb from their elbow, a noun from nose hair, or a complete sentence from a sandwich. Nor do they care.

I am in a subjunctive mood today. Wistfully contemplating the resurgence of language as art.


Un nouveau langage, par Rich Paschall

What if you could wake up tomorrow and be able to speak a new language?  Suppose you did not have to work at it at all.  There would be no boring repetition of words and phrases.  You would not have to study rules of grammar.  You would not have to learn to conjugate.  You would not take home lessons to write out.  The language would just be there at your command.  Your speech would be fluent and your understanding clear.  What language would you choose?

My best guess is that most people would consider a language of their ancestors.  If they came from Poland, then Polish might be their first choice.  In a city like Chicago, with a large population of Polish immigrants and descendants, this would make perfect sense.  If you have a relative that speaks the language, wouldn’t you be pleased to speak to them in their own language?  Your Polish grandmother would be so proud, and you, of course, would take great joy in this.

My elementary school was largely populated by kids of Irish descendent.  The Irish priests and an Irish American Bishop, who was also pastor, of course attracted a large student body made up of blond and red-haired children.  I can not say I ever heard any Gaelic, however.  I suppose some spoke it.  Many had a brogue so thick, I could not understand them.  Still, I can not say I was interested in knowing Irish language.

For much of my life, I lived in a German American neighborhood.  My maternal grandmother spoke German and would sometimes gossip (I thought it was gossip, anyway) with other old German-speaking neighbors.  The parish we lived in after the grade school years, was largely German American.  It was started by German immigrants who built the church.  For decades there was a mass in German.  I thought it would be cool to know this language, especially years later.  I was encouraged to take Latin in high school.

This proved to be a big disappointment as we grew up and took part in German fests.  There was Mai Fest and Oktoberfest and Rosenmontag and more feasts then you can imagine.  We learned songs in German and sang along at dances, festivals and anywhere a band was playing.  Unfortunately, my conversation was limited to Guten Tag, Auf Wiedersehen und zwei Bier bitte!

Sprechen sie Deutsch?

Sprechen sie Deutsch?

Years later as many Hispanic groups arrived and there were many more Spanish speakers, it seemed to me that learning Spanish would make far more sense.  The old Germans I knew were dying out, my grandmother was gone and I had less occasion to speak German.

Clearly, there would be a large Spanish population from Puerto Rico, Mexico and a variety of Spanish-speaking countries.  I have neighbors from Guatemala nearby.  There are ethnic restaurants all around and in the summer, Spanish music fills the air in our area of the city.  There are so many cultures I could learn if I knew this one language, it seemed like a logical choice.

What is the second language of your community?  Is there even a second language?  Perhaps you are in an area where you only hear English and there is no immigrant population or descendants to pass along another language.  Even if this is so, would it not be great to learn another language and travel to countries where this language is spoken.

In recent years, the desire to automatically know German, Spanish or even Polish have given way to another.  While all of the above would be interesting and certainly useful, not just if I travelled to countries where these languages were spoken, but even right here in our local communities.  I still have a different interest in a language I would never have thought to learn just a decade ago.  Friendship has become the determining factor.

My previous job brought in interns from other countries, particularly France.  As a result I made a number of friends from France and even got to know other friends and family members of these co-workers.  It was not just that I learned some of the culture.  Yes, we went to French restaurants and talked about their local communities.  Of course, we talked French politics and sports.  Indeed I learned about the regions that were home to many of my young French colleagues.  But in the process, something important happened.

This way?

This way?

Now one of my best friends in the world is a Frenchman.  We have gone on many adventures here and in Europe.  I have visited his home and the home of his parents.  We have visited all across Alsace.  For six years, France has been on my vacation list.  It turns out that the language I would like to know tomorrow when I wake up is French.  It is not about the neighborhood I live in, the ancestors I have, or the neighbors that have recently moved in.  It is not about my grandmother.  It is not about my parish.  It is not about countries I may someday visit.

The language I would like to know is all about my friends.  In fact, it is about one of my best friends, and it does not matter that he is fluent in English.  My friends and community are all French and I wish I could more fully participate in our adventures whenever we meet.  Is there a better reason than friendship to know another language?


Take That, Rosetta!

If you could wake up tomorrow and be fluent in any language you don’t currently speak, which would it be? Why? What’s the first thing you do with your new linguistic skills?

French, because there are so many books I want to read in the original language that were written in French. I studied it in school, but over the years, lost it to Hebrew and the erosion of time. I’d love to read the Angelique books that have never been translated … and reread the others that were translated so poorly. French poetry, Dumas (Pere et Fils) … the original romantic adventure series. All written in French.

Movies! Understanding without subtitles.

Poetry! Classics! Baudelaire, Voltaire, Balzac.


Actually, I would like to have a Babel fish. The one Douglas Adams invented.

Just stick it in your ear and all the languages of the entire universe are yours to understand. No language barriers exist. No tongue is impenetrable.

That would be the trick!


Marilyn Armstrong:

This was a silly prompt. Ask a silly question, get a silly answer. I like this one so much, I tried to read it out loud and by the end, was laughing too hard to continuing talking. So, without further ado …

Originally posted on The happy Quitter!:


When I read today’s daily prompt I thought about an oldie but goodie and found it to be the perfect reply:

View original 316 more words

Daily Prompt: P.C. – Some just call it civility

PC Prompt

Politically correct. To be politically correct means to tread carefully on other people’s sensibilities. I’m for that. Very much.

In a lot of places here in the good old U.S.A., “P.C,” means you can’t go around spewing racist epithets even thinly disguised as humor. For all the morons, bigots, racists and the socially challenged, a simple rule — “DON’T SAY THAT” — works a lot better than sensitivity training. So many amongst us have no sensitivity to train.

English: No racism Lietuvių: Ne rasizmui

Even if the morons who insist they don’t mean it — in which case why are they saying it? — I feel any rule or law that protects me and mine from having to listen to hate is political capital well spent.

I wouldn’t call it political correctness. I would call it civility. Good manners. Common decency.

If anyone feels not calling other people insulting names is cramping their style? These are for whom such rules were made. These are just the folks who need them. Most people have enough smarts and good manners to know when to shut up without being told. For everyone else, we have rules.

When we are amongst friends and we know one another well, we relax, let out guards down. Especially when we are a minority among others like us with similar culture and history, it’s all good. We are family, we act silly like family. But if you are not one of us, leave your mouth outside. I don’t need to be insulted. I don’t want to be made to feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

Many people still think racism is sort of cute. I think they should be eliminated from the gene pool. Go Helen.

HellenMirren BigGun

FOR THE PROMPTLESS – Confession of a Logomaniac


Some of us are hard-wired to forms and shapes. My son sees a pile of junk, but it isn’t a pile of junk. It’s a tool bin or a bird feeder or a dog house. He sees it in 3D and builds what his mind’s eye sees. I see pictures too, though not three-dimensionally. Always flat, like a frame clipped from a moving picture or a still photograph.

But words? Oh my. Words. More words. Then more words. They bite and scratch trying to be the first to escape my lips or pour out of my fingers into a keyboard. I’m sure I was born this way, with gazillions of words. Noisy words.


Words don’t just loll about, politely waiting their turn to speak. They jabber and squawk, carry on monologues to which nothing and no one is listening. They whine and complain if they feel I’m not paying enough attention — that is to say, all the time.

Pay enough attention? There isn’t enough attention available in a human lifetime to attend the needs of all those words! I can’t give them away. I can’t sell them. I can’t shut them up!

I’ve been trying to find a way to offload my cargo of words since I was old enough to know what they are and now? I can’t write fast enough. Quincunx and vernacular. Oxymoron and fantastical. So many words, so little time. And me with only one mouth and ten fingers … and not nearly enough readers and listeners. Perhaps, in all the world, there could never be enough.

Scary, huh?