April 25, 2012

You know, sometimes English is very strange.  I can sort of understand where my students tend to have problems at times (aka MOST times).

I was shown a little book yesterday that has quotes, of sorts, in it.  Some of these quotes or phrases took a bit of time to understand and then translate from English to English!  Speaking of which…

Back in the early 90s when I had first moved to Ottawa, Queen Elizabeth was visiting.  Until that time, and this is my understanding of the workings of the Canadian government, whenever Canada wanted to pass a law (for example), the bill would first be introduced in Parliament.  Once passed, it went on to the Senate.  Once passed by the Senate, it would then be forwarded to the House of Lords in England.  From what I was told, and hopefully this wasn’t the case, if both Parliament and the Senate passed the bill, then the House of Lords would basically ‘rubber stamp’ the bill, thus becoming law in Canada.

In retrospect, this would be a time-consuming process.  The debates and arguments at all levels would slow the wheels of the workings of the government.  Not that much has changed since, but the Canadian government had requested of the government of England to break these ‘ties’.  Basically, Canada wanted to be independent from England.

As I can imagine, this request must have taken a long, long time.  Nonetheless, the request was approved, and Her Majesty visited Canada to officially proclaim this Act.  At the time, the ceremony was held on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.  For me, it was to be one of the many special events held on Parliament Hill that I would enjoy while living in Ottawa.

Anyway, I had a walkman radio/tape player at the time.  I went to the Hill that day and staked out my place to witness this historic occasion in Canadian history.  I wasn’t able to get really close to QEII, but it was the closest I had ever been to a dignitary from another country, and arguably, one of the more well-known dignitaries.  During the ceremony, it had started to rain.

I didn’t have an umbrella with me, but many others were more insightful or had listened to the weather report that day, and had theirs.  Luckily, the people around me were friendly enough to help keep me, and others, dry.  Anyone who has been to Parliament Hill, realize that the grounds are rather large.  The place was packed with people.  There was a PA system set up so we could hear what was being said during the ceremony.  The ceremony was also being broadcast over the radio stations, thus, I could hear clearer from the radio, then on the Hill.

I started to repeat, to the people around me, what was being said.  I remember one person asking me if I was translating from French to English.  As a joke, which also got some of the people around me chuckling, I responded that I was translating from English to Canadian!

Back to the top.  One of the quotes in this little book used a word that I had to look up.  Now, I’m not an English expert.  I don’t pretend to know every word in the English language.  Sure, my vocabulary is fairly large, but then, I think that most people, as you get older, increase your vocabulary constantly.  Many times you will come across a word you’ve never seen before, look it up, and if you’re ‘with it’ enough, will retain that new-gained knowledge and add to your ‘word bank’.

One activity that I will occasionally do, was taught to me by my grade 5 teacher.  Every day, at the start of class, he would have us close our eyes, open our dictionaries to a random page, and point our finger to a word.  Then, open our eyes, and write out the word and it’s meaning.  He maintained that if we were able to use this word three times in a one day IN CONTEXT, we would never forget that word.  I’m not sure how many of my fellow students actually did this task, but I found it interesting, and throughout the school year, did this exercise every day.

I can’t (obviously) remember all the words that I had learned that year, but one that sticks out prominently, even today, is EXCREMENTAL.  Try using this word, three times in one day, IN CONTEXT!

Well, the word that was shown to me in this little book yesterday, was IMPERMANENT.  Now, I realize that to make a word have a negative or opposite meaning, the simplest way would be to use the word NOT in front of the word, or just use an opposite meaning word.  The other way, for some words, is to put the letters “IR”, “UN”, “IM”, etc., as a prefix to the word.

As I have never seen the use of “IM” as a prefix to the word “PERMANENT”, it just didn’t seem like a real word.  I was able to pronounce it, but the meaning alluded me.  So, online to DICTIONARY.COM, and search the word.  Lo and beheld, there it was!  The meaning:  NOT PERMANENT.  Why this quote needed to use ‘impermanent’ as opposed to ‘not permanent’ baffled me.  The same baffling response comes from me when I see kids use “OK” instead of “okay”.

The point is, never stop learning.  It is virtually impossible that any one person could possibly know every single word in their mother tongue.  And, as English is also composed of words from other languages (i.e. cafeteria), then it is even more unlikely that someone could possibly know every word.

The day you stop learning, is the day you die!


That’s it, that’s all… for now!


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