I like the English language. A lot.
Let’s get one thing straight, right off the bat. I do not think English is a better language than any other particular language. Not even Esperanto. From what I understand of languages, every single one (except Esperanto) formed on its own over time, being molded and bent by the speakers that were born into it and the ones that adopted it, ballooning out to encompass more and more of the ever-expanding world. Each language has its own native tricks and quirks, and each one does for the speaker the things that the speaker needs it to do. The Inuits have more words for snow than Mexicans might, but they need those words. At its core, language is an attempt to understand and share the world around us and within us, and if you want to go down the road of whether it accomplishes that or not, go read Brandon’s insightful post. I won’t be going down that road here, for that is not my intention. My intention is simple.
To tell you why I like English, and the bastardized American version of it especially.
Obviously, I will always have a place for it in my heart, as it is my native tongue. I grew up in an exclusively English speaking house, and have read hundreds of English language books (either written in it or translated into it). One of my brothers knows a fair amount of Latin and Italian, and last I checked is studying Russian for the hell of it. Another brother knows a bit of Latin and is learning Spanish, and from what I can tell he is more advanced at 16 than I ever was in my high school days. I don’t know if I just didn’t have the knack for it (which, in a way, I doubt) or if it was something about the way it was taught, but I never really learned another language. I would love to, but it’s not terribly high on my priority list.
That said, English is kind of awesome. Think about it – who the hell spoke it back in the day? Where did it even come from? A bunch of assholes on a tiny island that kept getting invaded by various imperial forces, that’s where. And you know, it picked up some of the flavoring from the environment. A lot of flavoring, really. English is full of words derived (read: stolen and bastardized) from Latin, Greek, and the Germanic languages, plus a bit of Slavic now and again from what I can tell. It doesn’t stop there, either. All sorts of terms we have were more or less robbed from every other language English speakers have encountered over time, and it is always adjusted and twisted until it fits into the mission of the language.
By the way, the mission of the English language is most likely: “Be able to express yourself in an environment where it’s raining, snowing, and freezing half the time, where the sea will kill you if the alcohol you need to consume just to deal with it all doesn’t get you first.” Let’s be honest, English can be kind of a rough language. “Fuck,” for instance. Just say that out loud. “Fuck.” It’s fun to say, isn’t it? If you stub your toe, that is a knee jerk reaction of a word. “Fuck!” It’s fun to add to other words, too. “Fuckin’ shit!” or “Fucktastic” or “Motherfuck shitbiscuit!”
From what I can tell, the English language is particularly well suited for being brunt and ruthless with its descriptions. It is not a language for the meek. You can try to be fancy with it, but then you’re just an asshole. The English language is really for the blue collar workers, the factory drones and office peons who go out for a drink with their buddies after closing time and then go watch the game that Sunday. The kind of people that fight traffic (either getting stuck in it or hit by it), that don’t have private helicopters or ways around the 9-5. In a way, the English language is more democratic than the countries that speak it – it rises up from the streets and the tenement houses to be exactly what it needs to be for those who need it to be.
A perfect example is the word “cookie.” When preparing this whole post, I was bouncing ideas off Andrea, and she mentioned how cookie is a fun word. Naturally, I agreed, but then I realized: it is a word of near onomatopoeia proportions! Think about it: A hard “c” to simulate the initial crunchy bite, followed by an “oo” reaction to the taste, a “k” to finish the last delicious morsel being chewed in the back of your mouth, all finished off by the “ie” of recognition of the remaining package. Go ahead, say “cookie” out loud. Stretch it out a little bit, and tell me you can’t imagine eating one.
That’s what it comes down to in the end, I think. Other languages are prettier or more fanciful. They can describe entire sensations in a single word and can lift up ideas of love and freedom and independence. But English? English is cerebral. It’ll just grab on to you and let you do what it wants. The best part is that you don’t have to worry about being gentle with it, either.
The English language likes it rough.
PS – I lifted the title of this article from an awesome shirt I really need to buy myself. Wanted to give credit where credit was due.