"Then you should say what you mean," the March Hare went on.
"I do, Alice replied; "at least I mean what I say -- that's the same thing, you know."
From the monosyllabic toddler to the most eloquent orator, if we could find a word or phrase that summarizes the meaning of language it might not be the expected "communication" at all, but "that's not what I said."
When my little grandson puts his hands on his hips and yells, "Mon," I may figure out he means, 'Come on! I want to go right now!" But when writers, sign painters, government agencies and "all we of careless speech" begin imitating the run-on, no-space, no-punctuation language style of the Internet, I'd have to say my favorite 2-year-old is often the easiest to understand.
For example, the other night when my friend and I were analyzing some of our own speech and that of overheard conversations -- "Geet yet? No, joo? Cmon zeet," (Did you eat yet? No, did you? Come on, let's eat) -- we decided we mature, educated adults weren't as far removed from the toddler stage as we thought. And although our computer generation is becoming fluent in deciphering Web sites and e-mail addresses when they're written down, the same compound-word technique in oral speech doesn't always compute.
Speaking of compound words, rarely do we put more than two words together to form one longer word in English. Bookkeeper, bygones, houseboat, slipshod, etc. are about as complicated as it gets. In contrast, as I learned when our family lived in Germany some years ago, the German language is peppered with multi-compound words. My bi-lingual dictionary supplies the following examples:
Aussergewohnlich, which we translate as "uncommon," literally means "outside ordinary life/living";
Landschaftsmalerei: "landscape painting," which we make into two words because landscape is already a compound word; and,
Namensunterschrift, one word meaning, "signature," from the three words, name, under and written.
Before we start feeling superior because we've finally found something in our language that's easier to learn than in theirs, our German friends would point out that even though their words are long, each section is easily understood. But, getting back to the Internet, the same claim cannot be made for the language of cyberspace.
All this is a rather long lead-in to some compound, toddler/careless-speak words I've been dying to share with you ever since they arrived from -- you guessed it -- cyberspace a few days ago. So, read slowly, vow to speak more distinctly from now on, and enjoy:
Arbitrator: Someone who leaves Arby's to work at McDonalds.
Avoidable: What a bullfighter tries to do.
Counterfeiter: Someone who installs kitchen cabinets.
Eclipse: What an English barber does for a living (Key word: English).
Eyedropper: A clumsy ophthalmologist.
Heroes: What a guy in a boat does.
Paradox: Two physicians.
Parasites: What you see from the top of the Eiffel Tower.
Polarize: What penguins see with.
Selfish: What seafood markets do.
Sudafed: Brought litigation against a government official.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org)
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