Tag Archives: Language

One Bluetooth, Two Bluetooths, Three Blueteeth?

Today’s pressing question was, what is the plural of “Bluetooth”?  I’ll spare you the pain of looking it up for yourself (although you would have a lot of fun doing it).  The real answer is, there isn’t one.  If you absolutely demand a plural, the answer is “Bluetooth devices”.  Bluetooth is a kind of technology.  Thus you can have a Bluetooth ear bud, a Bluetooth headset, etc.  In essence, Bluetooth is an adjective. 

So, can an adjective have a plural?  I don’t know why not.  We’ve turned the brand name “Kleenex” into a plural.  We’ve turned the brand names Fed Ex and Google into verbs.  Why can’t we make an adjective into a plural?  No wonder the OED people go nuts about what they should and should not include in their revised editions. 

There are two schools of thought there.  One of them is that the OED should be a guide to speaking “proper” English.  Oh no.  Please don’t act like you’re from France. 

The other school of thought is that a dictionary should help people understand  the language as it is actually used.  So, for example, if you are from Kuwait, and you want to understand what FYI or OMG means, you should be able to look it up in the dictionary.  Hello?  Duh. 

All languages are fluid, and change with usage by actual people who use that language, unless you live in France where they haven’t quite grasped that concept.

The occasion for this thought was that yesterday I had a visit from a pest control person who was wearing a Bluetooth device on his ear.  I hate that.  I never wear mine at work, and I forbid my employees from doing so.  Because we are in the customer service biz, and to me, Bluetooth looks like you are just waiting for something more interesting to happen.  My corporate office has not caught up to this yet, and they need to.  The wheels of corporate HR departments turn slowly.  It took them about 10 years to remove the prohibition against male employees wearing earrings from the employee handbook.  I used to get dinged for this regularly by my bosses, and I would say, I’m not enforcing that.  It’s discriminatory.  You just have to be patient enough for HR to get there too.  And try not to get fired before that happens. 

But back to Bluetooth devices.  Morris the pest control guy was wearing one, and he at some point in the middle of a conversation said “Answer”.  I was so startled, because I couldn’t figure out what “Answer” had to do with our discussion.  Okay, then I remembered.  The difference between me and my employees wearing a Bluetooth is that Morris travels around all day in his little yellow truck.  He needs to be in touch with his office and his customers.  I’m okay with that. 

He talked to his office about scheduling rodent proofing for our problematic storage room.  Rodents meaning rats, mice, and squirrels. And they called him back a few times. 

We caught a mouse in the storage room.  OMG.  Stop the presses. 


Say That Again?

Greetings, WordPress friends!  It’s been three weeks since I posted here and my excuse is, I’ve been sick.  I’d tell you why, but I don’t know.  It’s something gastrointestinal, and I’m about to embark on the rounds of visits to specialists and no telling what kind of evil procedures.  So, more later. 

Meanwhile, I have of course been reading up a storm and watching a lot of National Geographic on TV, so I have all sorts of fodder for Reading with Fakename and Fakename’s Animal Planet.  This is more generic than that, it’s about language. 

Not for the first time, I’ve been musing about how provincial we in the U.S. must seem, since the majority of us speak only one language–English–and our ability to do that adequately is often in doubt.  An increasing percentage of the U.S. population, however, is Hispanic, and they are generally bilingual.  Not always, though. Maybe 40 years ago, the “English first” movement held sway and Hispanic children were not allowed to speak their native language in school.  This led to some awkward situations, where children were fully “assimilated” in school, but couldn’t understand a word being said to them at home.  We had already done that to native Americans, so we’d had plenty of practice. 

I’d say that almost nothing is more soul-killing than taking away a person’s language. 

That said, there is good reason for immigrants to learn English.  It’s the language of business, of aviation, and in many cases, of science (unless you count Latin).  It’s hard to thrive in a country where you don’t speak the prevalent language.  You end up being confined in sort of language ghettos, and surviving on menial jobs that don’t require much public interaction.   You miss a lot–jokes, pop culture references, etc. 

I only speak one language–English, with the aforementioned caveat about whether my English is adequate or not.  It isn’t that I didn’t try.  I took French in high school.  I wanted to take Latin, because all my friends were, but my mother flatly refused to allow me.  She thought playing the piano and speaking French were the epitome of culture.  Ergo, I took French. 

When I graduated from college, I went to Paris.  I brushed up on my French beforehand.  I bought a copy of Albert Camus “The Stranger” in French.  I packed an English/French dictionary.  The first time I tried to use my French was in a shop dedicated to selling chickens (I think there’s a name for that…) and the shopkeeper did a dramatic eye roll and immediately began speaking English to me.  I later learned that in the countryside, the French are more appreciative of your feeble attempts to speak their language, and are glad that you’re trying–but not in Paris.  Those people are hard-core. 

In college, I took German.  Much easier.  So my next attempt at speaking a foreign language in another country was in the former Yugoslavia.  My friend Art and I were driving endlessly somewhere in the Balkan mountains, lost, starving, and running out of gas.  We picked up a hitchhiker–the first human being we’d seen in ages–and he understood my pidgin German.  With a big smile, he directed us to a town called Mitrovica, where we dropped him off at the gas station and he melted into space after pointing out a restaurant nearby. 

After getting gas, we repaired to the restaurant where there were a lot of Muslim men concealing themselves behind newspapers, and the only sound was from the overhead ceiling fans.  We were not served, or acknowledged.  Dense as we were, a feeling of unease set in and we hightailed it out of Mitrovica and the whole of Yugoslavia.  It turns out, in the hierarchy of human need, gas is more important than food. 

I later learned two things.  First, the reason our hitchhiker understood German was that after WWII, the Germans virtually kidnapped and enslaved people from the Balkans in order to rebuild Germany.  They spoke German, and hated Germans with a blinding passion.  Second, we were in one of the most dangerous parts of the world without knowing it.  Today, Mitrovica is part of Kosovo. 

Art and I learned one very important lesson.  Wherever we went, we said, “We’re Americans”.  I’m not sure how well that would work today. 

In the reading department, I’m on a kick of reading Kate Atkinson. I first read her latest novel “Life After Life” and just finished “Started Early, Took My Dog” (the title of which is from a poem by Emily Dickinson).  Kate is either British or Scottish, but that wouldn’t matter much would it?  There are so many references I don’t get (British TV shows) and words, just for example, the parts of a motor vehicle.  (See?  In the U.S., we don’t say “motor vehicle” anyway.)  There are boots and bonnets and car parks, lorries and trams.  There are mysterious foods (which are probably something like “peanut butter”). 

So you just have to limp along, divided by a common language.  Atkinson is so brilliant, it’s worth it.  In “Started Early…” there is an aging actress in the early stages of dementia, and Atkinson’s description of it is heartbreaking.  “Tilly” keeps losing words.  She wants a cup of tea, but can’t remember the name of the thing you boil the water in.  Is it a…kitten? 

Language is who we are. 

Ms. Language Person Discusses Language Abuse

First, a disclaimer:  Fakename does not claim to be an expert in this field, and is all too aware that she is guilty of some of the same abuses she is about to make fun of.  (Or would that be, “of which she is about to make fun”?)  The difference is, that when you do it, it’s funny, and when Fakename does it, it isn’t, and certainly should never be mentioned in polite company.

Before we begin, Fakename will commit her first faux pas by switching from third person to first person, because that third person thing is really hard to maintain.  It’s ever so much easier to type “I” than it is to type “Fakename”.

Now then, I said that when you do it, it’s funny–but not always.  Sometimes I laugh, and sometimes I gnash my teeth.  I mean, let’s take George W. Bush, always my favorite source of language abuse.  I mean, come on, the guy went to Yale and can’t say “nu’-clee-ar”?  Every time he mangled that word I felt those chills you get when somebody scrapes their fingernails down a blackboard.  For now we will call this particular form of language abuse “mispronunciation”.

It turns out that linguists, having not much else to do, have come up with all sorts of words to describe language abuse.  Not having much else to do, I love linguists.  There is, for example “malapropism” and “neologism”, but there are many more words to describe words.  Turning once again to GWB, my favorite quote from him involves the word “misunderestimating”.  I mean, you know just what he means, don’t you?  Technically speaking, I think this might be a “portmanteau”, a combination of the words “misunderstanding” and “underestimating”.  A successful portmanteau, like a successful neologism, will come into common usage.  My guess is that “misunderestimating” will not fall into that category. 

I actually first became fascinated with language in the 7th grade, when our entire English class was devoted to grammar.  Everyone but me hated it.  I loved its orderliness.  And I loved that only when you know the rules can you successfully violate them.  It’s like using a salad fork.  It’s fine to say, the hell with the salad fork, I’m using the dinner fork for my salad, as long as you’re doing it voluntarily.  Not knowing what the salad fork is for, or where it should be placed, is uncouth.  Rejecting it when you do know is perfectly acceptable, and is a sign of intelligent rebellion.  Damn.  I have a sudden urge to use an inappropriate semi-colon. 

I next became enamored with language as an anthropology student in college, where differences in language set cultures apart–from the Inuit with their 50 or so different words for snow, to the tribe in Africa with only two words for plants: edible or inedible. 

And now, just as I thought I’d left linguism and salad forks behind, there is NPR, specifically “Fresh Air” and real life linguist Geoffrey Nunberg, whose first book was “Going Nucular”.  In that book, he speculates that GWB said “nucular” on purpose, believing that most people pronounced it that way, so he did too–thereby making himself seem more accessible to the imaginary “common man”.  Oh what nonsense.  The easiest explanation (see: Occam”s Razor) is that GWB really is stupid.