Monday, November 25, 2013
Spellchecker is my best friend. I know it shouldn’t be, but wait till you hear my reasons. It’s not so much for finding those misspelled words, it’s more for weeding out the long words that are not supposed to be long in English.
I came up against this recently while working on a translation job and it got me thinking about language again. In Dutch, and also German, there are words that are stitched together to make one long word explaining exactly what it is you're dealing with. They show that together these words perform a function that they otherwise would not as independent words.
Let me give you a simple example.
kitchen + table would logically make ‘kitchentable’ but not in English. It works in Dutch and indicates that there is absolutely no ambiguity about the purpose or place of that table. In English they stay separate, I suppose in case you want to use the table somewhere else.
High+school+ student another one which in Dutch would be one word, such as “havostudent” (havo indicates the level of high school but that’s a different story). In English it’s 3 words. You may not smush them together into one nice long word that tells you exactly what you’re dealing with... not that we ever truly know what we’re dealing with when it comes to high school age.
So this is where spellchecker saves me every time I build long words in the Dutch tradition that don’t exist in English. Although sometimes we can use a hyphen to indicate that two words belong together, such as a "long-haired cat", it’s still not the same as actually making a satisfyingly long word. A friend with considerable experience in the English language recently told me hyphens are on a fast track to extinction.
It’s a bit like a puzzle, I suppose, taking words and making new ones by adding or taking away other words to change meanings and uses of words. But then again in English, at least American English, we take that in a different direction by turning words and expressions into quick and easy acronyms, such as LOL and ROFL. This makes for a different kind of puzzle and a new kind of shorthand that's supposed to make communications faster. And that is the way language evolves and grows, it is after all a living thing that through daily usage changes and develops.
I’m learning to adapt, though, I will confess, it took me a full 10 minutes to figure out the response to a simple question, which I thought was short and to the point, I texted my offspring recently:
ME: “Do you have math homework?”