Friday 28 Oct 2016

A Fine How-dy Do
Sjef Frenken

"Here," said Jack, "let me read you something. You tell me what's wrong."

"Alright," I said, putting down my plastic fork, ready to give Jack my full attention.

Jack began to read: "'Ding-a-Ling Enterprise wishes all our customers a Happy and Safe Holiday Season. Ding-a-ling is located on the second floor at the Bayshore Shopping Centre.' So tell me, what's wrong?"

I said "What jumps to mind is that Ding-a-Ling Enterprise first refers to itself in the third-person-singular, and then follows it immediately by the first-person-plural. That's a grammatical no-no."

"Hmmm," said Jack, "I hadn't even noticed that. No, there's something else."

Jack read the item again. I mulled it over. Then I had it.

I said "Actually, the word 'located' should have been 'situated'. To 'locate' really means to 'search-for and find.'"

"You're getting closer," said Jack, "but still no cigar."

I mulled the message over some more, but came to the conclusion that I could find no other egregious errors.

I said "I give up."

"Well," said Jack, "it's not so much an error as a redundancy: there is no need for the word 'located', or for 'situated' either for that matter. What's the difference between saying 'the store is located on Bank Street' and 'the store is on Bank Street'? No damn difference at all!"

I said "Jack, once again, you're right, adding the word 'located' provides no new information."

"And another thing," said Jack, "that kind of stuff is rampant in English. It's almost as if the verbs 'to be', 'to have' and 'to do' have become so weak that they often have to be reinforced by another verb. Or the other way around -- that they are used to strengthen other verbs."

"How so?" I asked.

"Take the verb 'to have'. In French you say 'Avez vous ...?' Very simple. But in English, people usually say 'Do you have ...?' or 'Have you got ...?' That's using two verbs where one will do. Why not just say "Have you ...? What do they say in Holland?"

I said "Same as in French 'Heeft U ...?' 'Have you ...?'

"But the most stupid one of all is 'How do you do?' First of all the person to whom the question is directed could be expected to ask in turn 'How do I do WHAT?" What the question 'How do you do?' really means to ask is 'How are you?' But that is too simple for the Anglo Mind, so the Anglo Mind desperately casts around for another verb, and, finding one, but being short on time, decides to use the same one again! 'How do you do?' ... it's ridiculous."

Jack paused, giving me an opportunity to ask him if he had other examples.

"Lots of them," said Jack, "but I can't recall them at the moment. Oh, here's one ... 'Where are you AT?'

I said "Jack, 'at' is not a verb."

"Maybe not," said Jack, but still it's there to help out the word 'are'. Nothing wrong with simply asking 'Where are you'. The 'at' in 'Where are you at?' doesn't add anything.

I asked Jack "Do you think that this flaw you have discovered in the English language is fatal?"

I could tell that Jack was ready to pounce on that 'Do you think', but then he caught on that I was pulling his leg with my question. I thought I would deliver the coup de grĂ¢ce.

I said "Jack, you've pointed out a few instances of excessive verbiage in the English language, but what about your own?"

"Like what?" asked Jack.

I said "French is not without its contorted phrases either: think about the way the French ask questions: 'Qu'est-ce que c'est...' 'What is it that it is...' How in hell did that phrase survive into this day and age. You mentioned earlier 'Avez-vous ...' as an example of how French keeps things simple. But don't most French people say 'Est-ce que vous avez ...?' And that's even less simple than the English."

"Oh," said Jack on the defensive, "and now you're going to tell me that Dutch has no flaws whatsoever."

I said "Jack, when you find one, bring it to my attention."

Jack doesn't speak Dutch. I'm safe.

Click here for a complete list of "Lunches with Jack."

Sjef Frenken is a renaissance man: thinker, writer, translator and composer of much music. A main interest, he has many, is setting to music the poetry, written for children, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nimble of mind, Sjef is a youthful retiree and a great-grandfather. Mostly he's a content man, which facilitates his relentless multi-media creativity.

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