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Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life is the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
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Wednesday, June 1

Linguistic Oddities

I guess it goes with the territory, old age, that is, the territory being those sleepless hours in the middle of the night. I wake up at 3:00 a.m. and lie there thinking strange thoughts, and thinking them with greater clarity than when I’m awake during the day. It’s like the light of day blinds me to any thoughts deeper than a kiddy pool. I get ideas for short stories in the middle of the night, ideas for blog entries, and often ideas about linguistic oddities. I know, I know, most people don’t know or care about linguistic oddities. But I’m an old English teacher who just can’t stop teaching, even if it’s only myself being taught. Last night, I thought about all the words that end in –age, a suffix that often turns a word into a noun, like the adjective “short” into “shortage.” And the more I thought, the more words popped up: yardage, marriage, windage, plumage, savage, package, luggage, garbage. And then a few less common words, like homage, garage, persiflage, corsage, décolletage (yeah, yeah, I just had to get a boob or two in here somewhere). That led me to the idea that most of these words derive from French, some of which (like the last five I mentioned) have that distinctive “räzh” sound. From there I thought of the way we either keep the original pronunciation or we anglicize it. For example, look what we’ve done to “garage.” Most people still say “gu-RäZH” but some say “gu-Räj.” And some, mostly from one of the Southern states, say “gräj” one syllable sort of like “grudge.” One day we’ll all say “graj” and we will have lost the flavor of its derivation. Look at “homage.” The word is in that middle state between its original pronunciation and its anglicized brother. Some pronounce it as “oh-MäZH” while others say “HOM-ij.” Most of us have kept the originals for camouflage, corsage, mirage, persiflage, and (here’s another boob) décolletage. I'm guessing that most of these -age words were originally pronounced like "garage." Can't you just hear how lovely "plumage" sounds when you pronounce it "plu-MäZH"? Same thing with "gar-BäZH" except not so lovely. And "lu-GäZH" would make that old suitcase of your sound so elegant. Now look at "massage" and "message," almost the same spellings yet entirely different pronunciations. Do you suppose “massage” will one day become “MASS-ij”? Yeah, and the exodus will probably begin in Mississippi. Do you want to hear what is the longest word ending in –age? No? Well, tough. It’s “stockbrokerage.”

Another linguistic consideration that popped up in the night: the problem we seem to have with pronouns for the two sexes, especially now that we’re moving toward sexual equality, transgendering and same sex "mar-i-äHZ." Look at this typical current sentence: “Nearly everyone now has his/her own agenda when it comes to the ballot box.” How awkward. How can we get around it? Well, we can consider that “everyone,” “anyone,” “no one,” “everybody,” “anybody” are plurals instead of singulars. All the time now I see in the news examples like “Nearly everyone now has their own agendas.” But that has its own awkwardness because the verb is still singular. It would have to be "Nearly everyone have their own agendas." Oh, yuck! Or we can continue using “his/her.” Or we can invent new pronouns for the unified sexes: “hesh” in the nominative case (when it's used as the subject), “herim” in the objective case (when it's used as a direct object or an object of a preposition), and “heris” in the possessive case. “Hesh should check heris package before entering one of the transgender bathrooms. Otherwise, someone might mistake herim for the wrong sex.”

I wonder what I’ll ponder at 3:00 a.m. tonight?

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