Friday, August 24, 2018

Uncommon Language

George Bernard Shaw said that Britain and America were two countries separated by a common language.  Or something like that, anyway.  I've also seen versions of that quote attributed to Oscar Wilde or Sir Winston Churchill.  Okay, so maybe a lot of people have said it, but I wasn't one of them.

There are a number of differences between the version of English used in the United States, and the versions used everywhere else.  I've seen the 'everywhere else' versions called 'Oxford English', or 'British English', or 'Commonwealth English'.  Canada's version of English is a bit of a mash of both American and Commonwealth, because of course it is.

Because so many people weren't wondering what the main differences are, I thought it would be helpful to take a moment to explain one of these differences.  You could use this handy information to correct your professor/teacher/nurse when they get it wrong.  Before long, you'll be ignored celebrated for your brilliance!

-IZE versus -ISE

Many of the words that end in -ize/-ise came from the French language.  While William the Conqueror is often credited/blamed for bringing French to England, we know for a fact that French people were already in England at the time of King Arthur.

Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelled of elderberries.

In the US, most of these French-originated words end with -ize.  Elsewhere, the -ise ending is permitted, or even preferred.  It has to do with the stolen French words having been verbs ending in the suffix '-iser', which in turn had their origins with the Greek suffix '-izo'.  Something like that.  Both sides are convinced that their preferred version is more correct, and that the other side is a bunch of uncivilized poopyheads.

Examples of words affected by the -ize/-ise fiasco are:

  • organise/organize
  • centralise/centralize
  • advertise/advertize

There are a few words that are always -ise in all versions of English:

  • exercise
  • promise
  • enterprise

There is at least one word that is always -ize in all versions of English:

  • capsize

Also, there are related words that make a similar switch, between -yze/-yse:

  • paralyse/paralyze
  • analyse/analyze

And, of course, there are some words for which the -ize/-ise thing doesn't apply at all:

  • dog
  • pudding
  • sandwich
  • gazebo

It would probably be best to memorize all this, in case there's a snap quiz.

Stay tuned for some undetermined time in the future, when we'll explore another of the quirky little things that helps English remain virtually unlearnable to others.

Here are some websites featuring people who know what they're talking about:

Friday, August 10, 2018

Trees and other projects

There's a saying that goes along the lines of:

"A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they will never sit."

There doesn't seem to be much agreement on who said it first, or who thought it first.  Or even who first thought that they might like to think about saying it. 

Humans are always starting new projects and building new stuff.  But it seems to me that most of humanity's biggest projects are built in timeframes that fit within a single lifetime.  The people who started it will probably be around to see it finished.

The capitalist system seems to encourage even shorter timeframes, with a preference for projects that can be completed quickly -- within the next quarter -- to satisfy shareholders.

When I left my previous job, I was asked to leave a to-do list for my replacement.  So, y'know.

I don't know how long it took to build an average ziggurat, but the Intertubes says that the Pyramids took around 20 years apiece.  If I started hauling blocks now (and maybe started eating properly once in a while) there's every chance I could live to see my own pyramid finished.

Maybe it's difficult to convince someone to devote their time, labour, and money to a project that they'll never see done -- and that might be abandoned after their death, never getting finished at all.  There are exceptions, like cathedrals that took centuries to build, but the people who built them may have had faith that the cathedral would be done eventually.

So, if the scope of the projects humans undertake is somehow influenced by our life spans, what about alien races with different life spans?  If an alien race lived for a thousand years, would they be more likely to undertake larger, grander projects?  Would we see temples and monuments and other public works on a scale beyond anything humans have ever built?

Or maybe they'd work at a different pace, knowing they had plenty of time and there was no need to rush.  Their projects might be no grander than ours, but just accomplished really, really slowly.

What I'm saying is, I think the motor-vehicle licence office is run by aliens.