Have you ever considered yourself a genius?
If not, please do.
I once read: If you’ve learned to speak fluent English, you must be a genius.
As a Catholic Herald reader, I’m sure you not only speak English fluently, but read and write as well.
Congratulations – and welcome to the club.
As the all-American means of communication, we take English for granted. We speak, read and write English without realizing what we’re saying, reading and writing. It’s automatic. It’s routine.
But if you study the English language, you’ll discover it’s weird. Really! Consider studying the origin of words, parts of speech, construction of sentences, etc. It’s mind-boggling.
We use words we’ve learned in our education and those we’re still learning in old age. We use English words whose origin we don’t know. English is rooted in many ancient languages, e.g., Latin, Greek, German.
We’re often reminded that to improve our spirituality, religiousity and historical knowledge, we should read the Bible.
For our intellectual development and well-being, I suggest: Read the dictionary.
Don’t laugh. I’m serious.
Here’s some information that may pique your interest.
It comes from Google, the Wizard of Cyberspace. Although I have a computer, I am not connected to the Internet. So, I called someone who is, St. Roman friend and colleague Dorothy Molling. Her Googling source on English language is Global Language Monitor and the Oxford English Dictionary.
Here’s what we discovered:
■ The English language consists of some 1.025 million words.
■ The Oxford English Dictionary includes 171,400 words in use and 47,000 obsolete words. Total: 218,400. Also, each year 1,000 words are added, and 400 words are eliminated.
■ The Old Testament has 593,500 words. The New Testament: 181,250. Total in Bible: 774,750 words.
Studying the Bible or dictionary will keep any reader busy for a long, long time. What else do many of us have but time?
Look at it this way, it’s self-education. And it’s free.
Read the dictionary. Expand your knowledge. Keep your mind active. Learn the meaning of familiar words. Discover words you’ve never seen — words that’ll take your genius to a new level. Just think of the fun you’ll have.
Surprise yourself. You’ll detect how unusual, strange and complex the usage and meanings of words are. You’ll learn of synonyms, antonyms, homographs, homophones, oxymornons.
English is peculiar, almost “foreign.” Words we use regularly, common words, defy common sense.
There’s no ham in hamburger; no egg in eggplant; no straw in strawberry; no goose in gooseberry; no moon in moonshine; no pine or apple in pineapple; and no key in key lime pie (yummy).
Let’s continue our self-education.
Synonyms, for examples, are words of similar or identical meaning.
For example: “dictionary” means concordance, glossary, lexicon, thesaurus, vocabulary. The word “different” has more than 20 meanings. “Education” has at least a dozen definitions. “Love” can be defined 20 ways. “Nice” can be described in more than 20 words. “Servant” has nearly 50 connotations.
Antonyms are words of opposite or contradictory meaning.
Abbreviate – lengthen, hateful – attractive, affectionate – aloof, filthy – clean, find – lose, malicious – kind, refreshing – boring, old – young, youth – adult, moral – wicked, genius – dull.
More interesting are homographs, homophones and oxymorons.
Learning something new? I hope so.
Homographs are words spelled alike but with different meanings:
Hail Mary – prayer to the Blessed Virgin or desperation pass to win a football game;
Server – altar boy/girl or computer storage unit;
Parish – church unit or synonym for county in Louisiana;
Ordinary – head of diocese or archdiocese (also known as bishop or archbishop) or something average or common;
Millennial – relating to 1,000 years or modern generation of 22-33 year-olds.
Homophones are words with the same sound but different meaning:
Ail-ale, bomb-balm, pray-prey, holy-wholly, aisle-isle, friar-fryer, mitre-miter, canon-cannon, censer-censor, hail-hale, hall-haul, ball-bawl, all-awl, slay-sleigh, mail-male, Maine-mane, pain-pane. (I’m sure you know the meanings.)
Oxymorons are a combination of contradictory words:
Cold sweat, white chocolate, black gold, cruel kindness, make haste slowly, black ice, black light, hopping mad, push pull, round peg in a square hole, open and shut case.
In addition, some words are Paradox –– they do not mean what they say:
Quicksand works slowly, boxing rings are square, guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor a pig, mud pie is not a pie, paper tiger is not an animal.
Of the more than 200,000 words contained in a dictionary, with how many am I familiar? I don’t know, I never counted. But I do know that whenever I use a dictionary I discover words I had not seen or heard.
By comparison, this column includes some 803 words, including multiples of articles, conjunctions, prepositions, pronouns, etc.
I do not claim to be an English language expert. Just a curious reader.
Take your geniusness to a new level. Read the dictionary – not much of a plot but a heckofa cast.
(Out and About is a regular feature of Mature Lifestyles that looks at issues affecting the older adult community. Horn, a retired Catholic Herald reporter, is a member of St. Roman Church, Milwaukee.)