Today we are going to Muse about language. If this is your first visit, welcome to Musings. If you have been here before, welcome back. Over time we are going to talk about many things: the past, the present, perhaps the future, travel, art, society and more. Wherever my musing takes me. I hope you will come along with me.
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Language changes over time. It evolves.
I’ve been thinking about words. I’m old-fashioned in many ways, especially when it comes to language. And, it seems today that our English tongue is rapidly morphing.
Some time back I talked about the current usage of the word “listen”. It used to be a verb. Now it is a noun. We used to say “Listen” as a directive. Then it became “Listen up” or Listen here” or Listen closely“. Now the newscasters instruct us to “Take a listen“! That just sounds ignorant to me. However, it follows the same logic as “Take a look“. Hmmm!
There is the use a “disrespected“. We say, “He showed me respect” or “He respected me“. We used to say, “He showed me disrespect“, but we never said “He disrespected me“. Now we do. That also sounds ignorant to me.
There are some interesting situations where the meaning of an expression has changed over time. Take for instance, “There is the devil to pay.” It means impending trouble or other bad consequences following from one’s actions. Possibly not originally. It may have been a nautical expression, referring to caulking (pay) the seams (devil) of a wooden sailing ship. This was often an arduous task because the ship had to be grounded as the tide went out to expose the seams and the caulking had to be completed before the tide came back in and floated the ship.
According to Phrase Finders,
The ‘devil’ is a seam between the planking of a wooden ship. Admiral William Henry Smyth defined the term in The Sailor’s Word-book: An Alphabetical Digest of Nautical Terms, 1865:
Devil – The seam which margins the waterways on a ship’s hull.
‘Paying’ is the sailor’s name for caulking or plugging the seam between planking with rope and tar etc. ‘Paying the devil’ must have been a commonplace activity for shipbuilders and sailors at sea. This meaning of ‘paying’ is recorded as early as 1610, in S. Jourdain’s Discovery of Barmudas:
Some wax we found cast up by the Sea… served the turne to pay the seames of the pinnis Sir George Sommers built, for which hee had neither pitch nor tarre.
Many sources give the full expression used by seafarers as “there’s the devil to pay and only half a bucket of pitch”, or “there’s the devil to pay and no pitch hot”.
Then there situations for which we have no English equivalent. We were recently in Mexico. We learned that when seeing someone in a restaurant, an acquaintance or a stranger, the polite thing to do is to say “Buen provecho“, the Spanish equivalent of the French expression, “Bon appétit“. How would you say that in English?
Much ado about nothing.
More to come
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