Reading is high on my list of favorite things to do in spare time — and it has been all my life.
I don’t remember learning to read, but I do remember being able to read and write (in cursive) in kindergarten. In case you question my memory, I know I learned cursive in kindergarten. Being only 5 years old, my fine motor skills weren’t great, and I couldn’t properly make those curlicues in capital D and capital G. That inability brought me to tears at the blackboard, in front of the whole room of K-third graders in Reasnor school, the only year I was in that school. The following year when I was ready for first grade, the little one-room country school near our farm reopened after being closed for 20 years or more. I went there all the way from first through eighth grades and then it closed permanently a year or two after that.
Learning cursive in kindergarten (or at any age in many schools today) is a thing of the past, but many children now have the even greater task of learning a whole new language. That is definitely not easy for many; to learn subject matter in an unfamiliar language is a big challenge.
While I empathize with English language learners, I am continually surprised and sometimes entertained by the multiple errors I find in books, magazines and newspapers — errors I am fairly sure are made by well-educated people whose native language is English. Writers make numerous mistakes with homonyms or words that are not truly homonyms but do sound similar. Here are some examples I’ve seen in fiction books recently.
“Ellis hit the breaks as the Camaro spun a half turn and rolled three times.” Of course, the sentence should have said the driver hit the brakes.
“He kept his council,” instead of counsel. The first is a group of people, as in a city council; counsel is advice or one’s own thoughts or intentions.
“Ellen wasn’t being discrete.” Discrete means separate, discreet is to be careful.
“The one holding a pair of sheers smiled.” Sheer is a type of thin fabric, not a pair of large scissors or shears.
“It’s hard to sell property in this berg.” The author undoubtedly meant to use the word burg, a rather informal label for a town.
In another story, “She either planned to leave her husband or was having an elicit love affair.“ Elicit is a verb meaning to draw out a response, while the intended word is illicit, meaning forbidden by law or custom.
This sentence was in a fiction mystery I read just a few weeks ago; I can’t imagine how the author, publisher and proofreader let this gross image slip by. “She wrapped her arms around her dad’s waste.”
The May 3 issue of the Sioux City Journal had an article about the recent races taking place at Park Jefferson and Raceway Park, without fans present because of the coronavirus outbreak. The sports writer commented that the race organizers had said, “. . . if you feel sick, don’t go.” Then he wrote, “Case and point, someone who had a fever went to a major college basketball game and it turned out he had COVID-19.” His illustration is not a “case and point,” it is a “case in point.”
English can obviously be very confusing to those who have another native language. Just ask students who are learning English. It’s not only words that sound alike that are confusing, but many others which seem to make no sense. For example, there is no ham in hamburger, neither pine nor apple in pineapple, no egg in eggplant. One mouse is mouse, two are mice; one house is house, but two are not hise. One goose is goose, two are geese; one moose is moose, but two are not meese. One deer is a deer, but two or three or more deer are also deer.
Why does ravel mean the same thing as unravel? Why can a building burn up or burn down? To be called a wise man is a compliment, but calling him a wise guy is a put-down. When you fill out an application, you fill in your information. If a drain is stopped up, it needs to be opened up.
It is certainly true that the English language can be very complicated, but English does not have a monopoly on difficulty to learn. When I filled out my 2020 census form, I looked at the instructions given in a dozen or so languages, and they looked extremely complicated. Some languages have the same letters as English but also have other marks or characters, and some have only marks or characters with not a single letter of the English alphabet. And I’m guessing that other languages also have instances of words that can have multiple meanings, as English does. We will probably never exhaust the many fascinating quirks of English — or of numerous other languages.
Kay Disch of Sioux Center is a former staff member of the Sioux Center News.