A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004 :::
Serious signs of decay.
Martha Stewart was convicted of lying to federal agents. She had not done anything wrong, but she was worried, and so she lied. She's one horrible person, right up there with Ken Lay, but are you sure that you would not do the same? Her broker violated his fiduciary responsibility--he was using information that his firm had in confidence. She had no fiduciary responsibility and was free to act on the tip, whatever the source. So she committed no crime. But she lied about doing nothing to Federal agents, and so she may go to jail. Think about that.

Catholic Charities, Inc., must offer coverage for health services that violate Church teachings. Catholic Charities often violates Church teachings, which may have made their defense difficult. But think of Canada, where it is illegal for a Church only to hire members for its offices, where a printer who objects to homosexuality was required to print something for a gay organization, and where the Canadian parliament felt it was their right to decide whether or not Churches could choose to conduct gay marriages. They were very nice to allow Churches to differ with the government. Think about all that. And then start writing your congressman a lot.

There have been two studies on obesity recently. One showed that the main culprit was that Americans--particularly women--were eating a vast amount more than they used to. Not hormones, not fast food, not computers and TV. We are pigging out. That't the reason.

The other is that obesity has beat smoking as the leading preventable cause of death. That's enough, and everything up until this point you would have heard about if you read the indispensable Wall Street Journal and the National Review regularly.

But consider this come-on from ABC news this morning: "Obesity is now the leading preventable cause of death, so why is Congress trying to prevent restaurants from being sued?" Restaurants don't make you eat too much, that's why. This writer knows an older gentleman who goes to Outback, eats half the food, and takes the rest home for the next day's dinner. This writer stopped at an Outback recently and ate every scrap. This writer has to lose weight; the older gentleman is in the pink of health. Outback did not cause these things to happen, and Congress is right to prevent them from being sued.

"The cost of freedom is eternal vigilance." So said Thomas Jefferson, a man this writer normally abjures, but he was right, and it is worth remembering.

Human language is an endlessly fascinating thing. So is snobbery over it. Many educated people love to put down people around them by bragging about how they speak such-and-such a language and "it is so much more expressive than English." That's hard to imagine, as English has the largest vocabulary by far and an in-built aversion to having different words mean the same thing. What that stems from is anybody's guess, but it is true. Consider the difference between "he produced the cash" and "he came up with the cash." Technically, the same idea, but the first denotes reluctance and the second financial difficulty. How do you teach that?

Those who must look at language objectively--such as those in the translation business--rate English as one of the very hardest languages to learn, and it is not just because of our counter-intuitive spelling system, and the enormous, non-repetitive vocabulary. In most other languages that this writer has seen, different kinds of word are easily distinguished, whereas in English it is simply a word's position in the sentence that tells you whether it is a verb or a noun.

And then there are our modals.

Consider the joke from yesterday's post. "Aristide must go" became "he did must go and he done gone." The latter is a standard Southernism, but the former? It was a play on the normal use of "did" for the past tenses and the irregular past of "must, " which is "must have."

In the present-and-future tense (modals only have a present-and-future and a past), "must" and "have to" are indistinguishable. "You have to go" and "you must go" are the same.

But in the negative? "You must not go" and "you don't have to go" are completely skew--they mean things that have no relation to each other whatsoever. In Italian and most other languages, they are identical. In Italian, "non deve andare" is used for both.

And in the past? "He must have run off" and "you must not have taken your pills" mean things completely different from "he had to run off" and "you didn't have to take you pills."

So the next time some snob goes on and on about French, a beautiful but far more logical language, just smile enigmatically at him and change the topic of conversation.

Have a good one.

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 11:42 AM



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What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

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