Have you ever wondered how difficult it would be to learn the English language if you hadn’t been brought up with it? I’ve never thought to much about it, because thank goodness, I was indoctrinated into it from birth. But even so, as a writer I have daily moments of doubt. Did I use the correct word in that sentence? Should it be between or among, that or which, lay or lie, who or whom? Can I use two tenses in the same sentence? And maybe my most perplexing dilemma…when do I use a semi-colon and not a comma?
I’m a “black and white” kind of person. I like absolute rules… not those on a flex schedule. What kind of rule is it if it’s only followed at certain times? I abhor rules that have the phrases: in most instances, probably, and or permissible, within their context. How are writers to know whether to use a comma after an introductory phrase when the rule makers tell us it’s permissible to omit it if the phrase is brief. Is brief one word, two words, three words? I prefer a rule that says…do it or don’t do it. Then there are the rule makers that say that placing a comma after an introductory phrase depends on the writer’s sense of rhythm. Everyone in my line dancing class would agree I have NO rhythm at all, so that rule is of no use to me.
How do new learners of the English language learn all this stuff, when I, as a 62 year old veteran, am still Googling any number of “English” questions on a daily basis and or texting my niece who is an English major?
And then there’s the issue of words used to describe various things. For instance, let’s look at words to describe groups of animals. It would seem logical to me that every group of animal on four legs should be called a herd and all birds should be a flock, fish should be a school, and insects should be a swarm. Wouldn’t that be tidy? But, you guessed it – no rules apply. Cattle congregate in herds, rhinos in a crash, hippos in a bloat, and pigs in a drift. Bass gather in a shoal, cod in a lap, goldfish in a glint, and herring in an army. A group of butterflies is labeled a flight, gnats are a cloud, and flies are a business. And get this – game birds travel in a covey, ground birds in a flock, and sea birds in a wreck. To complicate things even more, geese on the ground are a gaggle, but when they are flying they become a skein.
It all seems quite complicated to me. I can’t imagine what it seems to someone that is trying to learn English as a second language. However, on the political side of things, it is my opinion that folks relocating to our country need to learn our language. I don’t ask for perfection – just a work in progress. And, we are all that. I’m convinced I will still be a work in progress until the day I say goodbye (farewell, so long) to this world and hello (hi, howdy,greetings) to a new one.
Keep on readin’ and I’ll keep on writin’.