Vincent van Gogh
The English language is one of the most difficult languages to learn. I work with people from all sorts of foreign countries, and they are always asking me to translate something for them. "What does this mean...? Is it correct to say something this way or that way...?" In return, I have learned something of their languages as well. The other day I learned the writing symbol in Traditional Chinese for the word book -- well, at least one of the symbols. It was really beautiful, and as I looked at it, it looked exactly like what it was meant to represent.
The most difficult thing about the English language is that it is filled with contronyms -- that is one word that can have exactly opposite meanings, i.e., the word "sanction". Or, take the word "dust".
1. Dust: to remove material from "Three times a week they dust the floor."
2. Dust: to spread material on: "Three times each season they dust the crops."
The English language can be confusing, but no more so than in the written word. So much of our communication these days is by e-mail, instant messaging, social networks, texting ... and sometimes something that is meant one way can be misinterpreted as the opposite.
About a year ago I wrote an e-mail to a friend, and I realized a couple of weeks later, after re-reading it, that it could very easily have been misinterpreted by the receiver. I had meant it as tongue-in-cheek, which I am never very good at at the best of times, as I have a rather strong personality and I can come across as sounding angry when I an not, but I could see how it would have sounded ... well ... puzzling, to say the least. Can a phrase be a contronym? I suppose it can. In any case, it's too late. "The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on..." Since then, I have learned never to say anything in the written word that can better be said verbally.
My friend has been going through a rather tough time for a while; well actually a sort of combination of bitter and sweet. I would like to say how happy I am for her, and to wish her well, and all the very best. Last night I had the strangest dream that she and I had dinner together. It was very formal and uncomfortable at first, but then we started laughing about some ridiculous thing, and the ice was broken. I woke up feeling rather sad that it was only a dream.
How many of you had wished you could rephrase something, after you had hit "send". You have to be very careful with the written word to be sure what you say is what you actually meant to say. Or, as my good friend Russell often says, "You can't unring a bell..."