WORDS are my business. I take huge delight in my own language and, if I’d had an early start, would also probably be taking great delight in other people’s.
But English isn’t always plain sailing and an example of the way it can create problems is in the following phrase: the green dog kennel.
English is out on a limb here, having abandoned the age-old links that show which word acts on another. The result is that we must use our common sense when deciding if it’s the kennel or the dog which is green. In French, le chenil vert du chien and le chenil du chien vert (the green kennel of the dog and the kennel of the green dog) leave no room for doubt.
I often wonder if French, Chinese or Bantu is subject to so many possibilities for misinterpretation. Do they have problems with phrases like ‘life is butter melon cauliflower’ (‘life is but a melancholy flower’)?
Misinterpretations are an endless source of jokes in English.
A mum asks her young son why he’s named his rather strabismic teddy Willingly. “It’s from the hymn I learned at Sunday School,” he says. “What hymn is that?” asks mum. “Willingly thy cross-eyed bear,” he says.
The same child, presumably, thinks God’s name is Harold (Harold be thy name) and that it’s sinful to use the London underground (Lead us not into Thames Station) just from learning the Lord’s Prayer.
Pieces of concrete could never be pub regulars, but some jests demand that we suspend disbelief. For instance: two pieces of concrete are sitting in a pub when in walks a piece of Tarmac. Both concretes dive under the table until the Tarmac has drunk up and gone.
“What was the problem?” asks the barman. “That Tarmac,” said one. “He’s a complete cycle path.”