When you listen to spoken language, if you misunderstand, often you can’t go back and re-hear it.
Besides not being able to re-listen to what you hear, sometimes the written form is just plain clearer than the spoken form. The fidelity of the instrument you’re listening on might be poor. Foreign accents can make someone hard to decipher even though the person’s written English is fine. (I get a lot of this from
headhunters technical recruiters whose first language is something besides English. My hearing problem doesn’t make it any easier, either. I’ve gotten into the habit of asking for an email, which I promise to respond to quickly.)
There’s another problem with spoken language that applies to about everyone. That’s when one word ends with the same sound that the next word begins with. Did you know that “share drive” is really “shared drive”? Say that pair aloud. They vary by only a couple hundredths of a second on that “d” in the middle, so it’s easy to miss. Some other combinations of sounds produce this effect, and that couple hundredths is the basis of today’s comic, The Lockhorns by Bunny Hoest and John Reiner. Sorry, I lost the link.
You probably have a few favorites of this kind of combinatorial problem (it’s called sandhi, by the way). I invite you to share in the comments.
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Some time ago I posted a series about figures of speech, which I invite you to check out if you like. Recently I ran into another figure of speech, called paraprosdokian. It’s Greek for something like “given against and alongside.”
A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence is unexpected and oft times very humorous.
I got a list of them from a contributor to a motorcycle enthusiast list I belong to. (Thank you, Joe Dille, for sharing.) I’m sorry, I don’t know where he got the list.
Here are a few:
– If I had a dollar for every girl that found me unattractive, they’d eventually find me very attractive.
– A man knocked on my door and asked for a small donation toward the local swimming pool, so I gave him a glass of water.
– My wife and I were happy for twenty years; then we met.
– Hospitality is the art of making guests feel like they’re at home when you wish they were.
– Behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes.
– He who laughs last thinks slowest.
– Women sometimes make fools of men, but most guys are the do-it-yourself type.
– If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you.
– Sometimes I wake up grumpy; other times I let her sleep.
– Money is the root of all wealth.
If you’re brave, see if you can think up a few and share in the comments.
PS. Wouldn’t you know, I just ran into an example of paraprosdokian in a comic, Moderately Confused by Jeff Stahler:
Good old New Yorker. They pretty much always get their language right, and they’re famous for it. Here’s a usage that I think is fading away, even though I like it. It appeals to the detail-lover in me. It’s the punctuation mark called, in English, the dieresis.
Often when two vowels occur together, we either pronounce only one of them (when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking) such as the word “boat.” Sometimes they are combined to form a diphthong, such as height. We’re so used to it we often don’t hear it. I’ll help you hear it. The word “hi” is pronounced the same as the karate term, “hai!” Whatever happens, the vowels usually combine into one syllable.
But sometimes, especially with prefixes, you end up with two vowels together, but each in its own syllable, and that’s where the dieresis comes in. If you want the second vowel to be in its own syllable the correct thing to do is use a dieresis. So here’s our example:
The reëlection of Barack Obama was a boon for the prepping industry.
Lots of folks, who don’t know how to create a dieresis, use a hyphen, re-elect. That’s okay, I guess, but why not be high class and use a dieresis? I googled “ascii for dieresis” to save you looking them up:
vowels with diaresis
ä alt + 132
ë alt + 137
ï alt + 139
ö alt + 148
ü alt + 129
Hold down the Alt key and type the numbers on the numeric keypad. Reïgnite your inner grammarian!
Darren Bell posts the occasional Candorville strip of the main character, Lemont, (who is a writer) correcting someone’s grammar. I have long held the opinion about the difference between “continual” and “continuous” expressed in this comic. It’s nice to see my opinion confirmed.