Inside the English Maze

Here we go again with another example of confusing English words. A group of penguins is called a colony, a rookery, or a waddle, but these terms are for a group of penguins on land. A group of penguins floating in the ocean is called a raft.

See what I mean. Sometimes English can drive you nuts.


Good Day


9 thoughts on “Inside the English Maze”

  1. Hola Omar,
    I have this theory that much of the turmoil in the USA begins with language. We have such an imprecise language across such a large area that even simple communication is not simple. For people who are learning English (whatever version they encounter), they are in for an uphill climb. “A colony of penguins” should be more than descriptive enough.
    While I was teaching for a living, my limited knowledge of Spanish helped me to communicate to foreign students of 24 different countries. A statement like, “This won’t work” was much better expressed as, “This will not function”. Interestingly, one of my toughest assignments was developing training books for students from Singapore. The books were to be in English, easy peasy, right? No, the English in Singapore is British, or as they say, “the Queen’s English”. Sometimes even using the language one learned as a child is not easy.

    1. Hola Jim y Nena,

      You bring up a good point, and that is the diverse variations of English in other countries where the language is also spoken. . A couple of examples are the English words for gasoline, apartment and elevator. Those terms are American linguistic expressions. In Great Britain they would switch to petrol, flat and lift. It is possible, I really don’t know for a fact, if the same words are used in Australia, Ireland, or Canada where Enlish is also spoken.

      I love the language, but sometimes it just drives me bananas. But still I keep on turning the digital leaves of English dictionaries.

  2. The imprecision of our language surely could be frustrating to someone trying to learn it. On the other hand, the richness and complexity of the language is something to be cherished. As a writer, I’m going to resist any efforts to simplify it. It would be like someone telling a painter, “You only can use red, yellow, and blue. You may not use fuchsia, saffron, or turquoise.”

    It may be that penguins behave differently in water, and so received different names. It makes sense, actually.

    1. I love the richness and enjoy the complexity (besides, the puns are much more fun). That said, when writing technical manuals and presentations, strict, colorless, boring text is the rule. Even that causes problems besides 125 pound eyelids on the students.

      Example: one test on a system I was explaining involved a master caution indicator. It advised of a failure in many systems to alert the operator to look for specific failures and take action. My test involved turning on and purposely failing various components to check the correct operation of the fault system.
      One of the results stated: the master caution indicator shall not light as a result of System A Failure. In other words, any other system could fail and light the light as long as it was not System A.

      The students started buzzing in their native tongue so I asked what was wrong. They wanted to know how the failure of System A was going to be reported. I told them the master caution would light. But, they had read the result and it said no light. It took several explanations before they understood. Even then, I am not sure they believed me.

      1. You know what? I’ve just read through your description a half dozen times, and I don’t understand it, either.

        It seems to me there’s a contradiction. On the one hand, you say the master caution indicator will NOT light if system A fails. On the other hand, you say that a system A failure would result in the master caution indicator lighting.

        I’m with your students: ???????

        Don’t worry about trying to explain further. I’ll just stick to poetry, and avoid technical writing at all costs!

      2. Language adopts different faces depending on the target audience. Operation manuals or any other technical document are only understood by those inside the discipline. A medical textbook would be written in kanji, for me, but ufor a physician to be, it would crystal clear as a summer sky, The same goes for poems, theater plays, songs, novels and so forth, The linguistic tide rises and recedes before the specific presence of its audience.

        For example it was a most painful experience to read Moby Dick, yet for others this epic American novel would be a treat for their eyes and intellect.

        Studying a language is a most interesting endeavor, It has been food for my brain, albeit it has been painful at times. Reckon that holds true for any language. Mandarin comes to my mind. I shiver thinking about being in a classroom studying Mandarin. 😊

  3. My point in not to simplify the language which is very rich as it has been influenced by many ethnic communities over the years. Words like patio, chocolate or rodeo are exactly the same in Spanish and English, and their meaning is the same.

    As you know, I have been studying English since I was six, and still I feel that I haven’t even scratched the surface. Idioms and puns adds to the difficulty in learning the language. From the vantage point of a foreigner, the learning curve is very steep. At least that has been my experience. It’s highly possible that the same thing happens with English-speaking persons trying to learn Spanish.

      1. Hola Jim y Nena,

        Meto is exclamatory expression only used in the Province of Chiriqui. The whole expression is “Meto, Ganado Bravo”. It is an expression of pride of being born in the Province of Chiriqui. You will hear this expression frequently in baseball games.

        In English, the best equivalent I can think of is “My golly”, “Holy Cow”, or OH My God”. However it not exactly the same. In my opinion, there are some regional expressions that can not be translated to other languages. I’m sure Nena knows exactly what I mean. Probably she is smiling at this very moment. 😎

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s