Anti Semantic: What's in a Word?

    "Happy Holidays and Season's Greetings to you". Or should I be more specific by greeting you with "Merry Christmas", instead? After all, it is December the 24th as I write this. Try saying Happy Holiday to someone as you wish them a nice Fourth of July weekend and watch their reaction. Or how about saying Season's Greetings during Holy Week?  Both July 4th and Easter are holidays, too, after all, aren't they? Wouldn't the same apply to Labor Day and Memorial Day? Happy Holidays? Are we really that afraid these days of invoking religiosity, no matter how subtle the implication might be, in our greetings to one another? And just what do Santa Claus and Christmas trees have to do with Christianity, anyhow? Absolutely nothing at all, I might add. When someone says to me: "Let's keep Christ in Christmas," I simply reply with: "Then let's keep hallowed in Hallowe'en."

    So, why are we saying preparedness in lieu of our prior term preparation? Our word preparation has served us well during centuries past, up until about 15 years ago. And has this word suffered the same fate that well-being did with the now ubiquitous term wellness? Can't wellness also mean the comparison and in-depth study of our world's multitudinous wells, the kind that we draw water from?

GENDER AND SEX (in language)      

    Granted that languages, like all biological forms on our planet, evolve and change throughout Time's inevitable forward march. But why all of this apparent hypersensitivity over the terms we use, or used to use? Since our English language lacks grammatical gender and number for the most part, I think that it is safe to say that English is quite a neuter language, devoid of attaching gender to inanimate objects as is often so characteristic of the Romance languages, along with many others worldwide.

    Most native English-speakers are now become accustomed to saying Chair instead of Chairwoman so as not to indicate to the listener the actual sex of the person holding that professional position. How odd that actually giving the listener more information about the person (i.e., his or her biological sex as being either male or female) should cause such alarm! Many misconstrue the addition of -woman as in Chairwoman with being sexist by divulging to the listener such added, perhaps unnecessary information. Unsurprisingly however, it is to the speaker's and listener's mutual advantages, in this particular case, to add -woman to the word, for it enlightens us more so. So what is "sexist" about this?  Maybe a particular man might prefer having a male Chairman, instead of  a female supervisor. The addition of -woman, instead of using the sexless Chairperson, is now become an asset to the listener, not a discredit to anyone. Yet women commonly address one another today as guys, as in "See you guys later"! What if a man were to bid farewell to a group of men with gals, as in "See you gals later". Mightn't this really be what sexism is all about in language(s)? How about saying fisherwoman? Don't you now have another added, more specific bit of information about this particular person who fishes?


    So, whatcha doing? One could reply with I dunno. You know, I'm feeling kinda tired. What I'm gonna do is to take a nap.

    These italicized words, or their combinations thereof, are undergoing the sandhi variation. For example, whatcha really represents the three-word combinatory value of "What are you...?". Much of this phenomena is based on what I call a "natural lazy tendency" on the part of native speakers in all languages. This variation is a morphophonological  modification of  grammatical forms which have been juxtaposed (or squished, rather) over one another. In essence, this somewhat limited definition could include English's plentitude of contractions, as in do + not = don't, in French je + ai = j'ai (I have) or the Spanish language's de + el = del (of or from the). These contractions remain grammatically "correct" or unblemished. But it is the gonna or especially C'ive (for "Can I have") that really seem to be the most troubling for foreigners learning to understand the English of our common, everyday vernacular speech. Oh! I just used the word foreigner, our latest lexical taboo! For it is now become world languages instead of foreign languages or, better yet, the all inclusive generic language arts. How interesting....

    Now language viruses are a relatively recent occurrence involving, in general, the youth or young speakers of any given language. These are words that generally have no specific communicative function whatsoever, as in "She's like really upset about that". In this sentence, the word like transmits no meaning or cognitive conveyance, at all. Basically, this word like is purely meaningless, devoid of any context whatsoever.

    Another example of a language virus is the word all, as in "I'm all 'Yeah, that's right'. Whatever you say." Again, here the word all signifies nothing. These airless terms don't even fulfill the needed function of being a "filler", or serve as a communicative bridge between ideas, as in Uh or Um, as when one is pausing to think of what to say next. Sometimes words, oftentimes verbs, take on a transpositional quality about them, as in the term goes meaning says: "I said 'Hi' and she goes 'Hello' back". So, just where is she going, anyhow?

     Another virus-infected word, though used much more commonly during the 1970s, is OK (also spelled Okay), as in: "He's...OK...really hot on this whole idea." Though OK has found international meaning and appeal, in the previous example given, OK lacks any sensible connotation. The listener is left with nothing by that word, is suspended senseless. These are our non-biological, non-computer viruses of our daily discourse in English.


    Now, much of our news of late, especially since the tragic aviation attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, has revolved around our War on Terror! But if there were really to be a war on terror, wouldn't this intend to ban such works of terror like Stephen King's The Stand or Carrie? or Alfred Hitchcock's films Psycho (1960) or The Birds (1963)? These, along what a zillion other book and movies of the macabre genre, involve terror: a deliberate attempt to frighten the reading or cinéma-going public for entertainment value only. What they really mean to say in the media is the war on terrorism, not a  war on terror. King and Hitchcock are not to be put on trial, are they? It is the terrorists who are to be sought out, not entertaining works of true terror like John Carpenter's ground-breaking movie masterpiece Halloween (1978) or Rod Serling's The Monsters on Maple Street in his 1960 episode of his perennial popular television series The Twilight Zone.

 (to be continued)


Please continue to Lingüistic Sources of Hallowe'en.

Hallowe'en poem: Winds of October

Day of the Dead/Día de los muertos

Origins of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving short story of fantasy: The Ghost of Thanksgiving

Origins of Christmas

Origins of St.Valentine's Day

Origins of Easter

Language Families

The Indo-European Family Of Languages

Indigenous Languages of Alaska and Siberia


Tales of B'rer Rabbit, as Spun by Uncle Remus

California Dreamin'

Chilean Eclipse

About the Author

Methodologies in Foreign Language Teaching

The History of the Guitar in Spain w YOU TUBE video

Essay: Is Academia Purely 'Academic'?      

Artificiality in Foreign Language Teaching
for Spanish instruction & translations