Tag Archives: Language

How words and people are the same

Did you ever notice that “-ough” at the end of words can be pronounced six different ways?

I never did, until James Harbeck pointed it out on editors.ca: “Plough through enough dough to make you cough or hiccough.”

According to Harbeck, the word endings trace back to the same Old English consonant g, also written as h. In some areas, the pronunciation softened, and in Middle English, this spirant version was written as ȝ, a letter called yogh. With the passage of still more time, speakers stopped making any sound at all, but the written words stayed the same. Then technology intervened: Printing presses in Europe had no yogh, so it was shortened to gh. The vowels evolved in a similar fashion, and we ended up with word endings that are head-scratchers for people trying to understand our complex language.

Kind of like people.

We share a common root, we choose to dress up our common elements in different clothing, we change our vocal expression over time, we sometimes exist silently, we take the shape of our environment, technology intervenes to send us off in new directions, and we are head-scratchers for people trying to understand our complexities.

Words, like people, are living, evolving things, beautifully complex and not to be taken lightly. 



Canada: A gay summer colony

canada-ad-lifeOur language evolves.

In the May 31, 1948 edition of LIFE, an advertisement encouraged Americans to visit Canada during their summer vacation. “Come north,” the ad read, “to fun in the sun at gay summer colonies.”

The phrase has a slightly different inference now.

And our global relationships evolve.

In 1948, American visitors could “. . . go places and see things in interesting ‘foreign’ cities . . . No passport needed.”

Ah, the age of innocence.

The ad was placed by what was then the Canadian Government Travel Bureau of the Department of Trade and Commerce and signed by none other than the minister, the Rt. Hon. C.D. Howe.

So Americans, come on up. Have a gay time. It’s sunny here now (finally).