indo-europeansOh, those feisty Indo-Europeans. Located some 4,000 years ago on the grassy steppes of Eurasia, just north of the Black and Caspian Seas, this ancient group of people gave us the English language—not just our language but nearly all of Europe's and India's, too.

So how did the language of an isolated tribe of nomadic herders come to dominate so vast a territory? The answer is horses—and a human genetic mutation.


indo-euro-map-a
Map by Louis Henwood for The History of English Podcast

Horses were indigenous to the Eurasian grasslands, and the Indo-Europeans used them for meat—at first. But some bright (and brave) soul figured out that horses could be ridden and used for herding sheep and cattle. Once on horseback, the Indo-Europeans found they could raise and control larger and larger herds.

Another bright soul realized that instead of killing off so many goats or sheep for food, they could spare some and use their milk. That idea happily coincided with the spread of an errant gene—a mutation that produced lactase, the enzyme enabling humans to digest milk.

As a result, the herds thrived—as did the tribespeople, who grew in number and stature. The increase in herds and people gave way to the need for more land—and thus began the trek eastward to India and westward to Europe.

indo-euro-map-b
Map by Louis Henwood for The History of English Podcast

And if you were in their way? Well, they had horses—and you didn't—so you can guess who ended up with the land. Nonetheless, historians aren't sure how warrior-like the Indo-European tribes were, whether they always conquered or sometimes settled in peacefully. Most likely both.

However it happened, the Indo-Europeans came to dominate the inhabitants of their new lands. Their language continued to spread eastward and westward over thousands of years and thousands of miles, morphing into separate dialects...and eventually into separate languages, including the early Germanic languages, the ancestor of our own.

What this means, astonishingly, is that today about 50% of the world's population speaks an Indo-European-derived language—3 billion of us—all from an ancient tribe of nomadic herders!

indo-euro-logo* This—and more, much more—is available on Kevin Stroud's wonderful podcast, The History of the English Podcast. Please take a week or two (or a month or two) to listen to his 50+ episodes. Stroud is a wonderfully lucid presenter and has put together a fascinating, detailed history of why our crazy language, English, is the way it is. If you love history and English, you'll be addicted. I am.

Also note the beautiful maps Stroud uses—two of which are included here. They were created for him by Louis Henwood. Thanks to both Kevin and Louis for their kind permission to use them.



semiramis-happyAah, look at Semiramis now—she's so much happier now that you've made a bit of progress in your mastery of the semicolon.

For a refresher scroll down to the previous post. Remember: the gist of the semicolon is that it connects two sentences without using a comma and a conjunction (and, but, or, so, for nor, yet).

In our final lesson, we're using semicolons with conjunctions—words like however, therefore, or nonetheless. They're called ADVERBIAL conjunctions.



—Semicolons & ADVERBIAL Conjunctions—

Why use a semicolon?
Remember: a semicolon connects two related sentences.
semicolon-aThink of it as a combination of a period and a comma. Notice the mark has one of each—top & bottom.  semicolon-arrowb

What's a conjunction?
A conjunction is a word that "conjoins," or links, two complete sentences. Regular conjunctions—and, but, so, for or, nor, yet—require a COMMA before the conjunction.

Example: The dog barked , and the cat hissed.
Example: The dog barked , but the cat stood its ground.
Example: The dog barked , so the cat ran.

What's an adverbial conjunction?
Like regular conjunctions, adverbial conjunctions link two full sentences—but with a SEMICOLON before and a COMMA after. They're "adverbs" in that they describe precisely how the 2nd sentence relates to the 1st—the same way adverbs describe verbs. Remember adverbs?

—> She ate. How did she eat? She ate SLOWLY.
—> He sang. How did he sing? He sang LOUDLY.

semicolon-adv-conj
Some common adverbial conjuctions

also however nevertheless
anyway indeed nonetheless
consequently instead now
finally likewise otherwise
further meanwhile then
furthermore moreover therefore


Examples—

It was too cold to enjoy the game ; however , she decided to go anyway.

The adverbial conjunction "however" indicates that the 2nd part of the sentence is in OPPOSITION to the first part. You could also use...nevertheless or nonetheless or still.

__________

It was too cold to enjoy the game ; therefore , she decided not to go.

The adverbial conjunction "therefore" indicates that the 2nd part of the sentence is a CONSEQUENCE of the 1st part. You could also use...as a result or consequently.

__________

It was too cold to enjoy the game ; furthermore , she didn't feel well.

The adverbial conjunction "furthermore" indicates that the 2nd part of the sentence is an ADDITION to the 1st part. You could also use...also or moreover.

__________

It was too cold to enjoy the game ; instead , she went to the library.

The adverbial conjunction "instead" indicates that the 2nd part of the sentence is an ALTERNATIVE to the 1st part. You could also use...rather.


CAUTION
Don't confuse adverbial conjunctions when they're used as strict ADVERBS. Notice that in the following sentences they're offset by COMMAS. There's not a semicolon in sight.

It was too cold, however, for the game.
However, it was too cold for the game.

"However" functions as an ADVERB—not an adverbial conjunction—because there is only one sentence here (S + V): "It was"...

__________


She did not, therefore, want to go to the game.
Therefore, she did not want to go to the game.

"Therefore" functions as an ADVERB—not an adverbial conjunction—because there is only one sentence here (S + V): "She did (not) want"...

__________

Furthermore, she did not feel well.

"Furthermore" functions as an ADVERB—not an adverbial conjunction—because there is only one sentence here (S + V): "She did (not) feel"...


semiramis6People, what is wrong with you? Never have so many understood so little about a mere squiggle on a page.

Meet Semiramis, warrior princess of Assyria, ruler of the semicolon. She is here to help you. You will not refuse her.

Have faith. With a little guidance, you too can master the semicolon—which means that you can don the costume and bear the title "Semiramis of the Semicolon." (Spear not included.)



     —Semicolons—

Why use a semicolon?
A semicolon connects two sentences.
semicolon-aThink of it as a combination of a period and a comma. Notice the mark has one of each—top & bottom.  semicolon-arrowb

Why not use a comma?
The comma is a 90-pound weakling.  It's far too weak semicol-comma4 it can't hold two sentences together. semi-colon-no-no5 semicolon-nono-arrow
If you use one, you've got yourself a nasty little comma splice.

Why not use a period?
You can. Use a period to end the first sentence. Then start the second sentence.

The comma is too weak It can't hold two sentences together.

When do you use a semicolon?
Sometimes you want to link ideas—two sentences that are related to one another. In that case you can use a semicolon.

The comma is too weak ; it can't hold two sentences together.
A semicolon is strong ; it can hold two sentences together.

What is a sentence?
A sentence is a complete thought. A period signals the end of that thought. A semicolon can extend the thought—by linking it to another complete but related thought.

semicolon-sv7
Remember
You must have two complete sentences in order to use the semicolon —  S + V on the left  ;   S + V on the right.


Example—you have two (related) ideas...
Use 2 sentences —> with a period:
    • It was too cold to enjoy the game . She decided not to go.

Use 1 sentence —> with a semicolon:
    • It was too cold to enjoy the game ; she decided not to go.
                                             ________________

Example—you have two (related) ideas...
Use 2 sentences —> with a period:
    • It was too cold to enjoy the game . However, she decided to go anyway.

Use 1 sentence —> with a semicolon:
    • It was too cold to enjoy the game ; however, she decided to go anyway.


You don't
have to use a semicolon to combine two sentences. You can also use a basic conjunction — and, but, so, for, or, not, yet — always (always, always) with a comma.
    • It was too cold to enjoy the game , so she decided not to go.
    • It was too cold to enjoy the game , but she decided to go anyway.
    • It was too cold to enjoy the game , and she didn't want to go anyway.

deer-2It's no secret English is tough to learn. Some of it has to do with homophones and heterophones We've had fun before with words that sound alike but have different spellings and meaningshomophones, like bare and bear.

This time we've got heterophones*—words that look alike but have diffferent pronounciations and meanings.



Don't You Just ♥ Words?
     —Heterophones—

  1. Clara wound a bandage around his wound.

  2. Every number makes my mind grow number.

  3. The dump is full. Sorry, we must refuse your refuse.

  4. Don't desert me in the desert.

  5. Startled, the dove dove into the bushes.

  6. It's ugly, but I don't object to the object.

  7. No time like the present to present a good idea.

  8. The oarsmen had a row about how to row.

  9. She was too close to close the door.

  10. A handsome buck does like his does.
There are lots of double words with different meanings. Some are spelled alike but sound differently (desert/desert) ... others sound alike but are spelled differently (ore/oar/or). Try a few on your own. It's a fun game for book clubs...or any wordsmiths.

*Heterophones can also be called heteronyms.

march-marchShow off your smarts with this bit of orthographic trivia—capitonymns, words that are spelled the same, pronouned the same, but change meaning if the first letter is capitalized. Like March and march.

Don't You Just ♥ Words?
—Capitonyms—

Ionic
Relating to Ionia a region of Ancient Greece, as in Ionic columns.
ionic
Relating to a chemical ion (an atom with an unequal # of protons and electrons)
Job
A Biblical character who undergoes great suffering.
job
Work, or a task, often for which one receives payment.
May
The 5th month of the year of the calendar year.
may
An auxillary verb used to express permission or possibility.
Lent
For Christians the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday
lent
The past tense of the verb lend, to give something to someone for a period of time.
Polish
Relating to Poland, its people, land, or culture.
polish
To give a surface of an object a glossy sheen.
Scotch
Relating to Scotland in the UK, its people, land, or culture.
scotch
To put an end to something, often a rumor, idea, or plan.
Turkey
A country in the Meditteranean region.
turkey
A large fowl Americans eat for Thanksgiving.
Welsh
Relating to Wales in the UK, its people, land, or culture.
welsh
To renege (go back) on an agreement

Play a game with your book club. See if you can come up with a few capitonymns of your own.

rural-juror2In a 30 Rock episode, Jenna stars in a movie, but no one gets the title—"Rural Juror." Jenna keeps calling it "rurur jurur," a hilarious combination of words, which made me want to try a few of my own—Worry Weary ... Arrow 's Error ... Fear of Furor...

Okay, not as funny as Jenna's, but then Tiny Fey's not exactly writing this blog. Still, it got me to thinking about the act of speech, a complicated process that depends on how we shape our hard and soft palates, open our glottis, move our tongue, shape our lips—and the order in which we do it all.

 We perform these oral gymnastics with ease in our native languages, almost instinctively, because we've been doing so since childhood. And that's what makes tongue twisters so much fun: they confound our ability to perform our usual verbal gimmicks. Selling sea shells, Peter Piper's pickles, and the wood chuck chucking. Say them fast and you trip up—because you can't move your tongue to the proper position fast enough.

My favorite piece of linguistic trivia isn't quite a tongue twister, but it's close enough to have actually altered the way we say a common word or two.

Don't You Just ♥ Words?
—Thunder—

Old English for thunder was thunner—an awkward word due to its phoenetic demands. Say it quickly...and you'll know why the "d" slipped in. It has to do with a slight mistiming—as we move our tongue from the "n" to the "r," says linguist Charles Barber.

This transition calls for two simultaneous movements of the speech organs: (1) the nasal passages are closed by the raising of the soft palate, and (2) the tongue is moved away from the teeth to unblock the mouth-passage. [If there's a mistiming], if the...nasal passages are closed before the tongue moves, a "d" will be heard....

Thus the "d" found its way into the word because it was easier to say. Thunder was was first noticed in the 1300s, but it took another 300 before it was accepted as standard English.

Thimble and bramble
are two other words affected by a similar phonetic mistiming, says Barber. They both acquired a middle letter "b."

End of lesson, end of blog post...except to reference Charles Barber's The English Language: A Historical Introduction, Cambridge UP, 2000, p45.

janusMy friend Gordon showed up again with more word fun—this time Janus words. Since it’s January, named after the Roman diety Janus—who faced both backward and forward, looking to the past and to the future—we’ll take Gordon at his words.

Janus words are self-antonyms, or contranyms. They're spelled the same. . . and pronounced the same, but they have opposite meanings.

 

Don't You Just ♥ Words?

Cleave — to stick together; to cut apart
Clip — to hold together; to cut off
Custom — the norm; unique
Dust — to remove dust; to lightly sprinkle
Fast — held firmly in place; moving quickly
Oversight — to watch carefully; not noticed
Quantum — tiny, in physics; very large, as in ”leap”
Sanction — to approve; a punitive action
Temper — to harden; to soften

This is just a smattering. There are lots more.

who-whomDon’t do math (can’t). But do do grammar. I believe in grammar—its rules for clarity of expression—so others can make sense of what we’re trying to say. (Notice I violated grammar here…because I can. I’m so good…the grammar police gave me a pass.)

Nonetheless . . . here’s one grammatical rule that continually irritates me:

WHO WHOM—the M Conundrum

THIS?     —    Give the award to   WHOEVER   deserves it.
Or this?  —    Give the award to  WHOMEVER  deserves it.

THIS?    —   Give the award to those   WHO  you think deserve it.
Or this?  —  Give the award to those  WHOM  you think deserve it.

The who / whom embroglio is totally overrated.  Clarity can be achieved perfectly well without that niggling little ”m.”  Who?  Whom?  Does it matter?  We get the point.

 

Read at your own peril . . .

Answer:  Give the award to WHOEVER deserves it. 
“Whomever” is not the prepositional object of  “to.”  Rather, WHOEVER  is the subject of a dependent clause, “whoever deserves it.”  The entire clause is the prepositional object.  Phew!

Answer:  Give the award to those WHO you think deserve it. 
“Whom” is not the object of  “you think…whom.”   “You think” is parenthetical…you can remove it altogether. So the “who” becomes a relative pronoun for “those” and the subject of the relative clause “who deserve it.”

 

See what I mean? So much ink spilled over a measly “m”!  The rules of grammar, in this particular case, are so arcane—it’s like trying to figure out the oyster fork from the fish fork at an Edith Wharton dinner party. 

So here’s my personal campaign for a better world:  let’s drop the m from whom!

grammar-policeEnglish—what a great language to have fun with!  Here’s a silly little grammatical conundrum for which I have no explanation . . . except that it’s idiomatic.  Nonetheless, rules are rules—and rules must be obeyed.

Don’t You Just ♥ Words?

You can say
Take the garbage out.  —or—  Take out the garbage.
And you can say
Take it out. —but not— Take out it.
___________

You can say
Butter Mom up.  —or—  Butter up Mom.
And you can say
Butter her up. —but not— Butter up her.
___________

You can say
Turn the lights on.  —or—  Turn on the lights.
And you can say
Turn them on. —but not— Turn on them.
  

Verbs and prepositional adverbs—you would think they’re like infinitive verbs—to be or not to be—you’re to never split one of those.  I mean “you’re never to split one.”  (But we all do.)

But prep-adverbs are different from infinitives. If you use a pronoun, you have to split them up”—not  ”split up them.”  Strange.

It's a wonder anyone ever learns English.

sectionEnglish—what a great language to have fun with!  Below is a silly tongue-twister.  It’s a hoot when you say it fast.


Don’t You Just ♥ Words?

sects  |  section  |  sex  |  shun

Sects shun sex in this section.

Even harder . . .

In this section, sects shun sex.


I'm a grown woman
— and this is what I do for a living. Feel free to join in the fun. Leave a comment. Can you come up with any?  Think of it as brain exercise.

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