Tuesday, December 28, 2010

English Duelling Proverbs

We  all know that every action has an opposite reaction or that there are two sides of the same coin, similarly we can say that every proverb has an equal and opposite proverb.  Contradictory proverbs can be used positively or negatively. Here is a list of some duelling proverbs that have been reported in my book.
1.    1.Birds of a feather flock together    but    Opposites attract.
2.     2.The early bird catches the worm          but    It’s never too late.
3.      Nothing ventured, nothing gained        but    Better safe than sorry.
4.      You can’t teach an old dog new tricks  but    You are never too old to learn.
5.      Absence make the heart grow fonder    but    Out of sight out of mind.
6.      It’s the thought that counts                    but    Actions speak louder than words.
7.      Too many cooks spoil the broth             but    Two  heads are better than one.
8.      Best things in life are free        but    There is no such thing as a free lunch.
9.      The more the merrier                             but   Misery loves company.
10.  Wise men think alike                              but    Fools seldom differ.
11.  A penny saved is a penny earned           but    Penny wise, pound foolish.
12.  Don’t cross the bridge until you come to it   but    Forewarned is forearmed.
13.  Opportunity never knocks twice on the same door    but   If one door shuts another opens.
14.  Divide and rule         but         United we stand, divided we fall.
15.  Strike while the iron is hot     but       Haste makes waste.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Comparing English with Romance Languages

The richness of the English Language will allow you to make distinctions that you don’t find in other languages. The Italian language with its vocabulary of about 260,000 words, cannot, for instance, distinguish between house and home neither can French nor Spanish.

Here is a list of Italian words and their corresponding English meanings: casa=house, home, ombra=shade, shadow, ora=now ,hour, piano=slow, plan, musical instrument, ancora=again, yet, still, ricetta=prescription, recipe, lingua=tongue, language, pesca=peach, fishing, perché=why, because, costume=dress or suit, custom, ospite=host, hostess, guest, nipote=niece, nephew, grandchild, grandson, grand-daughter, sentire=to hear, to feel, fare=to do, to make.
On the other hand, Italians have hundreds of names for pasta and some of them don’t sound too appetizing to foreigners, such as: capellini” (little hair), “vermicelli” (little worms), “strozzapreti” (priest stranglers).

In Spanish, the word casa is used to indicate both house and home even though the proper word for home is hogar , the word lengua indicates tongue and language, the word sombra refers to shade and shadow, the word receta is used for prescription or recipe. French is not any different as they use maison for house and home, langue for tongue and language, and ombre for shade and shadow.

I should also mention that even English has some words that correspond to more than one word in French, Spanish and Italian. Here are some examples:
English                 French                      Spanish                             Italian
To know           savoir, connaître          saber, conocer                    sapere, conoscere
Right                droite, droit, raison     derecho, razon, correcto   destra, diritto, ragione, corretto

Some say that there are between 6,000 and 7,000 languages in the world, others say between 7,000 and 10,000 and that two languages will die each month in the 21st century. In addition, only a small number of the major languages will be left by the end of the 21st century.

Monday, November 22, 2010

World Wide Web and Animal Languages

Thanks to Tim Bernard Lee, who invented the World Wide Web, we are able to realize that we live in a world of global information and a global market, thus the world needed a global language. English, because of its simplicity, is easy to learn and to adapt. No wonder that Chile and Mongolia intend to become bilingual in English, as Singapore has already done.                
However, globalization has not reached our animals yet. You may ask, do animals speak a different language? The sound is the same but the onomatopoeia of that sound differs depending on our native tongue. Languages aren’t only about pronunciation, they are about what you hear. In short, it is a question of perception. For instance, Italian, French, and Spanish, like many other languages, represent animal sounds differently than an English speaker might expect. Here are some different ways of describing the sounds of animals. For instance, a dog in Italian goes bau-bau, in French oua-oua, in Spanish guau-guau, and for the English woof-woof or ruff-ruff.  The sound of a rooster in English would be cock-a-doodle-doo, in Italian chicchirichí,in French cocorico, in Spanish quiquiriqui. The cat goes meow in English, miaou in French,  miao in Italian, and miau in Spanish.  The question now is, if humans can learn to speak a different language and since we’re considered an animal species, why can’t animals speak our language? Let’s not forget that we are wired differently and have also a higher cognitive ability. Although the sounds of animals are the same everywhere in the world, each language interprets these sounds according to its own sound system and culture.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Flexibility of the English Language and Texting

As previously reported on the difficulty that non-English speakers have in mastering the English language, I’d like to add the irrational spelling that we see in some “homonyms” like flew and flue, wine and whine, steal and steel, bare and bear etc. On the other hand, English is the most flexible language in the world. The word “run, for instance, takes up 15 pages of the Oxford English Dictionary.
We live in a world that creates 175,000 new blogs every day and where texting has become a playful and universal language. Recently, I received a text message on my cell phone that I was unable to decipher. So I decided to Google it. Here are some of the most popular ones that I made note of: b4, fyi, asap, thx, xoxo, cy, BF, GF, omg, gl, jff. These types of messages are certainly short and concise. Knowing how much the young generation loves and uses these new abbreviations, and that 1.6 billion text messages a day are being sent in China alone, there is no doubt in my mind  that text messaging will be the new communication medium of the 21st century.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


It seems that the trend of borrowing words, as mentioned in my previous article, is now reversed. Nowadays, English words are continually being adopted by all languages spoken in the world. Despite the efforts of some nations trying to forbid English terms, like France did in 1994 by passing a law prohibiting English words, where French words existed, that didn’t stop the relentless advance of English and have now given up.

Jean-Paul Nerrière, a linguistic French scholar, understood that English would be the language of the third millennium and coined the word Globish, in reference to the kind of English spoken by non-English speakers, as their English is not quite the same as the one we  speak in North America, and they only use a limited vocabulary of 1500 words. To this end in 1995 he wrote two books: “Decouvrez le Globish”, and “Parlez Globish.” International English is going through different phases, Franglais, Spanglish and now Globish, which has found  an advocate in Robert McCrum, famous English writer.

English is spoken by over two billion people and remember that there are more students studying English in China, 350 million, than people in the USA. In fact, China has started teaching compulsory English in all public schools, starting in third grade of elementary schools.

Will the whole world ever speak the same language?
It’s not unusual to see, in non-English speaking countries, signs with English messages, although in some instances they don’t make sense, or they don’t convey the meaning intended.

Here are some signs reported by the International Educator:
1.In a Paris Hotel elevator: Please  leave your values at the front desk. If you lose them in your room, we’re not responsible.
       2. Honk Kong tailor shop: Ladies may have a fit upstairs.
       3. Bankok drycleaner: Drop your trousers here for best results.
      4. Rome laundry: Ladies, leave your clothes here and spend the afternoon having good time..
      5. Czech tourist agency: Take one of our horse driven city tours. We guarantee no miscarriages.
      6. Norwegian Lounge : Ladies are asked not to have children in the bar.
      7. In Mexico: All the water in this hotel has been personally passed by the manager.
      8. In Japan: You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid.

Friday, October 1, 2010

“English is a vacuum-cleaner of a language”

In fact, English has borrowed words from over 350 languages around the world, thus making it the only language with the most words. The Oxford English Dictionary had listed 616,500 words in the 2005 edition, while in June 2009 English is said to have acquired its millionth word. It has been a big surprise for me to discover that about 65% of the English words derive from Latin and that over 25% come from French. Here is a brief list of words, that are part of our every day English vocabulary and that were taken from Latin.

A.D. for anno domini,   A.M. for ante meridiem,  ad nauseam ,  addenda,  affidavit,  agenda,  alma mater,  auditorium,  aurora borealis (australis), bonus,  c.v. for curriculum vitae ,  campus,   fetus,  forum, in absentia,  in flagrante delicto,  in vitro, memorabilia,  memorandum,  millennium,  P.M. for post meridiem,  P.S. .for post scriptum, pandemonium,  penis, per capita,  per se,  persona non grata,  podium, premium, quorum, referendum, senior, solarium,  stadium, status quo,  terminus viceversa,  villa,   virus, etc, etc.

à la carte,  antique,  apéritif, armoire,  baguette,  ballet,  banquet,  belle, bouquet,  bourgeoisie,   boutique,  bracelet,  bric-à-brac, camouflage, carte blanche, chauffeur,  champagne,  chargé d’affaires,  chef,  cliché, coiffeur, collage, concierge,  coup de grâce,  critique,  cul de sac,  décor,  déjà vu,  dessert , détour,  digestif,  discothèque, élite,  entrepreneur, équipe, étiquette,  fait accompli,  farce, gourmet, héroïne, hors-d’œuvre,   liaison ,limousine, maître d`hôtel, manœuvre, mardis gras, marionnette, massage matinée, pirouette, personnel, premier, questionnaire, rendez-vous, répertoire, route,  table d`hôte,  tête-à-tête, tournée, tour…

adagio,  andante, antipasto , arena, aria, ballerina, bel canto, belladonna, belvedere, bordello, bravo, broccoli, caffè,  cannelloni, cappuccino, ciao, cupola, dilemma, dilettante, diva, dolce vita , duo, espresso, fiasco , finale, forte, fresco,  ghetto, graffiti, imbroglio , incognito, inferno, influenza,  latte, lingua  franca, loggia, maestro,  malaria, marina,  motto, mozzarella, nostalgia, opera , paparazzi, pasta , piano, piazza,  porcini, presto, primadonna ,  propaganda,  ravioli , replica, salvo, scenario solo, soprano, spaghetti , stucco, studio,  terracotta,  vendetta, villa...

adiós, alfafa, armada, avocado, banana, bandido,  bonanza,  bronco,  cafeteria,  canasta,  cantina,  cargo,  chili,  cinema,  conga, coyote,  desesperado,  enchilada ,  fiesta,  flamenco,  guerrilla,  jalapeño, laguna,  macho,  mañana,  margarita,  mosquito,  orégano, patio,  piña colada, pinto,  plaza,  poncho, pronto, pueblo,  rodeo,  sierra,  siesta ,  silo,  sombrero,   tango,  tequila, tomate, tornado, tortilla, vainilla,  vigilante…

No wonder English is the lingua franca of business, diplomacy, science, and technology.
Lately it has affected the two official languages of the European Union (French and English) as English now seems to be the preferred workable language. I think it’s safe to say that, thanks to the internet, English is spreading like a virus.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


Please be advised that medical proverbs are not based on scientific evidence but on generations of observation and experience. They give us advice for healthy living. The six proverbs cited below have certainly withstood the test of time, and will continue to be used by people of all walks of life for generations to come.
     1.      Prevention is better than cure.
     2.      A stitch in time saves nine.
     3.      Diseases come on horseback but go away on foot.
     4.      Desperate diseases must have desperate cures.
     5.      Bitter pills might have sweet effects.
     6.      An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
It seems that the last proverb is the most quoted medical proverb. It might have originated from “Eat an apple in going to bed and you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread.”
Nowadays, as strange as it might seem, we find many humorous and often satirical variations of this proverb, in advertisements, cartoons, greeting cards,  and comic strips, such as “A pill a day keeps the stork away”, “An onion a day keeps everybody away”,
“A condom a day keeps AIDS away’.
At the time of President Nixon, a national columnist James Reston wrote that apparently
“A crisis a day keeps impeachment away.”
While some of these proverbs are quite funny they express concerns of our society.

Friday, September 24, 2010


Non-English speakers are often puzzled by the most unphonetic spellings and inconsistent pronunciation. Think of these sounds: o in hot, u in up, e in red, a in mad, i in bit. You can never be sure of English pronunciation. Words spelled the same way but pronounced differently, such as beard and heard, road and broad, low and how, blood and book, four and tour, break and speak, though and through, or think of comb, tomb and bomb.

To add to the confusion let’s look at some “misnomers”, that is words that designate a meaning different from what the word might indicate, as there is no grape in grapefruit, no butter in buttermilk, no apple in pineapple, and the fact that sweetmeat is neither sweet nor meat but candy, and that sweetbreads is meat.

Let’s not forget these two very common expressions as we park on driveways and drive on parkways.

As Richard Lederer points out: “ In what other language your feet can smell and your nose can run.”

Friday, September 3, 2010


“A proverb is one man’s wit and all men’s wisdom.”
                                                          Lord John Russell

The aim of the book is to inform and entertain. One of the pleasures of proverbs is seeing how other languages express the same idea. Almost every subject has some proverbs, be it love, women, health, animals, time, etc. Proverbs, sayings, clichés and idiomatic expressions presented in this volume are an integral part of our daily conversations, and at times echo back to long ago conversations with our parents or grandparents. They often serve as the punch lines of jokes or catchphrases, as well as to open a conference. Idioms are the lifeblood of any evolving language. In fact there seems to be a great demand for these North American expressions which are being reported either in English or translated into many other languages.