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Words are a funny ole thing
I am just leasing these words from the language
28 April 2020 . 4min read

Words are a strange beast. Even once they are written, they seem to squirm and wriggle around. I've often written words that are in a perfect line, only to come back later to discover that they have changed order and are now a rather fetching curve!

I guess it's just a law of nature, or physics, or Murphy's law, or just a random event that looks like it isn't random?

Word Salad. Somewhat surprisingly, it is actually a medical term, although don't quote me on that. It describes the notion of a Salad of Words. That is to say, you generally know what a salad looks like and should taste like as a whole. By the way, I'm talking about vanilla salad here, not the stuff with crunchy croutons in. I'm also not saying that vanilla salad actually tastes at all like vanilla. Anyway, you get an idea that as a whole you know what a bowl of salad looks like and generally should taste like. Trouble is, if you pick out various bits, say the lettuce part, is it Iceberg lettuce or Little Gem lettuce? it's hard to determine. Same with the tomatoes, are they (I don't actually know much about tomatoes, so just pretend that I've made a similar comparison).

So Word Salad is that, but with words. It's like you know the overall sense (flavour) of the word, but you just can't seem to grasp the exactness of it. I have this, although rather curiously only with speech.

I will be chatting away, then suddenly I don't know what the next word is. I have an emotional sense of what it is, but I just can't seem to find it (in the Salad of Words). After a period of socially awkward time, I will either have found it, or will engineer my way around it, and have chosen another word that has a similar feel. Or just say that I have Word Salad and abandon the entire sentence. The latter course of action can be offset by a humours anecdote about Word Salad.

I have always had a fascination with language. I'm sure you are expecting me to list all the interesting and novel languages that I speak; I can only speak English. Not sure why that is. Perhaps it is just down to a lack of effort on my part, and a lack of need on my part.

Italian would be first on my list, probably followed by Japanese, then Icelandic. The eventual choice might surprise you, but I'm just being practical here.

One of the languages that I have an interest in is Old English. It was in use from around 450AD to 1150AD, so around 700 years during the Anglo-Saxon times in England. Whilst there are some written forms of it, no one speaks it anymore. The sound and flow of the language has essentially been lost.

Around 5 years ago, I stumbled upon a video on YouTube in 2008, where Alexander Arguelles translates and then reads some Old English. Written, it seems very strange whereby it feels like you should be able to read it but that you just can't seem to. Spoken it sounds really odd and other-worldly. It kind of sounds like each word is being read backwards, but does have a wonderful, melodic odd charm to it. At the end of the video he says, as if in passing, that if you want to have a chance of tackling Old English, then you should first learn Icelandic. Hence my choice.

Other word and language examples are from the current favourite game, Animal Crossing. In the game, you control a little character who lives on an island. They interact with lots of other independent characters, and between you then you can build up a cute island with lots of stuff on it. It truly is an original and wonderful game; highly recommended. In the game, the characters need to talk to each other. You get speech bubbles appear when they do. The problem for the game creators is that they needed a language-sound when that happened. There have been several games in the series over the years that all have this requirement. Being sold all over the world, the cost of voice acting and translating would be prohibitively expensive. So, they invented a non-language sound. It sounds like they are talking, but it is actually just gibberish. Imagine my surprise when I found out from Jenna Stoeber that the English and Japanese versions of the game had different gibberish sounds!

Back to these words. I'm sure you have seen examples from previous editions where the words have re-formed into something else. Sometimes individual words seem to entirely, well, disappear. It seems to be out of my control. Indeed, this same fate may have been dealt to his body of words, too. If you find any, feel free to send me a lovely email;

In conclusion, we all know that English has its only curious oddities. Don't worry, I'm not about to amble into that particular grassy field today. I will though leave you with this little gem. It relates to the something that was drilled into me at school; I before E except after C.

I before E except when your feisty foreign neighbour, Keith, leisurely receives eight counterfeit beige sleighs from caffeinated atheist weightlifters; weird.

I was walking over a bridge with glass barriers. One had been smashed. Naturally, I got onto my hands and knees, and took a photo of it.


Profile photo of Nigel Derbyshire

I'm a carbon-unit who writes; a Carbon Writer. Life & culture are my default topics, mixed with a little English wit & sarcasm. Full of mostly true stories, I occasionally remember to write them down. Found in a crowd, or contemplating in a corner. Habit of talking to anyone. Author.
- Nigel Derbyshire