Fun and Paradox in the English Language

English Language

English language is dubbed with so many sobriquets and epithets. It is enjoying the status of International language, lingua franca, bridge language etc. People crave to learn this because of its International status, richness and grace.  In comparison to other languages, English language is protean, polymorphous and shape shifting in nature. ‘English language is the most universal language in history, way more than the Latin of Julius Caesar. It’s the most punderful language because its vocabulary has a certain critical mass that makes a lingo good for punning’, so says, Richard Lederer.

Delving into the nuances and subtleties of it, one comes across lot of funny and paradoxical things. It is funny and paradoxical in so many contexts. By many contexts, I actually refer to pronunciation or orthoepy of words, structure of words, structure of sentences, morphology of words, and orthography of words. This language is funny and paradoxical both syntactically and semantically. The fun and paradoxical plaisir (pleasure) that this language provides comes from certain language games and the study that deals with language games is known as logology or recreational linguistics. The term logology was actually coined by the recreational linguist Dmitri Alfred Borgmann. He has written path breaking   and pioneering books on logology. He is mostly known for his books to wit ‘Language on Vacation: An Olio of Orthographical Oddities’ (1965), ‘Beyond Language: Adventures in word and Thought’ (1967) and ‘Curious Crosswords’. The other recreational linguists or logologists/ ludolinguists who did a lot of work in the field of ludolinguistics are: Martin Gardner, Mike Keith, Jeremiah Farrell, Douglas Hofstadter, and Willard R.Espy.

If we are to highlight the recreational/ funny and paradoxical aspects of English Language, we can cite the following linguistic terms:

  • Capitonyms: These are the words that change their meaning, grammatical position (and pronunciation at times) when their first alphabets are capitalized or written in upper case. For example, a word ‘august’ is adjective. It is used to refer to something that is awe-inspiring, majestic or noble. When we capitalize its first alphabet i, e ‘a’ and write it as ‘August’ it changes its meaning as well as its grammatical category. By capitalizing it, it becomes ‘Noun’ and refers to the eighth month of the ‘calendar year. Similarly, we have other examples like: March/march, Mark/mark, Will/will Turkey/turkey, Pole/pole, Polish/polish, and China/china.
  • Auto-antonyms/ Contranyms/ Janus words: The words that have a dual meaning of contradictory nature. For example, a word ‘dust’ can mean both an act of removing the dust from anything or putting the dust on anything. Likewise, word ‘clip’ means both to fasten with a clip and to cut. Similarly, ‘cleave’ can mean ‘to cling’ or ‘to split apart’.
  • Palindrome: A word or a sentence that can be read from backward and forward side without any change in meaning or structure. For example, words like: civic, radar, level, madam, refer, and rotor etc. can be read from the forward side as well as backward side without any difficulty. Similarly sentences like: “Straw, no, too stupid a fad! I put soot on warts” and “Dennis and Edna sinned” can also be read from both side without any disruption or mutilation in meaning or structure.
  • Pun: Pun is a play on words. It is also defined as an intended fun on words. For example, it is said that marriage is not a word it is a sentence. There is an intended play on the word ‘ sentence’  it here means both ‘ legal punishment’ and ‘ grammatical construction of word’
  • Anagram:  A word or phrase that is formed by rearranging the letters or alphabets of another word or phrase. For example, ‘ Silent’ is an anagram of ‘ Listen’ , ‘ Hearth is an anagram of ‘ Earth’ , ‘ Cheater’ is an anagram of ‘ Teacher’ and ‘ Adultery’ is an anagram of ‘ True lady’
  • Rhopalic Sentence/ Snowball Sentence: A sentence in which each successive word is one syllable longer than its preceding sentence. The interesting and funny sentence like the following one stands as a significant example:  I do not know where family doctors acquired illegibly perplexing handwriting; nevertheless, extraordinary pharmaceutical intellectuality counterbalancing indecipherability transcendentalizes intercommunications’ incomprehensibleness. In this sentence each successive word is longer in length than the preceding one.

Like the above given terms of fun and paradox, English language has a rich source of varied elements that make it funny, pleasurable, alluring, entertaining, paradoxical, quite quizzical and comical.

Dr Bilal Ahmad Dar works as a Lecture in English. He has done Phd and Mphil in English Literature from Aligarh Muslim University. Besides that, he has qualified UGC-NET and JKSET for Assistant Professorship. He can be mailed at: [email protected]

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