Language and communication involve more than a couple of Homo sapiens flapping their lips in the breeze. Otherwise, we, like the cavemen of simpler times, would be content with a few grunts and whacks of our clubs to convey our meaning.
Do you ever wonder how those emphatic grunts evolved into actual words or what resemble words as we know them today? It is unfortunate that etymology — the study of the history of words — does not date back to caveman days.
Just imagine if etymologist could trace the evolution of “ugh, ugh” to today’s “ugly.” That is not as farfetched as you may think considering how the modern cave people known as teenagers; prefer to communicate in a minimalist manner using various grunts and groans.
For example, your teenager comes home after the first day of school. “Hi, honey. How was school?”
“Do you like your teachers?”
“Eh.” With this answer, the response may include a shrug. Progress in communication!
“Are you hungry?”
Now the tricky parent will ask questions that will require answers beyond shrugs or monosyllabic replies. This trick is most effective after school has been in session for a few weeks.
As we all know, communication via grunts is universal, requiring no translation. However, if you happen to be married to or in a relationship with a monosyllabic communicator, you may experience a touch of unhappiness which may manifest itself in the form of smoke exiting your ears.
Let’s get back to the use of actual words and their meanings. If you are interested in learning about the history of words, this is when a good etymology dictionary comes in handy. Some folks are interested in such information for the pure pleasure of gaining knowledge. In some cases, instead of understanding, confusion results. One such word may cause a few question marks to bounce around in your mind. It is “garnish,” a word we often hear in radio commercials.
Whether it is used as a noun or a verb, “garnish” more often than not brings to mind the decoration of food before the chef or a waiter places it before you. At the moment of presentation, you should send your compliments to the chef. Otherwise, the next meal may not look as appetizing.
Those ubiquitous radio commercials are a form of ambulance chasing, promising a cure-all. If you are behind on the payment of your taxes, usually related to business taxes, then the IRS will reach into your savings, piggy bank or anywhere else its grubby paws can fit, and “garnish” or confiscate said funds without so much as a please or thank you.
To confuse yourself even more, “garnish” was also used in Middle English to mean arming yourself for battle and defense. Who would have thought such an unassuming word evolved in meaning from self-armament to food embellishment to a governmental organization grabbing your money?
Not only do we use the same word to mean several disconnected things, but the pronunciation of words varies with the region in which you grew up. If you happen to be from different shores, your pronunciation will have the added seasoning of a foreign accent.
For example, Hubby grew up in Oklahoma. When he says Washington, it comes out as Warshington. It is undeniable that Washington could use a thorough scrubbing with good old fashioned lye soap of their collective pie holes as well as their grubby moral compasses.
My parents were an interesting mix of thick Hungarian accent on my mother’s part and precise pronunciation of every word by my professor father. Their eldest daughter speaks English without a discernable accent. The lack of accent is solid until she is in the presence of a person from Boston or the South or anyone who speaks with a different speech pattern other than the King’s English. Within a few minutes, her speech pattern mimics that of the other person.
Please note that such unconscious mimicking can and has created embarrassing moments.