I can handle sarcasm by the bucket load.  In fact I revel in the linguistic nuances that allows the english language to be as ambiguous as it is, you can be as clever and playful as you like without giving anything away. English is a very psychological language in that regard, in that it requires a lot of brain work and word wizardry to both decipher and to reach a mutually understandable consensus. Unlike German for example which is very grammatically specific in its construction (great for legal documents), leaving very little room for semantic deviation. I am not implying however that just because German is less grammatically flexible that the Germans do not thus have a sense of humour. I know for a fact that some do. Of course it isn’t just language that fuels humour and specifically the use of sarcasm, but also social and cultural reference. Although that being said, language and cultural identity are fairly inseparable when push comes to shove.

So what sparked this sudden cranial exigence of mine? Well, a friend of mine in his supernal wisdom (thank you Paul for the inspiration, no personal inference intended by the way) during a conversation about sarcasm left me with a popular quote that, “You can lead a man to reason, but you can’t make him think”, I’m sure I’ve come across that one recently in a book somewhere too. Anyway, as I readily take up the challenge of deciphering ambiguous language (regularly I might add) I began wondering what that actually meant. To me it smacked of one of those cases of semantic jiggery-pokery, where really you need only use a one verb phrase to get your point across. You see I happen to believe that reasoning and thinking are one and the same thing. You can’t do one without enacting the other.

As users of English we have an amazing ability to split hairs and skin cats, by that I mean that it’s become a linguistic and cultural norm in these parts (I refer to English as it is used in the UK currently, although this extends to the use of English as a whole) to be semantically evasive instead of just getting to the point, the crux of the blindingly obvious. Oh and how we love to debate the subtle differences of the thickness of each others arms, so to speak. It’s all in the analysis!

I blame the french personally. William the Conqueror to be precise. Although it wasn’t until the time of Eleanor of Aquitaine and her love of the romantic language of the french court that such nuances in language became popular and began to infuse and linguistically level the wonderful guttural Anglo/Danish tongue, with its no-nonsense delivery. By that point we, here on the island, were a couple of generations into french rule. And like with any successive generation attitudes about the past relax a little, and whatever was once considered controversial becomes the norm, particularly language.

Of course William C was quite instrumental in forcing the french language onto the Island culture of the Angles and the Danes, but as with any subjugation of a population the language of current use does not just disappear. It may go underground and adapt, but it does not disappear. Language is like sand in that regard, it gets everywhere and is hard to eradicate completely (that and cat hair)!

Instead of ‘English’ disappearing it instead absorbed French, as well as already having its Latin and Danish influences.  By the time of the Enlightenment, and again the Reformation and its standardisation as a Lingua Franca English had expanded in order to encompass and thus explain innovations in scientific thinking, industry, politics and education. Again it did this by absorbing many classical Latin and Greek words, as  well as yet more French to be able to express nuance. Not to mention the linguistic influence attributable to shipping trade, colonisation, and general wanderers of the globe.  So it is that we have been left with a legacy of having more than one linguistic term to express a single idea, and why in my mind confusion reigns. However, it is such confusion that provides the rocket-fuel in our anglocentric debates, so like a Púca at an Easter-egg hunt you have to be careful that the giant easter bunny doesn’t spot you switching the eggs out for Rabi hats!

Linguistic nuance is everything, and it’s difficult sometimes to get your point across to anyone without a bit of mental rubber-band wrestling, and a bit of cat-splitting!

Suffice to say, that if you have no idea what I’m talking about, then you have understood the point of this little soliloquy (although I resorted to typing it out, as I thought it would make a good blog post) quite clearly.

Isn’t language fun [grinning and flexing eyebrows sarcastically – no not like Groucho Marx!]? Enjoy your ambiguous day!

25 thoughts on “How Thick is My Arm?

  1. Ishaiya well your article has indeed provoked me to think. And think I did. Well loved every bit of it. It indeed makes a very good blog and must say that now i m a bit more educated about the linguistic influences 🙂


    1. Paraphrasing my own previous comment: “Thank you my friend, from you that always means much” – I say that because not only are you an obvious force to be reckoned with when it comes to the written word, but also because you’re quite stingy with your comments in general 😉
      I hope you are enjoying the sun wherever you are in the world!


  2. A stunning, concise history and blog-text book, with nuance-glad to be fodder. You are so very learned! It’s a pleasure. I wish you had been my British Lit or English teacher, I may have paid more attention. 🙂
    It would probably be attributed to Mark Twain – sounds a bit like him, or Will Rogers, or Woodie Guthrie even. Here, in the colonies, that is. If you find it, let me know-I would appreciate that- thar… 🙂

    Well enjoyed! Rabi hats Indeed! :)))


    1. Hehe. I love writing these more humorous pieces, particularly when it comes to the subject of language, ’tis mi passion. I’m not sure they would let me teach in any school with my attitude! 🙂
      I would explain the Rabi hats and easter bunnies but that’s one of those references that alludes to a particular conversation I had with a fellow blogger. But it’s one that still makes me giggle.
      Thank you for reading my dear friend, enjoy your day! 🙂


      1. Enjoyed already, as our ‘day’ is now 22 hours. Another English word that is ambiguous, though rarely taken out of context. Wow! There are a lot of them! Perhaps that is skinning hare, or splitting hairs, also, or whatever it was our ancestors did with hare, hairs, or cats. They were obviously a skinning, splitting lot though. 😉
        Best to you and yours also!


    1. I didn’t realise you were a fellow Brit. I agree there is a big enough divide between both American and English English for it to cause consternation and misunderstanding, even between the most understanding of parties.


        1. Yes funny how that works, except it’s no real surprise as the bloggers I get on with the most are apparently all Brits living elsewhere in the world, so no guesswork necessary 🙂


  3. I want a rabbit hat too. I think the french are now offended that you de-capitalized them. We here in the States have recently been conquered by Latin America. I expect the two languages to merge over the next century – Spanish with English grammatical structure, and ‘Murican with Spanglish vocabulary.


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