More About Our Language: Do You Know If You’re Coming or Going?

It seems as though I’ve become obsessed with language.  I’ve recently realized how much our language can affect our thoughts and perceptions. I used to forget that people invented language as a means of sharing information with each other.  Once I started noticing oddities in our word usage it seems as though more oddities kept popping up.  I’m pretty certain these oddities can affect the way we think about things and I bet it affects all people.  I’m quite sure that English isn’t the only language in which this phenomenon occurs.  English, however, did become the second language for many people who came to America, England and other English speaking countries are home to people from many different homelands who were seeking refuge or a better life for themselves and their families. They found safe ground in English speaking countries. Of course, this wasn’t the case two thousand years ago. In recent (the past 2,000) years give or take a few, I wonder if we have greater bits of other languages incorporated into English than other languages have English or other languages incorporated into them.

Google has many listings about the oddities in our language. When I was younger I wouldn’t have even noticed this phenomenon.  Here’s an example of words with opposite meanings, in certain cases, coming to mean the same thing.  I couldn’t find the reason this may have occurred. For example, I couldn’t find a satisfactory answer explaining the reason “coming” and ”going” have been used to mean exactly the same thing.  When asked how things are going, I’ve heard some people say, “They’re coming along fine.” I’ve also heard people answer the same question or  “How are things coming?” by saying,   “Everything is going along fine.”

I found an interesting blog written by a linguist from the UK, who calls herself LynneGuist. Her actual name is M Lynne Murphy. She’s a Senior Lecturer in Linguistics and English Language at the University of Sussex. She finds lots of oddities in the English Language. She talks about interesting British and American differences in the use of certain expressions. For example, In England one would say, “it’s down to you” to mean ‘it’s your responsibility to do that’, whereas an America one would say “it’s up to you” to mean the same thing!

What am I getting from all this?  When I was younger it seemed as though my friends and I often took the meanings of words to be sacrosanct.  Now, I’m noticing that absolute opposites are, sometimes, used do mean the same thing.  What this is doing for me is opening my mind to the possibility that things, possibly even historical events, etc didn’t happen the way we think they did – because the words describing what happened may have had different meanings when the scribe or historian was writing about an event. When I was a kid my teachers seemed to regard historical writings as using words to mean what a dictionary said they meant.  Now, I “get” that what was written about an historical event is not only just someone’s (or some group’s) view of what happened – it could have happened differently than we’ll interpret it as having happened because the words themselves were used differently.  It doesn’t mean the translation is “bad”. It just means it’s different that we think it is. Words may be used that were also used at the time of the event; but these words didn’t have the same meaning when the event occured as they do now. So, we may be interpreting the events wrongly. I’m sure that humans tried to create words that described the things, they were created to represent, as accurately as possible. However, humans made the words up and we shouldn’t get too hung up on words when we’re trying to interpret communications we get.

Can you think of any opposite words that can be used to mean the same thing?

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Published in: on January 22, 2012 at 11:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

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