Monthly Archives: September 2011

They’ve already left Yanostan

Possibly the most confusing and complicated verb form in the English language is, paradoxically, also about the shortest: to be.

In many languages — not just in English — the different forms of the word seem to defy logic. You start with “be,” but you can’t change the tense of it by saying or writing “beed”; no, instead many forms of the word branch out: am, was, were, been, being. To most English speakers, the various permutations come naturally, but in other languages, such as Spanish, the issue seems much more difficult.

Take for example the first words one learns when picking up a different language, that is, words other than the curse words, which apparently we always learn early. The Spanish verb forms are “ser” and “estar,” both meaning “to be,” but that’s just the beginning.

Spanish learners often struggle with “ser” and “estar” because they need to decide quickly whether they’re referring to a condition or an essential quality. Continue reading

What will the people say?

It’s just my luck to have been raised in a family where appearance might not have been paramount, but it was nevertheless w-a-y ahead of whatever was in second place.

My mother, the late Marie Trujillo, would have been scandalized had we little Trujillos done anything to bring dishonor to the family. A devout Catholic, Mom probably added a couple of beads to the rosary she carried, something that ponders, “Que dira la gente?”

To Mom, who passed away in 2002, her constant concern was “what people might say.” It was a breach of etiquette to leave the house with my shirt half tucked in, half sticking out. The first time I heard the word “shayote,” I almost took it as an as-yet-undisclosed given name. Seeing me heading for school, she occasionally uttered and muttered, “There goes shayote.” Continue reading

Can you keep a secret?

If you say it softly, it’s not so bad. Now what’s that supposed to mean?

Well, it’s a conclusion I’ve reached after years and years of observation as to how people choose to express themselves. Shouting out a word — if you overlook the possibility of rousing someone from slumber — is worse than whispering it.

Let me explain:

Some people, loath to use the f-word, or the b-word, or the s-word, or any other alphabetical sequence-word, tend to downplay it, to reduce it to a mere whisper, on the assumption that if they utter the word softly, there’s no harm, no foul. A high school classmate, upset over the grade he got in chemistry, once told me in a quite audible tone, “That teacher’s an —” He hushed the descriptive word he was about to use, and all I could hear was a barely audible word that had to have begun with a vowel, as indicated by the fact that he used “an” instead of “a.”

Continue reading

Wish to friend someone?

In the past few days, I performed two highly unusual acts: I chose to gift a relative and to friend someone on Facebook. You say this is no big deal?

Let me explain:

At the school I attended three-fourths of my life ago, Immaculate Conception, in Las Vegas, our English teacher, Margaret Kennedy (after whom Highlands’ Kennedy Hall is named), drilled into us the notion that there are verbs and there are nouns.

Sounds simple enough, and we all know that many English words, such as “race,” and “dream” can be both parts of speech. You can race (verb) in a race (noun) and you can dream a dream. But what I now have trouble with is the wholesale verbing of nouns, which appears to be a partial result of the Internet generation.

The main grammatical point I make here is that we don’t meet or make friends anymore; instead, we “friend” them. And rather than giving a gift to someone, we get rid of that annoying participle and simply “gift” that person. Continue reading