Author Archives: debooker

About debooker

A brief (and somewhat ambiguous) biography. One hundred words, more or less, about David Booker might include the following: though lost in the cosmos without a compass, he has nonetheless managed to find his way into middle age. As to what he will do now that he is there is still a matter of speculation. He often seeks guidance from his youthful daughter as he alternately approaches and retreats from the slow expansion of his waistline and the slow collapse of Western Civilization as he knows it. He hopes the two will reach a libration (or libation) point and he will creep into old age with some dignity and clothes intact.

Monday morning writing joke: “Lecture”

A man walking alone on downtown sidewalks at 3 AM is stopped by a police officer.

“What are you doing out this late?” the officer asks.

The man says, “I’m on my way to a lecture, officer. It’s about alcohol abuse and the effects on the human body, as well as smoking and staying out to the wee hours of the morning.”

“Really? Who’s giving that lecture at this time of night?” the officer asks.

The man says, “That would be my wife.”

Leave a comment

Filed under 2016, Monday morning writing joke

English in 100 years

Hear What Scholars Think English Will Sound Like In 100 Years

Today’s English is the result of hundreds of years of evolution, so why would we not expect it to keep changing? Here’s what it might become by the 22nd century.

By Michael Erard

You might think of English, which is spoken by the largest number of people on the planet, as a mighty, never-ending river, full of life and always churning and changing. If you speak the language, it’s natural to wonder where this river is headed. And who will shape the sounds that bubble out of it in the future — 20, 50, or even 100 years from now?

Feeding the river are two tributaries that determine its direction. One of these carries the influence of the estimated two billion people who speak English as a non-native language. They are influential not just because of their number but also because the majority of interactions in English in the world occur between non-native speakers — as many as 80 percent, according to linguists. This is English playing its role as a global lingua franca, helping speakers of other languages connect with each other.

The other tributary carries the changes that English has been undergoing for hundreds of years. Between the 12th and 16th centuries, for example, English underwent the “great vowel shift,” which shortened some vowels, like “ee” to “aye,” and pushed others up and to the front of the mouth, so that the Middle English vowel pronounced “oh” is now pronounced “oo,” as in “boot.”

What will this sound like once I am done?

What will this sound like once I am done?

In the mid-20th century, linguist and English historian at the University of Michigan Albert Marckwardt argued that English wasn’t done changing and that the momentum of the past would carry on into the future. It’s true that some vowels seem durable; the pronunciation of “ship,” “bet,” “ox,” and “full” have been the same for centuries. But Marckwardt argued that some vowels are still going to shift. For example, the word “home” — pronounced “heim” in Germanic, “hahm” in Old English, and “hawm” in Middle English — might someday be “hoom.”

On the other hand, he predicted that English consonants would remain largely the same, although some have already changed. For instance, the “k” in “knife” was once pronounced, “nature” was “natoor,” and “special” was “spe-see-al.” But for the most part, Marckwardt said, we shouldn’t expect to see much change in English consonants.

The success of English — especially the fact that it is used by many non-native English speakers — means, among other things, that the history of the language is no longer a reliable map about how its pronunciation might change. Consider, for instance, that a number of distinct regional variations of English are emerging around the world.

While all of this research gives us some tantalizing ideas about how English might sound in the future, it doesn’t tell us very much about when we might expect those changes. It could happen within a generation, but it could take another century. It mostly depends on which regional version of English becomes dominant, says Jennifer Jenkins. “Beyond that, I’d need a crystal ball to be able to say more.”

All this assumes that English will remain as predominant as it has been, even as it diverges into multiple Englishes, each one carving its own meandering path toward the sea.

One of them is in Southeast Asia. More than 10 years ago, linguist David Deterding recorded English teachers from Singapore, Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar in order to identify notable features of their English. The first sound from the word “thing” was a popping “t,” “maybe” sounded like “mebbe,” and “place” became “pless.” Deterding also noticed that speakers laid more stress at the end of sentences (in the UK and U.S., such heavy stress marks new information in a sentence).

These sound changes were influenced by those teachers’ mother tongues. To some people’s ears, particularly those who speak British or American English, these pronunciations might sound wrong, as if the speakers had simply not worked hard enough to get rid of their accents. However, as Deterding pointed out, the teachers could still understand each other. So in what sense are these non-native accents a problem, especially if the speakers are mainly going to be talking to other non-native speakers?

All over the world, this question is something that teachers of English are working out for themselves. Is it better practice to promote intelligibility or should learners reproduce American- or British-accented English? The direction that is taken will determine how the English of the future sounds.

Interestingly, where Albert Marckwardt predicted that English vowels would see the biggest changes, others think it will be certain consonants that are drastically altered.

Jennifer Jenkins, a linguist at Southhampton University in the UK, has studied the communication breakdown between non-native speakers of English to see what pronunciations they stumble over. These provide a clue as to how English may change. The aspects of English pronunciation that promote intelligibility would tend to spread, she has said, while those that promote misunderstanding would wither away.

In contrast to Marckwardt, Jenkins’ findings suggest some severe changes ahead for consonants. For instance, she says the “th” of “thus” and “thin” are often dropped and replaced with either “s” and “z” or “t” and “d.” (In Europe, it’s looking like the “s” and “z” may win out.) Another consonant that causes problems is the “l” of “hotel” and “rail,” which speakers replace with a vowel or what’s known as a “clear l,” as in “lady.” (This is a pronunciation change that Chinese speakers of English often make.)

Jenkins also predicts that some clusters of consonants will simplify. At the beginning of words, they will survive, but at the end of words they may vanish. This means you may hear “bess” for “best” and “assep” for “accept.”

In the short term, these new pronunciations could become part of how English sounds on the tongues of people who use it as a lingua franca. But in the long term, they could filter into standard English in other parts of the world — even its homelands — if the innovations seem worth adopting.

Barbara Seidlhofer, a linguist at the University of Vienna in Austria who studies verbal interactions between non-native English speakers, has made some predictions about how words formed in these regional English varieties will affect how they sound. She has noted that non-native speakers do not distinguish between mass and count nouns, so someday we might talk about “informations” and “furnitures.”

Also, the third person singular (such as “she runs” or “he writes”) is the only English verb form with an “s” at the end. Seidlhofer has found non-native speakers drop this. They also simplify verb phrases, saying “I look forward to see you tomorrow” instead of “I am looking forward to seeing you tomorrow.”

Leave a comment

Filed under 2016, language

New words to live by: “Cackle pants”

It is time, once again, for New words to live by. This is a word or phrase not currently in use in the U.S. English lexicon, but might need to be considered. Other words, such as obsurd, crumpify, subsus, flib, congressed, and others, can be found by clicking on the tags below. Today’s New Word is created by combing a sound and a noun. Without further waiting, Cackle pants.

Cackle, v. 1. To chatter noisily; prattle. 2. Laugh in a broken, shrill manner. 3. To utter a broken, shrill sound or cry, like a hen.

Pants, n. A loose- (or sometime tight-) fitting garment for the lower part of the body with leg portions that usually reach the ankle.

Cackle pants, n. 1. The sound of slightly stiff new pants, particularly wool, worn for the first time. Sometimes accompanied by static electricity sparks. 2. Somebody who has noisy flatulence. Don’t mind, Uncle Bob, he’s a bit ripe, but that’s because he’s a cackle pants. 3. A politician or person seeking public office who speaks in platitudes, generalities, banalities, conspiracies, circular or empty rhetoric. Sometimes demeaning and often predicting dire consequences if not elected.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2016, new word, New words to live by

Photo finish Friday: “Ode from a deliquescing pumpkin

Ode from a deliquescing pumpkin

Ode from a deliquescing pumpkin

I was once a pumpkin:
Now I am a mess.
The party night is over
And I wait to deliquesce.

The treats have been handed out
Some to children too bold
Who think that a cigarette
Is not a sign you’re too old.

They came in hoards and cars
As if the end of time was near
From close by and far way
Some with the scent of beer.

I was once orange and in my prime
Round and succulent to behold.
But now I deliquesce
As I grow a little mold.

I will not make Thanksgiving
Which I hear is a special holiday
Where pumpkins become pie
And make taste buds say, “Yay!”

I hope you will remember me
As I slump into the earth.
Don’t think of me as too scary
But with a little mirth.

And next year at this time
Decorate one of my kin
And the season of the spooks
Can once again begin.

–by David E. Booker

Leave a comment

Filed under 2016, photo by David E. Booker, Photo Finish Friday, poetry by author

Haiku to you Thursday: “Blanket”

Sun pushes aside /

clouds that blanket the valley: /

morning greets the Earth.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2016, Haiku to You Thursday, poetry by author


"You'll look funny at the bottom of a question mark," Gumshoe said.

“You’ll look funny at the bottom of a question mark,” Gumshoe said.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2016, cartoon by author, CarToonsday

Monday morning writing joke: “Dueling puns, part 3”

Two writers who didn’t like each other met in a bar, as such writers often do. Each claimed it was his favorite bar and each claimed he had found it first. After several months of glowering at each other and bad mouthing each other, they agree to settle the matter with a duel of puns.

Since the second round was a tie, the short writer was allowed to go first for round three. A set of cards was placed on the table between them, face down. On each card was a subject. The short writer flipped the card over and the subject was grocery store.

The bartender, a waiter, and a waitress would be the judges.

Props were allowed, and for each turn, each writer could make one phone call.

After thinking a moment, the short writer drew a stack of one-dollar bills from his pocket. He was not wealthy. He counted out ten ones. “A man enters a store, buys some groceries, and pays for his purchases. He has some change due and tells the cashier he needs some ones. The cashier responds with what?”

“Everybody needs someone,” the tall writer says. “That’s not very good.”

“You can do better?”

The tall writer thinks for a minute, then says, “That same guy goes back into the store for something he forgot. When he comes back to the same cashier, he is carrying a brown sack of walnuts. The store sells nuts two different ways for different prices. The cashier takes the walnuts, weighs them, and then says, “We have a couple of different ways we sell nuts.”

“Really,” the man said. “I just grabbed a bag. How are they sold?”

The short writer thought for a minute. He scribbled something on a piece of paper, then thought for a minute more.

“Time’s up,” said the bartender. “Do you have a guess?”

“Nut of your business?” the short writer asked.

“No,” the tall writer said, shaking his head, “To half and half not.”

The short writer glowered at the tall writer.

Round three was awarded to the tall writer. Each writer had 1 win, 1 loss, and 1 tie.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2016, joke by author, Monday morning writing joke