Sunday, August 23, 2020

Everybody and his third cousin



If you got it, flaunt it.  The English language simply has an incredible number of words. Almost every concept is covered by a multitude of options, each word with its own nuances and register. Grasping and recalling each option is probably the most difficult challenge for non-natives, not the English grammar system. As an example of the generosity of English is the universal concept of people, derived from a Latin-based word that William the Conqueror brought to English with his French-speaking Vikings in 1066. Since then, matters have become much more complicated.

For the generalists, it is possible to emphasize the parts of the whole. Individuals or persons, refer to the mass but personalize it. On the other hand, if there is a need to zoom out, humanity or mankind, not to mention the whole world, blurs individual distinction. Once the term men was understood to include everybody, sort of. To clarify, the American Declaration of Independence, written in 1776, states that “All men are created equal”, an extremely radical idea in its time whether or not it included women and blacks. Today, it is necessary to say men and women. That brings up the issue whether the latter phrase necessarily includes children as the phrase men, women and children is used in certain contexts. Admittedly, people is so much simpler.

Researchers, being researchers, have their own terminology. Paleontologists refer to homo sapiens while sociologists choose mankind or the human race, not to mention society. Psychologists like human beings or so they say. Politicians, who finance quite a bit of research, must please their public but don’t like the populace, which does not understand them. Romans and American Republicans love their citizens and prefer to ignore the existence of those who do not have that status. There is no room for people in these worlds.

The tribal approach can be practical. The peoples of the earth include all national and ethnic groups while the use of the term human races takes a more colored approach. By contrast, the whole population of a country includes everybody (even those that cannot vote) while the inhabitants of the planet also include that are not listed on any computer file. There are still a few of those, mainly in isolated tribes.

So, people, it is not hard to avoid repetition in English. Everybody and his third cousin can do it, granted not always correctly or with the proper register. Live and learn, especially with language. As Porky Pig said so eloquently, “that’s all, folks!

*Label captions to allow access to the blind. Picture credit: Image by <a href=";utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=2152653">Reimund Bertrams</a> from <a href=";utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=2152653">Pixabay</a>

No comments:

Post a Comment