Bob Tamasy: A Little Of ‘Dis’ – And Something About Dat

Thursday, February 20, 2014 - by Bob Tamasy

We interrupt this program for an important announcement from our sponsor. Not really, but from time to time I like to divert into the fascinating (to me) world of words, especially since those are the tools of my trade.

Years ago I was in Hungary, the nation from which my grandparents immigrated. (I could have dangled a participle there, but chose not to – oops!) Possessing about 10 Hungarian words in my vocabulary, I commented to a new friend I’d been informed Hungarian is one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn. “Oh, it’s not very hard,” he replied. “All of my grandchildren speak it.” (Rim shot, please.) But in actuality, I can’t think of a harder language to learn than American English – unless you’re born in the United States and that’s all you’ve ever heard. Even then, someone from Maine speaking to someone in Louisiana might need a translator.

The problem is there are so many exceptions to the rules. There’s “i” before “e,” except after “c.” (Along with some other exceptions.) There are words spelled virtually the same, but pronounced totally differently – like rough, which rhymes with tough, but not with through, or cough, or bough. Huh?

And then there’s the suffix “dis.” In many instances, adding “dis” to a word makes it take on the opposite meaning. Like appear and disappear, or satisfaction and dissatisfaction. But sometimes if you remove the “dis” you end up with a word that doesn’t mean the opposite, or the letters remaining don’t even make up a word.

For instance, discombobulated means to be confused or bewildered. But we don’t describe clear thinkers as being “combobulated.” When we see someone poorly dressed or untidy, we might describe her as disheveled. But have you ever referred to a well-dressed individual as “heveled”?

We understand that a person that’s discouraged might be lacking in courage. We disassemble things that have been assembled, we disengage things that formerly were engaged (even though couples that were engaged to marry are not called "disengaged" when they call the whole thing off), and do a disservice when we fail to provide some type of needed service.

But although we dispense things like prescriptions, not handing them out does not mean to “pense” them. When we ease people’s concerns we say we dispel their fears, but if we cause people to feel afraid that doesn’t mean we “pel” them. And hunters may disembowel internal organs from animals they have killed, but putting organs into something or someone doesn’t mean to “embowel” them.

When we become disoriented, it may take time for us to “orient” ourselves to our environment (even if we’re not in Asia), and if we encounter someone that’s become disheartened, we try to encourage or “hearten” them. But while dissension means to cause conflict or division, we don’t refer to reaching consensus or agreement as “sension.” When we tell a crowd of people to disperse, we don’t ask them to “perse” when we want them to assemble or come together, and we dismiss people when they are permitted to leave, but we don’t “miss” them when we want them to stay. You could probably think of many other curious examples.

Sorry if this sounds like I’m “dissing” American English, but as a professional wordsmith I would urge you – the next time you encounter someone from another country wrestling to master our native tongue – to realize, it ain’t so simple as we think!

Our brand of English doesn’t make sense, sometimes even to us. But, returning to my usual subject material, that’s why I became so excited years ago when I was introduced to a contemporary translation of the Bible. The King James Version’s “begats” and “spakeths” and “whosoevers” and “quickens” and “thous” had me over a linguistic barrel. When I discovered God speaks modern, everyday language, it was one of the great “aha” experiences of my life.

When the young prophet Samuel said to God, “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10), he didn’t worry about the Lord talking to him in Elizabethan English. God spoke to him in words he could understand – and that made sense. And He speaks to us today in the same way.

And dis is all I have to say about dat.

---

Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, a former newspaper editor and magazine editor. He is presently vice president of communications for Leaders Legacy, Inc., a non-profit focused on mentoring and coaching business and professional leaders. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and has authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” “Business at Its Best,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. He also posts regularly on two blogs, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, and www.bobtamasy.wordpress.com. He can be emailed at btamasy@comcast.net.




Bob Tamasy: Life Through The Lens Of A Camera

“Life is like a camera: Just focus on what’s important, capture the good times, develop from the negatives,  and if things don’t work out, just take another shot.”   Reading this post on Facebook, I resonated with it because that’s been my experience, both behind the camera and in life.  It’s no secret I love to write. (Actually, like many professional writers, ... (click for more)

Bob Tamasy: Opportunity No Longer Opportune?

It used to be said, “When Opportunity knocks, don’t forget to answer the door.” Now, apparently, when Opportunity chooses to knock, we should respond by shouting, “Go away, you racist, sexist so-and-so!” Recently University of California faculty members were provided a list of “microaggressive” terms to be avoided, words and phrases that could be construed as bigotry. Among ... (click for more)

Abdulazeez Apparently Went Target Shooting In River Gorge Area Prior To Rampage That Killed 5

A 24-year-old Hixson man who went on a rampage and killed five military personnel at Chattanooga apparently went target shooting in the Tennessee River Gorge area just beforehand. A Chattanoogan said he was canoeing the day before the shooting and heard Mohammad Abdulazeez shooting in the woods in a remote area. The man, who said he thought he was being shot at, looked ... (click for more)

Columnist Says Navy To Bring Charges Against Commander Of Chattanooga Naval Center Who Fired At Shooter

The Navy plans to bring charges against Lt. Cmdr. Timothy White, who fired shots at a Hixson man who on July 16 rammed through a gate at the facility on Amnicola Highway and killed four Marines and a sailor, columnist Allen West wrote. He said he received a text message confirming the charges are imminent against the Chattanoogan, who is the father of six and who has acknowledged ... (click for more)

Chattanooga's Memorial Day - And Response

It is recorded in the Fourth Chapter of the Book of Joshua, that after the nation had crossed the River Jordan, Joshua would receive a divine commandment to choose 12 men from among the people and tell them to take 12 stones from the middle of the river.  Each man placed a stone on their shoulder which represented one of the tribes of Israel, and served as a memorial ... (click for more)

We Fight For Lieutenant Commander White

The United States Navy has run a tight ship since it was founded in October of 1776. You’ll recall that was when Capt. John Paul Jones began to forge the steel with the words, “I have not yet begun to fight.” Some years later Adm. David Farragut etched himself into Navy lore when he cried, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” During the attack on Pearl Harbor, Lt. Howell Forgy ... (click for more)