Fun with the English Language

by Melannie Svoboda SND on January 6, 2020

Today I thought we could have some fun with the English language. Let’s begin with a short quiz. Since the answers are tough, I’m giving you some hints. The correct answers will appear later in the reflection.

  1. English is the second most spoken language in the world. Which language is first?
  2. What is the most common adjective used in the English language. (Hint: it’s not a bad word.)
  3. What are the two most common words used in English? (Hint: They are pronouns.)
  4. What is a “mouse potato”? (Hint: you are probably one right now!)
  5. What is the shortest grammatically correct sentence in English? (Hint: It has 2 letters.)
  6. What is the word “goodbye” derived from?
  7. Which word in English has the most definitions? (Hint: it has 3 letters and can be a verb, adjective, and noun.)
  8. What is the most commonly used letter in English? (Wheel of Fortune contestants often buy this vowel!)

Here are a few more fun facts about the English language. About 840 million people speak English as their first language. It is the second most spoken language in the world today–after Mandarin. In the United States there are about 24 dialects of English spoken. This is why someone from Upper Michigan might have trouble understanding someone from southern Alabama–and visa-versa. But radio, television, and our mobility have done much to “equalize” our English.

Here are the other answers to the questions: 2) the most common adjective: good, 3) the two most common words: I and you, 4) a “mouse potato” is someone who sits at a computer a lot–it’s akin to “couch potato.” 5) the shortest sentence: Go. (But “Be” could be a sentence too!) 6) the word “goodbye” is derived from “God be with you.” I like that! 7) the word with the most definitions: set. 8) the most commonly used letter is e. How did you do?

A few more fun facts about English. There are seven ways to spell the long “e” sound. This sentence contains all seven of them: He believed Caesar could see people seizing the seas.

Interestingly, on the federal level, the United States does not have an official language. But 32 states have declared that English is the official language of their state. (My state, Ohio, is not one of them. Making English the official language was part of the “English-Only Movement” in the U.S.) Some languages beside English have been given special status by some states: French in Louisiana and Cherokee in Oklahoma, for example.

Why is English so widely spoken in the world? Here are three contributing historic factors: The vastness of the British Empire, the rise of the U.S. as a world power after World War II, and, of course, the birth of the internet. Today 80% of the information stored on computers worldwide is stored in English. English is also the official language of air travel for pilots and control towers.

I’ll close with this fact: there are roughly l million words in the English language. A new word is added to the dictionary every 2 hours! But the average English speaker knows only about 20,000 to 30,000 words. Maybe we all should invest in a new dictionary and learn a new word at least every day!

Did anything stand out for you in this reflection? Is English your first language? If so, are you fluent in any other language? If English is not your first language, was it challenging to learn English?

Speaking of language…

My book Hanging onto Hope was recently published in Taiwan in Mandarin. I thought you might be interested in seeing the cover.

Today’s song is “Love in Any Language” sung by Sandi Patty. While different languages can separate us, it is the language of the love in our hearts that can unite us as a world community.

I welcome your response to this reflection and/or song. My readers and I always enjoy reading the responses!

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Thomas DeFreitas January 6, 2020 at 4:23 am

Morning, all!

Good to see the cover of your book in Mandarin, Sr Melannie!

English is my first and only fluent language. I’ve studied a heap of other languages, my best two being perhaps French and Italian. (Around 1977, my dad told me, “Learn Spanish! By 2000, at least one quarter of the country will be speaking Spanish.” While I did have some Spanish classes in elementary school, I’m woefully under-proficient in the language.)

Speaking of the language(s) of love, the song reminded me of an anecdote involving ’60s singer Bobby Vinton. During the mid-’70s, Vinton was hoping to make a comeback. His mom gave him some advice, “You should do a song in Polish.”

“Polish?” Vinton countered. “Mom, I’m proud of being a Polish-American, but no one would buy a record in Polish!”

“Melody of Love,” a 1974 recording with a Polish chorus, remains Vinton’s only #1 hit. Mom knows best, it would seem!

Peace and light to all.

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Katsz January 6, 2020 at 8:08 am

As a prior Bobby Vinton fan, I’d like to point out that Melody of Love was not his only #1 hit. Others include Roses are Red, Blue Velvet …. from back in the 60s. Just wanted to give Bobby credit where credit is due.

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Thomas DeFreitas January 6, 2020 at 12:45 pm

Thanks for clarifying, Katsz! I suspected that there had been other chart-toppers. But he still owes his mom one for “Melody”!

Peace and light.

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Kathleen Magiera January 6, 2020 at 5:11 am

Happy 2020 Everyone!

I am only fluent in English but I know some French and am desperately trying to learn Spanish. I do prison ministry with my husband and many of the guys speak Spanish. Any little Spanish phrases seem to bring them comfort.

Kathleen

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Deirdre Lewis January 6, 2020 at 5:14 am

I speak English and Afrikaans, understand Dutch, have a smattering of German and remember some Latin. The latter I learned in church and at school. English is very difficult for a foreigner to learn as it is derived from so many languages. The spelling is complex-although you Americans have simplified it to some extent. I found your quiz fascinating. I love how you find such interesting topics each week…always something new.

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John E Hopkins January 6, 2020 at 5:14 am

Good morning, Sr. Melannie! What a great way to start the week, especially since my winter break is over and school starts today! I now have today’s lesson!

Along with Tom, I love seeing the title of your book in Mandarin. What a thrill that must have been!

Here’s something: George Bernard Shaw, evidently wanting to show the whimsical vagaries of the English language, claimed he could spell the word “fish” like this: ghoti. His explanation? The “gh” in the word enough, the “o” in the word women, and the “ti” in the word station. Put them together and you have “fish”!

Trivia question: What is the only word in the English language that has within it three consecutive double letters?

Have a great day all! Happy New Year!

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Jean Canatsey January 6, 2020 at 9:55 am

Bookkeeper

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Mary Fran January 6, 2020 at 5:45 am

Congratulations on sharing HOPE with China!

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Pete January 6, 2020 at 8:22 am

Walking the Camino in Spain was no problem going from town to town, as English was a language spoken by many. With a smattering of Spanish, we made the 500 miles without problem. Even Americans have trouble with English with all the different dialects. I love the song, our choir sang it last year and it still rings in my head. Thanks Sister.

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Jean Canatsey January 6, 2020 at 9:52 am

Dear Sr. Melannie,
I thought I was proficient in the English language and yet I only knew the answer to #6. What a rude awakening!
Thank you so much for the Sandy Patty song. We are both from Central Indiana and it brought back so many memories…..the opening of the Pan American Games at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1988…..Airbourne Recording Studios in Indy where both she and our daughter did some recording…..”Indianapolis Indeed!” If only we could live the lyrics to “Love in any Language”. What a wonderful world it would be.

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Rose January 6, 2020 at 10:17 am

Oh Melannie, this song! Clown Ministry used to perform this song at Regina High School while signing it, using ASL, another language. Such wonderful memories! Thank you!

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Annie January 6, 2020 at 3:00 pm

Thanks, Rose! I’m familiar with this song but forgot about Regina’s Clown Ministry using it. Yes, great memories!

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Julie Grote January 6, 2020 at 10:29 am

This song is eloquent theology! Such a great message to spread far and wide. Thanks Sr. Melanie and Sandy Patti, Blessings & prayers, Sr. Julie

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Nancy Carman January 6, 2020 at 11:10 am

Sister Melanie,as always you are my inspiration every Monday.Enlightening info,another beautiful song.It’s so simple,but also complicated,that we are made in His image.I pray that one day we will recognize our common humanity.Peace & Blessings,Nancy Carman

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Sister Kimberly Prohaska January 6, 2020 at 11:14 am

Thank you Sister Melannie
I love your blog, and this one was especially engaging!
Blessings!
Sister Kimberly

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Carol Kapostasy January 6, 2020 at 1:44 pm

Loved the song!

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Patt Germann January 6, 2020 at 5:02 pm

I used to work at a newspaper and always was very interested in English and how and where words came from. Phrases always fascinated me. I would wonder (and then go on to research) how we came to say certain things. I cannot imagine trying to learn English as a second language. Compared to other languages, there is simply no rhyme or reason to it — neither spelling nor pronunciation. My grandchildren and I had this very discussion over the weekend – citing, first the strange word epitome — it got crazy from there. I truly admire people who learn and use English as a second language. What perseverance they have. Thank you for sharing interesting facts!

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Tom January 6, 2020 at 5:21 pm

The song reminded me of Martin de Porres’ description of how he let the incoming slaves know that he was their friend without any knowledge of their language. It would seem that some way other than words must be found to get us beyond the many impasses in today’s world.

How wonderful that you have an international readership! Any other languages?

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Jennifer "Jeaux" Brown January 7, 2020 at 8:48 am

What a wonderful newsletter and subject to cover in today’s newsletter. My mother taught Language Arts for 38 years at St. Cecelia’s school and she passed in December. She would have LOVED this issue, as she did all of them. Thank you Sister.

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Cathy Peterson January 7, 2020 at 9:49 pm

I always look forward to reading Sunflower Seeds and listening to the musical selection chosen to accompany the message. Here are two more versions of “Love in Any Language” that I would like to share.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=coRbFykmq98
and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQNlP_oKu4Y

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John January 8, 2020 at 9:15 am

Hello dear Aunt,

I love a good trivia quiz, thank you for sharing this. I have something to add that you may find mildly interesting.

I have long been under the belief that he most commonly used letters in the English language (at least US English) are: ETA OIN SHRDLU. How did I come to know this? It was all explained to me at my first job out of college.

I worked for a supercomputer company called ETA Systems. The “ETA” did not stand for anything.

A major component of the system was the Open Interconnect Network, or OIN.

The Chief Engineer’s vanity license plate read: ETA OIN

A co-worker’s vanity plate read: SHRDLU

Engineers have a unique sense of humor.

-John

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Stan Davisson January 11, 2020 at 7:43 am

Teri and I were in the small town of Albertville, France in 1992. We wandered into a small shop where the proprietor spoke only French. Relying on our high school French classes, we were able to communicate that we are Americans. She was so thrilled and we were able to tell understand as she spoke about when she was a young girl the American GIs gave her bonbons (Candy) during le guerre (WWII). It was like a scene from all of those old war movies we had seen. She was so grateful she insisted that Teri accept a pin that she had made. It really was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us, one that we fondly remember nearly 30 years later. Bon jour, Soeur Melannie.

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