Thursday, 25 October 2012


The title of my last (that is, first) blog was imperfect, as Schomonymic doesn't fit the pattern. I was thinking about the pseudo-Yiddish  device that repeats a word with the opening consonant changed to the cluster [ʃm], in connection with a UsingEnglish  discussion I had recently been involved in. As I said there
There are lots of Yiddish words starting with [ʃ] + <consonant-cluster> (schmuck, schlmiel, schtuck, schlep...). I first met it in a joke about St Paul being addressed as 'Saul of Tarsus' (his pre-Christian name), to which he replied 'Tarsus Schmarsus, my name's Paul already'.
As is my wont, I added a footnote.
That timeless use of 'already' is also typical of Yiddish-influenced Am. English. I've heard it said that the 'TEA' in Tea Party is an acronym for 'Taxed Enough Already'. (And there was I thinking it was a reference to The Boston Tea Party.)
I felt insecure about the words 'I've heard it said....'. I thought I was riding my reputation for omniscience a bit too hard, and that my bluff would be called by someone unimpressed by my Moderator status.

But my bedside book for the year (I'm a slow reader), David Crystal's The Story of English in 100 Words, came to my assistance this morning, justifying both claims. The main one was this (pp. 182-3):
English previously [to the late 19th century] had borrowed few words from [Yiddish].... Schm- in particular seems to have caught on, because by the end of the decade [the 1930s] we find it being used in a remarkable way, forming nonsense words.
'There's a crisis,' says one person, and another disagrees. 'Crisis schmisis!' The usage conveys scepticism, disparagement or derision.
The 'heard it said' one is on p. 139:
In 2009, tea even became a political acronym in the USA, when the Tea Party was formed. TEA? Taxed Enough Already.
I knew I had heard these two nuggets somewhere before. I had read as far as p.139 - so that's where I got it. But I hadn't yet reached the schm- explanation. It was probably in an earlier Crystal work, possibly The Stories of English -  I'm something of a fan, and since retiringhis retirement from academia his output has become extraordinary. This necessarily involves a fair amount of repetition

But such a high workload has its disadvantages. In the earlier book he writes:
It is not what the orthodox histories include which is the problem; it is what they omit, or marginalize. The 'story' [quotes sic] of English, as it has been presented in the mainstream tradition, is the story of a single variety of the language, Standard English.... [F]or every one who speaks Standard English there must be a hundred who do not, and another hundred who speak other varieties...
He does not say so explicitly here, but from the rest of the book I imagine that his first 'hundred' refers to native-speakers born in the UK; and that his second 'hundred' refers to national varieties - South African English, Australian English, and so on. In both cases, I'd question his numbers (as gross under-estimates - especially when the two sorts of variation are multiplied: local variants of national variants [where I use local metaphorically to cover all sorts of context - not just the geographical]).

But this is not my point. I'd just like to observe that making such a big thing of a plural 'Stories' is a hostage to fortune, when only half-a-dozen years later you're going to add to the canon of books covering The Story of English ...

This is longer than I had planned, and I'm off tomorrow for a rain-sodden visit to the Land of Crystal's Fathers (though not mine). So stay tuned, but don't hold your breath, for more Harmless Drudgery.

PS 20122910 *Profound apologies for the dangling participle!

 + various updates to the footer, the most recent being on 2013.10.06.12:05

 Mammon (When Vowels Get Together V4.0: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs – AA-AU, EA-EU, and  IA-IU, and – new for V4.0 – OA-OU.  If you buy it, contact  @WVGTbook on Twitter and I'll alert you to free downloads of the forthcoming volumes; or click the Following button at the foot of this page.)
And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this.

Freebies (Teaching resources: nearly 32,400 views**,  and  4,400 downloads to date. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with 1570 views/700 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.

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