Why is one of the most prevalent languages on Earth native to a tiny population housed on a chilly, soggy, remote island floating somewhere in the nondescript gray seas northwest of continental Europe? (Well, aside from that embarrassing period of world colonization.) The (other) answer: unabridged awesomeness, my friend. Behold the following evidence:
1. Mongrel and proud
While other languages can be neatly classified into distinct points of origin – e.g., Germanic or Romantic – English is the bastard child of approximately fifty-three fathers, seventy-two mothers, and possibly a couple one-eyed sheep. (Don’t think too hard about the biological mechanics.) Yet rather than preoccupy itself with an identity crisis that requires decades of counseling to overcome, English has embraced its mongrel origins and flagrantly celebrates them. “Yeah – the left blue eye came from my Celtic father, Seamus, the right brown eye came from my Roman mama, Francesca, the horned helmet was a gift from my Viking Aunt Brunhilda, and that patch of fur on my back – I got that from my Saxon Uncle Gottfried. But the ruffly collar? That was hand-knitted by Shakespeare himself.”
2. Unabashed thievery
If it sounds cool, we’ll wait for you in a dark alley, beat you over the head with our unabridged OED, pinch some nifty adjectives from your syntax, and go merrily on our way. Don’t expect a billet-doux in acknowledgment. But lest you accuse us of having carte blanche, of being ungrateful, and expect a mea culpa…au contraire. You will get credit for your bon mots, creativity, et cetera in the illustrious Oxford English Dictionary. Isn’t that thanks enough? Besides, English is one of the few active preservers of the Latin language and is thus one of the few who will be linguistically prepared for the resurgence of the Roman Empire. Don’t blame us for planning ahead where you have failed to do so. The ant and the grasshopper and all that – ad nauseum.
3. Detail oriented
If you can conceive of a thought, English has already conceived of a word to express it. How many languages have created a single word that means throwing someone out a window? (If you don’t know the word I’m talking about, you ought to be defenestrated.)
4. Bountiful synonym buffet
If you want to call someone a blithering idiot, English does not bind you to a single mode of expression. Rather, it invites you feast upon the Synonymous Buffet/Cafeteria/Lunch Wagon/Salad Bar/Snackery/Smorgasbord, the menu of which is a tome dedicated entirely to documenting a nearly infinite number of synonyms for every word of the language. Thus, rejoice that you find yourself not merely surrounded by blithering idiots but also by blabbering blockheads, driveling dimwits, jibbering jerks, and prattling pinheads.
5. Not for the faint of heart
First case in point: English does not bind itself to the laws that govern sane men. In fact, it doesn’t even apply the same laws equitably to itself. Consider, for instance, that the prefix “in-” frequently negates things (e.g., The invariableness of your inattention to that inexpensive gnome is indefensible.), and one might reasonably assume that their “inflammable” suit of armor is “not flammable.” But then, while standing nonchalantly by a roaring fireplace, they will burst into flames that cause them to simultaneously sing the praises of the incomprehensible richness of the English language – and curse the negligence of their ESL teacher. Because that’s how we roll. Logic be damned. Can’t keep up? Scurry on back to your German class, fräulein.
Second case in point: Rhyming in Romantic languages is for sissies. When 99% of words end with a vowel, writing a poem is a matter of closing your eyes, throwing some darts at your Italian dictionary, and seeing where they land:
Here’s some garlic to mangia / It’s goes-a good with your pasta.
But try finding something that rhymes with “orange” – go ahead, I dare you.
6. The hellacious homophone
Thanks to a host of words that are spelled the same as other words – but mean something entirely different – and words that sound like other words – but mean something entirely different, English speakers may claim themselves masters of the most majestic – and deadly – of the linguistic arts – the Pun. Only in English can you see an eye doctor on an Alaskan island and later discover they’re actually an optical Aleutian. Only in English do we realize that propaganda is really a gentlemanly goose. And only in English is such a romantic tale possible: She was only a whiskey maker, but he loved her still. The solemn elegance of the homophone is perhaps best immortalized by Larry the Cucumber in the following Veggie Tales musical tribute:
7. Darwinian advantage
In the sea of constant linguistic change, English has demonstrated immense adaptability – akin to an evolutionary marvel with the quickness of the cheetah, the breadth of the hippopotamus, the foresight of the giraffe, the cuteness factor of the bunny, and the cynicism of the platypus. (Because you cannot have the bill of a duck, the body of an otter, the butt of a beaver, and freakin’ poison spurs in your feet without being something of a pessimist. It just isn’t allowed.) Over time, English has responded to various invasions and intrusions by nimbly absorbing and internally digesting those foreigners – (cue music) beware of the Blob:
Challenge us to an arm wrestling match, and we’ll digest your arm clean off – slowly, over the course of a few centuries. Meanwhile, the paranoid French attempt to maintain some semblance of “linguistic purity” by quickly quashing the influence of foreign tongues upon their language. (Has anyone recently checked their courriel? Didn’t think so.) Why engage in fruitless worded warfare (a literal tête-à-tête) when one could instead quietly vanquish said intruders by giving them a big old hug while rifling through their back pockets and relieving them of a noun or six? Yes, you Frenchies may have made au naturel sound cool, but English stuck a flag in it and added the connotation of naked awesomeness.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a Japanese adverb I’ve been eyeing – if you know what I mean.