Language is one of the most important and most ancient phenomena of human culture. People’s words in everyday life form a fascinating and peculiar world with its secrets and mysteries. Speaking in detail about the English language, it occupies a unique position in its completeness and strength. Today more than 300 million people in the world speak English as their first language. It is the most bizarre of all languages, the language of paradoxes and verbal contradictions. A person takes all English words for granted, but it is possible to find exciting stories and expressions that sometimes mean opposite ideas when one delves into their definition.
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Learning English cannot be completed without touching on any of these paradoxes because there are several of them. English, among the common European languages, both Germanic and Romance groups, occupies a unique position. First, there are more words in English than in any other European language. According to various estimates, there are from five hundred thousand to a million words in this language. According to multiple sources, in German, there exist about two hundred thousand words, in French – about one hundred and eighty thousand, and in Russian – about one hundred and sixty thousand.
The second unique feature of the English language is the polysemy of words. In the vast majority of European languages and dialects, the same word, as a rule, has only a few meanings at most. In English, one word can have more than ten implications that have nothing in common. The English language is full of paradoxes for which it is difficult to find an objective explanation. Philologists and researchers of linguistic traditions explain such puns by the living structure of any language – in the process of use, people simplify communication methods with each other.
However, many paradoxical examples in English demonstrate support for the thesis that this is a crazy language. When people move by car, they call it a shipment, but when the transportation is made by the ship, it is called cargo. Generals usually eat in the private mess, and privates have food in the general mess. People call it a newspaper when they have a printed publication and say newsprint when the paper contains nothing. Moreover, individuals who ride bikes are called cyclists, and people who ride motorcycles are called bikers.
Some more examples make the understanding of some linguistics of the English language paradoxical and amusing. A person commits adultery; logically, infants should commit infantry. A firefighter fights fire, thus, a freedom fighter should fight freedom. If a horsehair mat is made from horses’ hair, from what is a mohair coat made?
Lexical paradoxes in English are called misnomers. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word “misnomer” means “using the wrong or inappropriate name” when an object or phenomenon is given a name. Examples of this are words and phrases such as driveway and parkway, eggplant and hamburger, sweetmeats and sweetbreads, English muffins and French fries, well-known boxing rings and starfish, and all the other misnomers. There are multiple reasons for the existence of such a large number of misnomers. First, some misnomers are old historical names that have been retained for convenience and habit. For example, “pencil lead” – a pencil, “tin can” – a tin can, “clothes iron” – an iron and others.
Second, the name is based on similarity in a particular aspect. This is an “eggplant” – an eggplant, “Guinea pig” – a guinea pig, although it is not from Guinea at all. “Hotdog” – a hot dog, which received its name because of the resemblance to the tail of a dog. Third, associations with the place of origin. “Arabic numerals” – Arabic numerals originated in India, panama hats – Panamas were made in Ecuador, but they are associated with Panama, as they were widespread during the Panama Canal construction. French fries – French fries were not invented in France; instead, the homeland of French fries is Belgium. “Chinese checkers” – Chinese checkers were not created either in China or in any other part of Asia.
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Fourth, sometimes misnomers are formed due to popular misconceptions, even if there is scientific evidence to refute them. “Koala bears” are not bears since they are marsupials. Therefore, they are somehow related to kangaroos. “Palm tree” is not exactly a tree; it is sort of grass. Shooting stars are shooting stars, although, in reality, they are not stars but meteorites. Fifth, there is a group of misnomers that defies any laws of logic. For example, “funny bone,” although they are not bones at all, this phrase describes the ulnar nerve. Dry cleaning – dry cleaning is not associated with water or any other liquid solvents.
English has the richest vocabulary in the world. Over time, many paradoxes have formed in the linguistic structure, which are words and expressions that do not logically fit together. Moreover, there is a separate group of misnomers – words misused due to a historical habit. Inconsistencies can be misleading for people starting to learn English; however, these paradoxes bring additional depth to the vocabulary over time.