English, thou defiler of women, dost thou speak it?

Nerds!

Ogre expresses his displeasure.

I have fond memories of my four (and a half) years of undergrad at SUNY New Paltz.  My favorite time of year was always right before the beginning of the fall semester, in that grace period in between the residence halls opening up and the first day of classes. This was because a very good friend of mine would stick his head out the window whenever he saw someone unloading the car down below and bellow “NERDS!” at the top of his lungs in his best Ogre impression, completely traumatizing whomever he had in his sights.

That man is now my attorney.

Nerds have always gotten a bad rap, now more than ever.  You might think this seems odd of me to say, considering how much “nerd culture” has become mainstream (“The Big Bang Theory” is one of the highest rated shows on television right now), but for years nerds have been shat on for countless generations from the Ogres of the world, and to be frank resentment of “normals” for co-opting things that used to be their exclusive purview runs high.

All you need to do is look through your Facebook friends list and sooner or later you’ll have some hipster douchebag you added six months ago on a whim will have some inane post such as “lol just read a book i’m such a nerd” while taking a picture of themselves in the mirror and making duck lips at the camera.  This makes anyone who was slapped around as a kid want to reach for their favorite replica weapon and go on an asthmatic killing spree.

I’m getting ahead of myself, though.  There’s all kinds of subsets of nerdom, but I’m not going to discuss all of them, or even some of them; I’m going full disclosure here and talking about my own particular subset, the Language Nerd.

As I said yesterday, when explaining what the hell I meant by Amateur Professional, that I actually have formal training in writing.  This is the truth; not only did I major in English in undergrad, I had a concentration in creative writing.  Not only that, but I then worked at a bookstore for a period of six years before going back to earn my MA in English as well – with a concentration in the Medieval and Early Modern periods.  I can translate Anglo-Saxon into English, I have whole Shakespearean passages committed to memory, and I know how to unhinge my jaw and half-swallow my tongue so I can speak Middle English.  I even presented an academic paper at a conference in Binghamton on Venus and Adonis where I put in a reference to Shakespeare being better appreciated in the original Klingon.

It didn’t go over well.

Anyway, the thing is that I like the English language in all of its iterations, and I’m especially interested in how it’s developed and changed over time.  Languages in general are just fascinating to me, and while I can barely remember my high school French, I’ve picked up a few phrases in Latin and ancient Greek, and I’m constantly learning more – though declining Latin words makes me want to gouge my eyes out.  I still go cross eyed when I’m translating Anglo-Saxon and I have to figure out if I should be using the dative case or the objective case.

I know some of you might not have understood that last bit.  Trust me, you don’t want to know.  Again, I’m getting past the point I’m trying to make, which is that nerds aren’t all astrophysicists and computer engineers.  While I may not be able to do calculus for shit, I can tell you what the Great Vowel Shift is and why it’s important.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go return some library books.

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3 thoughts on “English, thou defiler of women, dost thou speak it?

  1. It’s funny, man. Originally doing english for an undergrad, and committing to a masters in computer science, I’ve seen both sides of the spectrum.

    I’ll tell you this though: you don’t want to hang out with hofstra cs nerds.

    • Well, miss, I’m glad you asked!

      The Great Vowel Shift is how linguists describe the change in the way English is pronounced from Anglo-Saxon to the Early Modern Period. You know how in many European languages, many of the pronunciations are the same or similar, yet English is completely ass-backwards? That’s because English used to sound similar, but because of several different influences, it moved away from Continental European pronunciations.

      This is why, when you hear someone read aloud from “The Canterbury Tales,” it sounds weird as hell compared to modern English.

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