What’s in a letter?

I love language. Whether speaking it, writing it, reading it, or signing it, words are what allow us to communicate, not only with each other, but with other species, especially domesticated animals like dogs, cats, horses and the like. Words also allow us to express ourselves, even if there’s no-one there to listen. (Who hasn’t screamed a load of expletives into a pillow at some point in their lives, or written secrets into a diary?) And, as any writer knows, words have the power to evoke just about every human emotion, or whisk a person into a fantasy world they never knew they wanted to hear about.

All languages are difficult if they’re not your native tongue, but there are many people who would argue that English is one of the hardest to master; like other languages it has rules, but there are many contradictions to those rules, often with little rhyme or reason; it has sentence structure, but that structure is unique compared to other languages; and word meanings can change at the drop of a hat.

What’s great about the written English word is the meaning of a sentence can be changed with just one rogue letter, or a misplaced apostrophe. One well-known example is a request for people to show their crazy side. Show us you’re nuts! takes on a whole new meaning when it’s written as Show us your nuts!

You can also determine where someone’s from by the addition (or omission) of a single letter. I’m from England, and emigrated to California a little over a decade ago. I write for both American and British publications, and those extra letters in British English become surplus letters in American English. Words such as colour, honour, and labour lose the ‘u’ to become color, honor, and labor in Americanbut glamour keeps the ‘u’ on both sides of the pond! And really, does anyone actually know why?

And finally, the picture I attached to this post is something my youngest wrote for Mother’s Day when she was in first grade, and it still makes me smile. Everyone says you’re the beastYes, all five foot six inches and 120 pounds of me! The simple mistake of placing an ‘a’ in the word ‘best’ completely changed the intended compliment.

 

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