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A Writer on Writing and Words

Andy RooneyIt's best for writers not to think too much about writing when they write. I know this may seem wrong to the reader, but I can't help myself. I've been thinking about writing for the last month because I'm on vacation and writing is what I love, not vacationing.

You would think it would be easy to put down one word after another until you have a sentence with a complete thought, but it isn't.

Generally speaking, I think most people find words matter more than numbers. The reader knows when numbers are right or wrong, but text is not always so clear. Most teachers of writing put too much emphasis on how words are put together. I had a teacher in high school who was a serious grammarian. I suppose what he taught was good for us, but I think it would have been better if he'd been more interested in what me and my fellow classmates were trying to say. Most professional writers--by which I mean journalists, novelists--write grammatically because that's what's expected of them.

The English language is a good language but it's not perfect. The people in America are lucky that our forebears (a word I just hate) chose English instead of some other tongue as our official language.

It should be possible for linguistic experts to put together a really good language without all the twists and turns in English but that will never happen. We're stuck with what we've got and we're lucky with our language.

For instance, the German language sounds more difficult than French or Spanish to me. English and the Romance languages seem easier to master. The German language consists of about 185,000 words and the French language has about 100,000 words in its vocabulary. Depending on the source, the English language has about anywhere from 500,000 to a million words in its vocabulary.

It's of no great consequence, but Chinese is spoken now by the greatest number of people in the world. No one knows for sure, but there are about 15 million words in the Chinese language. There are roughly 1 billion Chinese language speakers. I wouldn't mind if the whole world spoke English, but I know that can't be. I have found out that English is spoken in over 100 countries and is spoken as a first or second language by more people than any other language in the world.

Over the years, there have been a few feeble attempts to establish a universal language but these attempts have gone nowhere.

Another language spoken by large numbers of people around the world is Spanish. There are approximately 330 million Spanish speakers.

I have several qualities about myself that I'm proud of, and one of them is my ability to read French. I try to speak it when I'm visiting Paris, but either my French is so "good" that the locals refuse to accept it, or I've lost my accent since learning French in grade school and speaking it when the Americans liberated France from the Germans during World War II.

I suppose it will never be done, but I think the world would be a far better place if everyone in it spoke the same language. At least we'd understand each other and it would make things easier for translators.

(Write to Andy Rooney at Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207, or via email at aarooney5@yahoo.com)

(c) 2009 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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