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For the Love of the English Language

Andy RooneyWhen I first started school, I knew I was in trouble because my handwriting was so bad. I couldn't write my own name in a way that anyone could read. Miss Kaye, my teacher, was pretty and she would squeeze in next to me on my chair, which was behind my little school desk. She would hold my hand while she helped me write. I've often wondered if Miss Kaye had any long-term, deleterious effects on my handwriting because she sat so close when I was learning that it made me nervous.

I used to do a lot of woodworking. I still use my hands typing on my computer every day, so I don't think my bad handwriting is the result of any lack of manual dexterity. I don't know what's wrong, but my handwriting has suffered. I sometimes practice writing my own name in hopes that my handwriting will improve but it never does.

If the typewriter hadn't been invented, I might have ended up digging ditches. For 50 years I wrote on a typewriter known as an "Underwood Five." It was a favorite in newsrooms for decades until the electric typewriter, and then the computer, took over. Call me unfaithful if you will, but the computer is as superior a writing tool as the Underwood No. 5 was compared to the quill pen.

Some people have trouble spelling but this isn't a problem of mine. I suppose I don't use a lot of hard words, but spelling comes easily to me. I almost never check my spelling using a dictionary or the spell check function on my computer. I take the position that the dictionary is as apt to be wrong as I am. This saves me a lot of time.

English has something like 500,000 to 1,000,000 words. German has about 185,000 words and French has 100,000. I took French in school for five years and I suppose I learned 10,000 French words but even in Paris I never use more than about 50. I don't want people saying "Comment?" to me all the time.

I took Latin in school for five years and I must have learned about 100 words. Latin is hard to defend as a course these days but I wish every school taught it. The written language in Latin is very good and precise, although it is much smaller than English. By "smaller," I mean it has fewer words. I can never forget that I learned the nursery rhyme poem "Jack and Jill" in Latin. I seem to remember it began, "Jack et Jill quaerentes fontem, ascendebat parvum montem."

I like the fact that English is one of the most-used languages around the world. Something like 750 million people speak some English. I read that the average educated person knows about 20,000 words in English but only uses about 2,000. This column is usually about 600 words long and I have no idea how many different words I use in a year. We're all more aware of talking too much than writing too much.

It would be great if there were some way of keeping track of the words we use but that would be difficult to do. I'll bet I don't use an unusual word more than a few times a week. I like what words I use to express myself and besides, there aren't that many things I want to say that can't be stated simply. So there.

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

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