Monday, September 29, 2014

"First Degree Confusion (Or Is It Third Degree?)"

It has been said that English is a difficult language to learn because of all the exceptions. 

Consider spelling.

“Cough” is “o-u” and “g-h”, but “coffee”, which sounds the same, has an “o” and an “f-f.”  Both words making the same “aw” sound as “paw” which is “a-w.”  And what about “elephant”?  It’s the same sound, but it’s “p-h.”

Then there’s the silent “h.”  I say, if a letter’s going to be silent, it shouldn’t be in there at all.  A silent letter should remain on the bench, till it’s actually needed, sitting out for “honest”, in the game for “hat.”  (Unless you’re a Cockney, in which case it’s “’at”, a participating “h” sending an apostrophe in to pinch-hit)

Is your head throbbing?  Mine is.  And English is ostensibly my first language.  Man!  Look at that word!  Two “g’s.”  But one of them sounds like a “j.”

The problems go beyond spelling and pronunciation anomalies.  A while back, I became educated concerning the usage of term “Defcon Five”, which I inaccurately designated and the most serious “Defcon” of them all, when in reality, that’s “Defcon One.”

It’s an explainable – though hardly justifiable – mistake, owing to inadequate research on my part (Read: None) combined with some sloppy logic.  Since “Five” is a larger number than “One”, I (sloppily) logically assumed it reflected a more egregious level of “Defconicity.”

Why did I assume that?

It begins with “First Degree Murder.”

In “Murder”, “First Degree” is the worst kind of murder you can commit, involving willful premeditation and homicidal intent. 

(WARNING TO PEOPLE CONSIDERING “FIRST DEGREE MURDER”:  Consult state laws for variations before proceeding.  You may think, “What’s the worst that could happen? – I get ‘Life’” – when, in reality, the worst that could happen is you get “Death.”  This can be a really costly miscalculation.  You’re welcome.)

But wait.  “First Degree Murder” suggests that you should have known it was “Defcon One”, the “One’s” in both cases being the worst. 

Correct, Blue Writing Person.  It turns out, however, it is not as simple as that.  

Google over to “Burns”, which, like “Murder”, is also delineated by “degrees”, and you discover an entirely different – and discombobulating – story.

“First Degree Burns”, we are told, are the least terrible of the hierarchically categorized burns.  Sunburn is a “First Degree Burn.”  “Second Degree Burns” are awful.  And “Third Degree Burns” – I could barely look at the picture.

Are you sensing the difficulty here?  Going by “First Degree Murder”, I would have determined it was “Defcon One”, both of them being the worst.  But then there’s the “Burns”, wherein a “First Degree Burn” is “Don’t bother coming to the hospital.”

Not angling for exoneration here, but tell me.  What is a poor “Defcon” determiner to think?

What appears to be going on is a complete absence of classificational uniformity.  In “Gradations of Seriousness” “Murder” and “Burn” characterizations proceed in entirely opposite directions, “Murder” going “from ‘Three’ down to ‘One’”, and “Burns” going “from ‘One’ up to ‘Three.’”

Cancer, I didn’t even Google, for fear I might recognize something I have.  But I know that the “Fourth Stage” is the most life-imperiling variety of cancer.  Thereby compounding my confusion even further. 

They don’t even have “Fourth Degree Murder.”  What would that even be?

“I said hello to him and he died.”

The lesson, I now know, is:  “Assume Nothing.”  “Fourth Stage Cancer” is horrible.  “Defcon Four”, – I mean you keep an eye on it, but if you’ve got tickets to a ballgame, and you go. 

“Defcon Five”? 

It’s two rungs below “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.”  (And I made it the worst!)

The Thing to Remember:  If you’re not certain about something, look it up. 

That, for me, is First Class advice.

Wait!  First Class travel is “Top-of-the-Line.” 

But it’s “Third Degree Burns”?

And don’t get me started on,

“How are you feeling?” 

“I’m a little under par.”

In golf, where the term originates, “Under par” is good.  “Under par’s” what you’re shooting for.  In health?  It’s a little below average. Virtually synonymous with “So-so.”

Somebody needs to coordinate these things.  Unless they’ve been made deliberately confusing so that the people who know English can torture the people who are trying to learn it.

Which in my view is just mean.

1 comment:

Wendy M. Grossman said...

When I first moved to the UK, I became convinced that the Founding Fathers of the US deliberately made everything go backwards to annoy any Brits arriving on US shores. (And to punish any Americans going the other way.)

For example: you turn the lights on by pushing the switch DOWN. You drive on the left and traffic circles are clockwise (and they're called roundabouts, not traffic circles). When cars had manual windows, you turned the handle the opposite way to open them. Often, the hot tap is on the *other* side (but for maximum confusion, often it's not).

They call faucets "taps" and don't know "faucet". They have mix (hot and cold through one outlet) taps in bathtubs, where you don't need them, but not in bathroom sinks, where you do.

And you think *you* have problems.