Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

A blog about words, wordplay, and etymology, with slightly more than occasional political rants.

Monday, May 17, 2010

I am writing

One day I got my eyebrows threaded at the mall. If you're not aware, "threading" is a method of hair removal most commonly associated with India in which thread is used like tweezers - it's as effective as waxing, but painful like a root canal. 

In response to my wincing during the torture session, she kept saying "You are having many fine hairs."
The experience made me wonder two things. One, why on earth I would choose to pay someone to remove harmless stray hairs in such an excruciating manor? Two, why do people from India seem to add unnecessary "ings" to words? Must be something to do with the Indian language - maybe in India, people use gerunds in place of verbs for some reason.

But, as I just read in John McWhorter's "Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue," it's not the Indians who use gerunds in place of verbs, it's us. A gerund is a verb that's been made into a noun, usually by adding "ing." So if I say "Writing makes me happy," I'm saying "The act of writing makes me happy," and "the act of writing" is the subject of a sentence - a noun, basically. What I've never noticed is that the English language uses "-ing" words unnecessarily a lot, and it's one of only a handful of languages that does. For instance, right now, I am writing a blog entry. In this, the writing takes place in the present tense - it's what I'm up to right now. However, the present tense of "write" is "write," not "am writing." It would make more sense to say it the way every other language does, "I write this entry," but in English, that sentence isn't quite right.

So the nice Indian lady torturing me didn't say "you are having" because of some peculiarity of her language, but because "have" is one of the only verbs we don't add "-ing" to when saying something in the present tense. Her error was only that she forgot which words are the exceptions to the nonsensical rule.

And the moral of this story is that I was guilty of something Americans are so often guilty of; I assumed that because she wasn't born in America, I was doing it right and she was doing it wrong, when in fact, English speakers are doing it wrong... well, English speakers are doing it kind of counter-intuitively.

And... random flower. I think this is my mom's yard.

No comments: