Tuesday, December 05, 2006

English Can Be Fun #1: The Irish Bull

Confession time: I am an unabashed language geek. I love, love, love, the minutiae --but only the minutiae-- of speech, linguistics, and grammar to a degree that is almost embarassing. The practical stuff, I couldn't care less about. And yes, I know I just ended a sentence with a preposition, and began this one with a conjunction to boot.

As a lang geek, I always enjoy finding cool little pieces on language trivia like this one by Paul Greenberg. The topic, as this post's title line suggests, is a delightful kind of verbal blunder known as the Irish Bull. Why a bull? (It's tempting to continue, apres the Marx brothers, with "Why not a chicken?") Bull, definition 3, according to my dictionary* comes from the Middle English bul, trickery or lie, which comes from the Old French boule, lie, which comes from the Latin bulla and is defined as: A ludicrously illogical or incongruous mistake in statement. A handy thing to keep in mind the next time you tell someone he's full of bull. So why Irish? According to Greenberg's column, in honor of one Sir Boyle Roche, an 18th century Irish Parliamentarian who acquired a reputation for his contributions to the form:

Why, Mr. Speaker, should we do anything for posterity?What has posterity done for us?

And that oft-quoted standard,

The country is overflowing with absentee landlords.

I'll leave the rest for Greenberg. His honorees include Chicago's Mayor Daley, Sam Goldwyn (of MGM Studios,) and his personal favorite, economist Paul Krugman. Click and enjoy!

*Webster's New World Dictionary, Second College Edition. William Collins Publishers, 1979. Yeah, I know. We're probably overdue for an update here at the minor premise.

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