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Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Microstory 942: Language

When I was in seventh grade, I found myself failing English class. I was blowing off every assignment, and bombing every test. It got to be so bad that my teacher had to call my parents, which led to an awful fight. It was the weekend, and another test was coming up, but I had no way of studying, because I didn’t bother bringing the booklet home with me. My dad made me start calling my classmates one by one from the student directory to ask them if I could borrow their booklet, make a copy, and take it back. I don’t remember how many I had to call—which, as an undiagnosed autistic boy, was about the worst thing you could make me do—but I remember there being several of them. I cracked open the booklet, and was surprised at the material. They called it Greek and Latin Roots and Stems. You mean to tell me the string of letters -ing means “continuous action”? Well, of course it does. And -ed denotes the past tense? It couldn’t be anything else. In a matter of weeks, I ended up with one of the highest grades in the class, because this was my field of study. I just didn’t know it yet. Over the course of the next few years, I would regularly start failing English class, only to make up for it once I actually agreed to pay attention, and try. Still, I was into my second year of college before I discovered Linguistics. People in movies often struggle to decide what kind of classes they want to take, but it wasn’t so up in the air for me. There were tons of general requirements, and you had to take a great deal of classes at a certain level or higher. And in order to reach that level, you had to take prerequisites. I’m not saying we all took the exact same classes, but there was quite a bit of overlap, regardless of your major. I ended up falling in love with the linguistics course that fulfilled these requirements, and decided to minor in it, while continuing to major in film. Though, by the time the next semester rolled around, I had realized that no one in the film department liked me, and I was better off switching completely.

True to form, I kept failing my classes, but this time I had to retake them, because college professors are far less forgiving than high school teachers. Still, because I basically started as a junior, with nearly the maximum number of transfer credits, I was able to graduate in four years, just like most people. And here I am today as what’s easiest to describe as a permanent office temp. I have a multitude of duties, at dozens of different locations, and not a single one of them is at all related to the study of linguistics. The name of my degree is, every single time, misleading to people who ask for it. Some think it means I know every single language, which would be tough, since there are/were literally thousands of them. Those who understand it better, want to engage me in an intellectual conversation, which I am unable to provide, because I was a horrible student, no matter how you look at it. I know a little about a lot of things, but I don’t know much about any one thing; not even linguistics. And don’t even get me started on what kind of job people are meant to get with this degree. The answer is, the one I have right now, asshole. Most people don’t have their dream job, but thanks for quite deliberately making me feel like a failure. Fortunately for the people who paid my way through school, the entire ordeal was not technically a waste of time. As a writer, I use the skills and knowledge I picked up every day. My foundation allows me to seek out answers without being completely lost, unlike when I try to research, say, how to repair an automobile. I love language. I love all its little twists and exceptions. I love learning about who speaks what languages, where, when they started, and why. I find it fascinating that the term a napron was so decisively mistaken for an apron that few people even know the truth behind it. And I love that English is the only Germanic Romance language in the world. Language isn’t everything, but if we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t be able to talk about all the other things that matter.

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