Let's Speak English
- Page 23 -
Lastly there's the RAIN - R-A-I-N - which falls from the sky. That's a very familiar word in England. 'It's RAINING". 'It's going to RAIN'. 'Has it stopped RAINING?' That's why all Englishmen, when they meet, first discuss the weather. It's the most vital thing in their lives.
if you want to enter into a conversation with a stranger in England, it's no good getting up, making a jerky little bow and saying "Schmidt'. All you have to do is turn your head slightly and say ' Rotten weather'. After a few minutes reflection
the Englishman says "Yes, isn't it"? And that's as intimate with him as you'll ever get.
Now another word which has three different spellings and three different meanings is PAIR. When it's spelled P-E-A-R it's a fruit; 'Agas' in Hebrew, Injas in Arabic, 'Poire' in French, 'Birne' in German. As you are better educated than I am you probably know what it is in half a dozen other languages as well.
You often hear someone say that something is pear-shaped. Be careful to note if they are referring to you. If so, it means it's time you started to diet.
Now if PEAR means a fruit when its spelled P-E-A-R, when it's spelled P-A-I-R it means two. You go into a shop and ask for a PAIR of shoes --unless, of course, you've got only one leg. If, on the other hand, you've got four Iegs, you naturally need two pairs.
The other spelling is P·A·R-E which means to cut away something. You PARE the skin from an orange - unless you're one of those disgusting people who make a little hole in the top and suck. Or you PARE your nail: if, like most of us, you can't afford to go to a manicurist to get it done for you.
Then there's the word CHEQUE. Now in England, if you've a bank account, you usually have a CHEQUE book too. But it doesn't follow that if you've a CHEQUE book, you still have money in your bank account. I wish it did as I've still got plenty of CHEQUES left.
Now, in English, CHEQUE is spelled C-H-E-Q-U-E. It's the same word as you get in the title 'The Chancellor of the Exchequer', who's the Minister of Finance in England. By the way, the word EXCHEQUER comes from a checkered board, painted with alternate black and white squares, like a chess board, on which the early finance ministers used to do their additions.
In America, however, CHEQUE is always spelled C-H-E-C-K. - But whichever way you spell it, an American always knows what you mean.
In England if you spell the word C-H-E-C-K it means to stop something suddenly. You can CHECK an attack. But it's curious that the word CHECK- or CHECK-MATE - used in the game of chess, when the king is exposed to attack, comes from another root altogether. CHECK-MATE actually comes from the Arabic 'Il Shaikh" mat' - 'The Sheikh' (or chief piece)' 'is dead'.
Another couple of words are CANNON with two N's and CANON with one. A CANNON with two N's is used by the artillery to fire shells against the enemy. It's long and thin and makes a lot of noise. But a CANON with one N is a
*The President has since been informed that the word should be 'shah', not 'shaikh'.