Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Things we Know but Don't Know We Know

It was a quiet evening and I overheard it while wandering between bars. That, you understand, is between bars in the Tavern. You would automatically assume that people do not wander between the bars of a cell.  And I didn't overhear the quiet evening either and you knew that too. You assume I am about to talk about something I overheard on the quiet evening.

There is so much we seem to automatically 'know'.  There was an American  political chap a while back who got himself and some reporters quite mixed up when talking about Intelligence matters. That is, Intelligence in the spying sense, not the Mensa sense. 

You knew that too.

"There are things we don't know that we don't know we don't know". He said. "And things we don't know that we do know we don't know." You can fill the rest in yourself. If you have the perspective.

And I had some things brought into my 'Know now' box that I knew but didn't know I knew. It was something being said by a chap - Mark Forsyth - who makes it his job to study some matters.

Here's something : A Chinese child can converse in quite passable Chinese (Mandarin, Hokkien, whatever) by the time he or she is four.  He and his sister have picked up a lot of words and figured how to put them together: they have grasped quite complex linguistic skills without ever having sat in a classroom and been whacked over the knuckles by a schoolmarm with a ruler.

When we are learning, we need to be very careful.

English kiddies too. Not speaking Mandarin, of course, but a far more complex language. English. I did that. I could speak quite easily by four but had no knowledge available to my understanding that allowed me to do so. It is still largely the case.

Feminists and 'Progressives' have an even poorer understanding of what they say, but choose to do the knuckle-rapping whenever they can. 

They schoolmarm from morn to nigh on night, punishing wherever and whenever they can. No wonder folk are reluctant to learn. And they of course do not have to. 

They know they know everything already.

So to Mark, whom I found to be quite entertaining. So much so that I gave him free drinks all evening. He touched upon some of.......

The Language Rules we Know – 
but don’t know we know.
Over [a] weekend, [some time ago] I happened to go viral. Or rather a single paragraph from a book I wrote called The Elements of Eloquence went viral. The guilty paragraph went like this:
Adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: 
opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun. 
With 'Number' at the start, he added. 

I can remember quite a bit from my schooling, but not having been taught this. Mind you, I played truant quite a lot.
So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac. 
It’s an odd thing that every English speaker uses that list, but almost none of us could write it out.”
English speakers love to learn this sort of thing for two reasons. First, it astonishes us that there are rules that we didn’t know that we knew. That’s rather peculiar, and rather exciting. 
We’re all quite a lot cleverer than we think we are. And there’s the shock of realising that there’s a reason there may be little green men on Mars, but there certainly aren’t green little men. 
Second, you can spend the next hour of your life trying to think of exceptions, which is useful as it keeps you from doing something foolish like working.
As long as you keep drinking, eh? 
Actually, there are a couple of small exceptions. Little Red Riding Hood may be perfectly ordered, but the Big Bad Wolf seems to be breaking all the laws of linguistics. Why does Bad Big Wolf sound so very, very wrong? What happened to the rules?
Ding dong King Kong
Well, in fact, the Big Bad Wolf is just obeying another great linguistic law that every native English speaker knows, but doesn’t know that they know. And it’s the same reason that you’ve never listened to hop-hip music.
You are utterly familiar with the rule of .......
ablaut reduplication. 
You’ve been using it all your life. It’s just that you’ve never heard of it.
Yeah, even unto Americans ! 
But if somebody said the words zag-zig, or cross-criss you would know, deep down in your loins, that they were breaking a sacred rule of language. 
You just wouldn’t know which one.
All four of a horse’s feet make exactly the same sound. But we always, always say clip-clop, never clop-clip. 
Every second your watch (or the grandfather clock in the hall makes the same sound) but we say tick-tock, never tock-tick. You will never eat a Kat Kit bar. The bells in Frère Jaques will forever chime ‘ding dang dong’.
Reduplication in linguistics is when you repeat a word, sometimes with an altered consonant (lovey-dovey, fuddy-duddy, nitty-gritty), and sometimes with an altered vowel: bish-bash-bosh, ding-dang-dong. 
If there are three words then the order has to go I, A, O
If there are two words then the first is I and the second is either A or O. Mish-mash, chit-chat, dilly-dally, shilly-shally, tip top, hip-hop, flip-flop, tic tac, sing song, ding dong, King Kong, ping pong.
Why this should be is a subject of endless debate among linguists. 
It might be to do with the movement of your tongue or an ancient language of the Caucasus. It doesn’t matter. It’s the law, and, as with the adjectives, you knew it even if you didn’t know you knew it. And the law is so important that you just can’t have a Bad Big Wolf.
It’s astonishing quite how expert you are at the English language. There are so many tenses you can use without even thinking about it, and almost certainly without being able to name them. It depends how you count them, but there are about 20 that you deploy faultlessly. 
Every child learning Latin or French or almost any other language works up a sweat learning 'Tenses'. 

Many furrin languages even have gendered words.  Masculine and Feminine. In fact 'Gender' is to do with words and nothing to do with genitals.

Feminists don't know that. 
The pluperfect progressive passive for an extended state of action that happened to you prior to another action in the past, is, when you put it like that, rather daunting.
You might need to read that again. I shall pull a pint for you and wait. 
But then you’d happily say “I realised I’d been being watched” without breaking sweat or blinking. 
Think how daunting this is for people learning English. The teacher has to explain to them that... 
the English don’t usually use the present tense for things that are happening in the present. 
“I brush my teeth” doesn’t mean that you’re doing it right now, it just means that you do it regularly. 
For things that are actually happening right now you use the present progressive “I’m brushing my teeth” (but only if you can speak with your mouth full).
Progressives do not know the meaning of their self-label either ! 
And having learnt that you then have to learn that there are certain exceptions, like the verb ‘to think’ used as an auxiliary, as in “I think you’re right”. This is why, incidentally, lots of non-native speakers will use phrases like “I am thinking that you are right”. 
It sounds faintly comic to us, but we had years and years and years of immersion learning just to get all these subtleties. 
And English is complex and weird. We actually have a tense called the Future Present. Imagine having to learn that. But for us it’s just “The train leaves tomorrow.”
Some rules we really should know. It’s surprising and dispiriting how many English people don’t know the rules of stress, [particularly Americans ! ]because that’s how all our poetry works. It’s quite easy really, and we can hear it in other languages. 
Everyone knows that Italian has rhythm, it goes MAM-a MI-a BUON-a SER-a. But so does our language. And that’s how verse works. I can illustrate with my favourite limerick (or at least my favourite clean one). Try reading this aloud:
There was a young man from Dundee
Got stung on the leg by a wasp
When asked does it hurt
He said ‘Yes it does.
‘I’m so glad it wasn’t a hornet.’
That has no rhymes, but it still works as a limerick because rhymes aren’t nearly as important as rhythm. And the rhythm goes:
de-DUM-de, de-DUM-de, de-DUM
de-DUM-de, de-DUM-de, de-DUM
de-DUM-de, de-DUM
de-DUM-de, de-DUM
de-DUM-de, de-DUM-de, de-DUM-de
Which only works because we know to pronounce Dundee as ‘dun-DEE’, and not to rhyme with Grundy or the Isle of Lundy.
Ask an American to say the name 'Robin Hood'. Try not to snigger. 
It’s the subtle difference when we record a record or present a present or tell a rebel to rebel. 
It’s a difference that is very hard for people to learn, and is the main reason that, in a strong French accent, 
there’s no difference between happiness and a penis.
English is an immensely complicated language to get right, and native speakers often have no idea of its strangeness. We understand the sentence “I can’t put up with the guy I’m putting up at my house, his put-downs really put me out and I’m feeling put-upon”. 
Or “I’m doing up my house and it’s doing me in.” Literally, that should mean “I’m performing my house skywards and it’s performing me towards the interior”. 
These are called phrasal verbs and they are the nightmare of every would-be English speaker. Somebody once said of Ian Fleming that he got off with women because he couldn’t get on with them. To us that’s a simple joke, to a learner who also has to get through, get by, get down, get with it, get up… it does their head in.
English is largely made up of the rules we don’t know that we know. 
And actually the rules we know we know are a rarity. We can cling to a few of them at least. At least we all know that we know that adjectives have comparatives and superlatives. Big, bigger, biggest. Hot, hotter, hottest. Easy, easier, easiest. It’s comforting. It’s reliable. It’s something we know that we know.
But can you do it with an adjective that’s three syllables long?
Curiouser and curiouser.

The lad deserves his pints.



  1. Replies
    1. As exceptions go, that is worthy of a modest competition entry. Pint for you sir unless someone betters it.

  2. Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.

    1. My rendition sounds more complicated :) but if that was a starter for ten, give me the name for an extra bonus pint.

    2. Donald Rumsfeld's famous soliloquy.

    3. Hehehehe. That's the fellow. Bonus pint for you.

  3. Very interesting article. I learnt ancient Greek at school and you had to be able to identify the tenses in English (aorist, pluperfect etc.) to be able to translate them.

    1. I did Latin (of course). Not that I was any good at it. Edepol ! Magnum Pilae Igneum. I know.... amo, amas, amatitagain.


Ne meias in stragulo aut pueros circummittam.

Our Bouncer is a gentleman of muscle and guile. His patience has limits. He will check you at the door.

The Tavern gets rowdy visitors from time to time. Some are brain dead and some soul dead. They attack customers and the bar staff and piss on the carpets. Those people will not be allowed in anymore. So... Be Nice..