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Image by Jonathan Bean


Another Dance with English (c) April 2021

“In, Sue, see ant?”
“Is that some sort of truncated Haiku? A micro-poem?”
“No, it’s a word. Insouciant. It means nonchalant or casual – showing a lack of concern. I just like the way it sounds, so I had to say it.”
“Honestly, I worry about the English language. Some words are truly strange.”
“You should be more insouciant about it. Don’t let it mess with your equanimity.”
“Equanimity. Evenness of mind. You need to stay calm. C a l m. They’re just words.”
“Words I find disturbing.”
“Think of them as fun, weirdly-shaped building blocks. Some words are like cubes, and others, well, they have their own unique form.”
“A shape that doesn’t fit with any other shapes. See what I mean!”
“No, no, no. You just need to be patient. Like a dry-stone wall builder. Find the shape that matches the hole.”
“Yes, but they get to chip away the bits they don’t like.”
“You can’t chip bits off words you don’t like.”
“Actually, I think that’s exactly what we do here in Australia.”
“What – chip away at words?”
“Yeah. When words are too long, or use too many syllables, we hack a bit off to make them easier. Like ‘McDonalds’ becoming ‘Maccas’.”
“But what about names like Sharon becoming Shazza? It’s the same number of syllables.”
“But so much more insouciant. And cheerful. It gets rid of the mournful ‘n’. Sharon, Darren and Hayden become Shazza, Dazza and Hazzaaaa! What’s not to like? I can see their grins as they wave their stubbies back at us from around the campfire.”
“But some words are annoyingly illogical. Take ‘inconsequential’.”
“What’s wrong with ‘inconsequential’? It rolls off the tongue beautifully.”
“Why would you waste five syllables on a word that means ‘not important’. Why not stick to ‘paltry’. That’s only two.”
“Two chickens?”
“No – two syllables. Paltry, minor, petty.”
“Why not go the whole hog and use ‘inconsiderable’. That’s six syllables. Just goes to show you that it’s massively unimportant.”
“Sounds like the ‘snout to tail’ of word snobbery.”
“There are good reasons to butcher words. It helps us express affection for the language and our mates at the same time.”
“Like, chuck us a snag, would ya, darl?”
“Have you every wondered if snags were made out of chuck?”
“Chuck steak. Beef sausages. Then, if your mate’s name was Charles, you could say, ’Chuck us a chuck stick, Chuck.’”
“Now I feel like chucking. Plus we’d only call him Chuck if he was American. And since when was a sausage a ‘chuck stick’.”
“Depends how the trade’s been at Bunnings. The snags’d be pretty awful if they’d been sitting there all day. You’d have to feel for the local Kindergarten.”
“What’s a Kindergarten got to do with it?”
“Well, they’d be the ones running the sausage sizzle. Sausages lose their appeal if they’ve been off the hot plate for too long.”
“I’ll just eat the onions. It’s safer.”
“Cold onions in white bread?”
“Gourmet food, especially with dead ‘orse.”
“Not even tomatoes could make that edible. Plus it would never happen.”
“Why? It’s not a fixed menu. I’m sure they’d leave the sausage out if I asked.”
“It won’t happen because the onions sell out before the snags do. You’ll never find cold, greasy onions left behind.”
“So you’re trying to tell me that barbecued onions are not inconsequential.”
“Exactly. They are key.”
“And there it goes again. Silly English.”
“What do you mean?”
“A single syllable for the most important thing, and six to tell me that you can safely overlook the other one. Pure nonsense.”
“Oh, you are harsh. Give your poor mother tongue a break.”
“Is it possible to break a tongue?”
“Sounds like a question for Google. At least you don’t have to use your tongue to do that.”
“I use Voice Recognition software.”
“Hey Google, make this sausage disappear…”

Inconsequential: About Me
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