English is an excellent language. It’s changeable and flexible, full of slang, obscure words, foreign words and synonyms, all of which make it easier to express extremely precise shades of meaning.But there are areas where English is lacking.
For instance, how do you answer a question asked in the negative?
This can be very important. Answering your girlfriend’s “I’m not fat, am I?” with a simple “yes” or “no” could get you in trouble. You might mean “Yes, you’re not fat,” or “No, you’re not fat,” but that’s not necessarily how she’ll take it.
To avoid confusion, I’ve taken to repeating the question with every answer. “No, I have not yet gone to the grocery store.” Or when I’m feeling ornery: “Yes, I do not think you are dumb.”
English could use a little clarification.
French and German both have a word for “yes” in response to a negative question or statement. For example, if someone said to me in one of these languages “You aren’t American!” I would not respond “yes” or “no.” Instead, I would respond “si,” in French or “doch” in German. Interestingly enough, in a casual French conversation one sometimes hears more “si” than “oui.”
Did that sentence sound awkward? Many languages use “one” easily and meaningfully, but in English, it sounds stilted and perhaps a bit academic: “One should water one’s lawn in the evening to avoid water evaporation.”
This inability to use “one” leads to common grammatical errors: “Someone should mind their own business.” (It should read “Someone should mind his or her own business” or “One should mind one’s own business.”)
Furthermore, we need a plural “you” form.
For those of us from the south, “y’all” works just fine but unfortunately not in formal occasions or indirect addresses.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “you” used to be the plural and/or formal way to address a person or people with “thou” as the singular and informal “you.”
I think we should bring this trend back.
From now on, I will begin addressing individuals as “thou,” use “one,” and start answering questions with “si.” If y’all join in, maybe we can reverse the language trend and amend the English language.
Opinion editor Stephanie Weaver is a senior English, philosophy and French major from Westwood, Kan.