Pilot swap II

Well, I posted last Tuesday’s strip on reddit, and was consequently schooled that we probably meant “biennial” instead of “bi-annual” and that we’ve got it mixed up. Well, to our defense, we’re both not English native speakers. But, I got curious in the subject and looked it up in the dictionary. It turns out that it’s a rather confusing subject, because both definitions (twice a year and every two years) show up. The same goes for bi-weekly and bi-monthly.

Ah, English. Such a tricky language! One of my favorite oddity is “flammable” vs. “inflammable”, which, apparently, both mean the same thing. Do any of you know other funny glitches in the matrix of English?

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14 comments on “Pilot swap II
  1. markm says:

    Blame Latin and medieval French, not English, for the confusing “inflammable”. The Latin prefix “in-” has two meanings, e.g. “invisible”, or vs. “indoctrinate”. That is, “not” vs. “initiate a process”. So setting fire to something was “inflammāre” in Latin. This passed through French to English, with the addition of “-able” to say “easily combustible”.

    But many “in-” for “not” words also passed into English, so much that English speakers would also attach “in-” to negate words of Germanic/Nordic and Celtic origins. That made it likely that “inflammable” would be misinterpreted as “not combustible”, which could lead drooling idiots to think it was OK to expose a material marked “inflammable” to flame. Until the 20th Century, no one worried about that – inflammable materials weren’t marked anyway because people were expected to learn the properties of the materials they worked with, and if they didn’t, it was considered better that they and their kinfolk burned up in their inflammable house before the stupidity spread. But in the 20th Century the practice spread of trying to make the world safe for idiots by plastering warning labels everywhere, never mind that anyone who needed the warning didn’t read labels. So sooner or later, some drooling idiot would win a lawsuit because his lawyer convinced a jury that he misunderstood “inflammable” rather than that he didn’t read the label.

    And so a new word was created: “flammable”.

  2. Neil says:

    One ‘lands’ a seaplane on water. ?!?

    Context in English matters, as well as pronunciation…even in written English !!!????
    Consider the phrase
    I never said she stole my money.

    It all depends upon emphasis what the meaning of the phrase is.
    This fun sentence takes on seven different meanings depending on which word is emphasized:

    [I] never said she stole my money. – Someone else said it.
    I [never] said she stole my money. – I didn’t say it. I never [said] she stole my money. – I only implied it.
    I never said [she] stole my money. – I said someone did, not necessarily her.
    I never said she [stole] my money. – I considered it borrowed.
    I never said she stole [my] money. – Only that she stole money— not necessarily my own.
    I never said she stole my [money]. – She stole something of mine, not my money.

    I am sure this could be the source of hundreds of gags as it works for lots of phrases in English.

    All the training Chuck had had had had no effect on his flight skills.
    NO..there aren’t too many had’s. It really is English….the joys of the past perfect tense.

  3. Denton says:

    You got “schooled” on Reddit? No surprise there. Everyone on Reddit has to give their opinion whether or not you ask for it, and everyone is an expert.

    I only speak two languages – English, and bad English. Mostly bad English.

  4. Peter says:

    This is valid Dutch: “Eer was was was was was is”, I think it holds for English as well: ” Before was was was was was is”

  5. Michal says:

    Lead rhymes with read and lead rhymes with read, but lead doesn’t rhyme with read and lead doesn’t rhyme with read.

  6. mike says:

    The bandage was wound around the wound.

    The accountant at the music store records records of the records.

    Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.


  7. Pete says:

    The problem is that English is a mish-mash of various languages, and each of those languages has a partially unique set of rules. And each of those languages pronounces the vowels in a slightly different manner. The best behaved languages still have their words that are descrubed as irregular, and English seems to have more of them than the others. And then there are those words that got “anglicised” and that just adds to the confusion…

  8. reynard61 says:

    Singulars and plurals:

    1. One mouse. Two mice. One house. Two hice? No, two houses.

    2. One tooth. Two teeth. One telephone booth. Two telephone beeth? No, two telephone booths.

    3. One goose. Two geese. One moose. Two meese? No, two moose.

    4. One deer. Two deer. One beer. Two beer? No, two beers.

    Singulars and plurals, ladies and gentlemen! they’ll be here for as long as the language lasts…

  9. Manuel Leitgeb says:

    How about “be-” and “de-“? If I “befriend” someone, I have added a friend. If I’m “bedecked” in jewels, I’ve added shiny stuff. But if I “behead” someone, I make him loose a head. So, shouldn’t it be “dehead”?
    As Howard Tayler put it: “English began as a bad habit shared by Norman soldiers and Saxon barmaids who discovered that if they shared that habit they could share other things”.

  10. Bernd says:

    Neil, Peter, there’s one in German as well: “Wenn hinter Fliegen Fliegen fliegen, fliegen Fliegen Fliegen nach”. (When Flies fly behind flies, flies fly after flies.)

    There’s also at least one word, which, depending on the pronunciation, can have opposite meanings: “umfahren”. It can either mean, stressed on the first syllable, “run over”, or, stressed on the second syllable, “drive around”. But there’s a nuanced, neutral pronunciation, that can actually be interpreted both ways. “Du kannst ja den Pömpel umfahren”: “You can [run over|drive around] that pylon.”

  11. rwill says:


    We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary”

    a quote of James Davis Nicoll

  12. Manuel says:

    Yeah, that one is great. And sometimes it feels like this:
    “The English language was carefully, carefully cobbled together by three blind dues and a German dictionary”.

  13. ThisGuy says:

    Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. And yes, that is a valid and gramatically complete sentence made up of a single word with not 2 but 3 different meanings.

  14. Bernd says:

    ThisGuy, at least one of those meaning is quite obscure dialect, though. The German variant is all standard “Hochdeutsch”.

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