UN OR NON

On a few occasions, these essays have introduced you to Miss Maxwell, my eighth grade teacher.  She was the one who wore high-buttoned shoes and loved to recite English poetry to the consternation of her students.  Miss Maxwell was also a bear cat on hour-on-hour learning the rules of English grammar.  Diagramming sentences provided a thrill to Miss Maxwell that must have been indescribable.  When she reached the end of the sentence structure, she had a beatific smile on her face.  Like most of the boys in her class, I was un-taken by Miss Maxwell’s attempt to teach us English grammar.  On my graduation from the eighth grade in January of 1936, I began to unlearn the lessons that Miss Maxwell had tried to teach me.  I suppose that those events are more than 75 years behind us now.

In all of the ensuing years, I have never found a person who worried about what word would modify some other word.  I had a 43-year business career where I was called upon to make perhaps as many as 1500 presentations.  I tried to speak with due regard for the grammar of the English language but I must say that unlearning the lessons that Miss Maxwell tried to teach me was a good investment.

The burden of this essay has to do with what I believe are prefixes.  Maybe that is not the technical term, but it will do for the purposes of this essay.

Now to introduce you to another old friend of this writer, Sven Lernevall, who is now the Count of Umea.  When Sven was asked about his use of the English language, he said, “English is a rich language.”  I do not doubt what Count Lernevall had to say about his evaluation of the English language.  I have found that when Sven says something, you can take it to the bank.  But if we take the thought about English being a rich language to the use of prefixes, we can turn it into “un-rich” or “non-rich.”  That of course reverses the meaning of richness.

To carry that one step further, there is a candidate in the Republican primaries for the Presidency of the United States who is rumored to be gay.  I would contend that most of my friends are either un-gay or non-gay.  So the English language is very utilitarian.

Now we turn to another matter having to do with our children.  It goes back more than 50 years.  We have two daughters who, as they were growing up, were tow heads and it was difficult to tell one from the other.  In point of fact, they looked exactly like sisters.  But the facts are that one was adopted and the other arrived by some sort of divine intervention.  From time to time, Eileen, their mother, and I were asked, “Which one is the adopted one?”  If I had had my wits about me, I would have pointed to the one daughter and said that she was the un-adopted or non-adopted child.  But in those days I did not have my wits about me and so I was required to tell the truth.

But now let us go on to other forms having to do with the “non” business.  Here in the great state of New Jersey, it is patently obvious from my wearing sunglasses and using a white cane that I am non-sighted.  Nonetheless the authorities in this great state require me to carry a non-driver’s driver’s license.  It costs $26 and lasts for only four or five years.  When the time to renew the non-driver’s driver’s license came up for renewal, I said to the governor, “You know what you can do with your non-driver’s driver’s license.”  It is still in my wallet and I still carry a white cane and wear sunglasses.  If I am ever required to produce this magnificent document, I will voluntarily point out that it is a year or two overdue but that does not change the stupidity of having a non-driver’s driver’s license.

Recently I composed an essay whose title was “Non-Sightedness.”  Non-sightedness is of course a euphemism for blindness.  It seems to me that non-sightedness takes the edge off of the word blindness.  Blindness is a harsh word.  My contribution to the English language is non-sightedness.  I hope that word stays around for quite a while.

I believe at this point that all of my readers are attuned to the un or non business.  Actually, however, the use of the un or non has been here probably as long as the English language has existed.  I suppose what I am doing is merely expanding it to include such terms as un-rich or non-sighted.  But as time goes forward, I hope that you will see other opportunities where the prefix of “un” or “non” would be appropriate.  If that were to be the case, it would bring joy to this old by-passed heart.

And if the term “un” or “non” is indeed not a prefix, I will beg forgiveness from Miss Maxwell when I see her in heaven.  It follows that all English teachers who are bear cats about English grammar go to heaven, particularly those who can expertly diagram sentences.  It is doubtful that all essayists like myself will ever reach those shores, but I intend to do my best to finally make Miss Maxwell proud of me.

Note: to the non-partisan, non-fiction, non-essential, non-pareil, non-unique, and non-gay… Miss Chicka also contributes the wonderful word of nonsense.

Here are some final thoughts which are non-pareil, meaning having no match or equal, unrivaled.  The word pareil means similar, alike, uniform or equal.  I like non-pareil the best because it is also the name of a candy!

 

E. E. CARR

January 16, 2012

Essay 625

 

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Kevin’s commentary:

Two more language essays today.

Upon seeing the last part of this essay, I decided that I was curious as to the last time Pop actually ate candy. He doesn’t seem like the type to have a sweet tooth. So Pop, if you’re reading this, definitely let me know how much of a candy-eater you are.

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