I just checked out The Teaching Company. Okay, now I know what I'm saving my pennies for. I want ... I WANT!!! Actually, I want it all, but I'll settle for the linguistics lectures. And maybe the ones on medieval history. Oh, and calculus, I'll need that. Now all I have to do is win the lottery....
I've read several books on the history of English because it absolutely fascinates me; I want that lecture series in the worst way. You can blame Wamba the Witless for that, and his jabbering about how Gurth's swine are going to be turned into Normans. When I was about 9 or 10, I got my hands on Ivanhoe, and since nobody told me it was supposed to be a) boring, and b) too hard for a kid to read, I devoured it. How could something that was so full of knights and battles and burning castles and Robin Hood -- Robin Freakin' Hood! -- be boring? It remains one of my favorite books to this day. And it was Wamba whose observations on the use of Saxon words for live animals versus Norman words for their meat that got the fascination started. If my life had gone differently, I might have been very happy as a linguist.
I always get a laugh out of people who are looking for some kind of "pure" English. It's multiple languages bodged together, and the seams show. That's what makes it simultaneously accessible and daunting. It's very easy to learn English at the "me Tarzan, you Jane" level -- its origin as a pidgin sees to that -- and fiendishly difficult at a really in-depth level, because there's not a lot of consistency in whether a word came from Anglo-Saxon, or Norman-French, or got randomly grabbed from some other language entirely. This habit of beating up other languages in dark alleys and rifling through their pockets for loose vocabulary is why English has ten words for everything, each of which has a slightly different shade of meaning.
The people who choose to learn only the simple words, the people who are satisfied with one word for all possible shades of its meaning ... I really pity them. I honestly do. It must be like eating a fine meal when you have a horrible head cold. You can still taste the basics -- sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami -- but all the nuances are gone. No wonder they don't like to read. The people with the strong reading vocabularies are sitting down to five-course meals prepared by master chefs, and the people without them are stuck with takeout from McDonald's (with head colds) and don't even know what they're missing.
It's disturbing how mainstream anti-intellectualism has become. People who actually use the right word for the meaning they're trying to express are belittled, and it seems the language of common discourse has become little more than grunts and the occasional flinging of feces. Even here ... look at some posts in this thread, like Groucho mocking me ... "you know the meaning of every word in the English language?" ... because I said I didn't have to rely on a dictionary to read ordinary books. Obviously a real person, an authentic person -- the salt of the earth, the common clay of the New West -- wouldn't be so intellectually elitist as to understand more words than can be found on an episode of Three's Company.
Nobody sneers at someone because they want to eat something that tastes better than McCardboard, or to wear something that looks nicer than shabby jeans and T-shirts advertising various computer products (e.g., my wardrobe). So why is it that in the very thing that makes us human -- our ability to use language -- those who use and appreciate words are objects of derision?