Many thanks for your interest in our newsletter. In this issue you will read the following sections:
- Isn't it great to be part of a community?
- Alan Townend's Language Essay: "May I have a word?"
- How good is your English?
- We would like to hear from you!
Congratulations on being a member of one of the largest English Language Newsletter readership in the worLd. Yes, you heard right, the email newsletter you are reading right now is also read by almost 18.000 other language lovers from more than 175 countries.
Isn't that exciting? What's even more, you can meet some of your fellow readers and make friends with them. Do you want to know how? Then read the information at the bottom of this issue. But wait a minute, weren't you waiting for this month's language essay by Alan Townend? Since May is just around the corner, Alan's story is called "May I have a word" and I'm sure you will enjoy reading it:
There are two teachers that I remember most vividly from my school days. The first was an example of excellence, who knew exactly how to explain anything as if it were the easiest thing in the world and in the days when I used to teach in a classroom, it was his voice that seemed to guide me. The other alas was a perfect example of what not to do in the classroom and how not to engage your students. The latter went by the name of Timson and because of the fiery nature of the man he earned himself the nickname of 'Tiger' He had the nasty habit of being sarcastic and as someone once said: Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit. Anyhow whoever said it, hit the nail on the head. But back to Tiger. One of his tricks was to embarrass you if he could. Take for example the occasion when a pupil wanted to leave the room to, how shall we say, inspect the plumbing? I trust you know what I mean.
The boy would raise his hand and Tiger would say: Yes? Then little Johnnie would ask: Please sir (oh we were so polite in those days) can I leave the room? Tiger, quick as a flash, would retort: I don't know whether you're capable of that, do I? The hapless child had clearly confused 'can' meaning 'ability to do something' and 'may' meaning 'permission to do something.' Eventually little Johnnie was allowed to answer the call of nature having realised his linguistic lapse and hurriedly left the room. Of course nowadays we don't really get steamed up any more about such niceties on the differences between 'can' and 'may'. 'May' belongs to that exclusive group of verbs we call modals along with 'will', 'can', 'ought to' and 'must'. They also are so-called defective verbs because they are not all there - they have parts missing. They lack things like infinitives and past participles. 'May' is great at being old fashioned and polite. If you want to remove a chair for example from another table to add to your table in a restaurant, you say to the other diners: May I? When offered another cup of tea, you can be frightfully correct and say; May I? It's definitely a paid up member of the Well Behaved Club. And then it has another side to it suggesting diffidence, uncertainty and somewhat sitting on the fence. I may decide to accept your offer suggests you haven't made your mind up yet. A 'maybe' is used to describe a possible choice when you are selecting what product you are going to buy because at this stage you haven't seen everything that's available. And then to show its versatility it crops up in wishes, requests and prayers: May you lead a happy life says the priest to the newly married couple. May you never darken my door again says the nineteenth century father to the young man he's kicking out of the house, who has dared declare his love for the man's daughter.
Now take those three letters m, a and y, turn the letter m into a capital letter and hey presto you have the name of a month. This is the favourite month of the Romantic poet and when nature decides to put out its best flowers - at least in my small island. Or it used to but global warming is sending the seasons haywire, topsy-turvy, upside down and all over the place. There used to be a song that went:
Though April Showers may come your way
They bring the flowers that bloom in May
So if it's raining have no regrets
Because it isn't raining rain you know
It's raining violets
Words by B.G. DeSylva. Thanks for that B.G. - it fits rather well with my idea of the two 'mays' Mind you, sing that to my garden and you wouldn't get much applause because the 'blooming' has already 'bloomed'. The German poet, Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) would however have shared the May flowering concept. I have a soft spot for H.H because of his wonderful sense of humour. He once had an invitation to visit the great Goethe and worried himself sick about what deep philosophical comment he should talk about. When they met, he lost his nerve and said: I see the plums are doing well this year!
Of course there are also festivals that take place in May. In the past on the first day of May or at the following weekend people in villages would get up at sunrise to pick flowers and decorate their houses. Young girls would make May Garlands by decorating hoops with leaves and flowers. The highlight of the day was the crowning of the May Queen, a ceremony dating back to the Romans with the goddess Flora. Dancing played an important part and particularly Maypole Dancing. Young trees were cut down and stuck in the ground on the village green. Children, having practised weeks before hand, would dance around the pole holding on to colourful ribbons attached to the top. The tallest maypole was said to have been erected in the centre of London in 1717 and measured some 43.5 metres. There were even special May Day tricks played rather in the style of April Fool tricks. Today of course in our bright new digital age we are a little more reserved. One survivor of the festivities is Morris dancing. Picture this: six or eight grown men wearing mainly white with coloured baldrics (coloured belts) across their chests arranged in two lines or a circle facing each other dance around to the accompaniment of an accordion carrying white handkerchiefs which they shake and short sticks that they bang against each other as they dance. Oh and I should add that there is also a bunch of jingling bells attached to both legs. This can be heard and seen throughout May. I have witnessed such a spectacle several times and never actually managed to stay long enough to watch with a straight face. Perhaps the saddest association with this month is that of the Mayfly whose span of life is but twenty-four hours. Now if you happen to come across one, how do you say goodbye? Should you really use that famous American mantra: Have a nice day. Seems a bit cruel, doesn't it?
On rereading my letter I see I was a bit hard on my old teacher, Tiger. And really you shouldn't speak ill of the departed. For the sake of my conscience I have to say: Tiger, may you rest in peace!