News about the English language

You’ve probably read that English is now the default world language. Well, here’s the proof you weren’t looking for: Birds are speaking it. To each other. Or at least in Australia they are.

Escaped pet parrots and cockatoos have taught it to the wild flocks they join, and the flocks are sitting in the trees chatting away. Not necessarily making anything we’d recognize as sensible conversation, but then humans don’t always make much sense with it either.

A lot of what they say involves swear words.

Well, what did you expect they’d learn from us? Trigonometry?

Screamingly irrelevant photo: This petunia does not speak English. Or any other language. Shocking, isn’t it?

But wild birds speaking English is nothing compared to prairie dogs—North American relatives of meerkats—can do in their own language. They describe not only the kind of danger they see but the size, shape, color, speed, and type of predator.

They do that in Prairie Dog, a language that’s only now getting the recognition it deserves.

According to a New York Times article, “The animals could even combine the structural elements of their calls in novel ways to describe something they had never seen before…. Prairie-dog communication is so complex…—so expressive and rich in information—that it constitutes nothing less than language.”

That dumps us right into the thicket of what a language is and whether, as the article asks, language created the mind or the mind created language. I won’t try to find my way through that—there’s a shortcut leading out of the thicket and I’m going to crawl through it. I won’t learn as much as I would if I took the long way, but I won’t get as many thorns in my hide.

Besides, I don’t know enough to find my way through if I go the more interesting way, never mind enough to guide anyone else. If someone does know enough and writes on this, send me a link and I’ll post it. In the meantime, take a look at the article if you’re interested. It’s a fascinating question.


You may have already suspected this, but it’s now official: Swearing makes you stronger. A study at Keele Univery, in Staffordshire, has established it. And since Staffordshire is in Britain, it’s legitimate blog fodder, unlike that business about Australian birds and North American prairie dogs.

The test involved repeating either your swearword of choice or a word you might use to describe a table. You know: scratched, wobbly, needing a good wipe with a dishrag that is, ideally, cleaner than the table.

Okay, you now know more about my gift for housekeeping than you were meant to. And that last suggestion isn’t one word, so it probably wouldn’t work.

Whichever group you were in, you had to say the word in an even tone while pedaling an exercise bike for half a minute.

The swearword group generated more power than the table group.

It’s possible that the people repeating “wobbly” were laughing too hard to press those pedals, but if they weren’t and it was a fair comparison, it means that I am very, very strong. Please be impressed. At my size, I don’t get to impress people often.


As long as I’m on the subject of language, let’s give a minute to the way a recent newspaper article about eating red meat was written. It said studies have shown “that substituting white meat for red meat reduced the risk of dying from most causes.”

Since I not only don’t eat red meat, I don’t eat white meat either, I won’t die from any cause at all. And if swearing turns out to not just make you stronger but also prolong life, I’ll have many extra years to pass on to my friends and readers.

83 thoughts on “News about the English language

    • And necessary. For a (mercifully) brief time, I not only didn’t eat meat, I wasn’t drinking anything with caffeine or eating any sugar. The only thing that kept me from floating off the planet entirely was swearing, which–forgive me if I brag–I’m pretty good at. And I’ve finally reached the age where I shock people when I do it, which is a bonus.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Well, I was stunned when I saw my first flock of green parrots living freely in a Roman park, so I can’t even imagine how it would make me feel if one screeched “Va fan culo” as I was taking its photos. Imagine what every blade of grass must be whispering to every entity stepping on it, be it white meat or red. Great strength-building exercise.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The prairie dog out back said: “But you’re going to swear up a storm when you due from nothing or, worse, from a fall while trying to wipe a wobbly table.”

    That’s meant to be funny, I hope I haven’t jinxed your future. The prairie fog was happy to hear that you don’t eat meat.

    I always try to add subtitles to the birds around here. I guess I have to include some foul language (sorry) now. That might be fun.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I wonder if Dan’s phone corrected “fowl language” too – other wise he doesn’t have an pun to apologize for.
    Swearing explains why I have survived this long, I guess, since I eat meat. On the other hand, if I have a stroke while swearing…

    Liked by 2 people

  4. It would appear that the North American prairie dog, adept in complex communication, “expressive and rich in information,” is far more competent—not to mention physically appealing—than the North American President. Were the election held again today (if only!), I’d like to hope the prairie dog would win in a landslide. It couldn’t possibly do more harm than the North American jackal who is currently occupying the office.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I seem to remember a town in–was it Uruguay? Anyway, by way of a protest vote, it elected a rhino from the zoo as its mayor. This would’ve been something in the neighborhood of sixty years ago. So don’t rule it out.


  5. Love this post altogether – the combo of parrots having surreal conversations in English, swearing a lot because no doubt some parrots lived with sailors (?). And prairie dogs sharing alerts with their communities. Also the new to me- being a foul-mouthed vegetarian ! Can I join that club please ? Friends know I’m a veggie, and speak with middle class Brit tones, and I do enjoy the odd swear word for emphasis. Have noticed that the room goes quite, sometimes, after my oath. Oh well, that’s how it is.

    Liked by 2 people

    • If there is a club, yes, please join, but I’m afraid we’ll need a treasurer, even if we don’t have a treasury, and a chair, and then an annual general meeting, where we’d have to swear, of course, and eat raw roots and berries. So maybe we should just leave this loose and disorganized, huh?


  6. How I laughed. I’m a vegetarian, too.

    I’m interested in the swearing thing. I don’t swear, but I suspect that if you do you increase some chemical (adrenaline?) in your body, because you’re in a situation where you need to do something (fight? run?). Swearing when you’re not in such a situation might fool your brain into releasing the chemical. I bet it kills you in the end.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I saw a thing on the moving picture box once about this swearing phenomenon, It concluded that swearing made you have a higher pain threshold but only if you did not already swear all the time.
    The did a test with Stephen Fry and Brian Blessed who each had to hold their hand in a tub of ice water for as long as they could. The first time they were silent and the second time they could swear as much as they liked.
    For Stephen Fry is resilience increased significantly but for Brian Blessed only a small amount.
    It said nothing of the effect on birds mind you…

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Well, let me see, now. I gave up sugar and caffeine, swear like a sailor, and will be damned if I give up meat. How long am I gonna live?

    If you need to consult with the prairie dogs, I’ll wait. Have they officially become the 2nd most intelligent creature on the planet (just below dolphins, at #1) yet?

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Pingback: News about the English language — Notes from the U.K. – Mrs. Franklin's Blog

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