Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 155, July 2018Welcome to Highland Woodworking - Fine Tools & Education Learn more about Highland Woodworking View our current woodworking classes and seminars Woodworking articles and solutions Subscribe to Wood News
The Down to Earth Woodworker
By Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

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The Language of Woodworking

"I should have kept walking, but I set my butt on the butte and watched the beautiful sunset." The English language must be vexing for non-English-speakers to learn. In addition to being used as a conjunctive, the word "but" can change. Add a letter, pronounce the word the same, "but" becomes "butt," and the meaning changes entirely. Add another letter, "butt" becomes "butte" and the pronunciation changes and the meaning. As a language, it's a real beaut! Oh yeah, you can also change the spelling to "beaut" and pronounce it just like "butte" and it means "outstanding" or "distinctive." In the future depicted by Star Trek the English language was called "standard" and they had universal translators for everything that was, I guess, non-standard. Well, there is nothing "standard" to me about English. But it does have one huge advantage.

The French language is lyrical, romantic sounding. German is coarse, of course, and Russian sounds mean, like Klingon, but with potentially devious intents… sorry Russia, just kidding, please don't hack my email. Italian is expressive, matching the expressive designs of their sports cars and espresso machines. Spanish sounds playful and fun to my ears. Standard, I mean, English, is, I'm sorry, kind of bland. Oh, great rhetoricians like Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, and Queen Elizabeth I (read her speech to the troops at Tilbury in 1588 and you will be awestruck) make the language soar and come alive, but in everyday use, English is kind of boring. A guy can give me directions to the Louvre in English and it sounds like directions. A Frenchman can give me the same directions and it sounds like poetry and music.

But English has an advantage… whether warranted or not, English is the international and near-universal language of business. Just this last week I ordered equipment from a company in Belgium and we exchanged numerous emails without a single hitch in communications… all in English. I inquired about some coffee equipment from a company in Taiwan, again, all in English, nary a problem. I got emails from woodworkers in Portugal, Italy, Sudan, Sweden, Romania, Spain, and Turkey… all in near-perfect English. Of course, a common thread was "Why don't you get into the 21st century and use the metric system?" but nonetheless, their English was way more than passable, perhaps even better than most of our own high school graduates.

Combine the fact that English is taught in schools around the world, that it is the international currency with which business is conducted, and that woodworking has many of its own specific words that are near-universally understood and you can understand why the worldwide woodworking community is a friendly, easily communicable group. We are truly blessed as woodworkers! My recommendation? Go make a woodworking friend in another country!

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Steven Johnson is retired from an almost 30-year career selling medical equipment and supplies, and now enjoys improving his shop, his skills, and his designs on a full time basis (although he says home improvement projects and furniture building have been hobbies for most of his adult life). Steven can be reached directly via email at sjohnson@downtoearthwoodworking.com

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