Etymology and other long words

As I am sure you are all aware "etymology" is the branch of linguistic science which investigates the origin of languages. It is a fascinating subject and one which has caused me, over the years, to collect a strange array of dictionaries which now sit in untidy piles in my study. I have a very eclectic selection: French-English, Italian-English, American-English, Spanish-English, Esperanto, Pidgin, Tebele and Shuna... all the obvious languages.

For some reason I was rummaging through the dictionaries the other day when I stumbled upon one I didn't know I had. The Shorter Oxford English-Carlaunch Dictionary.

I began to read. Carlaunch is a modern language - around 100 years old - and is linguistically-connected to Electionspeak, which is an older language which is widely used by politicians from all around the world. Carlaunch is rare in that it is only really used by people in the business of automobile racing and because it is a seasonal language, spoken only in the Springtime. Oddly, if you are in the southern hemisphere, it is spoken there in the European autumn.

The most pleasant aspect of Carlaunch is that it is full of infectious enthusiasm, chirpy optimism and good-humour, which suggests that it was designed to sweep away the cobwebs of winter and start things afresh. Carlaunch does away with any bad feeling left over from the previous year. Academics have argued that Carlaunch is linked in some way to the natural feelings of regeneration that recur in human beings at the start of each year but the seasonal nature of the language is probably because people who speak Carlaunch all year round - there are one or two known examples - tend to be ignored as the innate optimism in the language becomes hard to sustain with extended exposure to it.

But for a few weeks every year Carlaunch is widely used in the motor racing trade and it makes everyone feel good about themselves and about others.

It is a gloriously vague language, even more flowery and long-winded than French, which is famously imprecise and requires lots of beautiful words to make a point that plain English will do in three or four words. Carlaunch spoken by the French - very rare these days - is extremely charming, but goes on and on and on...

This may explain why the use of Carlaunch seems to be related in some way to a high alcohol consumption among those who listen to it. The long-winded nature of the language may also explain why those who speak Carlaunch often feel the need to brighten up the events at which it is spoken with the use of bright lights, loud music, dry ice, fireworks and naughty girls. A recent theory - known as The Stewart Proposal - suggests that Carlaunch is more likely to be spoken when bagpipes are being played.

There is no question that Carlaunch breaks out very quickly whenever television camera crews appear at an event. This is another obvious link between Carlaunch and Electionspeak.

Some languages are tonal by nature, which means that you actually sing the words and the meanings changes depending on the note you use with the word. In Vietnamese, for example, every syllable can be "sung" in eight different tones. Just imagine that you are Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. Sing "La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la."

In Vietnamese you have just said: "Lettuce, Donkey, Helicopter, Lesbian, Fried Egg, Bishop, Roast Dog and Underground Railway".

As one can imagine using the wrong tone can be disastrous, especially when talking to women priests or ordering breakfast.

Carlaunch is similarly tonal, but the differences in tone are much more subtle and indicate the level of sub-conscious hysteria of the speaker. "We have high hopes for this car" can mean, "We are optimistic" or it can mean, "We're in deep trouble", depending on the tone being used.

Carlaunch speakers can be divided into four major categories: imported celebrities, engineers, drivers and team bosses.

The imported celebrities are unsure of themselves as they do not always understand all the technical terms used in the language. They tend to speak the language very quickly - probably from nerves - but rarely say anything of any value.

"I'm delighted to be here," is a phrase often used by hosts of events where Carlaunch is spoken. This actually means: "I am being paid a lot of money to do this".

"I watch a lot of races on the television," means "I saw a race once in 1982 and I fell asleep on the sofa.

These amateurs do on occasion make terrible mistakes with pronunciation, introducing such names as "Ken Tie-Rell and Michael Shoe-maker" into the action.

Engineers tend to be very precise individuals, used to dealing with figures and exact sums. Strangely they are very good Carlaunch speakers, despite the vague nature of the language. The interesting thing with engineers speaking Carlaunch is that they tend to mean the opposite of what they are actually saying.

"Completely new" means "modified old". "It's an evolution" is roughly translated as "the last one didn't work". "There's no reason we shouldn't win" means "I will think of one later when it becomes necessary."

"Stability in the technical team" can be translated as "we have managed to hold on to one of our designers".

"It looks very promising," means "we haven't tested it yet".

"You don't need a 50% windtunnel," translates to "we cannot afford to have one".

The drivers are perhaps the most advanced of all basic Carlaunch speakers as they are essentially optimistic people to begin with. As a result when speaking Carlaunch they have a much more developed sense of the charming unreality embodied in the language. It takes on a whimsical, almost dream-like, intensity.

"Mr. X is a great designer" they say. This means "Someone else designed this car but I cannot remember his name. He's a little bloke with a beard and funny thick glasses.

"The engine is really promising," means "It looks like an engine should and I cannot see any gaps with light shining through."

"The car even looks quick," is best translated as "It the car could run we would show you, but the gearbox isn't finished so this won't be testing it for a week or two yet."

The greatest exponents of advanced Carlaunch are the owners of the Formula 1 racing teams and the people in sharp suits who sponsor them. They have lovingly honed this cheery language to a level far beyond that used by the drivers and the engineers. They are the poets of Carlaunch.

"The car has beautiful sleek lines, don't you think? Utterly uncluttered." This has a beautiful ring to it and means "You can actually see the car because we don't have any sponsor logos to disrupt the vision."

"We have a long tradition," means "we started doing it yesterday" and use of the phrase "long-term agreement" means "it could stop tomorrow".

"He's new to Formula 1 and you may not have heard much about him," is loosely translated as meaning "He's got loads of sponsorship money behind him.

"Our relationship is extremely positive" means "they give me a lot of money."

Mathematicians have worked out that the use of the word "extremely" is directly proportional to the size of the budget involved. Thus, when a team manager says "I am extremely delighted that we have forged a partnership with..." what he is actually saying is that they have given him a vast sum of money.

The study of Carlaunch is not easy because there is very little of the language that is ever written down. It is so vague and heart-warming that journalists - under pressure to keep words to a minimum - generally avoid using it - unless the team in question is paying them to write it.

There are perhaps less than 100 people in the whole world who can actually write the language well and I have to admit that I am not one of them. I tried it the other day - and what a curious experience it was. I was chatting to a team public relations person, trying to dig up information about a new but very secret car. The PR person was very busy (there are a lot of lunches to be eaten at this time of year) and mumbled a few comments which the car designer had grudgingly let slip.

"You can knock them into shape," said the PR type. Then there was a pause. "And when you have, can you fax me a copy?"

And so I found myself writing Carlaunch for the first time in my life and it went something like this (I will translate as we go along):

"Although the new car looks very similar to last year's model, they are in fact very different" (We cannot afford to build a completely new car. It is a rehashed version of last year's car).

"The design philosophy is one of evolution and we think that, even if we did not win anything, we had a pretty good car last year" (Other people had better cars so we have to improve).

"We have paid particularly attention to the gearbox" (The gearbox did not work).

"We have an exciting new engine package" (We fell out with our old engine supplier).

"We are really delighted with the work we have done and I am sure that this will lead to good results in the year ahead" (I hope to God that this car works because otherwise I may get fired).

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