A French–or an Alien?–Invasion

Have you noticed? Perhaps you haven’t. The changes are subtle but sure. The French have apparently arrived unannounced and taken us over without our knowing (isn’t that what the Communists were supposed to do?), and all of us Americans are now speaking French–well, speaking English like French.

The biggest, if most subtle, evidence of this is the disappearance in the English language of the simple two-word combo ‘there are.’ Remember that one? It used to be we’d say “there is one person” and “there are 5,000 people.” We still say “there is one person,” but we now also say, “there is 5,000 people.” How can that be?

‘Is’ is singular, so goes with ‘one person.’ ‘Are’ is plural and goes with any number of people greater than just one. How is it we have conveniently forgotten that? If you can find one person in this country who says “there are” when referring to more than one of anything, you have beaten the odds as much as if you’d won the lottery–it’s just that the payout isn’t as high.

And this is the first tell-tale sign that the French have taken over. You see, in French there is only one phrase that means both ‘there is’ and ‘there are,’ and it is in fact, technically singular, so the French have been using a singular verb with plural nouns for probably as long as they’ve been on the planet. For the French, it is correct to say, “there is 5,000 people,” and that’s creating a problem for us English speakers.

The next sign that the French have invaded is that starting with the year 2001, we Americans started changing the way we have always named our years. 1998 was “nineteen ninety-eight” and 1776 was “seventeen seventy-six.” Why, now that we’re in the 2000s are we saying “two thousand seven” for 2007, and not “twenty-oh-seven?” It was “nineteen-oh-seven” for 1907, so why have all of us, except for Charles Osgood on CBS’s Sunday Morning program, suddenly changed our method of year naming? Again, it has to be the French.

In French you always say what used to seem the most lengthy and awkward when naming a year. “One thousand, nine hundred ninety-eight” for 1998–no short cut to “nineteen ninety-eight” allowed. And now, in the years starting with 2001, the French have logically continued their system. 2007 is “two thousand seven.”

So, have we Americans just been secretly envying the French for their ways with language, and the minute we had the chance–provided by the seeming secret French coup of our country–jumped to adopting the French ways of expressing ourselves–hoping to sound romantic and suave in the process?

Or, has the venerable French Academie Francaise, the institution charged with maintaining the purity of the French language, along with the Alliance Francaise, charged with spreading its use around the world, infiltrated our airways and just taken over the way we say things? That’s probably it. Easier to stage a coup that way–and a lot less bloody too. I’m all for less blood, but I’m not so in favor of butchering the English language just to make it more French.

But wait a minute. I bet no one among us thinks that saying, “there is 5,000 people, cats, flavors of ice cream, goats, or yurts” sounds a bit more French than saying it the right way by saying, “there are.” So what’s the point?

The other possibility, the one that is most distressng to contemplate, is that we have just gotten sloppy and lazy with our words. That would account for people now saying, as well as writing, “she should of gone” instead of the correct “she should have gone.” Yikes. Not even the French would let that one get by.

And worse yet, I recently heard a friend–a Harvard graduate, with a major in English, no less–actually say, “Her and her brother told us the story.” Now that is scary, and it must be more than just a French invasion or latent laziness that would cause this to have become as commonplace as it unfortunately has. Only aliens could be responsible for something this grotesque…and, to think that they have already taken over Harvard.

Must be the aliens have taken over the whole Ivy League. That would explain a lot about the speech patterns of the current so-called leader of this country as well–he went to Yale.

Yes, that’s it. An alien invasion of the Ivy League with a French twist as camouflage. Why haven’t I figured this out before?

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