On America and the English Language

Monday Musings for April 3, 2017
Volume VII, No. 14/326

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Love affair with the English Language

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon),  DLFAPA*

Today’s Musings are imbued with personal memories. They have to do with my choosing to come to America and study medicine, among other things. You see, I was not born an American. I chose to be an American. I entered the US on April 7, 1955 knowing ten English words.

In order to go to college and prepare for a medical education, I knew that I had to learn English rather quickly.  In months between April and September, when college opened, I memorized the 285,000 words of the 1955 edition of the Oxford Dictionary. Later, I expanded this knowledge and learned the etymology of practically every one of those words.  Soon, I learned that Dr. Samuel Johnson, exactly 200 years before my date of entry, namely April 7, 1755, had compiled the first English Dictionary. The very first edition of the Oxford Dictionary was compiled in 1857 a la Dr. Johnson’s original compendium. I found a copy of that precious book through the Library of Congress. The edition contains 50,000 words. I enjoyed memorizing it, also, and forming an adoring relationship with the work of the late Dr. Johnson.  As an aside, the original Dr. Johnson’s 50,000 word dictionary was a part of the personal library of Thomas Jefferson sold to US Government, which became the germinating seed of our beloved US Library of Congress.

Three years were spent in college pre-medical education with majors in English and Chemistry. I entered medical school in 1958. In 1962, exactly seven years after coming to the US, I had earned Doctor of Medicine (MD).

My intense experience with the English language brought me close to much older and wiser linguists and university professors. Among them was the late Samuel Hayakawa, the then Chancellor of San Francisco State University, who in 1977 became A US Senator from California. He used to get a kick out of my referring to him as the semi-somnolent septuagenarian, Senator Samuel Hayakawa. I wrote a letter to Hayakawa, and to our own, then Senator, Jesse Helms, who also knew something about my love of the English language, suggesting that they sponsor a bill to make English the official language of America. I even sent some money to facilitate expenses associated with the authorship of the bill, etc…I believe it was 1979 when they invited me to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the House’s Foreign Affairs Committee. It never tool place and the bill never passed.

In my testimonies, instead of concentrating on the importance of the subject matter, the solons enjoyed my ability to close my eyes and recite page after page of the Oxford Dictionary, “octave, octennial, octet, octillion, octillionth, October, octodecimo, octogenarian, octomerous, octoary, octoploid, octopod, octopus, octoroon, etc…”

With all my emotional and intellectual resources, I believe making English the official language of America is the most important issue in today’s political discourse. As citizens of this great nation,  we must know about our flag, our Founding Fathers and the US Constitution. I believe that to be an American, one must know the English language, know the bare essentials of the US Constitution, our Republic, the Bill of Rights and the story of the birth of this nation. What are the requirements to be an American? In my view, the catechism of being an American should consist of a good knowledge, if not verbatim memorization, of four documents. They are the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Federalist Papers and George Washington’s Farewell Address.

Please feel free to call on me and use me as a reference to further this, what I consider to be a holy cause.

God Bless America!

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, Life Member, American Medical Association; Life Member, Southern Medical Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He is the recipient of the NC Award, Fine Arts.
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