“Monday Musings” for Monday April 06, 2015
Volume V, No.14/222
Love Affair with the English Language:
The Catechism of Being an American
by Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*
Today’s Musings are imbued with personal memories. They have to do with my choosing to come to America to 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, exactly 60 years ago this coming Thursday. In order to go to college and prepare for my 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 1857a 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 and through him with the English language. 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, which continues to this day, 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 for the English language, suggesting that they sponsor a bill to make English the official language of America. I even sent some money to defray expenses associated with the authorship of the bill, etc…I believe a bill was introduced but never passed.
In my communications with the mighty solons, instead of concentrating on the importance of the subject matter, Senator Helms 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…I continue to believe that we need a law that makes English the official language of this nation. Enough of wasting money to print ballots in 56 languages–that is profligacy not progress…
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. It is an abomination and travesty that folks can come to America, live for as many as 30 years, and know not who Abraham Lincoln is, or the first thing about our flag, or the Founding Fathers of the US Constitution. I believe that to be an American, one must know the English language, know the bare essentials of our Constitution, our Republic, our Bill of Rights and the story of the birth of this nation and our Founding Fathers. 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!
*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.