Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Why We Abuse the Present Progressive

People do something funny in English. No other language I can think of or have heard of does this so often as us, and I've just realized why.

In English, we abuse the present progressive. That's where, instead of saying "Timmy runs," one says, "Timmy is running." English speakers use this enough that Facebook made the prefix to the status always "is" along with the person's name. That way, the essence of what Facebook was looking for people to post in their status was captured, but it remained completely versatile.

The meaning of present, however, is different in English than other languages. This doesn't really make sense; present is always the same in every language. The English present has come to refer to things that are static or happen all the time. For example, "Timmy procrastinates," means that Timmy always procrastinates, or that Timmy is a procrastinator. On the other hand, "Timmy is procrastinating," means Timmy is currently procrastinating, but at some point he'll start his work... this is a one time thing.

Perhaps this reflects our attitudes. The present, becoming something constant, is abolished for temporary things. Or maybe we just like "to be."

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