Random Conversations

The Words We Choose

The Words We Choose

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Explaining Our Language

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to give thought to a multitude of English words and phrases, along with several unique Americanisms. The catalyst has been a guest from Italy who is already quite proficient in her English skills and is pushing herself to be even better. She’s very curious about the language – something we native speakers tend to take for granted.

One of the most challenging phrases to explain surfaced when I asked if I could twist her arm to join me in a gelato. It made no sense to her – why would I want to twist her arm, and what did that have to do with gelato?  Fortunately, it brought a good laugh. An even better laugh came from referring to “spaghetti straps” on a dress. My new friend thought that was hysterical.

When I lived in South Africa, several Britishisms caught me by surprise. I was prepared to hear “boots” and “bonnets” for car trunks and hoods, but not “strokes” for slashes, “rubbers” for erasers, and “full stops” for periods at the end of sentences. The one that stopped me cold (why do we say that?!) came when my (now ex-) husband said that we would go and “knock up” his friend Jen.* I think not!

We are not always aware of the words we use. Words and phrases become a part of our speech and we often use them without thinking. It’s good to pause and consider them from time to time. Doing so helps to ensure we communicate what we mean and our thoughts are understood as intended. (Full stop)

* If you need some help translating what it means to “knock up” someone in British English, it refers to stopping by their home to visit – i.e., knock on the door. I suppose you could ring a doorbell, but that might be confusing since to “ring up” someone refers to calling on the phone.

Cathy Joseph is the author of the Random Conversations blog and is currently seeking representation for her book, The Art of Having a Delicious Conversation.

© 2022 Cathy Joseph. All rights reserved.

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