Saturday, November 26, 2011

"You Say Tomato, I Say......."

Language is a wonderful thing, isn't it? I almost wish I had studied phonetics and of the history of the English language. This desire was prompted by my reading of a recent survey in the Economist about the "Americanization of English". I started thinking about the language barriers that exist between Americans and Aussies living here. I know that seems odd given we all speak “English," but I have been in plenty of meetings where I say something that I don't think is anything other than english and am faced with completely uncomprehending stares. 

For example, did you know that Aussies pack a picnic in a hamper, but when I suggested this as a holiday gift for editors, the American members of the meeting blanched. Apparently here, a hamper is what you put your dirty laundry in! 

And when I talked about “bits ‘n bobs," the meeting positively turned into riotous laughter, followed by a necessary explanation from myself. I am pleased to say I was later exonerated on this one, when with much excitement, my colleague called me to say she had just heard a TV morning show 'anchor ' (a word we definitely don’t use in Oz unless referring to boats) had used the same phrase. And never say you will check your “diary” when planning a meeting. Here they think you are about to reveal your deepest, darkest personal secrets. 

Pronunciation is also a bone of contention. Since when has aluMINium been ALUMinum? And is there conTROVersy or CONTRAversy? I must admit I now look at my “skedule” instead of my schedule and have learnt to roll my r's.  This was prompted by an incident when I first arrived in New York. I asked a “store” assistant in my clearest english where the butter was. They sent me to the pasta pantry. Like water, apparently both words have a d in the middle not a t and end in errrrrrrr. However “erbs” for me will forever have an 'h' at the beginning.

No, in order to be understood here, you really do have to alter your language, but this then causes groans from those back in Australia. A girlfriend implored me to stop calling autumn “fall” and my brother was horrified when I suggested he "reach out" to a friend rather than call. I now wear flip flops on my feet and thongs as underwear. I take vacations instead of holidays, the elevator not the lift and "savor," "flavor" and "color" in my written language (but that is probably because of my american spell check more than anything). I cook with cilantro not coriander and unfortunately wear a sweater instead of a jumper. But I will never, ever, wear "panties." And if any man ever asks me to take these off, he will be promptly banished from my sight. One of the better things about going out with an older South African. He just takes them off rather than referring to them at all!

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