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Friday, July 5, 2013

American English, Fractured

I believe that a lot of people have moments when their mouths betray them. Gram used to say, "Your tongue got twisted around your eye teeth and couldn't see where it was going." A good example of this would be Gram talking about the sale price of bacon at a certain store, and that "everypelse ace" it cost a good bit more. This kind of mishap is often called a spoonerism in honor of Reverend William Archibald Spooner, who apparently had this happen all of the time.

The other type of mistake can be very entertaining because we often don't hear things correctly, and end up saying things that may seem just a bit odd. Of course, that is the one I really want to talk about. I think we have all heard our friends, heck, even ourselves, mangle and garble song lyrics. I freely admit to singing The Boys of Wrecker Town instead of The Boys Are Back in Town. And I did it for years. Boy, was I surprised. And pleased, because back in town really made much more sense than wrecker town. But I never questioned it, maybe because it came out in the seventies. After all, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida meant something! Maybe wrecker town meant something too, but I just wasn't cool enough to get it. And I sure wasn't going to ask anybody! How humiliating to admit that you don't know what the cool-kids slang means!

Then there's the variation where someone may be talking about an object or location and really get it wrong. It took me months to live down the spectacle I made of myself in high school Advanced-Placement Literature by excitedly answering a question, "Oh! I know! It's The Leaning Tower of Pisa!" Only I pronounced it "pizza." I was doubly humiliated because I was one of only two sophomores in the class. The older students immediately thought we were stupid, and for them, this just about confirmed it.

In my years of working in banking, I encountered all kinds of people, both customers and fellow employees. When I worked at a drive-through bank as a commercial teller, I was in a one-person freestanding unit, and became friends with my fellow teller in the next unit. We sometimes visited each other on breaks or chatted on the phone, because it can get lonely. Even though you have customers, there's no deep conversation. And not much light conversation, for that matter. So we'd chat whenever we could, sharing war stories and blowing off steam. It was also nice to have a friendly ear to complain to. One day, she was dealing with some congestion, and told me that her noes were stuffed. Apparently she has a right and a left noe, and the pair of them are noes. I am proud to say that I never reacted with disrespect when she told me her noes were stuffed, I just advised her on how to deal with it. Although she did discover that her noes bothered her less on the cold days if she wore her ear muffins. I adored her, so it didn't bother me a bit.

There was another coworker, a young woman, who used her fellow employees as a sounding board for her house-hunting frustrations. She and her husband were trying to buy their first house, and were dealing with trying to find something that they liked and could still afford. One day she was talking about finding a house that they rather liked. It was located on a culty sack. In the course of the conversation, I tried to gently use the phrase cul-de-sac in the hopes that she would pick it up, but no such luck. When I got home and told Gram about it, we got a few chuckles out of it. We tried to figure out what kind of people would live on that block. Were they all members of some strange cult who carried bags around all day? Yes, sometimes we were bad, and we would have admitted it freely. Oh, wait, I think I am right now.

I do think one of my all-time favorites has to do with a degenerative eye disease, macular degeneration. My boss was catching me up on the condition of her elderly parents who lived in another state. They had been convinced to retire somewhere warmer than their native Minnesota, but instead of coming to Colorado to be with their daughter, they moved to Arizona. J was telling me that she really wished that her parents lived closer to her. It would be easier, and she would worry so much less. Especially since her father, who refused to give up driving, had recently been diagnosed with immaculate degeneration. Trent really loved that one. "I thought only ex-nuns experienced immaculate degeneration; isn't J a Lutheran?" Ba-dum-pum. Or however it's supposed to be...