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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Speaking The Right Language

Thinking about Alice in the last few days, I have had some funny memories. Having spent the first seven and a half years of my life in Chicago, I didn't speak Denver. Of course, I couldn't speak Southern or Californian or Down-East Maine, either. I did, for a short while after arriving here, still speak German and Hungarian, but lack of use made me lose both. But I began to learn subconsciously that people in different places use different names or pronunciations for the same things.

I was a scrawny little girl from the Near North Side of Chicago (when it was still poor, AKA before gentrification). One of the first things that I noticed that was different was the word aunt. Since I was born and bred in the  Eastern regions, I said awnt. But here in the west they say it ant, and I quickly adapted. But there were other things that mystified me. Like the word homely. As in saying someone was homely. I thought maybe they hadn't put on their going-out clothes, so they looked like they were still at home, like wearing your play-clothes to school. It wasn't until I heard someone described as being as homely as a mud fence that I figured out it meant that they were plain-to-unattractive.

Another that confused me was chintzy. Suffice it to say it took me years to figure that one out. But there was one word in particular that totally flummoxed this city girl who had never gardened in her life. I had heard Alice say from time to time that she loved the flags she had at the side of the house. I thought it was interesting that she liked flags so much that she had them flying in her garden. But a wise child never questions the taste or judgement of the management, because every so often we like a day without a beating. One morning Alice was assigning chores and told me that she wanted me to clear the dead leaves and so forth that were at the base of the flags. I went out to do my task. And I couldn't find the flags. I searched every inch along the side of the house and didn't see a single flag flying. I began to get nervous, because I had failed before I even started. But I had to go back in the house and tell Alice that I didn't see any flags in the yard.

After using some indelicate words to describe what an insane and idiotic person I was, she took me outside to the flower bed and pointed at the plants there. How could I be such a dumb whatever that I couldn't see the flags that were clearly growing in the garden? It turns out that what some people call flags are what most people call irises. I prefer the name iris because it sounds more lovely to me, and it doesn't remind me of how I cemented Alice's opinion that I was mentally inferior. She didn't realize that we were speaking a different language, even when I told her what kind of flags I had been looking for. She calmed down a bit, but did not change her opinion of me. Oh, well.

When I worked in the banking call center, I heard lots of different terms for the same things. One of our other call centers was in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota, and in later years there was another call center in Ohio. One day, some of us were talking about a potluck lunch one of the teams was having. Apparently this sort of event is called a pitch-in lunch in some areas. Anyway, in the course of the conversation, I asked what the person was bringing for the lunch. She told me she wasn't sure but she'd probably bring a hot dish. I waited for her to say what she was bringing a hot dish of, and she didn't say. So I asked. She informed me that where she grew up, right next to Minnesota, a hot dish is the name for a casserole. Mmm-hmm.

During an advanced training class, I experienced another language barrier. I was a new trainer, and had not spent as much time working on loan servicing, so a Supervisor who had moved here from St. Paul volunteered to teach it for me. When I was ready to turn over the class to her, I asked if she needed any copies or anything. She said she had all of her materials ready, but she could really use a rubber binder. I am sure I looked at her as if I had never spoken English before. I asked her to repeat, and she again asked for a rubber binder. I was baffled. I had seen cloth-covered binders, and vinyl-covered binders, even paper-covered binders, but never rubber ones, so I told her just that. She was exasperated, but I eventually figured out what she wanted. It's just that here in Denver, we call them rubber bands. At least it gave both of us something to talk about when asked about our day at work. And to me, it sounds a lot better than what I discovered my fellow trainers in Ohio would say. In some parts of the state, they do not say you guys or you all or even y'all. They say you-uns, or even y'ins. I had to go home and call my sister in Canton Ohio to verify this, and it is scary but true.

Although I have thought about writing this before, what really made me do it today is a dog. I am dog-sitting Raja, and here is a conversation from our first day together.

Me: Raja, do you want to go outside?
Raja: Meh.
Me: Hey sweet girl, don't you need to go out?
Raja: Yawn.
Me: Are you sure you don't need to go potty?
Raja: Potty! Yes! Potty! I have to go potty! I will go potty now! Let's go potty!

See, I just needed to speak the right language!