Tag Archives: words

Blimey! What’s that you said?

DSCN0795smallSo here’s the thing about travel. It’s complicated. First there’s the security line with all of its rules and the decisions you have to make. Do I take my shoes off or don’t I? Should I throw out my water or drink it, a decision I may later regret should the seat belt light stay on too long after take-off.  Was it a 1 litre bag or a bag of 1 litre bottles that I’m allowed? Should I opt for the machine or the pat down? Once you get through all of that there’s the airport signage to decipher and the total recall you’ll need to try to remember whether your gate was B39 or D93 which, given the long and opposing corridors in many terminals, could significantly impact your chances of making it onto your plane.

Now as a shallow person I do my best to live my life in a way that is as uncomplicated as possible. For that reason I have a distinct preference, once I make my way through all of the previously mentioned chaos, to disembark at a location where I am able to understand what is being said.  And while I can read, write and say “the house is near the garden” in Hebrew, I’m not sure that qualifies as a second language. As a result, I am most comfortable in my native English. Which, imho, made my recent foray to London a particularly good choice.  At least I thought it did.

Let me start by saying that having grown up during the “British Invasion” (no, not the 1812 one) I was aware that I would find some discrepancies in the meanings of words between my homeland and the Mother country. Face it, how many times did one have to hear Mr. McCartney refer to his “blokes” before realizing he was talking about the gentlemen standing beside him. And it’s pretty common knowledge that a “lift” is something that elevates you and  a  “brolly” is used for protection from the rain. Of course it didn’t take me too long to figure out that at the end of every meal when I politely inquired as to the location of the “washroom”, there was a reason for the funny look I got as the server wondered why it was that I wanted to bathe before going home. And I will admit the use of “toilet”, in this case, is much more direct and to the point. I can’t say however, that I was always prepared for the challenges I faced as I encountered a rather heretofore unfamiliar version of the language I speak each and every day in my home and native land.

Now don’t get me wrong. Some of the local banter is rather intuitive. I mean I  get why they call their subway the “tube” because the little round cars that you can barely stand up in live up to the name. And it doesn’t take much to understand why the “lady” on the loudspeaker repeatedly reminds you to “mind the gap” since if you don’t, you’ll find yourself removing the wheels of your luggage from the rather significant space that exists between the train and the platform in the 10 or so seconds you have to exit your car. “Take out” and “take away” mean pretty much the same on either side of the pond although the latter seems infinitely more popular than the former. The same can be said about walking on a “footpath” because you’ll actually think you’re on a  “sidewalk” even if one sounds slightly more “paved” than the other.

Smooth sailing? A cakewalk? Think you’ve got this carpet beat? Well hold on ‘cause the ride’s not over. It’s not all peaches and cream and at times it gets downright confusing. So you’re at the theatre and you feel like a little popcorn. You ask for the “concessions” and a nice young man lets you know that senior’s tickets are available at a discount through the wicket. Which I suppose is the true meaning of the word. Then there’s the time you want “fries” and have to ask for “chips” or you want “chips” have to ask for “crisps”. But I was particularly flummoxed by the tendency to make less more by turning “Yield” into “Give Way” and “Detour” into “Diverted Traffic”, which seems slightly more complicated not to mention the resultant need for larger signs. But all of this pales to what you might face when you want to eat. So listen carefully.

When confronted with “bubble and squeak” on a breakfast menu all I can say is “Don’t order it! Just don’t order it!” because it has nothing to do with either of those things. Which brings me to a little tidbit I would like to share with you should you decide to venture into a land where you have little experience with the spoken word. This is important. If you learn nothing else before you go, learn to say “chicken” in whatever language(s) you think you may encounter. Here’s why. One evening you may find yourself comfortably seated in a four star restaurant and upon carefully perusing the menu settle upon something called “rognons de veau et champignons à la sauce moutarde” because you remember a little of your high school french but clearly not enough. When it arrives at your table a very polite server looks directly at you and says “the kidney is for you madam?”. Your look of astonishment will tell the tale but, even so, the lovely woman from Miami sitting at the next table won’t be able to stop herself from proclaiming “I wondered if that was what you really wanted”. To which you reply (but only in your head) “Well if you knew, why didn’t you open up your mouth and say something when it mattered?!” all the while wishing you had stuck with the chicken. Perhaps however, that’s a story for another day.

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I Mean What I Say

beach_chairsI know, I’m a day late and a dollar short. Well actually I’m about a week late, (although I continually remind myself that I never professed to have a posting schedule) and, let me tell you, way more than a dollar short since leaving for my extended sojourn on the beach. But that’s the thing about words. They don’t always make clear what we are trying to say. As a shallow person I like things to be pretty straightforward so when I find myself trying to navigate through the murky world of ambiguous language I get a little cranky. Let’s take this little “dollar short” saying for instance which apparently has nothing to do with money. According to “Wiktionary”, which I am sure ranks up there somewhere between Oxford and Webster, the meaning of the phrase in question is “Action that was taken too late and is too feeble to be of any use.” Well if that’s the case, why not just say so? Why make me start worrying about my bank account for no reason whatsoever? Which leads me to believe that perhaps we should all take note of Horton’s sage advice and try harder to “say what we mean, and mean what we say”.

Lately, during my long walks on the beach, I’ve been thinking about this very thing; how words can have multiple meanings and how confusing that can get. Take the word “edge” for instance. For some reason I’ve been thinking about that one alot. It seems to me that people can be “on edge” which isn’t usually a good thing because it means something not so great is going on in their lives. It’s really hard to talk to someone who is on edge because they are not focused on what you are saying. And you never know for sure how they are going to react because they are not feeling like “themselves”, another rather perplexing concept since for all intents and purposes they still look an awful lot like who they are. While they are on edge it’s good to “be there” for them, which doesn’t mean you actually have to be with them but you should be if they call you and ask you to come by. The good thing is you don’t have to worry too much about them jumping off a bridge because they are only on edge, not “on the edge”. Which is an entirely different thing.

People who are living “on the edge” are more inclined to take risks that are outside most of our comfort zones. Turning back to my trusty online wiktionary I discover that these are people who “have an adventurous or perilous lifestyle; behave in a manner which creates risks for oneself.” And apparently this sometimes works out for them and sometimes doesn’t as the second definition provided is: “To be caught in an economic or societal situation which one did not choose, which threatens one’s well-being or life, and which causes distress.” So if you are that way inclined, I would proceed with caution. Unless you are one of the disciples of the “Living on the Edge” organization whose purpose is to “help Christians live like Christians”, which may not be quite as risky or distressing, although I can’t say for sure. Of course being on edge might prove to be preferable to being “edgy” which means you could be “on the edge between acceptable and offensive”. Honestly, given the choice between “distressed” and “offensive” I’m going to have to go with the former.

But none of this is really why I have been thinking about the word “edge” these past few weeks. The real reason I’ve been dwelling on this four letter word is that each day, as I walk on the sand I am acutely aware that I am literally standing on the edge of the continent. As I look out to the west there is nothing but ocean. Granted the edge ebbs and flows slightly with the tides, but it’s never more than a few steps away. In the evening, I watch the sun disappear as it makes it’s way below the edge. And every once in awhile I see a boat approaching from beyond the edge.

Now don’t get me wrong. I know that globes don’t have any real edges so I’m not overly concerned about falling off the edge. But I gotta tell you. If this was 1492 there’s no way, no how that anyone is going to convince me to get on one of those ships. Which probably means I’m not a “living on the edge” kind of gal. Yet here I am. Go figure!

And while I’m talking about words I want to send a few good ones out to my friends, and the best property managers ever, Liz and Bruce. If you happen to be travelling over to Vancouver Island and need a place to stay, you’re going to want to give them a call at Victoria Prime ‘cause they will take great care of you. And I’m not just saying that because they have done a bang up job of managing my little island abode. But they have, so I can promote them because it’s my shallow blog and I can do what I want to. And they read it and think it’s funny. So this one’s for them.

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