Monday, December 11, 2006

More explanations please?

I chit chat with American pals in an American restaurant. I wait until the end of the dinner when tummies are full and everyone is replete. Good timing is essential. When people begin to ask for the check whilst women relax into the booth to sip coffee.

Horray! Now I have a handy collection of locals to translate a few things for me. A few things that have been annoying me for a wee while [translation = bugging me.] I need to get them cleared out of the cranium, to make room for more important matters. There’s only three of them, queries that is. We should have this cleared up in no time at all.

I clear my throat to ask;
"Why is a ‘live oak’ called a live oak? Why do you need the ‘live’ bit? If it wasn’t alive, you would hardly need to note it as a ‘dead’ oak." My pal blinks above the rim of her coffee cup, so does her neighbor. I continue, unflustered.

"Why is a ‘wild fire’ called a ‘wild’ fire? Is there any other kind of fire apart from a wild one? Surely they’re all wild apart from the ones in grates and the ones in camps? I don’t think that ‘controlled fires,’ the ones that the fire service practice on, count." There is a clink of cups on china saucers. Another pal adjusts the fall of her scarf at her neck. I tear onwards whilst I'm ahead.

"If you use the phrase ‘authentic strip joint’ in the context of talking about Blues music, does this mean ‘women taking their clothes off for other people’s amusement and being paid?"

I decide to skip the one about the Dude ranch, as that is always unproductive. I have to learn to live with that one.
There is a collective sigh.
“Not again!” she pleads.
“Where do you get this stuff from?” they ask in mutual despair and disgust.
“You have too much time on your hands woman!” sighs another.
“You are just too weird!”

The use of ‘Weird’ in this context, probably refers to the unlikelihood of such matters being raised at this particular social gathering.

“You need to get over yourself, hun!”
What on earth does that mean? I’ve heard that one before. I need that explaining too please? Get over what? What is she talking about? Is that English? What language is she speaking? Where’s my dictionary? I’m drowning.

“You need some kinda help!” I know that, now tell me, before I explode.
“It’s just not right,” she adds as she stands to join her friends who are moving towards the exit.
“You’re gonna have to stop doing this you know!” one says, with a tone of eerie finality as the door swings closed.
“Where are you all going? Come back! Don’t leave me! Help?”
From outside the restaurant, she mouths through the window pane, “It’s for your own good.”


Sara said...

I'll admit I have no etymological authority for this one, but I always assumed the "wild" in wild fire referred to "the wild" as in "wilderness" which is where wild fires happen. You wouldn't have a wildfire on a city block. Unfortunately we are not consistent enough to call those urban fires.

And I hope those weren't rhetorical questions because the dude in dude ranch refers to people from the Eastern US who would vacation on ranches out West--they were the dudes.

Teaching ESL, I have a new appreciation for how idiomatic (and occsionally idiotic) English is. But in defense of American idiotic language, I turned the English subtitles on when I last watched Bend it Like Beckham and realized how much of the dialogue had gone completely over my head. What the hell is a "right stroppy cow?"

Stephanie said...

Perhaps I'm missing the point. I do tend to get literal, and perhaps that isn't appropriate here, but...

"Why is a ‘live oak’ called a live oak?"

Live oak is, as far as I'm aware, refering to not the trees themselves, but how the trees were harvested to make furniture. I don't know details though.

"Why is a ‘wild fire’ called a ‘wild’ fire?"

Presumably a wild fire is wild until it is got under control. However, living in the Midwest, around farmers and such, a wild fire is wild, compared to the fires they light themselves to do stuff to their fields. So, yes, there are wild fires and "tame" fires, but they don't call them tame. I think they call 'em chaff fires. But, that's colloquial.

Sorry, I don't have a clue about "authentic strip joints".

"You need to get over yourself, hun!"

That reference is assuming that you have an ego issue. Instead of accepting that you don't understand some of the fine points of our culture/language, they assume your claim is that Brittish English is superior to American English; thus you need to "get over yourself" if you want to succeed in America, i.e. stop clinging to your ego. I'm not saying I agree with that statement, but that's the implications.

I don't see why discussing this would drive people away, though. Then again, I'm weird too, so I rarely understand that kind of stuff.

Memphis Steve said...

I had a friend in high school from London. Every time he asked to borrow someone's "rubber" we all laughed hysterically. It took him the longest time to remember to say "eraser."

Do they say "hot water heater" in the UK? I'm not sure why we say it anywhere. If the water is already hot then why heat it? It's just a "water heater." I hear that one a lot.