I remember the fist time I heard the word spoken, as opposed to written down in a magazine, namely trash. I had been in the States about two years, which meant that I understood all Americans thoroughly. I was used to their lingo and my instant translator rarely failed.
I can remember him too. He was a rare breed. A cross between Bert from Sesame Street, but much better looking and Woody from Cheers. He was a preppy type, an American term that I now recognize, but cannot translate, but also middle aged. He was built like a brick with the jaw line unique to American comic book heroes. He was also very clean. During our passing acquaintance of a few weeks, he had never said anything remotely humourous. Occasionally, when he heard something humourous, he would giggle like a girl, several moments too late. He was fascinating, in a microscopic slide, kind of a way.
He tells a group of us that he is revising for an exam. I scour my brain to see if I can recall anything at all about revision? He parades a whole slew of study skills that I only discovered myself through having children endure the current education system. I am glad that I said nothing to display my ignorance so publicly. He adds another tit bit, as an afterthought, “this morning, I’ve just been going over my factoids.” In response, I splutter with laughter as his delivery is dead pan, like the stand up comedian Jack Dee. I am so impressed with his attempt to humour us, that I feel he needs all the encouragement he can get. He looks at me as if I have a snotty nose, or my glasses on upside down, as does everyone else in the group. I am a confusing social embarrassment. I appear to have completely misinterpreted his communication. Everyone else accepts the reference to ‘factoid’ as if it were a real word. I have a sudden urge to jump up and down, to explain, “that was funny! It was funny because ‘factoid’ is a pretend word. Nobody actually uses pretend words you know! Not real people.” I blink wondering what to do next? I have no choice but to apologize for my rudeness, because I have inadvertently insulted him. I am no longer the politest person on the planet, I am merely a pest.
Another decade later, and it's still all Greek to me.