Learning English — Good Luck!

Several years ago I spent some time in Italy and when I got back to North America I was hit with a bad case of reverse culture shock.  North American streets were too wide, too clean and too new.  The food was too much and too fast.  And the language was too quick and colloquial.  After hearing a lot of English spoken as a second language, I realized that it’s a damn good thing I was born with English because there’s no way I could ever learn its nuances second hand.  And honestly, I applaud anybody who can, because they’re tons smarter than I’ll ever be.

Check it out:

In English, we “take” things.  I think it comes from our marauding imperious past.
We “take” a bus.
We “take” a taxi.
And we “take” the train.
Of course, we give them back when we’re done with them, but there are other things we “take” and just devour, like:
We “take” a look.
We “take” a vacation.
We “take” a nap.

However, we can’t simply “take” everything in life because (thank God) a lot of stuff we just “get” like some kind of all-inclusive gift package.
We “get” an education.
We “get” a job.
We “get” married.
But when we “get” married we don’t automatically “get” children.  They’re not a gift.  We “have” children.  It’s as if they were some pre-ordained possession, like:
“having” friends,
or “having” an attitude,
or “having” dinner.

Unfortunately, once again though, we can’t just “have” everything.  Sometimes, we must become active participants and “make” it first.  For example, unless you’re incredibly wealthy, you need to “make” dinner before you can “have” dinner.  It’s a curious thought, but we “make” all kinds of things.
We “make” mistakes (by screwing up.)
We “make” progress (by not screwing up.)
We “make” money (although, strictly speaking, that’s illegal: we should “earn” it — like trust or good credit.)
And we also “make” love.
Although this is actually changing and most people don’t “make” love anymore, they just “have” sex and if that doesn’t say a bunch about contemporary society’s willingness to active participate in romance, I don’t know what does.

And now that you’re hopelessly confused, there’s the other side of the coin.  Not only do we “take,” “get,” “have” and “make,” we can also “lose” things.
We “lose” our keys.
We “lose” our patience.
We “lose” our tempers.
These are all things we can find again if we try hard enough.  However, there are other things that we can never get back.  Sometimes, when we “lose” our temper, we “get” into an argument, and if we “lose” that — well — it’s gone forever.  Kinda like “losing” your virginity — which, as we all know, can only happen if we “make” love, “have” sex or get “wasted at a sophomore kegger” — a phrase that’s impossible to translate into any other language — although most people understand the reference.

So to all those people who endured my terrible Spantalian (Spanish/Italian) and spoke to me in my language because I couldn’t really speak to them in theirs: I’m still in awe at your linguistic skill because — take it from a native speaker — the intricacies of English must be a bitch to learn.

A Different Dictionary

English is a wonderful language.  It works like a river, flowing along, constantly changing and always finding its own level.  Words appear and disappear.  Definitions change.  Meanings mutate.  And, yet, we all kinda understand each other.  To that end, here are a few definitions that might not appear in any dictionary, but I’m sure you’ll recognize them, all the same.

Tomorrow – A place where all human activity and productivity is stored.

Calories – Nasty little creatures who live in your closet and eat the sizes off your clothes.

Avoidance Behaviour – The somewhat boring stuff we do when we have more important boring stuff to do.

Internet – An essential tool of avoidance behaviour.

Pockets – Those things that fashion designers have been denying women for centuries.

Leftovers – Food that lives in the refrigerator for a while – before you throw it out.

Selfies – Photographs of people who have no friends.

Full-length Mirror – A rather useful item when you have clothes on that turns remarkably evil when you’re naked.

Shower – A place to hold imaginary arguments and sing songs that were popular when you were a teenager.

Bae – A stupid, made-up, millennial word that doesn’t mean anything.

Wikipedia – The arbitrator of all arguments.

Exercise – Sometimes pronounced “extra fries,” depending on your self-esteem that day.

Man Bun – A one-size-fits-all way to look ridiculous.

Junk Food – Stuff that everybody eats but nobody admits it.

4 In The Morning – An elusive place where the truth lives.

Twitter – An alternative reality where miserable people go to be angry.

Family – People who know too much about you to be your friends.

Lottery Tickets – A tax on people who can’t do math.

YouTube – Moving pictures that eat time.

And my favourite:

Vegans – People who announce the menu when nobody’s even thinking about food.

A Pack Of Lies

Somebody (Hitler? Goebbels? Lenin? Trotsky?) once said, “If you tell a big enough lie loud enough and long enough people will eventually believe it.”  It’s terribly ironic that, in the Age of Information, there are quite a few of those kind of “truths” kicking around, and a lot of what we call common knowledge is just a load of crap.  Here are some glaring examples that just fall apart when you think about them:

1 – Einstein did NOT fail high school math.  Think about this for a minute!  The guy was a genius who E=MC2-ed himself to the top of the intellectual ladder, along with Newton, Copernicus and da Vinci.  What are the chances he had trouble with Grade 10 algebra?  Besides, the records show that he skipped most of what we would call high school, anyway.

2 – You can NOT see the Great Wall of China from space.  Here’s the deal.  Yes, the Great Wall is absolutely huge.  Yes, it’s the largest man-made structure on earth, and yes, it runs for thousands of kilometres, but — surprise — it’s less than 4 metres (12 feet) wide.  Your house is probably wider.  Looking down from space, the Great Wall of China is invisible — just like your house.

3 – You do NOT use “only” 10% of your brain.  The truth is, even with all our advanced technology, we know so little about the brain’s function that nobody knows how much of our brain’s capacity we actually use.  However, given some people I’ve worked with, 10% might be wildly optimistic.

4 – Coca-Cola™ does NOT dissolve teeth.  Folks, they use dental work to identify bodies that have been lying around for centuries.  Every museum on Earth has at least one set of Cro-Magnon chompers.  The corrosive elements that Mother Nature can throw at the human body make Coca-Cola look like a bubble bath.  This is just another Coke™ myth that circles our planet once a generation.

5 – Undercover cops do NOT have to tell you they’re police.  Police, undercover or otherwise, cannot entrap you into committing a crime, but they are under no legal obligation to identify themselves before you commit that crime on your own.  Use your head!  If undercover cops had to tell you they’re cops, it would kinda defeat the whole purpose of “undercover,” now, wouldn’t it?

6 – Jedi is NOT a recognized religion anywhere in the world.  Despite the best efforts of literally millions of Star Wars nerds, no national or international body outside a few fans clubs views Jedi as an organized religion.  The word is you can claim to be a Jedi on your income tax form and reap all the religious benefit and advantages.  You can’t.  Don’t believe me?  Try it!

7 – There are NOT more people alive today than have ever lived in all of history.  Do the math!  Even using the ten millennia of recorded history, fifty generations a millennium and the current reproductive rate of 23 per thousand (for most of history, it was closer to 80) the result is somewhere in the neighbourhood of 100 billion people.  Even counting all the lost Australian backpackers, at 7 billion, this generation isn’t even close.

8 – Mr. Rogers was NOT a Navy Seal sniper in Vietnam.  Quit saying that!  There is absolutely no evidence that Fred Rogers served in the military, nor even that he ever left the continental United States — although there’s an e-rumor that he went to Maui once, on vacation.

And finally

9 – You do NOT eat 7, 9, 12 or 16 spiders every night in your sleep.  Spiders prefer dry, still, quiet places where they can spin a web and catch themselves some breakfast.  Occasionally, maybe, a single spider might venture across your bed, but, unless they’re unusually stupid, the inhale/exhale of breathing air would scare them off.  I’m sure this lie gets retold so much because it’s a guaranteed gross out.