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.

Big Word Day — 2021

What this planet needs is Big Word Day.  One day a month (I suggest the first Monday) when we’re allowed to use those big godawful words that make us all sound like pompous asses.  Then, at midnight, everybody has to go back to talking (and writing) like regular people.  Big Word Day would not only clear the air of pretentious language, it would shorten business meetings, reduce government bullshit and keep corporations from drowning us in doublespeak policies, warranties, guarantees and disclaimers.  (What’s the difference between a warranty and a guarantee, anyway?)  I know big words are tempting and I’m as guilty as the next person, so I understand why we like to sound as if we just stepped off Oxford Common — but it’s getting out of hand.  We don’t buy things anymore; we purchase them.  We don’t help; we facilitate.  We don’t think; we conceptualize. And — horror upon horrors — we don’t talk; we verbalize.

The big problem with big words is people don’t think that way.  We think in broad abstractions that get translated into words when we speak (or write) so we can communicate meaning.  For example, when I write “John saw a girl” unless you’re a Himalayan holy man who’s lived alone in a cave for 50 years, you see the girl, too.  Your girl and John’s girl might not look the same, but the meaning is clear.  This is because my words are a direct translation of my thoughts.  However, when I write, “John observed a girl” things get a little muddled.  Suddenly, because of nuance and connotation, John isn’t passive anymore.  The girl is still the object of the sentence but John is definitely more involved.  He’s deliberately doing something.  Hey!  Wait a minute!  Who is this guy?  What is he, some kind of stalker?  You see, the meaning has changed.  This might be a bit of an exaggeration (after all, I haven’t clarified whether John had binoculars or not) but my point is it’s more difficult to translate words into meaning when they’re carrying extra baggage.  And big words all carry tons of baggage.

Don’t get me wrong; big words are important.  English is a precise language with surgical accuracy, so I don’t want to get rid of big words altogether.  I just think, these days, they’ve slipped the leash and I want to corner them and get them under control again.  Big Word Day would do that.  It would force us to quit utilizing big words all the time and only use them when they’re necessary.  Plus, and this is the good bit, jerks with an intellectual chip on their shoulders would have to shut the hell up most of the time — and that alone would be worth it.