Sunday, February 26, 2006

What's that you're saying?

One of the most interesting aspects of living in Israel is the melting pot of native English speakers that one can encounter. Over the years, I have had the pleasure of spending time with Scots, Welsh, English, South Africans, Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, and many, many Americans. As a result of this, my English has become a bastard mix of words from around the globe, to a point where I’m no longer certain as to what is proper for my own American English. It affects my speaking, my spelling, and my general writing style (would you put a comma after the word “spelling” as I have?), and consequently, I am often forced to consider my words and punctuation very carefully. It makes life wonderfully interesting, and I enjoy expanding my vocabulary this way.

While in university (which the Americans usually refer to as college, and in most countries outside the US, there is a difference between the two), I even wrote a paper on the subject, garnering an “A” for noting terms like “lorry” vs. “truck”, “lift” vs. “elevator”, and “eraser” vs. “rubber”, with the last of these generating an embarrassing mistake for a friend when he was in high school. This friend was born in Israel, living here until age 9. He then moved to England, where he lived until age 15. At that point, he was transplanted to Long Island. His accent was positively indescribable, though absolutely charming. Anyway, Guy was taking an exam in his American high school, writing in pencil. Upon making a mistake, he turned to a classmate and asked to borrow a rubber. As you can imagine, his request went down a treat, given that in the US (and perhaps elsewhere, I just don’t know), a rubber is not an eraser, but a condom. Poor Guy!

Being named Guy was no picnic in the US. It certainly didn’t help that when he moved to England, the officials spelled his given name of “Haggai” as “Chagay”, leading to endless pronunciation issues. But Guy is not a popular name in the US, despite its popularity in the UK. Interestingly enough, there are quite a few names that don’t work if you are hopping between English-speaking countries. What Brit hasn’t chuckled when meeting an American (male or female) named Randy? If my name happened to be Fanny (I swear it’s not!), I’d definitely be using a nickname when traveling around the UK. And of course, let us not forget the names that don’t transfer well to Israeli culture. I knew an American Jewish woman named Sheva once, many years ago. On the face of things, it sounds like a beautiful name, no? At least, if you don’t know what it means, it sounds beautiful. In Hebrew, “sheva” is “seven”. Yep. The number seven. And given that I met poor Sheva as we were participating in a year program together in Israel, you can only imagine what it must have been like to spend an entire year having people ask you why your name is seven. Less fun than you might think.

What caused me to dedicate a blog entry to this subject? Well, recently I learned a new word from a colleague who grew up in South Africa. Before I share the new word with you, I’d like to point out that South Africans, bless ‘em, use some very bizarre terms. For instance, did you know that in South Africa, a traffic light is known as a robot? I swear! Or when a South African tells you that he will be taking care of something “just now”, it means that he will be taking care of it at any time between now and, say, any old indefinite time period. Neat concept, eh? It took me a while to catch on to that one, when my South African colleagues would tell me that they would get to whatever it was that I was waiting for just now, and I couldn’t imagine what was taking so long. Do you know what a “braai” is? Why, it’s a barbecue, of course! If a South African invites you over for a braai, consider yourself lucky indeed, as these folks are unquestionable masters of meat, and you’re sure to leave quite sated. Which brings me to today’s new word. Brinjal. That’s right, brinjal. I can just see you, scratching your heads, quietly asking yourselves, “what the hell is a brinjal?” Well, depending on which English speaking country you’re from, it’s either an eggplant or an aubergine (probably good that I didn’t only use the term “aubergine”, as you’d probably start scratching your head with wonder again). I thought I’d heard it all. To be quite honest, I actually thought she was making it up, until she popped it into Babylon and showed me that it was a real word.

I seem to recall a quote that Steve Martin once gave. “Boy, those French! They have a different word for everything!” After the “brinjal” incident, I’m thinking it’s not only the French who are guilty here. Hey, what other “strange” words can you come up with?


lisoosh said...

I like the Australian "ute" for utility vehicle - a pickup truck.

nrg said...

I had to lovingly remind a friend of mine once that while on business in TX, it would be best to refrain from saying the words, "G-d, I really need a fag" outloud... He was really just jonesing for a cigarette... but it could have gotten ugly...

rami said...

Try to guess how many words for 'snow' there are in Sweden!

Enjoyed the read, I fall in the same category, I was taught british englisn in school, both in jordan and england, then I had to deal with american english, now with 'Swenglish', and with many ESL accents.

In my daily vocabulary I have an inhale that sounds like a 'yah'. It basically means, I agree, and I caught it in sweden. If you travel a bit further north, you'd catch a 'whoop' inhale, that means the same thing.

nrg said...

when I first arrived in norway, I thought my husband's grandmother (Bergen born and raised) was having a heart attack every time she agreed with me... (the sharp intake of breath that really didn't mix with her 88 years). Scared the crap out of me until I learned what she was doing. Now I do it all the time...

Don Radlauer said...

I lived in Hong Kong for three years and a bit, and then in England for four years, before making Aliyah. Hong Kong, in particular, has some strange "English" words that are peculiar to the region, or indeed to Hong Kong itself.

In Hong Kong (and, I believe, in other English-language outposts in the region) a "godown" is a dockside warehouse. I believe this word has a Malay ancestry.

In Hong Kong (and nowhere else, as far as I know) when you pay to get your car out of a parking facility, you pay at the "shroff". Nobody seemed to know the derivation of the term, but it was the one in official as well as conversational use.

Levant said...

I need your help .
Can you please check this link :

and this one too :

I need neutral verification from your side if this is true or false ,your opinion is highly valued .

I am very worried to read these statements and statistics after all they are children ,like yours and mine ,only a post back we were talking about them the other post .I mean will and hope you take it this way .As something fair needs to be done about it .

Levant said...

Sorry I may copied the first link wrongly it should read as folowes :

Thanks for you patients

Anonymous said...
this is the right way ,checked it
I read it !!! but I reserve my remarks tell I hear the other side.

all what you need is an html at the end .

Ziad said...

During my first semester at college (university :p) in the US, my dorm-hall group of friends would frequently send one of the guys out to buy us some past-midnight "second dinner". On one such occasion, we were getting sandwiches from Subway, and each person wrote down what he wanted on a piece of paper that the designated go-getter took with him to order from.

At that time, Coke was still not allowed in Jordan (Israel-boycott rules), and I wasn't very acquainted with the spelling of the word. So I wrote my order as follows:

"Foot-long steak and cheese sandwich, and a large cock"

Nobody at the dorm paid attention to what I wrote, and the paper made its way to Subway where it was dutifully handed over to the girl working there so that she may fill out our order. The guy that went there told us that he was surprised when the girl fell to the floor from laughing as she read our order sheet! :-)

Liza said...

Rami: Your question about how many words there are for "snow" in Sweden reminds me of the times when my husband tries to teach me different words in Farsi. I'm guessing that the Persians have a similar number of words for saying "rice" that the Swedes have for saying "snow"!

Ziad: It's a very good thing that I finished my coffee before reading your comment, otherwise it probably would have ended up all over my keyboard and computer screen, given how hard I laughed! Thanks for sharing that. Too funny!

Liza said...

Levant and anonymous: Your comments are off-topic, but I will respond, as they were posted respectfully, and seemingly without malice. Be warned, though (and this goes for everyone!). Should people start to get carried away and become disrespectful, the dialog will be cut short.

Just to note, the first link didn't work, so anything I write here only addresses the second link.

First of all, while I do believe that children are the biggest victims in this conflict, and while I do believe that there are kernels of truth in what was written in the article, I think it is quite unfair to lay the blame solely on Israel. Palestinian terror organizations frequently use children in attempts to transfer explosives through checkpoints, and they have sent children to carry out terror attacks.

The Palestinian Authority, under the leadership of Yasser Arafat and Fatah, has been an incredibly corrupt entity, squirrelling away donated funding into their own pockets or channelling into terror organizations instead of using it to build up the necessary infrastructure for creating a viable Palestinian state. The corruption was so incredible that it is my belief (as I've written before), that it is what drove the majority of Palestinians to vote for Hamas.

I do not believe that it is official Israeli policy to target Palestinian children. However, when children are throwing rocks at soldiers (and I have a serious problem with the argument that they are "only" rocks, as rocks can injure, maim, even kill), or when a Palestinian child suddenly pulls a toy gun that looks real from a distance on a soldier, unfortunately, something tragic is probably going to happen.

I also have a really huge problem with Palestinian mothers who see nothing wrong with their children dressing up as suicide bombers or learning war tactics in summer camps, and when asked, are actually proud that there children may become suicide bombers, those mothers who have already lost one child to such an act, who proudly claim that they would sacrifice more children for the cause. Parents who are proud of their children for violently injuring and taking the lives of others and blowing themselves to bits. I would gladly die to save my son's life, and the thought of not being able to see him grow up is my greatest fear. I can think of no cause on earth that would convince me to sacrifice my own child.

While the Israeli authorities could do so much more to improve the quality of life for Palestinian children, I think that Palestinian society as a whole must also make many changes, and must make child welfare a much higher priority, which it doesn't seem to be doing. As long as they continue to blame only Israel for the plight of their children and avoid their own role, the situation will probably not improve, unfortunately. And it is the children who will pay the price.

Allison said...

My daughter's metapelet is South African so she comes home using funny words.

What cracks me up the most with the Brits and South Africans is calling a pacifier a "Dummy."

Yael K said...

One of my best friends here is a South African transplant and so I find myself saying things like "robot" for traffic light all the time!

To add a bit to what Allison responded to the commenter providing the links and question, I would also say that in a situation where a palestinian militant begins firing at an Israeli soldier from amongst a crowd of unarmed civilians the bullets are going to start flying back and the likelihood of someone unarmed and not happy to be in the midst of this mess getting hit is going to be extremely high.

I was very against the (now defunct) policy of the IDF using human shields when approaching a militant to attempt to arrest him. I am also against the militants using their fellow citizens as human shields when they decide to attack the IDF.

Yael K said...

Oops, that should have been adding to She's thoughtful response...

The Miner said...

Learning all kind of dialects of English such as American, Australian & etc is the adventure of living in the Global Society(Israel).

Levant said...

I thank your tolerance and your time for the answer such time was wit feelings you have put in your answer ,in a context of debate which was intended to be. Not at all in a males approach ,I cherish your stand and feelings ,I dont wish at all to abuse your tolerance ,I regret if it was taken this way ,mine was purely intended to find true facts on a matter that we all are concerned about ,the children from both side .
Again please accept my regrets for putting you on a defensive stand ,and sincere regards for some one like you with tolerance from the other side .
my side and yours ,not per say mine or yours in particular ,but in general both should have a firmer dialogue ,thank you again

Anonymous said...

You levante dont sell your self short ,this a true story by
Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
Wednesday November 24, 2004,2763,1358173,00.html
An Israeli army officer who repeatedly shot a 13-year-old Palestinian girl in Gaza dismissed a warning from another soldier that she was a child by saying he would have killed her even if she was three years old

Witnesses described how the captain shot Iman twice in the head, walked away, turned back and fired a stream of bullets into her body. Doctors at Rafah's hospital said she had been shot at least 17 times.
It is hate not diffence ?
IDF stands for >Isreali deffince Forces if so what are they doing in side the teroraties to kill children ,dont appologise ,but ask for the reason of facts you have given .

Y.Khatib said...

Ahmed's gift of life

Ahmed Khatib's death was tragically unexceptional: the 12-year-old Palestinian was shot by Israeli soldiers while holding a toy gun. But what happened next was not. The boy's parents donated his organs to six Israelis. They tell Chris McGreal why their decision was a gesture of both peace and resistance

Friday November 11, 2005
The Guardian

Why I need to know why ,and for what my cousion died ??Yassine

nrg said...

hi! how did we get to this topic from the original post? I am confused. Wouldn't it be better for people who want to discuss this particular topic be better served either commenting on a blog that has posted a political entry or writing emails directly to blog owners?
Not that the topic isn't valid, interesting, worth discussing... but it has absolutely nothing to do with this post and makes the flow of relevant comments really difficult to follow.

nrg said...

I apologize for the complete lack of grammatical skill shown in my previous post... that's what happens when I write fast and press publish instead of preview...

pcclmnd said...

What a delicious post, She!
(Oops, i'm afraid to comment with my engRish)
Anyway, that south-african eggplant= aubergine= brinjal sounds like 'berinjela', in portuguese.

Talking about portuguese, we've got a personal term, called 'balagunSSa'= balagan + bagunSSa (where's Renata, now?). And also the problems with the names Shoshana, Shula, Carni...

Another time, She, could be funny to tell ppl about our mixed hebrew and mistakes, also. Just curious, but did you 'eat' some vowels sometimes when typing in english? And what about your caligraphy?

The Lioness said...

Oh I loved this post! I love how different English can be, I once used "fanny" in the British sense while telling a joke to an American friend and the discussion that ensued is not to be believed! Whenever I use "fag" in my blog it's riot time as well. The funny thing is, we call aubergines "beringela" in Portuguese, and it's pronounced much the same way as "brinjal". When I lived in Israel, I became quite enamored of the "it's depend", I love how cute it sounds. Also, speaking w Israelis whose English is not so good is a good way to learn Hebrew, I learnt how to order a coke when a girl was telling me she'd "invited" one at the cafe. And being called Guy Pines is bound to open some doors in the US, if only for the entertainment value.

Portuguese exchange students are loved by their American host families when they give them, as a upon-arrival present, a little replica "of our most famous Portuguese cock, it even changes colour depending on the weather". Portuguese also have a problem diferentiating btwn some words, leading to a merry "can't wait till I get to know your bitches".


The Lioness said...

[Oops, I just read the above comment, sorry abt the aubergine redundancy.]