As a German language educator for some forty-eight years now, I am still intrigued with languages and words and recall as a young girl in Massachusetts how we used certain words for everyday things. When I was ten and moved to Colorado, I noticed new words for familiar things and how it was easy for kids to make fun of us from the East Coast because we spoke just a little differently and called things by other names.
We had an occasional soda in Massachusetts but it was pop out West. Pop? Some kids called their Dads by that word. I also heard soda pop together and found that odd yet it tasted like the soda in Massachusetts. Little girls love to play with dolls and have doll carriages but in the West they had baby buggies. How silly that sounded to my sisters and me.
My mother had to get used to asking for a sack at the grocery store for her groceries. We had paper bags in New England. As a new Assistant Professor in Tennessee, I discovered that I had yet another word to learn for this ubiquitous carryall: a poke. Standing on the other side of the counter and reaching below, the sales clerk asked me in a Southern accent if I wanted a poke. I thought I had better take a step backwards since in the dimly light little shop in this small town, I wasn’t sure if this person meant to give me a punch in the face. Just as I retreated, he held up the very familiar brown paper bag. I replied I would and smiled inwardly at this new word I could now add to my vocabulary. After looking it up in the dictionary, I discovered it was a real word mostly used in Midland US states.
Regional pronunciations were another form of amusement to me. It was often a “crick” instead of a creek in the West. And instead of a roof on the housetop, it was sometimes pronounced like the word rough.
As a Fulbright teacher in Germany, I had to accustom myself to another form of English and that was British English. As I taught parts of the car from a lesson in the book, I went to the dictionary to discover that the boot of the car was what we called the trunk. My children also played soccer which the rest of the world called football and I had to learn to find them on the pitch instead of the playing field.
Languages are fun and the spices of life. They are so varied and come in so many flavors. I learned and listened to a myriad of German dialects as a teacher and a student in Germany. Languages fascinate and amuse me. They are ever-changing and have hidden meanings as well. Teens everywhere have secret meanings to ordinary words. When I began to hear “my bad” from a student, I realized he meant it was “his fault.” But in some years when a teen said something was “wicked bad,” the exact opposite was meant. I love the new, the ever-changing and ever-evolving nature of languages. They reflect cultural norms and countries and intrigue me. What are some of your favorite words or expressions? Why? Where have you traveled and heard a different word for something? Did your parents also have different expressions?