Thursday, July 21, 2011

International English

Yesterday I read this BBC article about American English expressions creeping into British vocabulary. The answers fell into four main categories.

1. The Americans are right
"Alphabetize" is a perfectly acceptable shorthand replacement for "to put in alphabetical order." Same for "deplane." A TV series and a TV season are two different things. And if you don't like "normalcy," take it up with Warren G. Harding.

2. The Brits are right
"Bi-weekly" is a nightmare word. Nobody knows if it means twice a week or every two weeks, a matter of some import when scheduling meetings. Fortnightly would be a great replacement. "It is what it is" is a horrible, vacant phrase, that's what it is. "I could care less" should be "I couldn't care less," unless of course it is a topic do you care very much about. You cannot be of "Scotch-Irish descent" unless your lineage involves a whisky-swilling Hibernian (note that this is not out of the question).

3. The Brits missed the point
Americans who say "That'll learn you" are almost certainly using it ironically. Almost.

4.. Just different:
Nobody ever died from pronouncing it "zee" rather than "zed," or "lev-erage" instead of "lee-verage." There is nothing inherently better about "bangs" vs "fringe," or "shopping cart" vs. "trolley." And who knew that British people didn't say "Can I get a..." when ordering at a restaurant?

Anyway, the article made me think about the various words and expressions that have crept into Justin and my vocabulary over the course of our adventures together. We often say things which don't make any sense to the people around us, although this was not necessarily a new phenomenon. I love words, and I'd like to share some of our favorite expressions we've picked up or made up in various places. If I put "invented" after the word, it's either not a real word or it's an inside joke.

Nana and Justin's International Dictionary

"ajumma," as a verb. I was first in line, but I totally got ajumma'd. Korea/invented. "Ajumma" literally means "aunt." We invented this word to describe a moment when you are run over, cut off, or otherwise owned by woman over the age of 50. In Korea, this only counts if she has a large cloud of permed hair, referred to as the "ajumma-fro" or "a-fro."

"Crap," as an adjective. The weather today is crap. Scotland. Precisely what it sounds like.

"Dozo." Can I sit here? Dozo! Japan. It can be used in any "please, go ahead" situation, from holding the door open for somebody to taking the last cookie.

"Goatrope." This school activity day with three hours of homeroom is turning into a total goatrope. D.C., US Navy. A mess. Total chaos.

"Hai!" Justin? Hai! Japan. Officially, it probably means something like "Yes," but you also use it where you'd use "What's up?" or "here?" in English when someone's searching the house for you, or as you'd use "Okay" if someone asks you to do something. The advantage is that it's so much fun to say and so cute that you even trick yourself into thinking you're really excited to take out the recycling.

"I can't be arsed." I would get up to change the channel, but I can't be arsed. Scotland. It's too much trouble. Why bother?

"Kodak," as a verb. Will you Kodak me standing in front of this church? The Philippines/invented? I'm not sure if it's used in English as well as Tagalog. I love how much more efficient it is than the English equivalent "take a picture of."

"meta." We're having an argument about whether or not we argue too much. That's so meta. College. Apparently this is a thing, because one of our fellow bandies who went on to law school reported the following story on her blog: "Legislation Prof: This is how you tell that the author of the textbook is a professor at Yale. He starts to use words like 'meta' and 'exogenous.' You know that when you hear the word meta, the plane has stopped in New Haven.""

"Oh God, why?" We're spending our vacation camping on Noko Island, home of the giant spiders! Oh God, why? Scotland/invented. Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, is by far my favorite member of the British aristocracy, by which I mean he's the one I'd want to sit next to at a dinner party. He's so famous for massively politically incorrect but often completely hilarious statements that there are web sites dedicated to them (a mild sample: to a fashion designer, 2009: “Well, you didn’t design your beard too well, did you?”) During a book history class evening, Justin was told that the Duke of Edinburgh was the member of the royal family designated to knight a particular scholar for services in book history. He asked her what she was being knighted for. She said, "Bibliography." He said, "Oh God, why?" True story. Justin and I use this phrase whenever anybody mentions doing something we can't imagine wanting to do. It must be said as fast as possible and in a nasally posh British accent, dragging out the y sound: "ohgodwhyyyyy?"

"So so so." This picture must be from 1992, because of my hair. So so so. Japan. In Japanese, it's considered polite to show that you're listening to a speaker by making noises of comprehension. Like Hai!, this sound is sort of a reflex for Japanese people, in the same way that English speakers working in a foreign language may still fill in pauses with "um" or "uh," so you can be talking to someone who's fluent in English but nevertheless uses this phrase. I can think of multiple occasions at the school where the Japanese person I've been speaking with has held the entire conversation using only Hai! and So so so:

me: Are you here?
Japanese person: Hai?
me: I'm working on the elementary play, but I need to find some furniture for scenery.
Japanese person: So so so.
me: You know the desks the students use?
Japanese person: Hai!
Me: I'm thinking of using them. I could lower them and cover them with butcher paper.
Japanese person: So so so.
me: Could I get about six, do you think?
Japanese person: Hai!
These are the good, positive Japanese noises. The bad ones are "Eeeeh?" said in a horrified rising tone, and the sharp intake of breath which in Korea we dubbed the Hiss of Death. Had I heard one of those noises, I would have known that I had about the same odds of getting the desks as getting Laurence Olivier to come back from the dead and take over as the lead in the play.

"Sumimasen." BONK. Aaa! Sumimasen! Japan. Excuse me. As with Hai! it's cuter and more fun than the English version, and never carries sarcastic connotations.

"Whiskey Tango Foxtrot." I can't believe he ate all my popcorn when I was in my meeting! Whiskey Tango Foxtrot! D.C., US Navy. This is how you pronounce the common Internet abbreviation WTF, or "What the ...", in the NATO phonetic alphabet. Note that "Whiskey" is spelled with an E, American/Irish style, and not "whisky," which is Scotch. Very useful for expressing disbelief without the concurrent rise in blood pressure that comes with actually swearing. Justin aspires to have three ludicrous small dogs and name them Whiskey, Tango, and Foxtrot.

Please use these words wisely. They have great power.

Monday, July 18, 2011

And the 2011 Women's World Cup Goes To...


Congratulations, Japan, on disciplined and enthusiastic play, on never quitting despite falling behind twice, on clean games, and most of all, on winning the World Cup in your very first finals appearance. I'll admit that once the game got started, I started to feel more partial to the good old US of A, but I can't be disappointed in this great underdog result.

Japan, I hope this puts smiles on the faces of people back home. And world, take notice: Asia's got game!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

What are you doing at 2:45 tomorrow? Watching USA vs. Japan Soccer!

Reasons to watch the Women's World Cup final tomorrow - USA vs. Japan

1. Women's World Cup soccer is better than men's. I know, some of you are go on about speed and skills and other subjective nonsense. I happen to think the women play just as well as the men, but that's kind of beside the point. I actually enjoy children's soccer more than professional men's soccer, and half the time kids forget which goal they're kicking towards. I don't give a dang about skills. The important thing is that the result is honest. The primary reason I, and most North Americans, can't get into soccer is diving. When you grow up watching hockey and football, both of which have instant replay, and then you see two grown men bonk arms and fall to the ground screaming as if their elbows have been bitten by Doberman Pinschers and immersed in a bucket of salt, it's not just frustrating, it's pathetic.

Fortunately, for the time being at least, women dive less than men (here's a second study from Germany with similar results). This means that the game moves faster and is less reliant on always-questionable refereeing. And diving was dealt perhaps the sweetest, most cosmically-just own-petard-hoisted blow ever when the US tying goal against Brazil came during stoppage time awarded to compensate for a Brazil dive.

Reason 1b why the Women's World Cup is better: have you ever heard of a men's team blaming poor performance on the team bus getting struck by lightning, and then a failed drug test on traditional medicine to treat said lightning strike made out of musk deer glands? Oh, North Korea. You're the only country in the world weirder than South Korea.

Reason 2: Both teams in the final are awesome. On the one hand, the USA could win. For most of us, that's the home team, who could pick up an unprecedented third women's title. This is awesome. They played a great game against Brazil, simply refusing to quit. A US victory would likely mean increased US support for women's soccer, which is good for everybody, because just about everybody's national team, including Japan's, features multiple women who have played college or pro soccer in the US, where the money is. (Remember the ending of Bend it like Beckham, where they both went off to play soccer in California?) I think the future of women's soccer is heavily dependent on its popularity in the US. So let's go, USA!

On the other hand, Japan could win. Japan made it to the final thanks to incredibly scrappy play despite having only one player taller than 5'7 (beating the Germans, the home favorites and the tournament's tallest team, and the Swedes, who have have 16 over 5'7.) They're playing for Japan's recovery from the March tsunami and earthquake, and being colossally polite, brought a sign to the tournament to thank the international community for its support. If they win, they will be the first Asian team to win any World Cup - men's or women's. Plus, most of the time, I live there. So ganbatte, Japan!

Tune in tomorrow, 2:45 Eastern, because the only way to lose here is not to watch.