Saturday, September 17, 2005

Native Language

English is my native language. In school, it was my best subject. Thanks to a certain ruler-wielding nun, I can diagram a sentence. I know the difference between affect and effect, who and whom, its and it’s. On good days, I come down on the side of right with lie and lay, although that one does still trip me up. The point is, I do speak English.

As do the Irish, although of course, not the English that I’m used to. I notice it all the time, in funny ways. Thanks to television and movies, I already knew a little bit – say boot instead of trunk when you’re talking about putting luggage in the car, it’s petrol not gas, lift not elevator.

But sometimes I can’t help how my brain works. It’s wired to associate certain words with certain meanings. When someone talks about using a torch, I think about the sort of item that appeared in the hands of the villagers when they went off in search of Frankenstein’s monster. I worry about the open fire risk and where to find the matches. But it’s all silliness on my part because they’re talking about a simple flashlight.

My favorite word over here has got to be scheme. In America, schemes are the tools of con-men and tricksters. Over here, the word scheme is untainted by the unsavory American connotations. Here, a scheme is any sort of organized program. So, the government over here is always formulating a scheme to deal with whatever the day’s news problem is. Come to think of it, perhaps the main perpetrators of schemes aren’t so different in the two countries.

Every so often, I come across a word or phrase that means absolutely nothing to me so I must invent explanations. One that’s been puzzling me recently is heard often in radio advertisements. The announcer says something along the line of “to take advantage of this exciting new scheme low phone” followed by a phone number. I want to know what low phone is and how it’s different from free phone. I want to believe that low phone distorts your voice so your call is confidential or that you can only make low phone calls while you’re under the table or a bridge.

My five-year-old niece, Michelle, told me a story about her 16-month-old sister, Anna, who had developed a habit of putting on Michelle’s pants whenever she could find a pair. Everyone else who was told this story roared with laughter but I could only smile politely. I couldn’t see what would be funny about a small child wearing two pairs of pants.

Then, when I was at their house for dinner, Anna came down in her pink pajamas, one of those cute fuzzy pairs that are all one piece with the feet covered. Only she was wearing Michelle’s underpants over the pajamas, which made her sort of look like a very small, very pink Batman. Now that was funny and I understood my earlier confusion.

Michelle has been very patient with me when I display a lack of understanding of the English language. I’m sure she thinks her poor aunt is terribly slow but one day, I’ll show her that I too can be a clever clogs!


At 17 September 2005 at 18:32, Blogger Lyss said...

Please help. I ahve spent time trying to mkae sure I understandthe differences you mentioned but cannot seem to- its/it's, effect/affect, lay/lie- and find it hinders me at work sometimes.

At 18 September 2005 at 02:47, Blogger Career Guy said...

Lyss, if I may: its is the possessive form, as in "A place for everything and everything in its place." It's is the verb contraction for "it is". Remember how you are supposed to substitute an apostrophe for the missing letter in a contraction? That's the deal, as in "It's raining cats and dogs" meaning "It is raining cats and dogs".

"Effect" can be a verb meaning to "have an impact" in something, as in "Congress wants to effect a change in the tax laws". "Effect" can also be the result of a "cause", as in "The effect of global warming is hotly debated."

On affect and effect, from we get: 'As a verb affect is most commonly used in the sense of “to influence” (how smoking affects health). Effect means “to bring about or execute”: layoffs designed to effect savings.'

Lay means to put something down, while lie applies to a person lying down.

Clear as mud, right?

At 18 September 2005 at 02:50, Blogger Career Guy said...

Ann-when I see torch, I think of welding, but I know what you mean--kind of throws you when you hear different usages.

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