Friday, July 25, 2008

Guest Blogger: Jayne Relaford Brown

Dispatch from Downunder II: Word-Love

For a word junkie*, Australia provides particular pleasures. Just as my EFL and, more sadly, my EF&FL (English as both First AND Foreign Language) students distract me from despair with their analyses of "Escape goats" (which actually do provide a nice way out) and "back rounds" (when I would be happy if they could analyze the fore round of what they read), being in a place with a different English keeps my monkey brain happily entertained.

I don't mind at all the signs telling me to "mind the step." In fact, I'm tickled. I was tired enough in the Brisbane airport that I couldn't find the elevators. I thought the "Lift" signs might be where you take off, or where you could get a beer. When i pass what I would call a "popsicle truck" and see it sells "Waffles and Fairy Floss," I'm thrilled, even if the floss is bags instead of freshly spun. Instead of looking at the sights, I read the signs.

Some, like the announcement of the "Debutante Ball" this weekend at the Pioneer Valley H.S., are startling for their content--we seem to be out in the boonies and it is 2008--but most are pleasurable for the words themselves. You don't yield when driving, you "Give Way." In front of busy Woolie's, crossing pedestrians are aided by an "Island Refuge." More startlingly, down the way in front of the senior housing complex, is the "Aged Island Refuge." Double the points? I'm coming to terms with terms like "mature" and "senior," and if the teenage clerk at the movie theatre thinks I should get the senior discount (here it's a "concession"), I'll take it, but I'm not ready to think about becoming "aged."

Here, you call phone numbers with "Enquiries," which seem so much more sophisticated than questions. And the ubiquitous "No worries" when you thank someone here seems so much more philosophical and generous than the grudging "No problem" from the servers in the restaurants back home.

*"Word Junkie" is not a term I use lightly. Growing up, my sister Nancy and I were language sponges. We developed British accents, or at least a Victorian syntax, when we read British novels. When we got together with our Texas cousins, within two days we said you-all or y'all and answered "Ma'am?" or "Sir?" when we were called, instead of "Huh?" On long station wagon drives, our father read the funny-sounding names of towns out loud, a (probably annoying) habit I continue to this day. He would also lead us in thematic runs on puns: "Lettuce get married," said the eggplant, "if you care at all for me." But she was only interested in his celery. Wendy knows I mean no disrespect when I appropriate a word or phrase; in fact, the opposite--there is no WASP equivalent for "Oy!" Though I did hear a new usage for the word this morning when I walked down Dave's block and his neighbor hollered "Oy!" to stop his yapping dog.


The Write Bunch said...


Jules said...

How ya goin Mum =)

Hope all is well and life is good, Just wanted to say hi and i love you.
Have a wonderful trip and we'll talk soon,