23 septiembre 2010


With my mother - I was 18 or 19.

I think this works across the board, or rather, across nationalities and languages, that there are certain colloquialisms that we just do not pick up in a region as a result of our parents' immigration. In my last years as a graduate student, I took a course in which we read about various myths & superstitions, folklore & cliches. What struck me was that when placed a group with three other students and given a colloquialism, there was not one of us who had heard it used within our families or could tell you when would be an appropriate time to use it.

We all happened to be the children of immigrants - my Colombian mother, another woman was the child of two Greek parents, the child of Italian parents and the fourth I cannot remember.

Colloquialisms are not just the marker of your familiarity with a language, they are also a marker of how you are socialized, or how often you socialize with others.

I was an only child who spent much of her time on the Internet. I like to point at this, rather than stupidity, as the reason it took me until my first year in college to realize that the phrase was 'a grain of salt' rather than 'a grain assault.' My husband often laughs at this asking me to explain the latter, but I don't think that many colloquialisms can be explained by those using them now. Why is the phrase 'A stitch in time saves nine?' Why is something the 'cat's pajamas' (admittedly, not many people use this but my husband ADORES it).

More recently and with some awkward pause I had to stop my mother on the phone as she complained to me that the company with which her husband would soon be contracted was 'jerking him off.' For my mother, there is no real difference between 'jerking him around' and 'jerking him off' but I imagined her saying this to one of the parents at my siblings' school and that parent staring in horror.

To date, however, my mother's most misused phrase is 'pickers can't be choosers.' Each time I explain to her that pickers are choosers and she immediately responds, short and irritated, 'Well, whatever, you know what I mean!'

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