Sunday, June 25, 2006

Teaching English?

So, I have a thing about the English language. I enjoy it. I really do. I don't mean the grammar and the names of things. I mean the way it's spoken in the US, really in the Southern US. When I moved to the Northeast, I first experienced the fact that I speak a different language than the people of Philadelphia. I referred to the fact that I wanted to have a groom's cake (a true Southern tradition) at my wedding. We went through an entire "Who's on First" type conversation about what a groom's cake is. Finally, one of the other girls said, "Wait a minute! Is that like the bleeding armadillo in Steel Magnolias?" Ugh, yes, yes it is. The only experience they had with this entire concept is a bad example of a movie. So, it was brought home to me that English isn't English isn't English. Since I've been in Jordan, I've realized how much more than the average Joe and Jane American I enjoy the language. From my previous post about the misspellings and my endless amusement with them, you've likely gathered that I notice this stuff more than most. Well, in my Arabic class, I've even taught the other Americans a few useless and obscure things!

As we were learning the Arabic word for fork, I asked the teacher if there is a name for the "points" on the fork in Arabic (there isn't). One of the other American students said "Well, is there a word in English?" Of course. EVERYONE knows they're called tines, right? Okay, I think I may have been the only one in the class who knows. So, I guess not everyone knows... Further education on how trivial my knowledge is. And then, just last week, in the book it talked about an Arabic expression meaning old (kbiiri fi sinn, literally big in the tooth). I commented that we have a similar expression in English, long in the tooth. It also means old. The only other guy in the class who'd ever heard it is my dad's age. Uh oh, maybe it's arcane as well as obscure? I went on to explain that I was pretty sure it was a horse term. It referred to the fact that as horses grew older their teeth were larger. When purchasing a horse, you should look at it's teeth to determine it's age. So, today, I ran it by my Mom. She has this same instinctive guide for the language that she passed along to me. She had heard the phrase but had no idea what it meant. Oh, my. So, doing what all resourceful gals do, I looked it up on-line. I was right in all details except a tiny point, as horses age, their gums recede causing their teeth to appear longer. Well, at least it really IS an expression, even if most people don't use it or know it.

When El 3atal and I first started going out, he was somewhat astonished that I actually kept a dictionary around and consulted it when I came upon a new word. In fact, I once proved him and my Mom wrong. We had an argument about the word dearth and whether, in our situation, there was a dearth of waiters at the restaurant. I argued that since we couldn't find one anywhere there was a dearth. They argued that a dearth meant too many. I was right! Woohoo! So, as you see, I have a bit of a thing about English. I'll go on teaching the world obscure facts and little used expressions, well, just because that's what I do.

Good grammar.


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