Posted by: tabliope | November 19, 2008


Back in those days when I first moved away from England I missed the easy access to my own language, to the words that brought some interest to my day; I missed the windfall moments of standing in a newsagents and not realising that I'd skimmed the front pages of all the tabloids whilst waiting to be served and somehow I knew all the non-news.  I missed knowing about the stuff that I wouldn't actually bother to find out about; I missed hearing the first half of   a sentence but still knowing exactly how it would end because I'd unconsciously picked up the information from eavesdropping.   I really had taken my language, and my ability to understand and manipulate language, so much for granted. 

In that land-locked country to the south of me I spent a lot of my time being utterly bewildered because I was surrounded by signifiers that signified very little to me.  I remember needing to get some photographs taken at an automatic booth and it said that I needed a 10franc schein – my dictionary told me this was a certificate so I decided that this probably meant that I needed to get a card or a voucher to put into the machine and so I went to the cash desk with my 10franc note and asked where I could get a schein for the photo booth.   After a couple of minutes of farce where everyone else was getting the joke but I was just getting pretty angry I learnt that a schein in this context is also a banknote.  I was effectively asking him to give me a banknote for my banknote.  It's funny now – to be honest, it was pretty funny about two minutes after it happened because it wasn't one of my bad days.  For me, that sort of situation is the best way of learning and remembering a word.

Now I sit on buses and catch words and attempt to make sense of them  – sometimes I do, but sometimes I just make stories from them.  But in many ways I'm much more aware of words now than I ever was before and I'm conscious of how often the same words are used.   Los is very popular and is used frequently in many different contexts.  It's pronounced 'lows' with the 's' more of a hissing noise.  The ways I know it are for asking what's wrong – was ist los, or to say  that I'm leaving – ich muss loss gehen, but there are many many other ways of using it and I haven't quite got them all yet, but I hear the word a lot and I have a sense of it.

Today offered me a Douglas Adams day on the bus where I got the answer – it was 31 – but I have no idea of the question.  The lady who answered was older than 31, so it wasn't her age but I don't think she was old enough to have a child who was 31.  It's a mystery, but it's not an unpleasant mystery any more not to know everything, not to understand everything.  Probably because I understand enough.  And as someone once said, enough is as good as a feast.



  1. [this is good] This reminds me of the scene in Donnie Brasco when he’s explaining all the different ways to use forgedaboudit.

  2. 31? Hmm.

    And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, one girl sitting on her own in a small cafe in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.

    The event of the man being nailed to a tree happened in 31 AD, the passage is from the first page of said author, and while the question isn’t there, I’ve made my contribution.

    I really enjoyed your entry.

  3. I’d forgotten about that scene Jando – thanks for linking it up.thanks Dave –

  4. I’ve become more aware of how much English isn’t spoken around me. Some days, until I get to work the only speech I hear isn’t in English. The Polish couple from the flat upstairs chatting as they leave for work; The Indian lady in the shop, talking on the phone as she serves me; The African ladies waiting at the bus stop and chattering away 19 to the dozen; The Eastern European blokes murmuring to each other on the bus to town.    I like it and it makes we wish I had some ability with foreign languages.

  5. that’s really great Cha0tic – I can just imagine the way that the Daily Mail would write that up: ‘Nowadays even our language is under threat because this morning until I reached the safety of the Daily Mail offices I was subjected to a river of foreign gabble.  Of course the DM isn’t racist BUT ……

  6. It’s curious how a denial of racism is always followed with the word ‘but’. I was really careful how I wrote the comment. The thought in my head was; I don’t want to come over all “Daily Mail”.

  7. You know what they say C – everything before the ‘but’ is a didn’t come over anything like the DM

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