Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Lost in Translation - Part One - (hearing it wrong)

This blog isn't about one of my travels to a foreign land where I don't speak the language and the trouble that ensued - though I do have a few of those to tell, but not at this time. This time, I share with you my troubles with the English language and to some extent my hearing.
I was born in Canada, and I speak English, pretty well for the most part, near fluent I'd stretch to say. However, my parents were both immigrants to Canada, my mum was born in Wales and my dad was born in England. Nothing too crazy as far as a language barrier really - or so you'd think.
However, I have found that having British parents has caused me a few issues over the years. Part of it comes from them being the ones responsible for teaching me to speak....I mean granted, that was their job and all but still. To be honest, I never really thought either of my parents even had an accent, it's not something I was ever aware of. In fact I didn't even clue in to the fact until I was in my teens and one of my friends was doing an impersonation of my dad and it came off sounding like Michael Caine!! I laughed and said, 'my dad doesn't sound like that, he doesn't even have an accent!'. To which my friend then boldly laughed in my face with a 'whaaaat?!'...followed by a 'yes he does and so does your mum!'
Hmmm....I was shocked - really. Two of my dad's brothers also emigrated from England to Canada and I could clearly hear their accents but not my own parents - weird.
I knew they used different slang words and sayings but that's about it, and even that fact only came to light as a result of my friends pointing them out when I said them.
When you learn to speak, you mimic the sounds that you hear your parents saying, so when I say, 'bloody 'ell' or flippin' 'eck' it's not because I'm trying to sound British and use an accent, it's because that's how I heard it said as a child.
I don't mean to give you the impression that those particular words were ones that they 'taught' me as a baby, but more words that I heard throughout my childhood.
Wouldn't paint the greatest parenting picture otherwise would it -
My parents - 'say doggie'....'good, yes, that's it doggie'
and say, 'milk'....'yes, what a clever girl you are, milk'
and can you say, 'bloody 'ell, flippin' 'eck, the dog just drank my milk!!'
Yeah....so not quite like that, just more of repeating a word exactly as I heard it.

So without me really being aware of it, the way they said words (because of their accents - I now know that) has caused me to have certain things lost in translation at times. Combined with the fact that these are words and phrases that I heard - not ones that I had ever seen written down.

Take for instance, if I missed school because I was sick. I would go to my mum and say, 'I need to take a note today so they know why I missed school yesterday'. She'd reply (or at least what I heard), 'I'll tell them you were pauly'.
I'd say, 'don't put that!'...I was fully aware that my family wasn't 'full Canadian' now we're going to make it super obvious with that statement!' I'd say, 'just put I was sick'...the compromise was always a note saying I was 'unwell'. Even that made me feel daft! But 'unwell' was certainly less of a tip-off to our half Canadian status than me being bloody pauly!!!
Many years later, I was in Wales and heard someone saying that their son was 'pauly' and missed school and like a light bulb going on, I realized that the word was 'poorly'....not 'pauly'!!! Flippin' 'eck, now it made sense!!! For years I pondered why being sick was always blamed on pauly....was this Paul fellow perhaps responsible for the Great Plague of London?? Was he first one to be bitten by an infected flea?? How did they know it was him? Boggling of the mind now over - Paul didn't do it!!

Another phrase that I heard incorrectly for years was when my mother would say things like, 'headed to do some Christmas shopping on Saturday and it took ages to find a parking spot, (followed by what I heard to be) parfathecourse'...she used this statement all of the time as did I over the years. I understood it's meaning just fine - it meant 'what's to be expected'. One word, parfathecourse.
Once again, years later I was watching golf with Tony as I had many, many times and I hear the announcer use 'my families term' parfathecourse, I thought, 'how odd, I've never heard anyone else ever use the term!'
Then in that very moment, confused to why he's using it, my brain slowed things down for a moment. It's like I went into slow-mo mode....'course'...'golf'....'par'. Now though I don't play golf, I've watched more than my fair share of it, and I'm familiar with not only many of the players but most of the golf terms too, so the slowing down of the phrase continues in my brain...'par...for...the...course!!'
Not parfathecourse!!! Seriously, you have no idea how chuffed I was in that very moment - I exclaimed out loud to Tony...'I get it'....'it's 'par for the course'!!!
That's what I've been saying all of these years!!! I felt like I had made some great discovery...OK maybe not like Columbus, but for me just as exciting!! I mean I've used the expression for as long as I can remember but never gave much thought how that one odd word might be spelled.
At that point in our relationship Tony was well aware that I sort of spoke two languages - English, and something else...he was also well aware of the fact that I was slightly nuts, so he just watched as I beamed with pride from my new found knowledge.

The last and maybe most embarrassing example comes from a phrase that my Welsh nan (who also immigrated to Canada) always used to say.
First in my defense let me say going to church was not part of my upbringing though I wasn't completely clueless to the whole God and religion thing. My mum always told us a few key points, 'Jesus loves everyone...followed by, he was friends with the prostitutes and the thieves'. My nan also sometimes would sing a hymn or two in Welsh and had a picture of the Last Supper in her hallway. And yes I mean a copy of the famous painting, not a photo of my grandparent's last meal - which if it was my grandfather, better known as Pampy, the last supper would surely be a plate of spuds swimming in a pool of butter and covered in pepper. I digress...religion, God and stuff, I did have some insight. One of my most vivid visuals comes from my nan's frequent saying of 'Jesus swept'. I've seemed to have painted a clear picture of a non-stop cussing family! Anyways, my nan would say 'Jesus swept' often, as kind of a term of exasperation....like, 'Jesus swept, they ate all the cake!'...it seemed to come in handy for many different things. Once again, the accents and the speed of the speech had me hearing it wrong, but every time my nan said it, I'd picture Jesus...in his robe, not his bathrobe of course but one of those 'man dresses' of his time, also sporting a pair of sandals and with broom in hand I would see him sweeping. I must say, for such an important historical figure his house was not grand. He was always sweeping a porch that was in area, about a 5x5 foot square, wasn't even a raised porch, more of just a square outside his door. I've had that same image of Jesus sweeping up since I was about 5 years old, always impressed by his modest home and good housekeeping skills. Made me feel like I knew a bit about religion, granted I didn't know all of the characters in the Bible, but I felt like I had a bit of insight to Jesus - he was tidy, modest and non-judgemental - I like having this knowledge.
In my thirties I bought a few 'easy to understand' books about religion, well not so much specific religions, but more of stories from the Bible. I figured it would be good to know another character or two, a way to string the together the ones that I was aware of. I knew tidy Jesus, Joseph with his wildly coloured coat along with some of his brothers (this knowledge came courtesy of doing a production of Joseph in elementary school), Moses and his basket, I knew that some dude named Job apparently had a lot of patience, Adam and Eve - snake/apple/garden, Noah and his mega boat - lots of rain/saving animals and a few other tidbits like that. I thought it was time to put some of these people and events in order so I bought myself these books for my own kind of enlightenment.
And indeed I did find enlightenment when reading the story about Lazarus dying I read the phrase -'Jesus wept'. And again, my brain slowed down for a minute, and I actually thought to myself (albeit for only a second or two) reminds me of my Nan's phrase - 'Jesus swept'....'Jesus wept?!'....oooh, Jesus wept!!! He didn't sweep, he cried!!!

So in that moment I discovered that Jesus was a sensitive man. Was he tidy? I could no longer be certain.

Next time.....Part Two....saying it wrong. How certain phrases just don't translate well. Stay tuned.


  1. Very entertaining.
    It makes me think of my college professor from Canadian Tourism College. David, from London, loved to go to the Pawn shop on his breaks from class. He always found cool things. But for the longest time everyone thought he was saying he's going to the PORN shop haha!!

  2. Thanks for reading it Cortni - and the kind words - much appreciated. Haa....that's funny about your teacher - poor dude!! xo

  3. Bloody well done lass! lol xoxox

  4. Awww - Rachel, you're a peach!! Thanks for your sweet words! xoxox