Wednesday, June 3, 2009

On Language

First, let me say the title of this post is facetious. I think we can all agree that I am no William Safire.
I do, however, have a heightened interest in all things etymological and lexicographical of late. Perhaps this is because I've been reading Simon Winchester's The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the making of the Oxford English Dictionary. Perhaps it is because I unknowingly used a derogatory racial term to describe my brother who was quick to point out the error. He also once informed me that the name of a piece of jewelry I was discussing is a sex act. The lesson here is that I clearly move in politer circles than he does. And you're never too old to learn something new, I suppose.
My six year old son just learned an important new word a few weeks ago. He was describing a woman who was visiting his school, saying she has "huge bras." Huge bras? How would he know, I asked. He made that gesture where both arms were extended in front of him chest high with his hands facing inward and curved. "Those are breasts," my nine year old daughter informed him sotto voce, "and you shouldn't be talking about them." I have replayed it in my mind dozens of times and it makes me guffaw repeatedly.
I learned a new word this week, and it's my favorite kind, British slang. I love trainers, puddings, being knackered and gobsmacked, and queues. Actually, I think this one should be called Irish slang as I learned it from a neighbor who is from Ireland. We were both working as volunteers at our kids' field day. My lovely Irish neighbor told me she had been forced to drive home and change her shoes because her daughter insisted they were too "naff" to wear. I may not be a William Safire, but I could figure out that naff means uncool or tacky. I did, of course, look it up as soon as I arrived home to confirm that. I laughed out loud at this this one, delighted at a new word I can use to impress Madonna should we ever meet. Although I think she's a bit off the British since the split from Guy Ritchie. I also laughed because the story which introduced me to "naff" made me think of another brother of mine. If his kids ever told him his shoes were too naff to wear in front of their classmates, he would go home and return with the ugliest (naffest? naffiest?) footwear he could contrive, maybe tube socks with flip flops. This is a dad who calls his kids' school lunches their "lunch sacks" just to bug them, as in "Kids, don't forget to put your lunch sacks in your backpacks!" It gets an eye roll every time. Ah, words!


Anonymous said...

Perhaps you move in politer circles than your brother, or perhaps he has a more robust vocabulary.

A Lawyer Mom's Musings said...

Okay, now you've got me wildly speculating. What innocuous sounding word is actually a racial slur? And I know it's not niggardly. Come on. Do tell! Save me from my next cocktail party faux pas.