” Some of the words and phrases we use can tell people about our ethnicity. For example if I say, “I shut the lights” you would easily understand I am of French decent. If I talk about the “boot” of a car you would know I was of English decent.
There are big words and small words which might give us away. If I say, “You and I are going to dinner,” you would believe me to be someone who has a good grasp of the English language while if I were to say, “You and me are going to dinner,” you may assume I didn’t do well in English classes.
There are all sorts of phrases which I’m sure give away people of many cultures. My niece was telling me tonight that in Japan they do a funny little greeting that sounds a bit like a hyphenated “Hi” when they speak to you. It is a way of being polite. Many of us in eastern North America say, “Good morning,” or “Have a good day”, with very little thought. A “Howdy” might lead us to believe you are from the midwest of the USA or a, “Yaul have a good day now,” would make us think Tennessee and Georgia.
All of this is very interesting in a Pygmalion sort of way but how does our language change from day to day, setting to setting or mood to mood?
When I’m happy I likely use light sorts of words. I use words that are high spirited but not too grand.
When I am with different people my language also changes. With people who know me well I use familiar language. With people I don’t know well I will probably be inclined to speak in a more formal manner.
When I’m with children I use words that are not too big although I like to challenge them a bit and throw in the occasional gem for their consideration. When I am with people who may have some difficulty with English I simplify my language. When I am with a more cerebral congregation I am more apt to use capacious words.
Family brings out a whole other realm in the word department because we actually have words and phrases in families which, to the outsider, would be completely unrecognizable in the context where we use them. For example an “Aunt Suzie” to you may be a dear aunt who lives not too far away but in my family if you are an “Aunt Suzie” it means you are fudging on some work that needs to be done by disappearing to the out house or its more modern equivalent.
Even the cuss words we use are a determinant of our upbringing and perhaps of our work environments. I never once heard my grandfather swear but it is my understanding that when he was in his shop working and no women were around he swore like a trooper.
As a child my grandmother was horrified to discover I had learned to say, “shit” from a babysitter. The same word, I learned later in life, was quite acceptable to my friends of Dutch decent but the often used, “Jesus” which fell easily from the lips of my family was quite distasteful to the Dutch.
All of this brings me to the startling determination I have made about my own language in the past few days. Most of the time I get through days and even weeks without swearing but it has come to my attention that as I become more and more emotionally or physically drained, my use of profanity increases exponentially. Often the words are fairly harmless but as the poor mood settles in the use of the word “Fuck” seems to explode into my vocabulary. To the dismay of people who have never heard me talk that way, and more recently to my dear sister in law, the word has been falling out of my mouth like a bomb into calm water. It is a word I didn’t even utter until I was in my twenties and one which has been known to make me shudder or laugh depending on the circumstance in which it is used. While it is not a word I particularly like to hear I have learned over the years that it is one of those words that can have quite an impact when imparted properly. However, in my case, this week, it just feels fucking good to say it.