I get a lot of nerdish joy from words. I remember the first time I heard the word ‘juxtaposition’, and the surprise I felt when I first saw ‘phlegm’ written down. Growing up as a non-reader, most of my vocabulary developed from spending a large portion of my time around adults. When you hear words and phrases often enough you derive their meaning from their relative context until eventually you are able to use the term yourself with reasonable accuracy. Well, most of the time.
Using language and pronouncing it correctly was so important to me I vividly remember the moments when I got it wrong. Specifically, I said ‘pacifically’ until I was ten. And as there were buoys in the ocean (pronounced ‘boys’ where I come from), I presumed that the birds flying above them were ‘seagirls’ (the logic worked in my head – I was four). I guess these are essentially mondegreens in speech.
Generally, you don’t look up words you believe you understand, which can lead to the worst mistakes. Alanis Morissette wrote, what turned out to be, quite an ironic song about irony (although, I like to believe that was intentional). I used to think ‘cynic’ and ‘sceptic’ were completely interchangeable, and I still get that wrong (like my last post). Some words repeatedly confuse me, like ‘condone’ because it sounds too much like ‘condemn’. In light of this post, my husband recounted the time he read out the word ‘fay-ti-gew’ not realising that was how you spelt ‘fatigue’. And let’s not mention cultural confusions. And when I say let’s not, I mean let’s.
‘Fuss and nonsense’ led me to write this post. Or rather, a word I thought meant ‘fuss and nonsense’ but when I looked it up, it also meant something quite unexpected. I’ll let you look it up yourself so you can find out what all the hoo-ha is about *takes note for future trip to America*. I said ‘hoovered’ instead of ‘vacuumed’ and on that basis someone asked me if I was English. In Australia ‘thongs’ are a type of footwear not underwear. Biscuits aren’t bread and jam goes on toast. I had a friend who used to say to me “you’re such a dag, Kate” only to realise years later her term of endearment also described poo hanging from a sheep’s backside. Here’s proof.
What are your language faux pas? Please share.