Double Entendre

7d105f65025cdf24522aefe60ec73865I 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.


6 thoughts on “Double Entendre

  1. I’m your nerd-twin when it comes to words – I have so many that I love, but my current favourite is ‘propinquity’. The faux-pas I remember the most related to the word ‘Laudable’. I remember using this word in my diary when I was about eight (yes, I was one of ‘those’ children) and only realising years later that I’d actually used it incorrectly. I’d intended it to mean ‘something worth laughing at’, and when I learned it meant ‘something praiseworthy’ I had to root out that old diary and change the entry. I wasn’t able to sleep with the thought of using a word in the wrong way.

    Sad? Yes.

    We also say ‘hoovering’ instead of ‘vacuuming’ here in Ireland. But a ‘thong’ is most definitely not footwear. Round here we’d say ‘flip-flop’. And as for words I can read, but not pronounce? (At least, not on the first go?) Try ‘synecdoche’, ‘anemone’, ‘indefatigable’ and ‘incomparable’.

    • Sad? No. I shall attempt to incorporate those words into sentences this week and ‘Propinquity’ may be my new favourite word!

      Your word, ‘incomparable’ makes me think of words where the pronunciation has changed but spelling hasn’t. I’ve known people to say both ‘in-comp-rable’ and ‘in-com-pare-able’. I grew up believing that the part of my face above my eyebrows was my ‘forrid’ until I saw it written down. I wonder what Chaucer would make of modern English.

      I’ve always struggled to pronounce ‘phenomenon’. It also reminds me of The Muppets, and the ‘Mahna Mahna’ song. “Phe nom men on do doo di di do” Nope, you’re right. That’s probably just me! 🙂

  2. Being a non-native speaker, I have too many faux-pas to mention them all. I keep mispronouncing words like politics, advert and nondescript. I always mix up economic and economical or gold and golden. And I’ve spent my whole life believing that you do read “b” in “climber”…

    But I do want to know – is there really another meaning to jam? I always thought it was only the fruity stuff to spread on bread…

    • I have to say, I have a HUGE respect for people who speak more than one language *enormous round of applause*. I feel embarrassed when tourists apologise to me for their ‘poor English’ when I can’t speak a word of their native language – I’m thinking, I’m the one who should be sorry.

      Americans (I believe) don’t call it ‘jam’ they tend to call it ‘jelly’. Any Americans reading this? Please concur.

      • Can I hop in here? I’m not American, but I do believe they refer to ‘jam’ as ‘jelly’. At least, all the Americans I know do.

        But in terms of the word ‘jam’ meaning something besides ‘the fruity stuff to spread on bread’, it can also mean:

        ‘a problem’ – as in, ‘I’m in a jam’ meaning ‘I’m having a problem/difficulty’;
        ‘stuck’ – as in, ‘I’ve jammed my finger in the window’;
        (perhaps only in Ireland) ‘shove’ – as in, ‘jam the last one in, there’s a bit of space in the corner’;
        And, again, perhaps only in Ireland/the UK, ‘jammy’ is a word used when someone has had good luck, and you want to congratulate them while also expressing your good-natured jealousy. So, like this:

        ‘I’ve won the lottery!’
        ‘Oh, you jammy git. Congratulations!’

        That’s all I can think of for the minute. English is a weird language. 🙂

      • Thanks for hopping in! I was so caught up thinking about ‘jam’ versus ‘jelly’ I neglected to think about anything else. Thank you 🙂 We too use the word ‘jam’ in all the contexts you mentioned, except I haven’t heard of that last one. So many words to learn so little time…

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