Following the subtle fawning over the Russian Esquire and juxtaposing it to its venerable American progenitor, I planned a post on an entirely different subject. But then, I noticed a glaring error in my previous post. I wrote “right from the bat” instead of “right off the bat.” The idiom references the ball coming off the bat after a successful strike, which is then followed by the batter making a quick decision to run towards first base.
Obviously, I’m no baseball fan. But this isn’t as sad an admission as that of my not knowing the make up of English/American idioms. Well, now I know the origin of the saying and I won’t mutilate this one in the future. There are plenty of others I can easily mutilate. Or misuse.
Sometime in May, I’ve got this comment to my post Intellectual Democracy And A Hunt for “Qworty” from the reader. I’ll copy-paste it here as is:
clearly like your internet site nevertheless you need to consider a take a look at the spelling on fairly a couple of of one’s posts. A number of them are rife with spelling problems and I discover it very bothersome to inform the truth nevertheless I will definitely come back again. 手機殼
Well… It was nice of the reader to point out my spelling shortcomings. To make spectacular mistakes in English is my least favorite way to dazzle. And that’s the truth.
This linguistic annoyance reminded me of another occasion where I made an ass of myself doing exactly that – misusing an idiom. It happened about 3000 years ago, when my Russian accent was a lot more cute/charming/awful/horrible than it is now. I bumped into my then manager in the hallway. “You are such a busybody, Gwen!” I said happily, brown-nosing in a companionable way. What did I mean to say? Yep. It’s obvious. She was in a hurry, looking awfully busy…
The very instance the words escaped my mouth, it occurred to me that I blurted out something dreadfully inappropriate. Dear God! Give me strength to keep my mouth shut until I get a grip of English idioms! Granted, the aforementioned Gwen was, indeed, a busybody, an amazingly nasty piece of work. It was Freudian slip. Happens even to the best of us, even if we are perfectly bilingual or speaking in our mother tongue…
After this incident — and countless other — I forswore reaching into the golden repository of English idioms and resort to making my own. It seemed safer this way. It still is. I stuck to my resolve for a good 3000 years, until a blogging bug bit me in the butt.
Stories like this one are plentiful. If you have Russian friends who speak with cute/charming/awful/horrible accent, you’ve probably heard one or two anecdotes in the same vein. Poor souls got thoroughly embarrassed, lost their sleep over it or even their jobs in some hilarious (in the hindsight) situations. “You are cunt doing the expeRRRiment zis vay!” That’s a friend of mine, a brilliant chemist, talking to his boss on the third day of his employment at a chem lab. Guess what he wanted to say. Yep. You can’t conduct an experiment this way. He lost his job then, all right, but he owns the lab now, because he was right, “you are cunt doing the expeRRRiment zis vay!
Funny how we want to flaunt it when we got it…
Once, starting a new job, I was introduced to a crew of coworkers as “a specialist from Russia”. Immediately, one of the guys stood up. He was tall, dark and handsome– really, not proverbially. He had mustaches. He blushed and, haltingly, in surprisingly serviceable Russian, pronounced a phrase, which, in close approximation, meant something along the lines, “I’ve had a carnal knowledge of your mother and I wouldn’t mind to make your acquaintance. Wanna f**k?” I’m not as mature and unrestrained a blogger to allow myself a more precise translation.
His eyes shone. The guy was proud of himself. He looked at me expectantly, hoping for a compliment. I won’t disclose his name. We’ve become good buddies soon afterwards.
I blushed and not with pleasure. Random thoughts in my head were irrelevant. His mustache looks funny. I’ve heard somewhere (it was 3000 years ago, remember?) that in Alabama there was a law, which forbids wearing mustaches that could set off laughter in church… To force a smile one has to activate nearly 40 facial muscles. To squeeze a trigger – 4…
A group of my new colleagues was listening in, smiling broadly and nodding, proud to have someone who could greet a newcomer in her native tongue.
Merely to show that above my Russian roots I grew a trunk and a few branches, I smiled an American smile, and inquired where his bad language in such good Russian came from. As expected, it came from his Russian friend who taught him a few simple and unimaginative Russian curses, assuring him that they’d be a sure-fire endearments — music to any Russian ear. Apparently, he had no idea what the words meant.
My Russian ears burned. To this day, 3000 years after the incident, Russian profanities offend me a lot more than badmouthing in any other tongue I know and speak. Truth be told, I use all sorts of swear words often and always in vain myself, in Russian without accent and in English with, just ask my friends. But this was different, don’t you see?
Enough of that already. Generally, I don’t live out loud and share minutia of my life — Ah, well.
- Language that isn’t your mother-tongue is always foreign.
- A person is defined by the choices he/she makes. Not reading this post would, probably, be a good start. But it’s too late now, isn’t it?