The many idiosyncrasies of the English language

Tuesday 9 November 2010
The English language originated here. No, that's not a hypothetical question. It's a statement. Even a non academic gal like me know that. I thought I've been speaking English all this time, ever since I slid out of my mother's womb. Often I'm mystified and confused in a conversation with my English friends though I nod my head lest they think I've lost the plot. Here's my conclusion so far.....

1. When an English friend asks you "You alright?", it doesn't mean that you look like death worn over or have just recovered from a serious illness. Translation: "How are you? "  After a couple of years of "You alright?", I've stopped myself from dashing off to the nearest mirror to check if I'm TRULY alright. Oh, and one more thing, the Britons, unlike the Kiwis do expect you to reply when they ask.

2. Dinner, supper and tea. What's the correct term? Here's my interpretation. Breakfast: the meal one has, bleary eyed as you stumble out of bed in the morning. Lunch: a meal taken in the afternoon. Dinner: the meal which one partakes AFTER breakfast and lunch and only occurs in the evenings. Supper: if you're still hungry and need to raid the fridge late at night (unless you're an Asian where feasting continues past midnight).

Did you realise that dinner can be taken in the afternoon? If you do, you're smarter than I am. In fact, I had an interesting conversation with the school administrator the other day." I'd like Little L to start school lunches", I said. The lady replied, "you mean Hot Dinners". "nooooo, she's definitely having lunch. Why are you serving dinners in a primary school? Don't these kids go home?" Lady gave me a strange look and reiterated a little slowly this time "Hot dinner is served at 12pm".

Little L often gets invited to friends' for "tea". Imagine my confusion. Little kids start drinking tea at the age of 4? The English have gone mad. So, I nodded politely as I didn't want to offend. Imagine my surprise when food was presented at the table but no sign of tea anywhere. Conversely, Little L has also been invited for supper at 5pm. As I reciprocated the kind gestures, I have absolutely no idea whether I should say, dinner/supper/tea when I voiced out the invitation. According to a few English friends, the working class calls it tea but the proper term is actually dinner.

3. The Asians chronicle their entire life around food. In fact, we photograph our food, particularly when we're on holidays. Don't expect to see scenery shots unless we're standing smack in the middle of it. I remember lots of feasts where friends and family gathered together around the table. When friends come around to our place for a visit, we immediately inundate them with food. In fact, in Foochow, our greeting isn't "how are you?", it's "Have you eaten?" I've since learned that when your kid is invited for tea/dinner/supper (see, I'm still confused), you're NOT eating. Secondly, most parents cook two dinners, one for their little ones, another for themselves. Kids do not eat with their parents at home.

4. I say lollies, you say sweets. Over here, lollies are popsicles whereas back in New Zealand, they're well, as they call them here, sweets. Whew. Perhaps, in another year or so, I may just get it right.


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