Time to confess: tell us about a time when you used a word whose meaning you didn’t actually know (or were very wrong about, in retrospect).
There’s something to be said growing up in a family where English was not the first language on one side and not exactly mastered ( there are no Grammar Nazis hanging in this girl’s family tree ) on the other side- what can be said is this:
If you didn’t know the meaning of a word or needed one you just asked.
But you will always have that one person in the family who will get it wrong on purpose. Because she has mastered the perfect poker face, because she is so focused on you that she will watch you cringe, or try not to laugh or feel embarrassed for her because…
she thinks it’s funny.
And no I’m not talking about myself, I’m talking about my Mom- the slayer of syntax, the butcher of innocent words, the serial killer of complete sentences.
My Mom would have you believe she doesn’t know better, but the fact is in order for you to twist things around like that you really do have to know what you’re saying.
Of course there’s no fun in that so…
My Dad and his cousin built my dog this great dog house and he hardly used it because he was an Alaskan Malamute and we lived outside of Seattle, so the weather never got so bad he had to take shelter in it.
My cats on the other hand loved that house because it was carpeted and warm.
So it was at Thanksgiving and the family is enjoying this great meal and we’re all dressed up when my Mom looks out the kitchen window and says to my Dad and his cousin John:
” Look at those cats, they’ve taken over Sham’s dog house. I’ll bet that’s why he won’t go in it. You know what you should do Bert? You and John should build a cat house. They’d really enjoy it.”
” So would the rest of the neighborhood. ” my Grandma said.
I bit down on my fork and the evidence is my still slightly chipped front tooth. My brother slapped his forehead- hard- and my Dad and his cousin both enthusiastically agreed a Cat House was a good idea.
” The girls could make curtains for it- ” my Mom said referring to me and my sister- she led us to believe ” and put little beds in there…”
I couldn’t stand it anymore.
” Mom! Do you know what a Cat House is?” You do right?”
My Mom shrugged. ” Of course I do. It’s where Cats live.”
” Ma! It’s where Prostitutes live…”
One of my other cousins enlightened us all ” Oh, I think they just work there, they don’t live there.”
” Well,” my Mom went on as if she hadn’t heard us say a word. ” I always said the best cat to have around is one that works hard- you know catching mice- so why shouldn’t they have a nice bed to sleep on and pretty curtains? “
” Mom! A Cat House is a Whore House. You know what they are right?”
” Of course I know. And I also know you weren’t listening to a word I said.”
It took me awhile to figure out what she meant. She was right. I wasn’t listening to her, I was listening at her. I knew exactly what she intended to say. So why didn’t I let it go?
So now when someone twists a word around I sort of go with it. And when I use the wrong word- it’s no sweat.
But when my Mom does it I just stand there and drop what I’m doing and watch the carnage unfold right before my eyes.
It’s like looking at nine or ten cars right after they’ve rear ended each other on the freeway- there’s broken glass and bits of cars and Fire Engines and First Aid Cars and Police cars all over the place- and I know I shouldn’t- but I’ll look. And then I’ll stare. I’ can’t help myself.
My Mom and her impact on language have the same effect on me.