Today I wanted to post a scornful and withering broadside about the economy and high-end tax cheats, but I'm still too angry. I need a day or two to calm down before I can write rationally, and so I've decided to reinforce the popular success of yesterday's post about words with another language-oriented post.
Let's talk about accents.
Linguistic gaffes involving accents are a staple of bad jokes (like the Italian immigrant slapped by the waitress when he complained about his missing tableware by saying "I needa fock right here on the table"), but if you speak a foreign language or deal with people who do, they're a guaranteed linguistic minefield.
Agnes (who will probably shoot me for telling this story) speaks excellent idiomatic English, but there's no doubt in anyone's mind that she's German. One day we were having a mild disagreement about something and I was getting a bit frustrated. She glared at me and said, "Don't get tasty with me!"
"That's testy, dear," I suggested.
My favorite accent story dates to about 1979, when I was living in the beautiful city of Wiesbaden, Germany. Looking to practice my spoken German, one evening I dropped into a local Gasthaus (neighborhood tavern) called Zum lachenden Esel (The Laughing Jackass...their sign was wonderful) for a beer and to find someone to talk with. I sat down at the bar two stools away from an older man who was accompanied by his dog, a large, handsome Collie (note: in Germany, people frequently take their dogs into neighborhood bars and restaurants; it's perfectly acceptable, as long as the dogs are well-behaved). The dog was sprawled happily on the floor, sound asleep.
Looking to make conversation, I addressed the man and said something like "Sie haben ja einen sehr schoenen Hund" (You have a very good-looking dog).
He looked over at me and asked (in English), "You American?" (I think the military haircut gave me away).
I said yes. He nodded, looked down at his dog sprawled on the floor, then back at me and said (still in English). "Yah. Dat's a lazy dog."
I nodded agreeably and replied, "Ja, er sieht ziemlich faul aus" (Yes, he does look a bit lazy).
The man shook his head vigorously. "No, he's a lazy dog!"
I dug deep into the German-English dictionary in the back of my brain and confirmed that, yes, the German word for lazy was faul. "Ja, das habe ich gemeint - der Hund scheint etwas faul zu sein" (That's what I meant - the dog looks a bit lazy).
The man started to look exasperated. "NO!" he said. "Look...in da movies in America, yah gotta dog like dis...a lazy dog."
** The clue bird lands **
"YAH!" the man grinned. "Dat's what I'm tellin' ya...he's a Lazy dog!"
I still like remembering that story. We'll save discussion of how much trouble you can get into by confusing schwuel (humid, sultry) with schwul (gay, as in homosexual) for another day.
There are some stories just too embarrassing to tell.
Have a good day. Pronounce it correctly. More thoughts tomorrow.