What was that you said?
I woke up the other morning with ABC broadcasting in my room. No not that ABC( American Broadcasting Company) the other one, Australian Broadcasting Corporation. My radio was on and I found myself in the middle of a conversations. It was about "Street Swag". For a while I couldn't figure out what the two women were talking about. "What was that they said?"
They appeared to be well educated articulate women but they were using an expression which I had never heard before. For them, I am sure it was common speech; for me, it was a little strange and must surely be slang.
Well it was just a little Aussie speak. Of all the English speakers in the World I think the Australians are among the most colourful with unique words and usages. I suppose this is the result of being so distant and isolated for others who spoke the mother tongue, being from a country of wonderfully different flora and fauna and having cultural roots in the poor and undereducated who were sent there as prisoners to populate that distant land in the Empire.
Swag is a bundle that is carried by an itinerant which may not only be a bed roll but also contain his possessions, which is also called his swag. Call it a pack sack if you like. A swagman is a hobo.
Jean Madden, the teacher, who designed this street swag and is getting it into the hand of the people who can use it to help keep them alive, won a design award for it. She even beat out a project of Brad Pitt. This got my attention.
I have long been interested in colourful words. I have a small library of books about unusual words, archaic words, slang and even foreign words that have meanings not found in English.
Some words I save up and try to find the right moment to drop them into a conversation. Go ahead call me a pedant. You will not be the first.
My favourite conversation ending sentence, I use when people are really trying to impress or bragging in a way that puts those standing around in an inferior place, goes something like this,
"Say isn't that exactually what Jean Pico della Mirandola said? Invariably, the conversation ends when not one wants to admit they do not know this obscure scholastic thinker."
Single words are even more fun. My favourite is "quim". Around here no one knows to what I am referring . When I can connect it with a "merkin". It is a delicious moment. I will let you scramble for your dictionaries.
On a similar note I love the difference use of the word "fanny" between North American and Britain. Here it is an attempt at the more polite word than "ass" or as they say in Newfoundland "arse". I once gave a woman, I thought I knew quite well, an affectionate pat on her fanny. She was highly offended. As it turned out she had been sexually abused as a child and such a touch reminded her of that. Needless, to say I apologized. We are still friends., but I won't do that again.
Well in Britain to pat a woman on the fanny would be turn her over and touch her on her quim is highly offensive and could get you arrested. It also give the title of the book "Fanny Hill" a whole different impact which got by most people in North America.
People who travel a lot must stumble into embarassing situations using words that are locally inappropriate. This is a problem in every language. While exploring Spanish slang I realized that there are different words and meanings of the same words, which are offensive in the various Spanish speaking countries in Central and South America.
Even within groups within our community colourful words can be fun. When I taught sex education one of the first lessons was an effort to get the class to list out loud all the slang terms with regard to things sexual. I always thought I know a lot but invariably I would hear words for the first time that were being using within the youth culture. In the end, I would tell the student that these were all fine words used with the context of the street and among their friends but we would use the more formal polite terms in the class. The helped to end the snickering of students in their discomfort. It also let those who thought they might offend me with some word on purpose that I knew all the words and would not be phased by anything they might say.
Of course, it is slang which gives a richness and texture to a language in various areas. How dull it would be it we all spoke a very formal standard English. Relish your local usages whether it be Franglais, or Newfie speech, or the accent from the Ottawa valley or the colourful Southern speech of the US or countless ways of speaking wherever people communicate and celebrate in their local language. I shall continue to find opportunity to slip interesting words into casual conversations.
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For those interested in what the American Ambassador to Canada, David Jacobson, is up to, he maintains a blog you could read from time to time.
He is currently traveling around the country getting to know us a little. He is a close friend of President Obama so he should be able to get easy access to the President, hopefully to expain Canada's concerns to the US government. I wish him well while he is in Canada.