Life is strange. So is language. Stroppy Author and Catdownunder both blogged recently about the lack of words in English to describe a situation that we tend to feel is too hard to talk about. I thought of a word that’s missing in Hebrew: assassination. Perhaps it’s right that it’s missing. A leader who is murdered is a human being. All murders are equally bad. Then I thought of another missing word: bullying. That’s an oversight, in my opinion.
When you leave your country of birth to live in a country where a different language is spoken, things happen with your native tongue. Sometimes you forget words, because you’re more used to saying them in the new language. Sometimes new concepts appear and you hear them only in the new language. Sometimes people in the old country find new ways of saying things and you don’t know them.
For example, when I left Britain, “Oh right,” meant, “Do you know I’d forgotten all about that. Thank you for reminding me.” Or something like that. At some stage, on a visit back to my former home country, I realised its meaning had changed. Now it means, “Oh really? I never knew that.”
For years I felt cut off from the changing language. Now that I’m able to listen to BBC Radio 4, I’m more in touch. I know that young interviewees will start most sentences with the word, “So.” And I’ve finally learnt the expression, “to raise awareness,” which is what I want to do to social anxiety.
But when I asked recently how I should say I have social anxiety and people replied, “I live with social anxiety,” I thought that sounded strange. I thought I’d never heard that use before, but I think I had really. I just hadn’t taken much notice of it and certainly hadn’t taken it on board. It was part of my passive vocabulary – the parts I understand but don’t think of using.
And what’s the point of all this rambling? So (yes, I’m pretending to be young) the other day on Woman’s Hour, I heard this: “I don’t live with HIV; HIV lives with me.”
I let that sentence revolve several times in my brain. What did it mean? What does it mean? I wonder if it’s this: she doesn’t let HIV rule her life; HIV happens to be there, but she ignores it as much as possible and gets on with her life.
Can I apply that to social anxiety? I don’t think so. It comes up too often; it’s the cause of too many things that I wish were different. But that’s something I can aim for. It sounds much more possible than aiming to get rid of social anxiety.
6 replies on “Living with Language”
It’s interesting how the change of a word or two can change an entire meaning of a sentence.
Miriam this reminds me of someone I knew who spent a year in India – when she returned to London she said she had “forgotten how to speak English”!
I knew what she meant but it was an interesting way of expressing it.
I find British English to be fascinating.
It’s interesting how words change in meaning over time, or have different meanings in different locations even in the same country. In my home town of Bradford (in UK) ‘bonny’ means pretty. In Sheffield (husband’s home town) it means ‘plump’. I speak of ‘braying’ (banging) on a door (he says only donkey’s bray). I speak of ‘snickets’ (he says ‘gennels’). And so it goes on.
I was interested when a German friend once told me there is no word for ‘shyness’ in her language. No word for shyness, the bane of my life!! (I might be using ‘shyness’ for what could be described as ‘social anxiety’, whatever it is that makes me sit like a stuffed owl in company when really I want to join in and talk).
Sorry, Miriam, I’m rambling on. ‘Rambling’? No, I don’t mean strolling.
In the graphic of this post, SA is cute. I think in reality it is not.
Hmm. I thought it looked cunning. How do you think it should be portrayed?