Monday, July 15, 2002

Language bugbears: I

Wait there for the present – I know just how Laurie Lee felt. The way grown-ups speak is often mystifying.

Even though I’m guilty of using it myself, I have a personal thing about “pop”. As in: “just pop that on my desk, there’s a poppet”. You can tell that I’ve mostly worked in commercial environments where the majority of my colleagues went to naice private girls’ schools.

I’m reasonably OK with “pop in/pop out”. But I hate being spoken to like I just got in from mucking out the horses. Truism: language belies your roots way more than any accent ever does.

Like, when I was a headhunter – terribly English – I sat next to the “sweetest guy.” He was the right honourable something or other, and had a significant property portfolio; I was never quite sure why he worked.

He was always on the phone to his mates – check me, a Northerner – saying things like, “you owe me some wongadoolee for the old vino at the weekend.” He occasionally talked about “left-footers” – which, the way he said, I thought meant gay people, but turned out to mean Catholics. Don’t even ask.

But his commitment to the evident language of his childhood brought out my devotion to mine, and I was on the phone all day calling my landsleit and talking Yiddish at a rate of knots. Well, only the punchlines to jokes; I don’t know enough Yiddish to hold a conversation. It’s a generational thing, apparently.

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