Friday, March 17, 2006

When I Was a Virgin
When Colloquialisms Strike!

I was thinking some more about using colloquial language, and it occurred to me that the flip side of purposefully using a colloquialism to sound more natural, and then failing, is using them inadvertantly, usually via overly direct translation. Direct translations often unintentionally stumble into the realm of euphemisms, leading the innocent speaker's audience to smirk and giggle like elementary schoolers hearing someone talk about "doing it." Some illustrative examples, for education and amusement:

My very first linguistics professor was also a Russian professor. She was quite fluent, having spent quite a while in Russian, and married to a native speaker. However, she told us, after living in Russia for several months, she discovered she wasn't quite as fluent as she thought. She had upon several occasions told stories to her host family, classmates, etc. about her childhood in the US, beginning with the phrase, "When I was young..." It was only after a few months that she finally told one of these stories to someone, (I think maybe her future husband,) who informed her that in Russia, that phrase actually meant, "When I was a virgin..."

And from my own former life abroad, I will never forget being asked on Valentine's Day, over and over, by students and coworkers alike, what I was going to get my "lover" as a gift. Seemed a rather personal question to me...

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