Looking Glass Language

a word bird reflects on life & language

Archive for the tag “words”

Ken’s pants

pants

Had to share a fabulous example of twisted kid’s language given to me by my lovely friend Amanda…

Her sister’s family used to holiday down in Cornwall, and the long car journey was punctuated by her niece Molly proclaiming, “We’re going to Ken’s pants! We’re going to Ken’s pants!”

I’m never going to think of Penzance the same way again…

Thanks, Molly.

P1010721

out of the mouths of bébés…

anouka cat

“Je vais faire de bruite très calme, car j’aime le bruit très calme1.”  The musings of a French romantic poet? Victor Hugo, Théophile Gautier or Alfred de Musset, perhaps? No. The musings of a three-year old.

With her French artist / yoga teacher mother and English sax player father, the odds were high that Noukie (now nine) would be quirky and artistic. But her idiosyncratic, artistic, and at times esoteric take on the world seems more profound than that.

Seeing the dusty body of a pigeon lying in the gutter, its blue-grey feathers ruffling in the wind, she said “il est cassé, le pigeon” (it is broken, the pigeon): as though it were a broken toy she could no longer play with. Then, taking Pascale’s hand, she asked calmly, “Parle me encore de la mort” (speak to me more about death). Read more…

ghosting

photoNot everyone uses words in the same way, and Jennie Erdal shows the funny and frustrating effects of someone with a different take on what the ‘right word’ is, in ‘Ghosting’ (Canongate, 2004), her extraordinary book about life as a ghost writer.

“Once I used the word humility, as in ‘I felt a deep sense of humility‘ – to explain how Tiger had felt in the presence of a woman he very much admired and who had borne a heavy cross. I was confident he would love humility. But he didn’t.

‘Isn’t it the same like humiliation?’ he asked. Read more…

Wordy Wednesday: slang (check out the Gizoogle gangsta slang)

A dog's portion

A dog’s portion

The word ‘slang’ first showed up in English in the middle of the 18th century, when it was defined as ‘low and vulgar words used only by people of disreputable character’. The vulgar words it describes have doubtless been around since the advent of language itself. Slang is often vivid and evocative, and can offer a tantalising glimpse into the mores and lifestyles of long-dead societies. And some of it, particularly a few of the examples of 18th Century slang I’ve shown below, I’d love to resurrect.

In the 1700s, if someone offered you a dog’s portion, the best you could hope for was a lick and a smell, whereas with a bog orange you’d at least be getting food, even if it was only a potato… Those who got very drunk (as they might well do on such meagre rations) might be berated for being drunk as Davy’s sow, and if they then vomited, were likely to be ridiculed for casting up their accounts.

A bog orange

A bog orange

If a friend suggested you hang an arse and cast an eye over an apple dumpling shop, you’d unfortunately be no nearer getting fed than you would with a dog’s portion: the suggestion would instead be for you to hold back and admire a woman’s ample bosom. And if, instead of doing so, you called him bacon-fed or a beef-head he’d probably give you a thump, because you clearly considered him either fat and greasy, or an idiot.

An erection was known as a horn or the horn, for obvious reasons, and any man having the horn (James Joyce used the term in Ulysses) was called horny, a slang word which still denotes somebody lecherous or sexually excited, though, despite its penile genesis, it is now used for both men and women.

(Many of the above definitions came from the highly entertaining Dictionary of Old Slang, which is well worth a gander…)  Read more…

the mangled English of ebay listings

ebay ad

After a year in the smelly rental, we’ve finally moved into our lovely new house.

As we still need quite a few bits and pieces, I’ve been falling into bed (well, onto a mattress on the floor), and browsing ebay well into the small hours.

I think I must be over-tired, because the type of grammatical or sense error that would normally irritate me is starting to seem rather poetic. In fact I dreamt last night of a white day bed suffering little pain while haring around a field with a brindled greyhound in hot pursuit, jaws snapping. (See ad above, which I read before falling asleep.) I’d like to say I dreamt of wraith-like ‘smoke pets’ in their free home too, but I’d be lying…

We still need quite a lot of stuff, so if I see any more badly-written but lyrical ebay ads, I’ll let you know.

Oops…

I heard of a great version of lyrical mondegreen this week, relating to The Gap Band’s ‘Oops upside your head‘. Even if you’re too young to remember this first time around, you must have heard it; in fact you’ve almost certainly been mortified by your tipsy mum and her friends sitting on the floor and shimmying along to it with the rest of the wedding, bar mitzvah or Christmas party crowd.

3870652466_d3245b42bdAt my friend Alexis’s wedding party at Fulham Palace on Tuesday, I ended up swapping stories with Rachel, a friend I used to sing with in a gospel group called ‘Many Rivers’ (we had a regular gospel Sunday lunch slot at the Oxo Tower, and the 606 Jazz Club). Rachel mentioned a well-endowed girlfriend of hers who believed that The Gap Band were singing ‘Say, boobs upside your head, say, boobs upside your head’: this makes more sense when you realise that she has huge boobs, which really do end up upside her head when she shimmies.

I was hoping to find a specific term for misheard song lyrics but I don’t believe one exists, hence lyrical mondegreen. However, I did find soramimi, which is the Japanese term for lyrics in one language being misheard as intelligible words in another. (Apparently that’s what happens with the ‘Numa Numa’ song…) To show you what I mean, this is Mike Sutton, aka Buffalax, using soramimi on YouTube, overlaying Hindi film music clips with the words he thinks he hears in English, to humorous effect.

I’ll be posting more misheard lyrics later: in the meantime, it would be great to hear your examples.

dig a little deeper

61K0InWjL4L._SX385_My nephew Sebastian had a panoply of changed words and meanings:

“Effisgator!” he used to shout as my sister drove down the M4: it took a while to work out that this digger-loving three year old was spotting yellow JCB excavators (this was pre-Bob the Builder so perhaps inspired by Dig Dig Digging?).

“Stacky backy mash boe!” This was Seb’s frustrated two year old’s version of ‘just back off [or similar four letter words ending in **ck] and leave me alone’. (I might adopt that one myself: it would certainly save on the swear box donations.)

“Hinxie needs some milk”. This was Seb (aged 2 1/2) trying to say ‘Think he needs some milk’, when he was worried that his crying baby brother Alex might need breastfeeding. From then on, Alex was known as ‘Hinxy’, later ‘Hinx’.

Be good to hear your own versions of baby-talk, family expressions and phrases and names that just don’t feel right if you change the order around…

mondegreen

Sometimes children’s mixed up words are the result of their not being able to get their mouths around a difficult word or phrase – my nephew Seb saying ‘Effisgator!‘ for ‘excavator’, for instance.

At other times, as when Molly said ‘Ken’s Pants‘ for ‘Penzance’, they’re the result of kids making their own story out to make sense of something they couldn’t understand, or that they’ve misheard.

photoMolly’s phrase is an example of mondegreen. And if you’ve never heard the phrase (I hadn’t, until a Wiki search earlier today), and you’re wondering what on earth I’m on about, mondegreen is the mishearing of a phrase because of a near-homophony. In other words, something sounds like something else, so you mis-say it.

A classic example of this is the transformation of ‘Gladly my cross I’d bear’, from the eponymous hymn, to ‘Gladly, my cross-eyed bear’: even if this is, as rumoured, an urban myth, it still makes me go ‘Ah’.

The etymology of Mondegreen can be followed here, on Wikipedia. Briefly, an American writer named Sylvia Wright coined the term for an essay she wrote for Harper’s Magazine in 1954.

Her mother had read aloud to her from Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry:

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,

Oh, where hae ye been?

They hae slain the Earl O’ Moray,

And Lady Mondegreen.

The actual fourth line was ‘And laid him on the green’…

orderly conduct

images-2

Have you ever noticed how, when you talk about couples you know, you say their names in a particular order? In our family, for instance, we always say Jilly and Colin, never Colin and Jilly, and Sue and Donald, not Donald and Sue… Somehow it would feel wrong if you changed the names around. Why is that? The lyrical quality of the word order, perhaps? Your subconscious mind taking over and letting you know who matters most? Read more…

striking the wrong chord

images-1

“Me myself personally, I do prefer the funky stuff…”

Jimmy G was the son of a local haulier, drawn to our house by the presence of four nubile teenage girls, but spotted by my dad and made to listen to his piano-playing. Once my dad started playing, it was always hard to stop him, but this time he made the mistake of asking Jimmy mid-piece what he thought of the music he was playing. When he heard Jimmy’s ripe and rustic response, “Me myself personally, I do prefer the funky stuff”, his hands briefly trembled in mid-air and then fell to the keyboard with a cacophonous clang. Read more…

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