I love expressions! I cannot get enough of them. I keep a little black notebook full of new ones that I know one day, I will use. I love how some expressions don’t quite translate; yet, we can easily take them into our own culture and language. I just recently learn this Dutch expression “doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg”…which loosely translates into– “ Act Normal, that’s crazy enough! “ ( My spell checker just went crazy!)
There is one other Dutch expression that I love. Gezellig, pronounced– heh-SELL-ick. This blog is very gezellig, having coffee with a friend is very gezellig, finding a great book is very gezellig. Getting your car repaired is not gezellig unless you have a friend with you and are having fun. It means great, nice, exciting, wonderful, all rolled up into one perfect word. I like words that can sum up a thousand different experiences into one tidy word and cannot be translated. That’s very gezellig!
We have words long forgotten from our childhood, but once heard again, instantly bring back memories. My grandmother always used to sign her letters with a bright, Cheerio! I like the sound of that word, it so much kinder than goodbye, which has finality about it. Cheerio has fallen out of fashion right now, but it’s a word that I wouldn’t mind hearing again these days.
As a writer, expressions add to writing, but there is always the worry–when is it too much? In my Irish novel, The Two Merry Widows, my characters are fiction, not based on anyone living or dead, but the bits of their speech is indeed taken from some beloved friends who have long passed on. I kept their phrases in my head until finally the germ for my book was born, and their expressions and idioms have life again. I am not able to use those treasured words in my daily life without looking and sounding a bit odd, after all I am not a 70-year-old spinster, with a tongue so sharp it will trim yer hedges. My Mary Catherine Black is such a woman and will tell you in no uncertain terms to wash up the dishes with– “Mind yeh now, don’t forget them dishes in that box over there. I’ll be wanting them shining like a cat’s eyes under me bed, I will.” Cat’s Eyes! What an image that conjures up!
Expression’s meanings can sometimes elude you. I had my builder over and as he sat at the wooden kitchen table with a fresh mug of tea, I was mentally tallying up the bill. He sat there not touching the mug and rattled on about the Victorian Drains, floor boards, joists, and I glazed over. He mumbled something about the “Tide being out, and I just nodded, thinking to myself, did he say £3.50 per nail or £3.50 for a bag of nails? I sat back down, as he tapped his finger gently on the side of the mug, and then the penny dropped! I hadn’t filled the tea mug up to the rim, as he liked it. Aha! The tide was out!
Dialect can be a tricky path for a writer, for language is musical, and every one has a different ear. For some readers, the usage of my Irish will bring back memories and for others, it will be, I don’t sound like that. There is a master however in this art, the incomparable Henry Roth and his novel, Call it Sleep, published in 1934. Call It Sleep is told from the point of view of a young Jewish boy, David Schearl, whose father hates him with a passion. It is the tale of his young life in the immigrant ghetto of New York’s Lower east side. It is one of the best dialect immigrant novel that I have ever read. The prose is challenging. It took me one full chapter to get into the rhythm and then I was hooked and could not put the book down. Roth’s mastery of Yiddish, broken immigrant English, the boy’s stream of consciousness is simply brilliant. It is the closest thing to living in New York City in 1911 without a time machine.
Here is the highly quoted passage, when the young David, gets a life lesson…
“He trembled. ‘Yuh wanna play bad?’
‘Now, you said it,’ she whispered. ‘Don’ forget, you said it.’
By the emphasis of her words, David knew he had crossed some awful threshold.
‘Will yuh tell?’
‘No,’ he answered weakly. The guilt was his.
‘Yuh know w’ea babies comm from?’
‘From de knish.’
‘Between de legs. Who puts id in is de poppa. De poppa’s god de petzel. Yaw de poppa.’ She giggled stealthily and took his hand.”
From New York of 1911 to our time 2012, words and expressions continue to live and die. We even have a new expression for this bit of writing. A blog. The term has only been around since the 1990‘s and we even know who first coined it according to Wiki, “The term “weblog” was coined by Jorn Barger on 17 December 1997.” It’s a blog, and I am blogging. New noun and new verb. Since I am new at blogging, I will name myself a Blogie instead of a blogger. When I get up to, say a hundred posts, only then will I have earned the right to call myself a blogger. So until then this bloggie (I think I like it better with two g’s) will end this post with a cheerful and bright, “ CHEERIO!”
Lovely post , Susan, never heard that passage before! Gezellig – fantastic word 🙂
Thanks Kate, that’s very gezellig of you!
Oh how I wish I had noted my Grandmother’s sayings 🙂
I know! I was too young to appreciate my grandmother! I wish I had kept a notebook since childhood!
Nice post, Susan.
Have you read Peter Carey’s ‘The True History of the Kelly Gang’? It’s quite a challenge in terms of vernacular too. But once you get into the swing of it… anyway, I loved it. You might enjoy it because I guess it’s basicallly Irish.
I haven’t read it. Thank you so much for the referral. I love discovering new books. I went and took a quick look at it on line and it looks interesting! Another book to add to my reading list!
i bought a pair of long socks recently. They are much longer than I expected. They are fit for a giant- if s/he liked red and pink stripey stockings with a ruffle at the top. They “would fit Big Aggie’s man”. Sometimes, only old family expressions will do.
Big Aggie’s man. I love it. There has to be a story behind that one! Do you have any idea where it came from in the family? Be so interesting to hear!
That what I like so much when I come home to my summercottage – people talk in a way that I am afraid soon will be gone because the young ones finds it too country style. They want to be more like big city stylish trendy ones and so they change the way they speak. So, if I ask someone if the kid have a parent from Stockholm, I get the answer “no, why you ask” because of the way the kid is talking…You know, that´s their way nowadays.
Nicely written, Susan, cheerio!
Thanks Ingird! Isn’t that just so true! We try to adapt! I know when I visited Los Angeles as a teenager, I got teased about my accent, I did everything I could to get rid of it. Sadly it worked. Cheerio for now!