2010-09-30 / News

My Turn

By Sunny Hocutt
English is a strange language. When I hear someone say “fat chance,” I know that means there is a slim or no chance of something happening.

I retired in 1992, after many years of teaching English in four different states. My aim was always to make learning fun and to urge my students to be their best selves. I learned from them, too. In study hall, a student once asked me what “execute” meant. Without hesitation, I answered, “Kill.”

Looking puzzled, she showed me the driver’s manual, which said to “execute a turn.” Context is important.

Body language is also important. “You touched me” can be an emotional response to kindness. But it can also express disdain when you don’t want someone near you.

A few years before I retired, I taught English as a second language at North Kingstown High School. I had small classes, and could give individual attention as needed. My students came from Japan, South Korea, Brazil, Cuba and several other countries.

One student told me that it took him six months to understand any English when he arrived in the middle school. When he was a ninth-grader, he was in my ESL class and also in a regular English class. His assignment in the regular English class was to read a biography and write a report. We looked in the library and chose a slim book on Edgar Allen Poe. He wrote an excellent report. He was a hard worker and was willing to give it his best.

English can be confusing. Some words sound alike, but have different meanings, such as fair/fare, way/weigh. bear/bare, for/four and nose/knows.

Oxymorons sometimes make us wonder. A few that fit this category are “jumbo shrimp,” “morbid humor” and “awfully nice.” I saw an ad in the paper recently, saying, “It’s raining cats and dogs.”

It pictured cats and dogs falling down. I can’t remember what they were selling.

Regional pronunciations exist worldwide. Southerners are easily recognized by their accent. “Y’all come back” is a friendly invitation to visit again. My husband grew up in North Carolina, but had studied in the north for years, so his accent was gone. When I first met his family, we sat around a table chatting. Finally, Lee’s dad said, “You can talk too you know, Sunny.”

I confessed that I couldn’t understand anything they said. I have learned many southern expressions over the years.

We all use expressions like “holy cow,” “whatcha doin?” or “see ya later.”

Recently, I received mail about a sale that urged me not to “dilly-dally” because I might miss this great opportunity. I hadn’t heard that expression in a long time, and you know what? I recycled the mail because I don’t want anything they’re selling.

Speaking or writing good English is a goal everyone should embrace. When I hear someone say, “Him and me are friends” or “I don’t know nothin’ no how,” I wonder why they haven’t learned to speak better English.

I guess nobody’s perfect.

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