What Do You Mean?
I love words. They are the vehicles for our thoughts. Sometimes we hastily jump in behind the steering wheel and make an inadvertent detour. At least if we are speaking, we can do some damage control when we see the horrified expression on the recipient’s face. But if we are writing or texting, the reaction is not immediately evident. As a result, as Ricky Ricardo would say, “Luu-cy, you got some ‘splaining to do!”
I am a writer as well as a high school Spanish teacher. Way back in my own secondary learning experience, I joyfully studied French and Latin (the only offered languages) and then in college I went off to Spain to master Spanish. Different languages intrigue me. Whenever traveling internationally, I try to pick up as many relevant words and phrases as possible so that I can authentically communicate in that country’s vernacular.
During a trip one spring to Germany, in an effort to influence my disinterested offspring, I demonstrated my affinity for languages by using my new limited vocabulary. While attempting to blend in with the locals to get a real feel for the culture, I freely threw out the elementary phrases that I learned from their tutorial video which was purchased in anticipation of the trip. My son and daughter cringed when I mimicked the language’s signature guttural sounds. I guess I hadn’t quite perfected the accent, but I always got the correct flavor of ice cream when I ordered in my best German!
Words are powerful because they create a vivid mind photo. Even to the youngest listeners, their message resonates.
My five year-old grandson Max is starting to connect the dots of his innocent world. Recently while watching his parents eat fish tacos at a restaurant, he inquired if the fish diced in the flour tortilla came from the same fish that he once caught on his line at a nearby river and then kindly tossed back into the water to swim away to its family?
When his parents informed him that yes, they were one in the same, he was horrified.
“That’s not nice!” he declared.
Watching the wheels turn in his head and taking advantage of a teachable moment, his parents went on to expand the discussion.
“Well, you eat chicken don’t you Max?” they prodded.
“Yes, but that chicken doesn’t have eyes!” he quickly qualified.
(* note his nearby three year-old sister Charlotte who was happily munching on her own chicken tenders did not miss a bite when she turned her head and confidently corrected him by saying “Yes they do!”… Okay, so maybe she won’t be a PETA member!)
It is too bad that I was not there so that the conversation could have been converted to Spanish. There are two words for fish in Spanish. “Pez” is the one in water and “pescado” is the one on the plate. What an expressive language! The use of Spanish would have made so much more sense to Max and would have helped him to keep the two ideas separate, reducing his dismay.
As for chicken, well, I will have to think about that one. And I will make sure not to even mention the relationship of cows and beef right now. Pulling on the artificial projections from the fake, rubber udder, as a part of an exhibit by Turkey Hill Dairies, answered his mild questions about where milk comes from. The tour ended up with a delicious sample of harmless ice cream, which made for a memorable lesson.
For those savvy readers who have come to my site for a slice of hope, the word grief has a very powerful and an unforgettable face. It is that of our precious loved ones. While the word death is often socially softened by euphemisms, such as “passed on” or “left us”, the fall-out from its harsh reality is the overwhelming sensation of grief which continues to remind us that they are gone. Their smiling portrait will never age, or change. It is stuck forever in time and in our hearts.
Writing empowers me. I prudently select the words that I want to use to paint my story picture. I respect their force. Laboring over my choices, I often rewrite a piece more than two dozen times. My desire is to pull the reader temporarily into my world to see and sense what I do. So please indulge me if I throw in a foreign word or two. It is not to impress you with my linguistic knowledge; it may just be a better fit.
I think when I take Max out to dinner the next time that we shall order in Spanish. I’ll have the pescado and he can have the pollo.