Le mot juste

Teaching the English language requires a certain amount of humility. It also requires extended time to grade and large amounts of wine, but that’s a different post. No, humility (which I can always benefit from in abundance) allows us to view English as something beyond us, the native speakers. While certain speakers among us would have us make it the official language of the US, or make it a requirement for citizenship, inwardly I have to snicker at their naivete.

Why? Because English, like these great United States, is a hodgepodge of influences broad and vast. English is no longer owned by those born in primarily English-speaking countries, but it is a global posession. It has become internationalized. And not recently.

We have words from French, German, and Greek. Spanish and Portuguese, as well. But perhaps lesser-known is the fact that we have words from Sanskrit, Maori, and Afrikaans. Wiki comes from Hawaiian. And who hasn’t used oy vey a time or two? Yiddish.

I myself am partial to the French and Latin loanwords, possibly making my interlocutors feel like I’m attempting to impress with my eloquence. Hardly. They’ve just become part of my lexicon to the point that I don’t even notice them- which is exactly what has happened to English in general. And so, my Evenspeak includes: bon appetit, je ne sais quoi, and laissez-faire. Raison d’etre is also common. And from the Latin: ad nauseam, modus operandi, and pax.

With my marriage to a Colombian, and the lifelong influence of Spanish (learned early, I consider it a second native language), I’ve adopted quite a few phrases that I use regularly in my English, usually with others who know some Spanish. One of my favorites is te toca. Literally- “it touches you”, more loosely translated as “it is your turn”. Said in reference to the trash or getting up at night with the bebe.  Saying goodbye is always Spanish for me- cuidate, used in South American Spanish- take care of yourself. And it’s always ciao on the phone, like the Italian, usually spelled “chau” in South America.

What other languages have crept into your lexicon? They may be so instinctive as to be invisible to you. Do you find you use words from other languages with certain interlocutors, or is it situational?

Cuidate and hasta pronto.

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3 Responses to Le mot juste

  1. Rhology says:

    My wife and I are trilingual (FR, ES, EN) and we’re raising our kid (and soon to be other kid) to be the same…
    So we have to be careful around our friends to throw too much foreign language into our convos. It’s fun for us, but not as much for them. Haha. So I usually restrict myself to the commonly-known stuff. Raison d’être, thankfully, is becoming widely-known. Hasta la vista, etc (though I usually say hasta lasagna).

  2. antropologa says:

    We do a little Swedish and Spanish around here and there are a few French things that come up.

  3. faemom says:

    We do a few Spanish, but I’m better in throwing in some midwestern twang and southern (especially Texan) phrases.

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