“It seems to me that once in your life before you die you ought to see a country where they don’t talk in English and don’t even want to.” ~ Thornton Wilder, OUR TOWN
I’m getting ready to leave for the Netherlands today, and I’ve been assured that I’ll find plenty of people in Holland who speak English very well, but Mrs. Gibbs wistful statement from the wonderful play OUR TOWN has always resonated with me. (She never did get to travel, BTW. A tragedy for one who quietly wished for it so ardently.)
I’ve always been impressed with how many Europeans are bi-lingual, but sometimes, we Americans have enough difficulty understanding English. Language changes constantly. Witness the evolution of slang. As soon as most people understand the newest jargon, it changes in order exclude some and include others in the communication.
It’s always been so. Historical slang is just as bewildering as the latest string of letters being used as shorthand by teenage texters. Try some of these Regency and Victorian sayings for example:
Pockets to let ~ out of money
Become leg-shackled ~ to get married
Make a cake of one’s self ~ make a fool of one’s self
Barking irons ~ dueling pistols
Cock up one’s toes ~ to die
on dits ~ gossip, literally, they say
Niddicock ~ not a bright person
Bit of muslin ~ a woman of easy virtue. Also synonymous with bachelor fare, barque of frailty, Bird of Paradise, convenient, Cyprian,Demi-rep, game pullet, lady-bird, light-skirt, Paphian, peculiar, prime article, trollop, and wanton. With so many ways to describe them, it’s obvious these women were the talk of the town!
When I use slang in my stories, I try to put it in a context that makes it easy for readers to figure out. Without context, slang can be incomprehensible. For example, what do you think it means to draw someone’s claret?
No Googling. Leave your guess in the comment section. I’ll post the correct answer tomorrow.