It’s Only Words

The pen is mightier than the sword, so we’re told. But the pen would be pretty ineffective without words. Words and language. We use them to encourage, to destroy, to belittle, to praise, to teach, to instruct, to entertain, to sing, to praise, to mobilise, to raise awareness. Sometimes we use them wrongly and miss the mark. Other times they just make us laugh. Let’s laugh today.

Firstly, I make myself laugh with words I use wrongly. I think of words past and present that I have got quite wrong:

  1. When I was little and living in Zambia, I used to run outside when I heard my Dad’s car rolling into our driveway at home. I was always excited to see him and tell him what I’d been doing and show him new things I’d learnt. Like how to put a record on the gramophone player, all by myself. Or how I’d learnt to read my new school book. My Dad would come inside, greet everyone and take his seat in the lounge and exhale. He’d ask me to use my new-found skill and switch on the radio. He’d tell me to look for the ivory button with SW1 written over it, and then I had to push the button down and wait for the dulcet tones of newsreaders sharing information worldwide. I remember hearing their words booming through the fabric-lined speakers on our gramophone player. Topical in those days were issues in what I thought was the Serviette Union. I always imagined a nation filled with napkins, and I couldn’t work out what they could possibly be squabbling about. Who’s laying the table?
  2. My sister and I were bathing together one night, when we were very little. My Dad came to tell us to hurry up because we were going to the pantomime that night. I don’t remember which one of us said this, but my Dad overheard one of us saying, “We have to hurry because we’re going to the pant-of-Daddy’s.”
  3. When I’d pour myself a glass of orange and water (we weren’t allowed fizzy drinks), my Mom would always caution me, as I thought, not to fill the glass “to the broom”. I used to wonder what the broom had to do with the glass and the juice, until I discovered brim was probably the correct word.
  4. My enthusiasm was sometimes tempered by my Mom’s saying, “Don’t go at it like a bulletagate.” I never knew what a bulletagate was, until I heard the expression “bull at a gate”.
  5. One of my husband’s favourite albums, when we were students, was Cher’s “I Paralyse”. The first time I heard him mention it, I thought he said it was called “Five Barrel Eyes”. He’s never allowed me to forget that!
  6. More recently, we’ve discovered a fabulous singer/songwriter here in London, called Rumer. One of her recent hits is a song called “Aretha”. Do yourself a favour and check her out here – she’s really quite special. I had heard this song on the radio for months, and I thought the opening line was, “I’ve got a reason, in the morning.” I didn’t really think beyond that. When we saw her live, I realised the line was in fact, “I’ve got Aretha, in the morning. High on my headphones and walking to school.” Go figure.

And, of course, there are things other people say that make me laugh. Here’s a smidgen of these:

  1. My husband and I travelled on the bus the other day. We sat upstairs, alongside a lone other commuter, who was engrossed in a mobile phone conversation. That meant there were just three of us upstairs. My husband and I eavesdropped her conversation so unbelievably, we were discussing it when we got off the bus. I said a few words to my husband every now and then, to stop myself from asking the woman what she had just said, or what she meant. I guess we need to get a life, yeah? This is what we overheard:  “I fort I would call ‘er and conversate wif ‘er, yeah? She’s bear shy, yeah? So I AKSED what she meant when she said that, yeah? And I don’t know much, but I know, yeah? And if the cap fits on my big head, if it’s not too big or cockeyed on my head, then I’m gonna wear it, yeah?”
  2. I spilled some salad dressing on my cardigan last night. Not being much of a domestic goddess, and not having any stain remover at hand, I Googled possible solutions and, quite honestly, I am none the wiser and my cardigan still bears a stain.  “Many people prefer things stain removal alone is not engaged in, and use the services of dry cleaners. Other mistresses, by contrast, prefer to do everything yourself, believing that it accurately to your stuff no one will treat. Whatever it was, useful tips to remove fat and oil stains may be the way, if you suddenly spot a need to withdraw immediately.”
  3. Before my husband and I were married, we were gathered together at my family home with all of my siblings. We decided to play Trivial Pursuit, which, in our family, is as much about asking the questions correctly as it is about getting the answers right. And all the chirps and banter in between. My family is merciless. (No comments, I know what you’re thinking!) It came to my husband to read out a question: “For which feature film was Duelling Banjos the theme tune?” My family, to a man, collapsed in a hysterically laughing heap. You know when you look at a word and it looks well forrin? Well, my husband had looked at the song title and pronounced it: “Dew-elling Ban-Joss”. Needless to say, he has never been allowed to forget that slip of the tongue. He needed the movie title in more ways than one: Deliverance.

I’d love to hear about your funny words, misheard and mis-pronounced. Words keep us connected in so many ways, but they also tear us apart and crack us up. I’d love to hear your examples of the latter.

“Talk in everlasting words, and dedicate them all to me. And I will give you all my life, I’m here if you should call to me. You think that I don’t even mean a single word I say, It’s only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away.”    (Words, The Bee Gees)

Sunshine signing off for today!


43 thoughts on “It’s Only Words

  1. What a fun post! When I was little I apparently called policemen, policement….lotion, lodle. The funniest I ever heard was when my half-brother was a baby and said “Fut!” (trying to curse.) Welcome to our family…

    Sometimes I’ll hear a word and hear its homonym so I’m trying to process *that* instead of the real meaning…nothing comes to mind right now, but it’s happened a few times.

  2. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Words and language are such rich material to mine, and you’ve done it so well. When my kids were little, I kept a record of all their misconceptions and misinterpretations and misunderstandings of what was said. It’s hilarious.

    1. Thanks so much, Renee – words are such fun! I also kept a note of things my sons said – they tend to live on in our family lexicon. I’d love to hear some of yours … a future post, maybe? xx

  3. So awesome to have you back in full steam!
    I knowi have posted somewhere about this, but my littel girl asked my knight on Saturday, when he wanted to throw an apple out the window- “you going to be Glittering!”
    I just giggle every time.
    Talking about the Lord’s Prayer, in Matric i managed to get myself into a nice cushy spot leading the prefects. Part of the morning cermonies were conducted by the Head Prefects, and we had done it how many times before? Let’s think about that- we have officially said the Lord’s prayer 5 days a week, for the school term for almost 12 years….. and in mid sentence I hit a blank! It would not have been so bad if i was not speaking through a microphone. BUT OF COURSE I WAS. And so i ummmedd, and ahhhedd for few sentences. Very very embarressing!

    1. Thanks, bokkie! It’s lovely to be back. I love “glittering” – cute. And maybe you should have had some crib notes with you for the Lord’s prayer? Next time. But don’t ask Carl to help you with the words! 🙂 xx

  4. As you get older and your hearing is not what it used to be you will be in for more hilarious interpretations of what you thought you heard. Love your posts on words Sunshine, they are the best ever!

    1. Thanks so much, Jeanne – glad you enjoy these posts. I love writing them! That sounds like something to look forward to – but maybe I won’t remember what I heard either – hahaha! 🙂 xx

  5. Love this post, Sunshine!
    Okay–here’s one for you. When I was in kindergarten there was a set of identical triplets in my class–coincidentally the only kids in the class to ride the school bus. At the end of the day, a woman came to take them to the bus. She always said the same thing, “Are the triplets ready?” I thought for way too long that “triplets” were what you called children who rode the bus. Goodness!
    Hugs from Haiti,

    1. Thanks, Kate. Yes, I loved that one too – it felt like she was stretching and stretching the idiom almost beyond recognition. I think she could have gone on further … it sounded like it. Next time, yeah? xx

  6. Love the post, Sunshine. It’s no wonder your cardigan still has it’s stain!

    My son was reading me song lyrics “he” had written. I immediately recognized the lyrics as belonging to another and cautioned him about copyright infringement. He looked at me very seriously and said “I did not copy it from a French man.”

    Have a blessed day! Hugs, Diane

  7. My younger brother was born with a mild hearing loss that made it difficult for him to learn to say sibilants. Before school and speech therapy, he often said “s” sounds as “sh” sounds. You can imagine our mother’s embarrassment (especially as this was in the mid-60s, when my toddler brother reacted to Mom telling him that it was time to stop sitting on the front steps playing and go upstairs, and he began shouting, “I want to sit! I want to sit!” — or at least, that’s what he thought he was saying. What the neighbors heard, however …
    (Actually, I know an Episcopal priest, originally from Mexico, who told a similar story about himself as a young seminarian, struggling with English, called upon in a seminary chapel service to read a lesson that included a bit about “the Lamb that sitteth upon the throne.” I gather his fellow seminarians never let him forget it 🙂

  8. Fun post, Sunshine!

    My kids often mispronounce English words due to being in French Immersion…recently Anna pronounced the word Mafia with the accent on the second syllable…we didn’t let her hear the end of that one!


    1. The badly translated instructions for cleaning a cardigan remind me of a cartoon I saw years ago in The New Yorker. A man is sitting across from an irritated man holding a book. The first man says, “You like not way in the which book I your translated?”

  9. yay, Sunshine is back in my life!

    Here’s a cute one:
    There was a young English speaking priest that was new to my friend’s church. Most of the parishinors were Spanish speaking. The priest was struggling up on the pulpit, trying to do his sermon in his best Spanglish, but was having a hard time. He did what a lot of people do when attempting to speak Spanish, started to add an “o, ado or ada” at the end of an English word, in hopes that the Spanish speakers would understand what he was trying to say. Being visably uncomfortable, he said that he was EMBARRASS – ADA. The whole congregation started to laugh uncontrollably, for the Spanish word, EMBARAZADA, means pregnant! Way to break the ice, Father.
    Good to have you back, lady!

  10. A friend of mine believed for years that during the Cat Steven’s song ‘The First Cut is the Deepest’, he actually sang ‘The birds are coming to eat us.’

    In true friend fashion, I have not let her forget this.

  11. Have been laughing out loud at this one 🙂 Serviette Union…LOL…but I must confess it gives me ideas 😛 My son the toddler is beginning to discover words in a big way and often mispronounces words to the point where we have no clue as to what he’s actually saying 😛 I have a memory like a sieve, but these days he’s been shouting the Indian national Anthem 24/7…it’s hilarious, the way he pronounces the tough words and all the noise he makes 😀

    1. Glad this made you laugh! I kept a book for each of my sons, and used to write down the sweet and funny things they said when they were little. Would love to hear the funny things your son says! 🙂

  12. Funny post, followed by a lot of funny comments! Thanks for the laugh.

    I used to mispronounce all kinds of things – probably still do! The misunderstanding that I remember most vividly is when my parents told me (I was about 7 years old) we were going to Algeria for the December holidays. I thought they meant Algeria in North Africa. I was so disappointed when we went to Algeria in the Cedarberg!

    1. I love all the comments too – yours included! Oh the disappointment you must have felt that you weren’t off to exotic North Africa – I can so imagine!
      Glad you had a good laugh – that’s always my goal! xx

  13. Your “bulletagate” made me think of a silly song we used to sing: Mareseydoats and doesesydoats and littlelambsedivy and kiddleeedivey too, wouldn’t you? Translation: Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy. A kid’ll eat ivy too, wouldn’t you? This probably doesn’t make much sense without the tune, but, that’s what popped into my head. Have a great day.

    1. Thanks, Darlene! I know that song, and I thought the words were exactly as you describe – they made NO sense to me, as a child! A Burl Ives song, I think? Thanks for reminding me of that! xx

  14. I love all the word mis-haps.

    As for your cardigan (I am a stain goddess, sad as that is). If you have no stain remover (shout, resolve, etc.)…just take liquid laundry detergent, put it right on the stain, fold the fabric together to make sure you get the liquid onto the whole stain. Let is sit for at least 5 minutes, then wash (with warm water if possible for the garment). If you have no liquid laundry detergent, you can use liquid dish detergent too. Good luck.

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