Tuesday, January 15, 2008

From the Gutter

Words are funny things, especially when the bank of words in your head are not the same bank of words used in other places. This may seem obvious. Nevertheless, ignorance can lead to some amusing observations. Humor me, if you will.

It took us a few driving experiences to figure out a word, usually set beside an arrow, that we encountered while driving: Utfart. We ascertained that it meant exit when we also saw infart at an entrance, with similar arrows (it was easier to verify this at a McDonalds because of the usual entrance and exit signs). Still, you can imagine that the words, whenever we saw them, reminded us of flatulations—in and out. Imagine how we laughed when we saw “hinderfart!” It is the word for speed bump.

It all makes sense when you put it into context, of course.

Similarly, when in public, I felt (and still feel) a certain shyness about the fact that I cannot understand what is being spoken around me, especially when the conversation is directed at me. But when I heard the word “s*x” used rather frequently, I felt quite a bit shyer. You world travelers will know what I was hearing, but I was beginning to think these people much bolder than I had first imagined. It was on children’s programming that I learned the word meant the number six.

If you’ve read my other posts, you might remember my difficulty understanding the word torkning on the dishwasher and dryer. Since it means “to dry,” I’ve been frustrated that the dishes never really dry until I open the door awhile. I decided to take this under investigation and observe the dishwasher knobs more carefully, in case I might be missing a setting which washes and dries in one episode. What was this? There was a "slut" at the end of the wash cycle!

When I consulted my Finnish friend about this word, he was eating a plate of meatballs. I asked, “Does ‘*slut’ mean finish or end?”

Without even looking up, and still chewing a bit, he said, “Mhmmm.” Swallowing, he said, “Yes.” You can ask an innocent question, around here, and these Scandinavian/Europeans don't blink an eye.

I waited. He knows English well and works with enlisted military men from all over the world. He looked up, suddenly, his face alight with what dawned on him, “Oh, I see what you mean. It doesn't mean what you'd think in English, it means finished.” He hardly cracked a smile.

Okay, so my mind is in the gutter, I admit.

*(I don’t want my ad crawlers to start advertising something terrible, thus the weird notation)