Category Archives: language

Learning English Inside and Out

“When I first came to America, I was surprised how Americans used their language,” Jas told me.

Having learned British English during his schooling, Jas had some trouble adjusting to American slang and colloquialisms.

“When someone would say ‘What’s up?’ I’d look up. When they’d say ‘How’s it hanging?’–I’d look down.”

When I was just getting to know Jas, I remember how excited he would get upon discovering a new phrase and how quickly he would recycle it, no matter how odd he sounded. He once complimented a friendly co-worker on her “weave” looking “tight.”

At first I believed his mimicry reflected a lack of originality, but soon learned that this was his way of learning American English inside and out. Now, he’s become so comfortable with American English that he’s even created his own choice sayings which I refer to as Jas-isms. Pay attention–one of them is bound to sweep the nation at any moment:

“Broccoli”–Jas has turned this word for the cruciferous veg into a lovingly disparaging label and uses it the way one would use the word “silly,” such as: “I can’t believe you thought I forgot your birthday you broccoli!”

“Dripping like a watermelon”–is used to describe anything that is dripping, perspiring, or simply wet.

“Dumb as the night”–This is my all-time favorite used to describe anyone he feels is dim-witted. If you analyze this simile, it actually makes perfect sense.

While British English does creep into his vocabulary here and there (such as when he asks me if I’ve packed my “bathing costume” for the beach) Jas has made American English his and uses it like a native…albeit a sometimes outdated native. I didn’t realize how often he calls on our American colloquialisms until my two-year-old Cookie, began repeating them to me. Behold:

Nudging me awake– “Mama, let’s get this party started.”

When experiencing frustration– “Oh come on, Man!”

Running out the front door, she’ll toss me a “Later, homey!”

While getting out of the tub one day she smoothly paired a Jas-ism with a colloquialism–“Mama, I’m dripping like a watermelon! Let’s get some towels in this joint!”

After ladling ravioli onto her plate–“Alright! Let’s eat these puppies!”

It is just a matter of time before the student becomes the teacher, and one can only imagine what Jas will do with the language Cookie (and Bean!) will teach him.

Partners in language crime

Partners in language crime

The Big American is excited to announce our new baby girl, who we’ll refer to as Bean, born July 19. After a brief and wonderfully wild hiatus, we are ready to write again.

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Filed under Bosnia-Herzegovina, language, Parenting, Uncategorized

My Favorite Bosnian Word

Milton had it wrong. It wasn’t an apple that Eve plucked and ate at the serpent’s goading. The Tree of Knowledge? More like a vine rising into the sky, dripping with seductive red globes. Surely the serpent wasn’t that crafty. Tomatoes. Is any fruit more tempting? More paradisiacal?

Bosnians would agree with me. Or, at least their language does as the word for tomato is paradajz (pah-rah-dye-z).  It was one of the first words I picked up on my own while in Bosnia. Surrounded by family at the dinner table, my niece’s requests and the resulting slice of tomato speared and passed to her gave my heart a little trill. Of course, the tomato.

As the season ends I find myself scavenging the farmer’s markets for the last remnants of the crop.  Sliced and drizzled with olive oil then seasoned with salt, pepper and torn basil, the juices mopped with bread or even enjoyed round and naked, bitten into like an apple tomatoes in all of their incarnations, feed the soul.   Can you imagine a life without them? Their transmutable nature that simultaneously brings both sweet and savory to the plate? Close your eyes and try to imagine it. My childhood disappears as does the map of Italy.

Preparing dinner last night– a simple tomato sauce for spaghetti– I couldn’t help but marvel at the miracles of the modern world as I cranked the can opener and lifted the lid revealing the plum variety from San Marzano. I slipped them into a pan of sizzling garlic and crushed them with the back of a wooden spoon, grateful that none of us ever have to truly lose paradise.

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Filed under Bosnia-Herzegovina, food, language