You’ve likely never heard the words ‘bleezum’ or ‘pingula’ but they’ve become part of our household vernacular after being coined by extended family members decades ago – the former describing a noise emitted by an alien weapon and the latter, the sound of breaking glass. And while I was kind of hoping my kids would have highly paying career aspirations of medicine or law, I might be to blame for the fact they gravitate towards words and wordplay leading them to send me odd texts, leave notes, and take cell phone photos capturing examples of quirks and, sometimes unintentional massacres, of the English language.
English was not my dad’s native tongue and I can remember his engineer mind puzzling over the logic in the difference of the spellings of ‘cough’ and ‘coffee.’ Once, while ordering breakfast in New York City in his youth, his waitress asked how he’d like his eggs prepared. “New Yorkers don’t really have a sense of humour,” he recounted later when his answer of “right-side-up” was met with a double hands on the hips and an, “Are you trying to be funny?”
But the encounter ignited a genuine interest in our lexical oddities and I guess genetics have come back to haunt me. My desk, and my home, is dotted with little notes as, despite all our electronic devices, we still share an affinity for paper.
My kids have taken to jotting linguistic observations down for my benefit like the one my youngest left on my keyboard that read, “You can be ‘inferior’ but not ‘ferior’” and “You can have ‘instincts’ but can’t be ‘stinct’.”
And while they may not elicit the same guttural reaction as late comedian George Carlin’s infamous: “Three words for one thing – flammable, inflammable, and non-inflammable. Does the thing flam or doesn’t it?” my kids raise some valid points.
You can be nonplussed, but not plussed. You can regurgitate but nobody gurgitates. There are all those disgruntled employees but nobody’s ever reported as being gruntled. One can muse, be amused, or bemused... disdained but not dained, hapless but not hapful, feckless but not feckled, and ruthless but not.... ruthled?
I even learned something when my son pointed out that someone can be defenestrated (thrown out a window) but not fenestrated. Which kinda makes sense because, really, if you’ve already been thrown out the window, how many of you have also actually been thrown back in?
In a province that is perpetually fuelled by daily linguistic affronts and challenges, I tend to relax my standards in English-language mistakes perpetuated by Francophones knowing I am guilty of equal, if not greater, indignities to their native tongue.
But a sign posted at a major pharmacy chain whose English translations include the words ‘soothifies’ and ‘de-itchifies’ not only stopped me in my tracks, it ushered those phrases into our home on the evergrowing list of words that only my immediate family finds funny.
“Take a Tylenol, it’ll soothify your head.”