Is that idiom or idiot?

April 05, 2000|By Elizabeth Schuett

GIBSONBURG, Ohio -- This morning, by popular demand, I went to the beauty parlor. The hair came out okay, but it made the rest of me look bad. I keep telling Karen it must be the lights.

Occasionally, conversation helps to divert my attention from the mirror, but I'm not big on talking with hair in my mouth. That's why it's almost impossible not to overhear nearby chat.

"So he goes, like, `Wow! That dress is like, blue!' and I go like, `So? Yeah' and he goes, `Take it back.' "

What was passing for conversation in the next booth was interfering with my concentration on an article explaining the problem of presidential candidates and soft money.

"So I go, like, a `You stupid or something? What do you hate about blue?' and he gets all crazy like I'm badmouthing his mother or something, ya know?" The operator says she fully understands -- which puts her way ahead of me.

Idiomatic speech based on geography, is nothing new. But this is different.

In Chicago, I met storytellers with a rapid-fire, third-person delivery. Sez him, "Get away from my sister." Sez me, "Your old lady chews!" Sez him, "Who ya yellin at monkeymouth?"

When I moved to Georgia, I thought I'd have no trouble speaking like a native. I was wrong.

"Howsyermommerenem?" I remember spending a lot of time standing in front of the hardware store looking stupid and grinning, which I imagine left some folks with the impression I was on heavy medication.

One day the florist lady noted my confusion and explained. "They're asking about your health. What they're saying is, `Hi, Elizabeth. How is your mother and all the rest of your family?' "

The jarring voice in the next booth rattles the partition.

"So I'm like, `It's just a dress,' and he goes, `So take it back.' I'm like, `Okay.' Then I go, `I'll take it back.' Like I don't really mind taking it back cause it like ... a ... don't fit good across the boozums anyway. Ya know?"

This is not dialect. This is laziness. This woman with the ugly blue dress surely has to know more of the half-million English words available to her than the handful she's using. "WHAT," I want to shout "are you trying to say?" But I don't. Instead I amuse myself with thoughts of how a historical document such as the Declaration of Independence might have read had Thomas Jefferson had as little grasp of syntax and vocabulary as the woman in the next booth.

"So, like, um ... when in the course of ... like human events, it like becomes necessary for one people to like a dissolve the ... a ... political bands which have like connected?" See what I mean?

At this rate, Great Britain would never have figured out what it was the Colonists were griping about.

One thing for sure, the lady with the ugly blue dress couldn't have helped.

Elizabeth Schuett writes for Cox News Service.

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