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9/8/10 English is my native tongue. I mean my mother tongue. I mean ... wait ... my first language?

"Why does that not surprise me?" I typed in a quick message to a friend.

And then I looked at it.

Something was off.

I didn't know what, quite, but definitely something.

I said it again, in my head.

One more time.

I shook it off and tried to regenerate the sentiment.

"Why am I not surprised?" floated into my head.


Nailed it.

I erased my first fumble and wrote in the correct American idiom.

You know, I worked really hard not to lose my English.

I blogged most days. I watched American-made movies and TV shows on my laptop. I talked to my fellow PCVs.

And yet.

Yesterday, in my job as a cub reporter, I was rewriting somebody else's headline. The point of the story was that life is hard in Vegas, and people are moving out in droves. I toyed with some variation on "Leaving Las Vegas" and then thought of the phrase "Las Vegas goes bust."

And then I stared at it.

Goes bust?

Things go BOOM when they explode. But do they go bust?

I knew I was thinking of that expression from that card game where you lose when you go over 21. Was that 'going bust'? No. Yes. No.

I gave up.

I turned to the cubicle next to mine and interrupted my long-suffering co-worker (long-suffering, 'cause I interrupt him a lot) to ask, "You know how when you're playing that game, with the, um, Blackjack!, when you're playing Blackjack and you keep hitting and you go over 21?" He nodded. "Is that called 'going bust'?" He nodded again. "Are you sure?" I persisted. He nodded a third time.

I thanked him, and then felt compelled to explain that the idioms are just hard. My vocabulary is mostly intact, though I still grope for esoteric words sometimes, but idioms... Idioms are all about turns of phrase, and my phrases tend to twist and writhe, these days. They never sound right, whether I've caught the American expression or not.

And to be honest, it's not just the esoteric words. It's all the ones that don't get used commonly. Today, not three hours ago, I spent a few seconds trying to come up with the word germ. I was describing Lord Jeffrey Amherst's use of smallpox as an agent of biological warfare, so the word was necessary, and I just ... couldn't ... find it. Instead, gene kept coming in its place. I knew the words looked similar, had the same general shape, but no... And of course, the right word arrived.

Which idioms still sometimes don't do.

Am I the only one who finds that odd?

Or, I mean, who thinks it's weird?

Bloody American English. ::sigh::


  1. Idioms are hard. And they aren't necessarily used a whole lot. That's OK if you sometimes can't remember them, because they don't necessarily make a lot of sense, anyway. Break a leg! (Why DO we say that, anyway?) Keep on rolling. (Rolling what, exactly?) Keep it up! (Again, what, exactly are we keeping up?) Keep on keeping on. (Which makes even less sense.) You go, girl! (Where?) etc.

  2. That's what my England boss used to say. Bloody American English! My main language is Spanish and I agree, idioms are hard...


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