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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::

9/7/10 On dwindling Arabic

A moment ago, I sneezed and an acquaintance who happened to be passing by said, "Gesundheit."

I thanked him, and then murmured to myself, "Rhummikallah...humdullah."

Which are, of course, the Arabic phrases for sneezes.

I'm not even sure of the literal translation of the first one, because people only ever use it after someone sneezes. It would be like a Martian visiting America and concluding that "God bless you" means "Oh, hey, you sneezed."

Rhummikallah what somebody else should say when you sneeze. You, post-sneeze, should say humdullah, to express your gratitude for ... I don't know, still being alive or something.

(I didn't say I actually *understood* the God-phrases, I just know how and when to *use* them.)

On the whole, though, moments of involuntary Arabic have steadily dwindled.

Last night, half asleep and on the phone, I murmured, "Mashi mushkil" when I meant "It's all good." They mean the same thing, and in my somnolence, the wrong one floated to my lips.

But other than those - the sneezes and the sleepies - I don't think I've spoken Arabic (let alone Tamazight) in a few days. Well, OK, last night at dinner I was telling a friend about some Moroccan history, and referred to the Amazighn and their language Tamazight. Which gave me a chance to roll my throat a little, which it likes.

Who knew I would miss the physical experience of speaking my crazy language?? The tongue rolls and throat rolls and throat flexures and such things that simply aren't used when speaking English.

Yesterday, I said, "Guten nacht" (and yes, it fit in the context of the conversation, but it would take too long to explain how), and realized that for the first time in a lifetime of (very sporadic) attempts, I can say it correctly. I had a sudden impulse to start singing "Silent night" in German, just so I could keep using that ch-ch-ch sound.

I can't wait to start wishing people Happy Channukah. Maybe I'll start baking challah and offering it to friends at work.

Maybe it's time to find an Arabic class around here after all.
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