Living in a place where most people do not speak English as a first language serves to bring my own use of the English language under a microscope. How fast am I speaking? How big of words am I using? How clearly am I articulating my words? And the like. My wonderful roommate Simona speaks excellent English, but as with anyone who learns a language in a classroom setting (or even from movies/cartoons as many Romanians do), there are slang phrases and colloquialisms that just don’t translate. I have already written about American slang but now I would just like to touch on a few American words that I have discovered are devoid of meaning. And by that I mean they are used so broadly and generally and have such a vast array of connotations, that one cannot actually be sure that they mean anything. Yet they are as prevalent in our everyday speech as corn in Nebraska.
Take the word ‘Interesting’ for example. What does it mean? Think about how you use it and how other people use it. Someone tells you a story and you respond, “Oh that’s interesting.” Or you try food someone has made you and respond, “Oooohh… iiinteresting.” WHAT are you saying? Nothing. Nothing at all. Interesting good? Interesting bad? Interesting because you have nothing specific to say? Interesting because you are genuinely intrigued by what I am saying and find it fascinating? Interesting because you’re just being polite? All of these are possible connotations of the word. And so in essence, because it can mean everything, it means nothing. I think the word ‘Nice’ falls into this category. What a weak and wimpy word. Nice. Ick. Just knowing how much I use it makes me sick, because I can’t even tell you how many people here have pointed out how lame of a word it is.
Two other words that fall into this category, but kind of in a different way are ‘Awesome’ and ‘Cool.’ Don’t get me wrong, I use them all the time, but I swear if I hear one more taxi driver say to me “Totally awesome man. That’s so cool” when he finds out I’m from America, I may vomit. Projectile style. Ooh that rhymed. The English language is so rich, and adjectives abound, yet so many Americans (myself the chief of sinners on this one) resort to these bland and “trendy” words.
The final word I would like to discuss is ‘Fun.’ The reason this came to my attention is through the following scenario: I meet someone new (as I do) and I am trying to make conversation, get to know the person. Invariably in America the question of “What do you do for fun?” comes into the mix. But time after time when I have asked this question, people look at me confused and say “What do you mean by fun?” Do you know why? Because “fun” is unbelievably American. The idea of doing something purely for entertainment or pleasure's sake, and the idea of it being a frequent enough occurrence that it would warrant a question about what one habitually does for “fun” is just so incredibly… American. Do you know what the Romanian word for fun is? Distractiv. I’m no linguistic, but that looks an awful lot like Distraction. Chew on that. The Romanian word that most closely translates to “fun” is distraction.
Kind of punches you right in the gut when you think about it. And that's really what it comes down to. That little twang of ooohh, that's an uncomfortable realization. A lot of the more "noticeable" exports of America, linguistic contributions being one example, kind of knock the air out of me when I actually think about them. And then I need to share about them online. Interesting, no?