My daughter-in-law saw me with a dictionary and was shocked . ” What are you doing ?” she asked , almost as if she had spotted me decapitating the cat . It seemed obvious to me what I was doing . No cards were up my sleeve ; everything was right there out on the table . What was I doing ? I might have been spell-checking in the pre-internet manner , or looking up a meaning of a word . Nothing wrong with looking up a word now and again .
She has a little bit of an excuse . I should give you a little bit of the backstory . She is Polish ; lives in Poland . She earned a degree in English with a focus , specifically , on American English . I’m the first American she met , though . In her term , I’m a Native Speaker , and , as it turns out , that’s a huge responsibility . Being the one and only Native Speaker encountered , I had to represent America , the American lingo . I should have paid better attention when we were diagramming sentences in grammar school way back when , I guess.
I’ve tried to tell her several times that she must have missed the day in class when the professor must have mentioned that Americans don’t really care much about slip ups in grammar or awkward bouts of poor usage , not to mention curious accents and slippery pronunciation . Hell, everyone has an accent in These United States and , generally , we like that . Makes life more interesting . Daughter-in-law wasn’t hearing any of that , however . She intended to learn the lingo right , come hell or high water .
I did run into another woman over in Poland a few years ago whose son attended Oxford . We were talking about language , the English and the American styles of the language . I tried my little joke about that day in class when the professor must have said that Americans don’t really care much about perfect grammar . My point was that we are a tolerant bunch , effective communication is the key , and that precise points of grammar are not prerequisites to American membership .
Well , this woman , whose son was attending Oxford , whose boyfriend was sitting across the table , went off on America , on Americans , on the whole bunch of us , for being sloppy and slovenly with the language . ” That’s what’s wrong with your country ! ” she said . She got fired up in a rude kind of a way . Heck , I’d never met her before in my life . I began to feel that I had to stand up for my country and my countrymen , maybe throw a few good American curses out at her and toss a drink in her face . Tell her she’s all wet . Go on , fighting fire with fire , and say that it’s her attitude what’s wrong with Europe , anyhow . Go toe-to-toe with her and protect the good name of the USA . Of southern California , at least . . But , you know , it wasn’t worth risking another world war over verbal assaults on the American lingo although she had used those attacks on the language as a springboard to condemn the whole country . Bunch of lazy bums , we are , I guess , according to her . Never make anything of ourselves . As my English buddy Willie might have said , facetiously : ” It’s sad , really . ” And so I left it at that .
My friend Bill uses the word ” gargantuous “. Gargantuous is not a word. He could say garantuan or something ; but instead he says gargantuous . Bill is an educated guy . He grew up in southern California . He’s traveled the world . I’ve even mentioned to Ada over the years Bill’s use of gargantuous .
It came out last week at Thursday’s pool game . I don’t know why . Bill used the gargantuous term again and I called him on it . I’ve been listening to gargantuous for years without comment . But , enough is enough . Now I struck .
” There’s no word gargantuous ,” I said . Maybe it was the Guinness speaking.
” I know , ” Bill said . ” My vocabulary is so great that I have to find new words and play with the language ,” he said .
” Like James Joyce , ” I said .