Okay, you are out running errands, and you see someone from work. You wave good-naturedly and then tell your co-worker as you both pass on the sidewalk, “Hey, I placed the Smith file on your desk… was that okay?” Your co-worker looks at you and smiles, and says, “No problem!”
You stop in at the dry cleaner and pick up the skirt you dropped off, the one you really like, with the belt attached. As you pull up to the window you give the person your claim check. They leave and go to retrieve your garment.
The person in the window hands you the garment and you say, “Thank you so much!” He smiles and says, “No problem!”
You and your wife arrive at your son’s baseball game and set up your lawn chairs along the fence to cheer him on. As you get up to go back to the car to get the cooler, you have to squeeze by some people blocking the gate and you say, “I’m sorry, I forgot something in my car.” The person standing directly in your way moves aside and says, “You’re good!”
As you stand in line at the grocery store both you and another person are heading to the same checkout aisle. You get there just a bit quicker than the other person and you look at them with an apologetic look and they say, “You’re good!”
Here are four examples that probably happen to thousands if not millions of people every day. Our American colloquialisms are ubiquitous. We use them every day, most of the time, without even thinking of what they communicate. Take me for example…
When someone thanks me for my business I say, “You bet!” They bet what? What are they betting when I suggest they bet? Am I recommending they place a wager? I could use the longer and purely American alternative and say, “You Betcha!” I once had a friend from France who tried to say this particular idiom and he used the formal “You bet you!” This made no sense. “You bet you….what?” What “You bet” used to mean was “You can bet on me coming back!” Which was also stated, “You can count on it!” Count what, I am not sure. Do you see? American vernacular can be a crapshoot. You should not try this if you are not from this country…it’s just dangerous.
I had a lovely Japanese man once try another American expression on me at which time, I had to bite on the inside of my mouth in order to not break into laughter. I was driving the car and he was sitting in the front passenger seat. He was giving me directions and as we approached a left turn he said, “Hang a reft!” No, I’m not being rude here…it is difficult for Japanese and other Asians to pronounce the “L” in many words of our language. However, “Hang a reft” was another idiomatic expression that had included in it his mispronunciation and I got tickled. How DO we in fact “Hang” a left or even a reft for that matter? Some substitute the word “Left” for the word “Louie” or, I suppose to my Japanese friend, “Rouie.” Had he said that, it would have tickled me pink.
Which brings up another expression used often by my father. He would frequently be speaking with someone either on the phone or in person because he was a salesman. On more than four billion occasions, when a customer or someone else would ask him if he would help load their truck or do them a favor he would use the term, “tickle me pink.” As in, “Oh that would just tickle me pink!” As a child, I would watch him after he used that particular saying and he never turned pink.
I later learned that this meant, it would give him great pleasure…as if he were to be tickled so much that he would turn the color pink. Since my father was Hispanic and therefore brown, the odds were against him turning any shade of fuchsia. Did this mean he was being disingenuous? Not at all. He was saying, “It would be my pleasure!” So why didn’t he say that?
These phrases are akin to idiosyncratic backrubs. We use them to make others feel good, or at least not feel bad. “No problem” is our way of conveying there was no inconvenience to us in order to comply with a request. The term “You’re good!” is not passing judgment on whether or not you are a good person, it is merely to suggest that your decision, or action was appropriate and did not cause harm either physical or emotional in any way. We innately know this about the tongue twisting American lingo. It is our heritage to take simple verbal courtesies and turn them into verbal gymnastics.
When sneezing, of course we all know to say, “bless you” which is shortened from “God bless you” which; again, is a phrase borrowed from the German idiom, “Gesundheit!” This is the only time in our vernacularisms where we, the witness to the snot slinging sneeze, initiate an idiomatic response in the form of “Bless you!” We would not utter these words on a crowded elevator after one of the occupants had gas. We do not utter those words because, if you are like me going up to the 24th floor, the very opposite of blessing would be running through my mind. No one initiates anything in these circumstances unless you are a child, in which case you would utter the next colloquialism, “Who cut the cheese?” “Cutting the cheese” is; in itself, a borrowed phrase which we shall discuss at another time.
There are many words and phrases that make no sense to Americans and certainly bewilder foreigners when we use them. “Pocketbook” has neither pockets nor is it a book. Why do we call handbags by that word?
A woman by the name of Anastasia Grady in an article in the Huffington Post said,
“When I first moved here from Russia, I used to think the expression ‘it’s a piece of cake’ was extraordinarily confusing.”
In the same article, a woman named Josiane Rocha from Brazil said,
“’Working the graveyard shift.’ A friend told me once that her husband was doing that and I thought he got a job at the cemetery. Makes zero sense to me!”
The fact is, we frequently don’t say what we want to say and instead substitute phrases that most often appear vague, but in reality are meaningless.
Again in the same article, “Even though I know what it means, taking rain check still makes absolutely no sense to me.” ― Schirin Jungclaus
There is another saying in the aforementioned article… one I hesitate to mention due to it’s harsh language, but it seems to fit in context with this blog. One American man remarked,
“I told my British wife once to get that ‘sh*t-eating grin’ off her face. She asked me why on earth she would be grinning if she’d just eaten sh*t. Made me question my whole life lol.” ― TJ Richards
Now, I will give my opinion as to why we substitute colloquial phrases for everyday words…and you won’t like it. Americans are verbally lazy and internationally discourteous. There I said it!
It wouldn’t kill the dry cleaner to simply say, “You’re Welcome!” Unless by saying, “No problem” means that if it WERE a problem you would simply get a dirty look. You may say, “Oh…speech and communication change with each generation!” True…you may even tell me to remove that feces-munching smile from my face as I pronounce my judgment on American laziness but will I change my mind? “Not on your life” meaning not even if changing my mind would kill you! Or not kill you…I’m not sure.
You may say, “I could care less!” But what you really mean is that “You couldn’t care less.” Am I right about that? “You bet!” Even if you work the graveyard shift in a panty factory, it doesn’t mean you make panties for dead women…it simply means you work the 10 pm-6 am shift at Fruit of The Loom. But that is a mouth full of words…isn’t it? See what I mean? Lazy!
Internationally, people “across the pond” (which…duh it’s an ocean) think you are discussing women’s private parts when you mention a “fanny pack.” See what I mean…internationally discourteous.
When you say what you think you mean, you are actually saying something other than what you mean in order to explain what you really mean. Know what I mean?
If you don’t understand that, no problem…you’re good.