Noonie told her husband one day (because he was poking fun at something I said) that I’m very good at writing in English, but not so great at speaking it. We laughed but it is actually a valid assessment, and she meant it genuinely.
Mainly, I have trouble with idioms, colloquialism, adages, proverbs (I couldn’t tell you which is which) – all those phrases that make languages so colorful and that express so much in a quippy little phrase. I am pretty sure Americans often have trouble with this part of the English language too. Who really knows the correct way to compare the cost of birds in the bushes versus one in your hand? How come one is worth more than two? Wouldn’t it depend on the type of bird?
In my house, I only heard culturally-relevant phrases that Mom used to impart profound life lessons. Those didn’t make much sense to me as a child either. Through reading a ton and carefully listening to my peers, I eventually picked up American sayings, which I practiced often (usually in the wrong context), in the hopes that this would make me “sound American.” For example:
People in glass houses shouldn’t throw bricks.
Everyone knows what I meant. Bricks, stones… same same. Depending on the size of the stone, there is the potential for equivalent damage.
My whole life, people let me go on saying things incorrectly, maybe out of politeness or they just don’t care. Then I met DP. He finds my linguistic mistakes hilarious, mainly because I approach them with such conviction, just as I very confidently get us lost with inaccurate directions.
“What did you just say?”
[I repeat phrase.]
He stares patiently, waiting to see if it dawns on me.
He thinks it’s actually rude for people not to correct me. Sort of like when your skirt is tucked into your underpants and not one single person all day bothers to tell you. It’s DP’s way of showing that he’s attentive to what I’m saying (most of the time).
One of my most memorable linguistic fails can be called “the mash-up,” in which I combine two related sayings to form the complete opposite of what I actually meant:
I bet the tension was so thick in there,
you could cut through it like hot butter.
Or the one that uses more words than necessary, in a slightly different order:
When we have arrived at the bridge, we’ll cross over it… when we get there.
Then there are the ones I know how to say correctly but fumble in the heat of the moment:
If a horse brings you a gift, you should take it.
Don’t rain on my sunshine!
Put a sock in your mouth!
…and many more I can’t remember right now. I suppose it’s not fair to blame it on a cultural barrier, since anyone could easily make the same mistakes. But that’s the excuse I’m going with.