One thing that has interested me since moving to Ireland, is how different English is spoken. I’m not referring to accent, but rather to different understanding of some words. Part of that was also related to wider exposure to various English speakers around the world over the internet.
Once, in a critique of a work in progress, a fellow writer was puzzled by my use of the word lounge. To her Canadian ears, that meant a place where people could go to have a few drinks together and socialise. To me, a lounge is a room in your house where you sit down to relax and watch TV or have a conversation with guests. Ah, but that, she said, would be a sitting room. Unless you’re in parts of Britain, I later found out, when it would be a drawing room.
To a South African, a robot is something commonly seen on busy roads, which has three different coloured lights which regulate traffic at crossings. To most of the rest of the world, that would be a traffic light, while a robot is a mechanical creation which performs tasks usually done by humans.
A more tricky one is footpath. To Irish people, a footpath is this:
To me, a footpath is this:
An African footpath is a path made by the passage of many feet. It’s about as wide as a human, and most often takes the form of a narrow line of exposed, compacted earth through grass veldt. That thing above this picture is called a pavement.
Take it a step further, and you get the Afrikaans sypaadjie, literally side path, to describe the pedestrian walkway beside a road.
It always used to bother me to use the word pavement, though. It implies a covered surface, and where I grew up, most “pavements” weren’t paved, instead boasted lawn that had to be mown in summer.
Talk about “Tom-ah-to, tom-ay-to”.