Your footpath, my pavement

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”.


Ridiculous (and creepy) in English

I just talked to my oldest son about the schools I attended in South Africa, and for some reason, when we finished talking, the anthem of my primary school was stuck in my head. I sang the first few lines to him, and he asked me what language that was. “Afrikaans,” I replied. “It means… it… HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAA!”

Primary school anthem (this was in an all-white school on the outskirts of Boksburg, which wore the mud crown of racist capital of the world for a while in the eighties):

“Busy working, vigilant” is our motto.
To obey this motto remains our choice! (we sang together in a forced choir).
Diligently, eagerly on the job!
We stand strong against temptation (I always wondered what temptations these were we were supposed to stand strong against).
(from here my memory is a bit sketchy, but I recall this line:)
We remain vigilant against slacking off.

High school, not quite as hilarious as primary:

We have received the order
to, with hearts that are fierce and free,
climb the steep bits
to high, where the morning star gleams.

Aware of our calling we will serve
we will learn, we will see with more clarity (this is hilarious if you’ve been in that school. A more accurate song would be: aware of our calling we will learn, we will conform and abandon all uppity ideas of thinking for ourselves)
Calling-aware we will stride
along the road, looking forward.

The songs are well-meant, and don’t sound strange at all in the original Afrikaans. It’s one more of the things that just have me rolling with laughter when I try to translate it into English.