Language, a more malleable substance, participates in an area’s culture more intimately than an imported product, however. Acclimating as much to the people as its location, language tailored from its original state begins to befit a population through chosen vocabulary and specific expressions.
I thought I knew English. I professed my creative ability to form distinctive descriptions with pinpointed words in a purposeful word order. I even enjoyed forming every growing vocabulary lists from words found within novels or news stories, unfamiliar or just good-to-remember for future uses. Ones heard out on the street, however, or seen on menus and read on bags at the grocery store differed from the words in my literary pursuits. They were certainly English, but, as English experienced many alterations and additions from its travels, not found in American English. In a sense, one and a half languages required my attentive studies: Dutch and European English. Thus far, a number of European English words replaced their American equivalent. From SMS to football, below stand the ones most prominent in my European street studies, some of the language imports I might bring back to the States after my travels.
SMS: “SMS me.” You want me to what? When? Oh, wait, that means short message service – got it. Yes, instead of texting, I will SMS you later.
Petrol: Though a dedicated city bike rider these days, my occasional car rides exposed a different driving vocabulary. In Europe, petrol fuels cars, not gasoline. Moreover, at the petrol station, one might even need to check the motor under the “bonnet” or take something out of the “boot” before proceeding down the highway.
Take-Away: When ordering food to be enjoyed at home, or even in the park, the dishes are distinguished as take away, not take out, as we say back in the States. A dramatic description apt for the task as the dishes travel further than just outside the door.
Canteen: The term “cafeteria” recalls my grade school days of plastic-like mozzarella toppings on pizza and milk in pouches, food unimaginable in this organic age. As an adult, I prefer to eat at the canteen to my not-so-glamorous childhood cafeteria.
Aubergine: A word my up-to-date Word program does not recognize. A dish once blindly ordered at the recommendation of a Turkish restaurant owner, only to be pleasantly surprised by my old friend, eggplant.
Chips: Okay, follow me for a moment. Chips means fries, and crisps means chips in European English. Chips are eaten with mayonnaise, usually, and chips are eaten out of a bag. I’ll just take carrots instead of this chip-crisp business.
Holiday: Vacation and holiday; the roots of these words differ greatly. Vacation, from vacate and holiday from holy day. A vacation in the States constitutes a four to five day excursion fueled by exhaustion only to end in the need for another. And holiday in Europe, well as the word suggests, holidays are a religion.
Football: In Europe, football suggests more than just the game. Everything revolves around the sport just as much as American football. Switching between the term soccer and football holds no difficulty as completely different means encompass both words on each continent.
Each continent’s English requires an attentive interest to understand the subtleties that reflect each population’s sensibilities. Adapting more British English, the closer of the two continents as well as the English taught in school, formal European English picks from a different vocabulary, certain words arguably more refined in their configuration and audible quality than the American equivalent. Aubergine more beckoning than eggplant, canteen more cultivated than cafeteria. American English’s casual quality, like a wrinkled shirt fashionable from its worn in appearance, allows for it’s lacing into everyday conversation of European English. American slang taken from television and music, one of our most prominent imports across the ocean, widely available to be interpreted and used when the meaning fits the situation more aptly.
One day, I see these two vocabularies from European English and American English intermixing to form a greater language, but before any of that can occur, they need to be imported and exported between continents. Traded like fine wine or craft beer. And the best thing is, unlike Lamborghinis, Toblerone, Louis Vuitton, and Chimay, language is free.