We’ve been in the USA for 2.5 years now, but I’m still discovering words that get lost in translation. The word for this week is … FORTNIGHT.
This week I discovered that Americans (well at least here in So Cal) don’t understand or use the word ‘fortnight’. For those of you unfamiliar the term, fortnight means ‘a two week period of time’ and fortnightly means ‘every two weeks’. As in “we are moving house in a fortnight” (we are, by the way, but that’s another blog), or “the gardener visits fortnightly on a Tuesday”.
I guess it’s one of those words that you don’t use everyday, so when Hubby made the ‘fortnight’ discovery, I put it to the test and went out to some educated ladies from my local twin club. One mom told me she knew what I was saying, but only Americans over 40 would probably understand, which was backed up by an under 40 year old who said she thought it meant a month, but wasn’t familiar with the term. In contrast, one mom is actually from Canada, and she knew what it meant, but didn’t actually use the word in her vocabulary. Not scientific testing, by any means, but my conclusion is that American’s don’t use the word ‘fortnight’. I guess y’all say ‘two weeks’.
I’ve also had online laughter recently directed at me when I used the word ‘arvo’ (that’s a Kiwi/Aussie shortened term for ‘afternoon’). I just presumed everyone said arvo, but apparently I was wrong.
My other recent ‘lost in translation’ discovery is with the word ‘bench’. In America, this refers to a long low seat – a bench seat. In New Zealand we use the term to not only refer to a bench seat, but also a waist high counter, ie the ‘kitchen bench’ is where you prepare your dinner, and where your sink is housed. No wonder I got a puzzled look when I asked a visitor to just put her cup on the bench!
I’ve discovered many different ‘looks’ that I’ve been given when people don’t understand me – I’ve cottoned on to most of them. So, when I get the ‘lots-of-polite-nodding’ or the ‘have-you-got-two-heads’ stare, I’ve learnt to back track and repeat my last sentence using USA ‘English’. I often find myself using two words in a normal conversation, where the Kiwi version slips out and I automatically correct myself with the USA version, so I’ll be understood. “I’ll just put my bags in the boot, I mean trunk, and put my shopping trolley, I mean cart, away“. PS – This sentence totally gives me away as foreign because I don’t think American’s actually know how to push their trolley/cart back to the allotted trolley/cart returns. They just leave them in the car park (I mean, parking lot) to let the magic trolley/cart fairy put it away for them.
It’s a mine field! You’d think English was English, but it’s not. So the moral of the story is: never suggest to an American friend that we’ll “get together for a drink one arvo in a fortnight’s time” or they’ll think you’ve gone completely bonkers.
Oh, is ‘bonkers’ an American word?
I give up!
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