Thursday, December 16, 2010

Share a What?

I'm continually fascinated by the peculiarities of British vs. American vocabulary -- or as someone put it, the fact that we are 'divided by a common language.'
My most recent discovery came from an American friend who had just recently returned from a trip to the UK. He heard a fine, upstanding Christian woman state that, after church on Sundays, they like to invite a few people home with them to 'share a joint.'
Knowing that certain standards can vary from one culture to another regarding things such as alcohol and tobacco, for example, my friend didn't dare react too strongly -- but as open-minded as he was, he had a hard time picturing this lady passing around a reefer after church.
It turns out, as you British readers must be smiling right now, that a "joint" refers to a cut of meat, such as a shoulder of ham or perhaps a leg of lamb.

I'd love to hear your stories about linguistic laughs within the English language -- please share them in the comment section!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Happy Sinterklaas Day

In the Netherlands (where we lived five years), Belgium, and numerous other European countries, today is known as Sinterklaasdag, or St. Nicholas Day. In the Dutch-speaking countries in particular, children will have set out a pair of traditional wooden clogs on the doorstep for Sinterklaas to come along and fill them with goodies.
St. Nicholas is regarded as the patron saint of the city of Amsterdam, as well as of children and sailors. He is a beloved personage who traces his roots to an actual historical figure -- Nicholas, Bishop of Myra (read my post on the role of Nicholas in the history of Santa Claus here).
In modern times, the celebration of Sinterklaas has lost its Christian significance (though Christmas has not for many) -- it is simply a time to celebrate and give gifts. In fact, more gifts are exchanged on Sinterklaas Day than at Christmas.
In Amsterdam, the day includes a parade where Sinterklaas appears -- supposedly from Spain -- with an entourage of mischievous, black-faced helpers called Zwarte Pieten, reminders of the Moorish influence in medieval Spain. In the Middle Ages, "Zwarte Piet" (meaning Black Pete) was a nickname for the devil; St. Nicholas, having triumphed over the devil, subjugated the little devils, so to speak, into his service.
Vrolijke Sinterklaasdag! (Happy Sinterklaas Day!)