Writer, photographer, "rapper" and general technophobe takes on the internet in what could be a very, very messy fight. But it's alright: she's harder than she looks, and she's wearing every single ring she could get her hands on.


Tuesday, 30 November 2010


My slow and steady linguistic education of the locals is gradually gaining power. Little by little I am making them English. Not English-speaking, but English. And never mind the children - although they are certainly now saying barth instead of baahth - I'm talking specifically about the adults of this sleepy yet hungry little town. Or, at least, I thought I was.

Harai was the first to succumb to my teaching powers: his language is becoming more and more British by the day. This morning he told me he was "utterly knackered" and I swelled up like a proud parent. Shin quickly followed suit, although let's just say that he was more open to the learning process: we have spent many a long road trip trading English swear words for Japanese swear words (which is an unfair exchange, frankly, because we have a lot more, and the Japanese language isn't nearly as rude or as imaginative in its implied violence as ours is).

My final conquest, however, is my new friend Yuki: a Japanese girl with an extraordinary grasp of English, who teaches it in the local English language school: a school which includes many of my brightest and most interesting pupils.

And I think it's fair to say that Yuki is absolutely gagging to be Anglicized.

"Tell me more," she begged over dinner two nights ago. "I want to speak British, not American."
"Okay. So, one of my favourites is sod off."
"Sot off?"
"What does it mean?"
"It means go away. But not as nicely. However, it's definitely less rude than fuck off, and less harsh than bugger off. Literally, sod is a kind of wet compressed mud, but don't worry about that. It also means you annoying person, but with undertones of envy."
"What else?"
"We're flexible in England with any kind of swear word followed by the word off."
"Git off?"
"No. Very good for remembering that one, though. I'm impressed. Actually, it's..." And then I got a little piece of paper and a pen out. "Look. The thing with British swear words is that they're not as simple as they seem. They range in strength, in connotation, in gender, in intention. You can use some of them playfully with your close friends, and you can use them angrily, but if you just fling them about it's going to make you look like a tit."
"A tit?"
"Literally a breast. But it means a fool. I'll write that on the chart here." And I drew a line, from Mild to Strong to Very Bad. And then I started filling it in. I gave each a gender, word derivativation - Yuki knew, for instance, the word bitch but had no idea it meant female dog - and meaning. I also did sub-bubbles, for instance linking 'tart', 'hussy' and 'yo yo knickers' - all quite far to the left - with 'slut', which was relatively far to the right. I also drew dotted lines between words that had similar insinuations: certain ties in term of definition.
"Wow," she said when I had finished and she was staring at the little chart I had made perfectly sized to fit in her wallet. "This is awesome. I'm going home and I'm learning all of these. I have so many really annoying Australian friends, and they're such... knobs. Is that right? Plonkers, if I'm being less harsh, dickheads if I'm being a bit more so. Yes? I'm going to really enjoy telling them so."
"Excellent. Make sure you learn levels, though, so that you can use them appropriately."

This morning, my favourite student - a student I share with Yuki - approached me with her usual lit-up expression (she is a ridiculously intelligent 13 year old, inordinately bored by school and absolutely fascinated with anything Western: she watched Burton's Alice in Wonderland in English, and likes me because I "sound like Alice"). She delights in being mine and Yuki's go-between.
"Holly," she said, and she put her fist out. "Yuki says to give you this." I bumped fists with her.
"Thankyou. Give her this too."
"She says to ask you how's tricks."
I laughed.
"Tricks are awesome, thankyou. How are tricks for you?"
"Spectacular," she said.
I laughed again; that's Yuki's favourite response to anything.
"Do you know what's for lunch, by the way?"
"Pork," she said. And she made a face. "And it's totally minging."

Are you teaching your 13 year old students my precious British slang? I emailed Yuki.
Yes, she emailed back. They love it. Don't worry; not the swear words. Just the slang. You should see them suck it up. Yesterday they got their notepads out and they all carefully wrote To Ming. I ming. You ming. She mings. They ming. It's minging. They minged. 
Well, I wrote back. At least they can conjugate it properly.

My linguistic influence is spreading far and wide: from me, to my friends, and back to my students again. I'm just hoping that it doesn't spread even further. To their parents.

As lovely as it is being able to truly immerse myself in another culture by rotting away at their language with my own, I want to keep doing it for a little while. And if all the brightest 13 year olds in the city start talking like 13 year old British children, we may have problems.

They might end up sounding like me.