Lately, I’ve been thinking about F. R David. Remember him? Tinted sunglasses worn inside? No? Bouffant hair? No? Utter twat? Yeah, yeah, you got it, that’s him. Wrote the song “Words’. Well, the reason I’ve been thinking about him is because that plaintive opening line, “Words don’t come easy to me” - whilst not a lyric that will ever rival the expressions of youthful alienation found in the works of Kerouac, or the representations of quotidian thought found in, say, James Joyce - is nevertheless a line that could easily describe me.
You see, every day this week has brought with it a phrase or word that I have literally NEVER EVER heard before. In fact, there have been a couple of occasions when I’ve thought: I’ve probably just had a stroke and lost the capacity to understand language, forever.
Last Saturday, for instance, we took the kids to McDonalds. (Now before some of you keel over with horror, this is NOT my normal routine. Normally, I would plate up a lovingly prepared lunch of artisan-baked breads and antipasti, or homemade pizza topped with pear, prosciutto, and gorgonzola, which the kids adore …) But last Saturday, we were busy, and I thought, heck, what’s wrong with eating the occasional chicken vagina with a bucket of salt? But when we arrived at the drive-in window to collect our ‘food’, we were greeted with an empty-handed waitress who twitched a little, and said, “Veggie’s full-time.”
Sorry love, but I don’t speak Wookie.
My partner looked at me, and I looked back (which is extremely rare, as we are both normally locked in our own private spheres of hell). The waitress sensed we were struggling. She repeated herself, this time adding the definite article, a cheeky verb phrase.
“The veggie is full-time”, she said.
Shit, I don’t mean to be rude love, but I still don’t speak Wookie.
Thankfully, my partner finally twigged. “Do you mean the veggie-burgers take longer?” he said. He is a genius, my partner. He has such a feeling for context, for the underlying structures that govern human language, he is like Chomsky, or fucking Derrida. The girl nodded. “Park b’there”, she said, twitching again, this time in the direction of the parked order bays.
It's not the first time.
A few days earlier, I lost the rectangular ‘stick-on bit’ of my car radio/CD. I was trying to explain this to someone, when they laughed out loud and said, “Do you mean the face-off?” The face-off? ‘Face-Off’ is a film by John Woo, with Nicholas Cage and John Travolta. Face-off is another word for a confrontation, isn’t it? It’s also the beginning of a game of ice-hockey, isn’t it? ISN’T IT? But if it is the word for the rectangular stick-on bit of my car radio, then how come you know this? And I don’t? What is wrong with me?
What is wrong with me? (weeps)
I blame my mother, of course. My mother replaces almost all proper nouns with the words ‘thing’, ‘thingy’ and ‘thingummyjig’. A conversation with my mother goes something like this:
Mother: Have you seen that thing I brought up with me? I hope I haven’t left it in the thing.
Me: For the love of God.
Me: Do you mean your whistle? *
My father also has an interesting approach to proper nouns. He prefers metaphors that bear little resemblance to the original object. Partly, this is because he has no idea what the original object IS. Examples include ‘atomic machine’ to describe ‘microwave’, and “ludicrous new-fangled walkie-talkies’ to describe ‘mobile phones.’ In short, he lives in a parallel universe that I like to call ‘The World According to Someone Who Once Left A Big Fuck-Off Chunk of Radioactive Plutonium in their Pocket Whilst Working at a Nuclear Research Facility’.
So there you have it, I suppose.
* PS There are no sheepdogs in the family. Just my dad.