Sunday, January 17, 2010

International Man of… Smells

So I have an anecdote.

When I was teaching ESOL (that’s English for Speakers of Other Languages) in New Zealand, I worked with this guy.  He was just one of those kind of squirrely guys who always was a little too hyper, a little too intense.  An ok guy from all I could tell, but just… wound up.   And you never knew what he would say next.

One day I walked into our office (I forgot to mention we shared an office) and he looks up and says very intently (I also forgot to mention he was a Close Talker), “Kristine.  Can I ask you something?”

With a rather large amount of trepidation and my usual stunning eloquence I said, “Uh.  Okay.”

“So….  what would you think if I said the word….  ‘smellage’ to you?”

Uh.  “That you were a lunatic?”  To which, fortunately, he laughed.  But not like a lunatic.

“I know, right?” he said.  “But I just had this long conversation with three of my Chinese students about how ‘smellage’ isn’t a word.  And they just kept insisting it was.  And I would say ‘No, it’s not!’ and they would say ‘It is!  It is! Smellage!’” 

I can’t say for sure what look I had on my face, but “disbelief” is probably accurate.  He just laughed some more.   “So I finally say, ‘No.  It is not a word.  I actually speak English as my first language and I am telling you, that is not a word.”  And then of course the three students did what Chinese ESOL students do.  Pull out the ubiquitous electronic dictionary.

Now, I don’t know who makes these dictionaries but I can tell you with complete confidence that English was not their first language.  And of course the three students simultaneously tippy-typed with intent determination and then triumphantly waved the result in my colleague’s face (obviously I wasn’t there, but I can confidently base this on extensive personal experience). “See!” they exclaimed with joy.  “SMELLAGE!” 

“And I’ll be damned,” continued my co-worker, “there it was.  Smellage.  So I asked them, ‘What does it say this word means?’”  At this point he stopped his story to give me a beady stare.  “What do you think it would mean?” he asked darkly. 

“Um… something that smells bad?” I answered.

“Aha!!” he shouted.  I jumped a foot and then, against my better judgment, said “Yeah?”

“That’s what I thought too!  But when I asked them they all insisted that it was something that smells really good.  ‘Like flowers.’”  He shook his head in disbelief and wandered off to the staff kitchen to make a cup of tea.  People in New Zealand will shrivel up into prunes if they don’t drink a minimum of twenty cups of tea a day.

And there I sat, abruptly left on my own to contemplate the vagaries of electronic dictionaries made in Taiwan and the whole strangely existential concept of smellage.

All of which goes to explain my husband’s sudden horrified outburst this afternoon of “Oh my god!  The SMELLAGE!!”

It is not my fault that cats poop indoors.

5 comments:

  1. Hey, we have both been TESOL! I *so* rememeber electronic dictionaries in Taiwan, rather than merely just from there. Where do they get their word consultants? Same people who make 'word' verifications? My Dutch ex-DH invented a cute word: 'moisty'. I hope your kitten doesn't make anything moisty, on top of the smellage.

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  2. LOLOLOL
    Aaah, the joys of kitty parenting... My mother's very aristocratic feline will only soil her wool or silk. Never the quilting cotton or polyester - oh no!

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  3. Words! I love them!!! The English language changes daily with all the electronic devices and texting, emailing, etc.... Love it! It's hard to keep up though.
    I understand the smellage of cats!!!

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  4. Bwhahaha!! I had a terribly funny reply but my word verification is "menthal" which is WAY BETTER! How's that for appropriately related to the topic of smellage??

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  5. Um, some of us drink coffee ;-) Still 20 cups though, if it's decaf!

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