June 18 • 03:54 AM

Saying this but meaning that

March 10, 2010
My sister's husband begins living here, so he also begins in earnest to learn the language.

He'd lived in Italy up until he moved over here in his 40s, knowing very little English.

He takes classes and brings the exercises home and sometimes we catch a glimpse of his answers and chuckle.

One thing I notice about Italians and the French people I know is they really want to show how much they know English by using English slang.

On one of Giancarlo's homework papers there are simple, useful questions written in English that the student is to answer in English underneath each question.

"The cost of a movie theater ticket is..." the question reads.

"6 box," reads Giancarlo's answer.

I scratch my head for a moment and wonder how effective these classes are until it occurs to me... He's right, in a way. He's thinking "6 bucks," which sort of sounds like "box" to his foreign ear. Virginia and I chuckle.

Then I start thinking how difficult it is to learn—and teach—English.

"What is this 'so Q?'" Giancarlo asks us one afternoon when he and Virginia are visiting my house.

"I always hear you say 'she's so Q,'" he says.

My sister and I try not to laugh. We're saying 'she's so cute,' referring to my tabby cat.

Virginia explains, but it doesn't answer the question.

"What is cute?" Giancarlo asks.

We look at each other and shrug. In Italian there is no literal translation for "cute," they really have no such word. They have words for beautiful and pretty, but we all know that cute is something different from either and when you think about it, how does one describe it?

"Carina," she says, compromising. Since my cat is female, there's an 'a' on the end, for a male it would be 'carino.'

Carino (or carina) refers to something that is not necessarily pretty, but 'nice,' and even 'sweet.' It's about as close as you can get to 'cute' in Italian.

I start thinking about what it would be like to learn English as an adult and words swirl through my head in a cyclone of ambiguity...

Last night I met a knight in shining armor who asked which way he should travel to find the beautiful witch who had bewitched him.

I couldn't bear the thought of crossing paths with the bear, especially since I was bare naked.

I know the answer is no.

It isn't right to have to write so much. Worse still, sometimes I get lost and can't tell whether to turn right or left, or who, exactly, has the right-of-way.

I read yesterday's headlines but discover that I prefer to read a good book.

I was surprised when I read that red is the hottest color this season.

That outfit he wears really shows off his wares!

If you sock somebody in the eye does it mean you hit them with your foot?

I had to sail down the aisles to get first dibs on the sale merchandise.

It's a beautiful morning, much too beautiful to be in mourning about the endless winter weather.

Anyhow, whether it's winter or summer there's nothing I can do about the weather.

I want to stop and buy a present for my friend as a way to say goodbye and thanks for the hospitality. I got a really great buy, by the way.

It was a pretty big stick to stick in the ground, and that's when things got really sticky.

Did he perish in front of the whole parish?

I saw that man wielding his saw around like it was as light as a feather. He didn't even need a light to use it. Afterwards he guzzled a Miller Lite.

I knew it wasn't brand new because the seams were torn, and it seems to me that's a pretty good indicator that someone's trying real hard to reel me into a bad spot. And there were spots all over it, too. Two of them. I had to point it out. Luckily it was an easy point to make, but at which point do I just throw in the towel? Only when I'm through, I suppose. And I was, so then I threw it clear through the window and out into the sea. See what I mean? Not that I'm mean, of course...

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Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.
Castle Creek
06 - 18 - 19
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