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It’s Official: Al Barger Has a Screw Loose

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Some of my people have speculated about such things for a long time, but now it is official: it has been medically, clinically diagnosed that I have a screw loose. Perhaps regular readers will be less than shocked to hear this.

This comes from a doctor at the Fayette Memorial Hospital in Connersville, IN. I was following up last week on some recent medical unpleasantness, including getting x-rays. The doc suggested that a metal screw in my leg from years ago is “loose,” which would supposedly explain other problems.

“You’ve got a screw loose.” This was the direct quote.

The best part was that she was saying it totally straight. She apparently had no idea that she was saying anything funny, and certainly hadn’t engineered the explanation of her diagnosis to be humorous.

Dr Maddali would appear to be from India. She speaks very good English, but seemed unaware of the idiomatic English usage of “loose screw.”

Idiomatic language that seems simple to natives will throw off foreigners learning the language. They’re just weird usages that are buried so deeply into the culture that natives simply absorb them one by one over a period of years growing up. It would probably take an immigrant that long to pick them up, even a smart doctor like Ms Maddali.

Gummed up idiomatic usage of language works both ways, making people sound odd in their second language by shoehorning in non-applicable uses of the old language. As a high school Spanish student, I once confused and then annoyed poor Señora Sun by saying in my Kentuckian version of Spanish that “John is trying to get into Mary’s pants.” This getting-into-pants usage apparently doesn’t translate.

Nor did Señora Sun think I was making any sense explaining in Kentuckian Spanish that “The man from Mars is through with cars and through with bars, and now he only eats guitars.” The freshmen, however, thought I was very clever. “El senor de Mars esta comienda la guitarras.” Think how that would have sounded to you if you were a Phillipino immigrant school teacher in a rural Hoosier school, and had no idea what a Blondie was. Oy.

Going to college the next year in Santa Fe, I was not entirely surprised that none of the locals understood a word of my alleged Spanish. Por que no fumamos las drugas juntos ahora?! Damn that Tower of Babel!

Anyway, thinking about the peculiarities of our idiomatic language constitutes a very useful mental exercise just as learning other languages does in a bigger way by helping us to see the connection between language and thought. So much of the content of our thinking comes from the forms of the language software we think through that have meanings inherent. For a real simple example, Ayn Rand was very fond of what she regarded as the very American idea of “making money,” as the phrase implies a creative rather than merely re-distributive process.

This week, the orthopedic surgeon dismissed the “loose screw” therapy- which is good. Then again, maybe Dr Wurtz just doesn’t know me well enough.

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  • HW Saxton

    But is it a flathead or a phillips, Al?

  • http://www.resonation.ca Jim Carruthers

    Now, if had been a Robertson screw, that probably wouldn’t have happened.

    BTW is there an email where we can send suggestions for possible treatment of your idiom problem?

    I didn’t say she was crazy Doc, I said she was fucking Goofy

  • http://selfaudit.blogspot.com Aaman

    Al, incidentally, the same idiom is used in Indian English for a person in your likely situation, pun intended.

    Indian English is very idiomatic, in amusing ways otherwise – I have actually had Indian team members use ‘at the fag end’ in presentations. Wikipedia actually has an entry on ‘Indian English’, a recognized dialect. Indian languages have contributed hundreds of words to ‘proper’ English – such as ‘bazaar’,’bandana’, ‘jungle’ and , of course, ‘chai’

    Unusual words in Indian English: ‘eve-teasing’ – harassement of women
    ‘nose-screw’ – an ornament worn by women in their nose

    Are you at a loose end because of your ‘loose screw’?

  • Nick Jones

    Her’s a great little book for Spanish idioms (“The ones you never learned in school”) – Mierda! It’s part of a series, with books on French, German, and so on.

  • http://www.morethings.com/senate Al Barger

    Ah yes, cursing in a foreign language. Cursing in Spanish was much more fun than English, cause I had to work a little to figure out how to do it.

  • http://paperfrigate.blogspot.com DrPat

    Then there was the time my loving spouse cracked up when a group of “appies” (apprentices from England) in a South African bar said that one of them “needed a rubber” to take a test. (He did not have an eraser with him.)

    Another cracked both of us up as he told of “knocking up his landlady” (waking her up), to which my loving spouse replied that he should have had a rubber then, too.

    **cricket chirps** and confused looks… (They call them French letters.)

  • http://www.templestark.com/blog Temple Stark

    When my brother went in for epilepsy tests in England (we were 12 and 14 or something real close to that) as he got up to go into the room, I said, “I always told you you needed your head tested.”

    It was more to break up the tension than anything else. And it worked – he went in smiling.

  • http://www.morethings.com/senate Al Barger

    Good move TS. Laughter is the best medicine.

    I like to wait for my people to complain about some or other ache or pain, and then give them a decently stiff punch in the shoulder. Does your foot still hurt? Didn’t think so. Quit laughing.

    I don’t know how funny it is, but it’s at least a distraction.

  • http://www.templestark.com/blog Temple Stark

    I’ll never tell you I hurt :-)

  • http://www.morethings.com/senate Al Barger

    My beloved 10 year old niece calls me her “meanest favorite,” which title I obviously treasure.

    At this point, if she’s punying around, just asking her “Does it hurt?” is generally enough to distract her, and send her into a giggle fit.

    It’s kind of a test. If this doesn’t work, she probably really does have something significantly wrong.

    Alternative medicine, Al style!

  • http://www.templestark.com/blog Temple Stark

    Nieces are fun to tease. You’ve got it exactly (P)al: It’s kind of a test. If this doesn’t work, she probably really does have something significantly wrong.

    I have two nieces, though both are now teens. (older sister) Er make that three nieces, the third one is just 5. One nephew.

  • http://www.morethings.com/senate Al Barger

    So many kids to beat, so little time.