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.