Living in a foreign language for the past two years has made me more appreciative of English than I ever was during my lifetime in the United States. But sometimes as absence is making the heart grow fonder, it also makes the brain a little forgetful. The truth is that my decades-long relationship with my native tongue has had strained moments. Although I built an entire career around it, I didn't always understand it. We've all had those conversations in which there's such a disconnect between what is said and what is meant that all parties involved might as well be speaking in tongues.
Since I moved to Buenos Aires and began tackling a second language, I've gained a newfound clarity where the first one is concerned. Reading between the lines and deciphering hidden meanings--in English and, at this point, in Spanish, too--are second nature now. For those of you left in the dark by people who are too chicken to say what they're really thinking, it's time to get a clue. Here's my Guide to the Word Games That People Play, Volume I. Coming Soon: Volume II, The Spanish Edition.
WHEN THEY SAY "What's up?" THEY MEAN "I'm kind of boring, and I don't have a thing to offer to this conversation." BUT THEY SHOULD BE SAYING "It was nice seeing you. Bye."
WHEN THEY SAY "When am I going to see you?" THEY MEAN "I want you to think I care, but I'd be totally fine if I never again laid eyes on you." BUT THEY SHOULD BE SAYING "If you're free later, let's grab dinner?" (I kind of hate the verb "grab" when it's used with "dinner" or "a drink," but hey, that's how people talk.)
WHEN THEY SAY "Keep in touch." THEY MEAN "I want to close with something better than 'good-bye,' but I'm not creative enough to fulfill such lofty ambitions. Oh, and by the way, the ball is in your court." BUT THEY SHOULD BE SAYING "I'll give you a call tomorrow so that we can make plans for this weekend."
WHEN THEY SAY "I'll let you know later." (In reponse to: "Are we still on for tonight?") THEY MEAN "Don't call me; I'll call you....Actually, I won't." (Deliberation is never necessary for something that someone really wants to do. This is particularly true for the Spanish variations on the "I'll get back to you" theme in Buenos Aires, where no plan is valid unless it's made at the last minute. Word is so not bond with porteños.) BUT THEY SHOULD BE SAYING "Tonight isn't really good for me. Can we reschedule for tomorrow?"
WHEN THEY SAY "I'll try to make it." (Tone arch and voice slightly higher than normal, like when one says, "It like it," after taking a bite of the foulest piece of cheese ever.) THEY MEAN "I've got better things to do." BUT THEY SHOULD BE SAYING "I already have plans, but have a great time."
WHEN THEY SAY "I care for you." (In response to: "I love you.") THEY MEAN "I love you not." BUT THEY SHOULD BE SAYING Nothing. A kiss is worth a thousand words--and if it's done right, it'll preclude them.
WHEN THEY SAY "He/she is attractive/exotic/unique." THEY MEAN "He/she is funny-looking." BUT THEY SHOULD BE SAYING "Looks aren't everything." Though we all know they are.
WHEN THEY SAY "It has a good beat." (Which, by the way, are four words I uttered countless times--sometimes followed by "I could totally hear this on the radio" for maximum brown-nosing effect--when music publicists would show up at my office to play me the latest hitbound track from their next big thing.) THEY MEAN "This song really blows, man." BUT THEY SHOULD BE SAYING "I don't love it. But you know what? I don't really get Lil' Jon either."
WHEN THEY SAY "Yes we can." THEY MEAN "My fellow Americans, I know you love your politicians packaged in pithy slogans, so this one's for you." BUT THEY SHOULD BE SAYING "Do you really want four more years of W?"
WHEN THEY SAY "Take care." THEY MEAN "Have a good life. See you in the next one. Maybe." BUT THEY SHOULD BE SAYING "Cuidate!" Same phrase, different language. Here in Buenos Aires, when people say it--Cuidate, that is--they really mean it.