Thursday, July 08, 2010

Words don't come easy

When Bill Bryson moved back to the US (to live not far up the road from me, in fact) he wrote a book of his experiences as a long time expat returning to his home country, called "I'm a Stranger Here Myself" (I think). Anyway, one of the most memorable bits for me was his comment that there were words that he wasn't sure of the American English for, having not needed those items when he was growing up (I think he left the US when he was 19). I don't have the book in front of me, so I can't vouch for this quote exactly, but the one that sticks in my mind was him going to a DIY shop (or Hardware store as it would have been) and asking "I need some of that stuff you fill holes in walls with. My wife's people call it Polyfilla". with the guy responding "Ah you mean spackle"

My problem is similar only at least Bryson had words which he knew in English, just in a different version of English. I have words which I only know in foreign languages. The first one of these to cross my consciousness was rucula, which was a delicious salad leaf I first encountered in Spain. Later I learned the Italian (rucola) and then arugula which I'm not even sure what language it is in. Finally I discovered that in English it is called "rocket", which frankly is a bloody stupid word. This comes about mostly because I am knocking on a bit and in my day fancy vegetables like rocket were not available in England. Salads had iceberg or cos lettuce in them, and that was your lot.

But there are also words which I still have no idea of in English. Yesterday we went out and picked some mushrooms and wild fruit, most of which I have no idea of what they are in English. The most commonly picked wild mushroom round here seems to be the rókagomba, which translates literally as "fox mushroom". I have no idea what it's called in English, though I am sure it's not fox mushroom. There are also the csirkelab gomba ("chicken leg mushroom" which to me looks a lot more like coral), the galambgomba (pigeon mushroom) and various other evocatively named edible mushrooms. Last night I had a delicious mushroom omelette made of fox and bear mushrooms (rokagomba and medvegomba).

We also picked a lot of szamoca - these are small wild fruits of the strawberry family. They may actually be known as wild strawberries in English, but I'm not sure. And a fair few afonya, which I do know because I used to pick then in England growing up (bilberries in case you're wondering. NOT blueberries as many dictionaries will tell you).

Away from food, like Bryson, I have some difficulty with some construction words too, mostly because I obviously have never done any construction/DIY work in England (I'd never done any anywhere to be honest until I moved here). However, for whatever reasons, it seems like most words used for such items here tend to be Romanian rather than Hungarian (I mean by everyone). So for example there is this material called gips carton (Everybody calls it that but it must be a Romanian word rather than a Hungarian one). I can't even describe what it is exactly, but it is a sort of board material that is not wood, but is strengthened in some way. The inner walls of our renovated barn are made of it. God only knows what the English is for it. There is also a kind of thin wood that you use for the walls of sheds and similar called (something like) lumberia (again that must be a Romanian word).

So if you ever see someone in a branch of Jewson or somewhere looking a bit lost and asking for some gips carton or lumberia, before idly speculating whether it would be possible to pick fox mushrooms in the woods over there, then it's probably me.