54 | Where Did You Say You Were From?

64 Arts

This post is part of our ongoing exploration of the 64 Arts.

Our place of origin, where we spent our formative years, has a profound effect on us. Those lessons stick with us like glue, no matter where else we go and how much we learn out in the world. Or how much we try to forget. It’s how we learn to live. And it’s also how we learn to speak.

Now, I spent a lot of time and concentrated effort to eliminate the Southern drawl from my voice. Sure, it still comes out now and again, and sometime I pull it out for effect, but for the most part I did my best back in school to adapt a less-place-based talk, one that sounded more professional. And it worked quite well.

I was chatting with a gentleman at the farmer’s market a while back and he asked where I was from.

“Louisiana,” I answered.

“Oh, then, but you went to school,” he said, “because you don’t sound like you’re from Louisiana.”

Mission accomplished.

Even though I’ve lost the accent (for the most part), there are still things I say that pinpoint where I’m from. Back in December the NY Times even put up a quiz that will pinpoint the cities you most talk like. Where did I end up?



Baton Rouge, LA; Irving, TX; and Jackson, MS–not all that far off, really.

There are several such “tests” and tools out there, plus a video challenge that went around earlier this year that had you reciting certain words and answering certain questions to demonstrate your accent.

Why don’t you check out the quiz (linked above) and share your results in the comments?

54 | The Almost Universal Language of Food

64 Arts


Every industry has its own functional language. Sure, it might technically be English that the doctor, laywer, or programmer is speaking but for all intents and purposes it’s Greek to you! Whether you’re working with or needing work from someone in a different field, being able to understand some of the references they’re using, the jargon and buzzwords alike, will make it easier to accomplish whatever task is before you.

If you’re lucky, you’ll go long stretches without needing to understand medical or legal-speak, if ever! And even though computers are everywhere, there’s a good chance that your average individual isn’t going to need to hire a computer programmer (though IT services might be called for). There is one realm with it’s own vocabulary that almost everyone encounters ever day: the kitchen!

We all have to eat, and as more and more people are becoming aware of the effect food has on our daily lives combined with the continuous “feed” of cooking shows available for viewing, understanding food-speak provides a definite benefit. Here are a few words (by no means an exhaustive list) and the way they’re used in the kitchen.

Aromatic: as an adjective it refers to how something smells, but in cooking aromatics include herbs, spices, and some vegetables (like the trinity of onion, celery, and bell pepper in Cajun cuisine) added to a dish to enhance the flavor and the aroma.

Cream: obviously the high-fat dairy product, but creaming is the first step to many cakes and cookies and entails mixing the butter or shortening with the sugar until it’s light and fluffy.

Dressing and Stuffing: A frequent debate around the holidays, they are essentially the same thing the name is determined by where it’s cooked! Dressing is cooked in a pan and then scooped out to “dress-up” or embellish the main dish while stuffing is, of course, stuffed inside the main dish (usually poultry of some sort, though you could conceivably have a stuffed crown of lamb or some such).

Filet and Fillet: the first (with one L) refers to a boneless tenderloin of beef while the second (with two Ls) refers to fish and may be boneless or not! They’re both pronounced the same and it also refers to the actual cutting of the portion.

Mince: as a verb it means to chop up very fine, into tiny pieces, but in England mince is approximately what we’d call ground beef (or other protein–usually beef though, from what I can tell).

Portion: sure, it’s the amount of food in a serving but it also the verb to divide a meal or item into individual portions. Like portioning a whole chicken into it’s 8 pieces or a pork loin into 2-3 oz cutlets, that sort of thing (and it’s also known as fabrication, which makes it sound something made in metal-shop).

Scale: as well as the tool used for weighing, to scale a recipe is to adjust it up or down to change the number of servings.

Temper: when dealing with eggs in sauces or creams that you have to be careful not to curdle, you temper the eggs by adding a bit of the hot mixture into the eggs to warm them up a bit before adding the tempered eggs back into the main, hot mixture. Meanwhile, in Indian cooking, tempering involves heating whole or ground spices in oil to bring out their best flavor before adding to the rest of the dish. And then there’s a way of treating chocolate meant for high-end processes that involves precise temperature controls to produce a certain texture and finish to the chocolate.

Of course, not all miscommunications in the kitchen are a matter of word usage. Aside from Metric measurements (admittedly far more accurate) and US Customary and the conversion from Fahrenheit to Celsius and back again, I ran into the peculiarities of British Imperial measurements when I first started participating in the Indian Cooking Challenge. They use may of the same terms but their cup is 2 oz bigger than ours, and their teaspoons half as big again. You can see the chart I transcribed in When a Cup Is Not a Cup.

A friend of mine is an ESOL volunteer and has invited me to help go over food terms and US recipes with some of her students. After all, everyone has to eat and learning about a culture’s food preferences can act as a bridge for all sorts of other successful encounters. I’m looking forward to it and curious to see if they stump me with any of their questions!

46 | Build Your Own Phrasebook

64 Arts

This post is part of our ongoing exploration of The 64 Arts.

While it’d be great to be fluent in as many languages as possible, the reality is we either don’t make the time to do so or might not even have the luxury of learning much at all if an impromptu trip comes up. Whether you’re still learning or in a hurry, compiling your own phrasebook will be more beneficial than trying to flip through a larger one you can pick up in the bookstore or download to your smartphone.

Not only will it be a customized cheat-sheet, writing or typing it out will help it stick in your memory better.

Greetings and Politeness:

  • Hello
  • Goodbye
  • Excuse Me
  • Please
  • Thank You
  • Ma’am
  • Sir

It’s worth looking up if there are formal and informal versions of any of the above–you don’t want to go acting too chummy with the wrong person and cause an international incident! Same goes for the male/female versions in some languages.

Food and Shelter:

  • Hotel
  • House
  • Restaurant
  • Bathroom
  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Sandwich
  • Soup
  • Eggs
  • Beer
  • Wine
  • Soda
  • Dessert

Obviously specific names of places and dishes will be part of your itinerary and you’ll have those close at hand, but if you find yourself stuck those words should at least get you through a rough patch.

Good to Know:

  • Police
  • Hospital
  • Fire
  • Help
  • Doctor/Nurse
  • Pharmacy
  • Medicine
  • Currency

While not strictly a language issue, it also wouldn’t hurt to take note of the current exchange rate between your home currency and your destination. Keeping that in mind (or maybe having an app handy) could prevent you making a costly mistake at the market. Tipping practices and other customs–while, again, not specifically language-related–are good things to scout out before you go.

We live in a global world. Travel can’t just be about our own wants and desires, we have to take our destination in mind. In scouting and other outdoorsy groups it’s often said to leave the space how you found it, if not better. By being able to communicate well and observe local customs with grace, you may just leave those you encounter with a better impression of your country than they had before. At the very least, let’s not make it worse, shall we?!

Anything else you can think of that my short lists above don’t cover but need to? And even though this is meant for foreign languages, remember that not all English-speaking countries use the language the same way. Good thing we’ll be moving onto slang shortly!

46 | To Be a Cunning Linguist

64 Arts

This post is part of our ongoing exploration of the 64 Arts. 

Oh, come on, it had to be said!

Learning a language is not just about training your tongue, or the translator in your brain, it’s also about training your ears to pick up on different sound combinations. That’s probably why a lot of language programs focus on the spoken bits than the written, at least at first.

Deciding that now is as good a time as any to learn a (spoken) language, and not necessarily wanting to invest in a Berlitz or Rosetta Stone-level product, went poking around the ‘Net to see what sort of free programs were available. First came up Fluent In 3 Months (which I’d heard of before) but it seems to be more of a strategy than an actual language course, and I was looking for something a bit more direct. (And the fact that Benny of fi3m looks alarmingly like my first husband didn’t help at all!)

Next on the list was Duolingo–a 100% free language learning site, offering a dozen languages, and incorporates gamification in the form of XP, in-site currency, and leveling up. I do believe that’s right up my alley!

So far I’ve only covered the first two basics sessions and the beginning phrases. I’m still stumbling over verb conjugations (the bane of my existence, I swear!), but I could probably get my point across at a newsstand or apple cart with the 36 words they say I’ve learned. I’m not exactly warming up my passport, yet, but I have hope.

I chose to learn Italian on this go-round. Todd thought it was because it was closest to Latin–think again. While, yes, all of the Romance languages have their common roots in Latin, it’s not nearly enough to make it a skate-job, even if I remembered more than I do! We’ve got a fairly sizable Hispanic population in Florida–the farther south you go you almost have to be bilingual (so I’ve been told) to get a decent job with Cuba and Puerto Rico so nearby, so Spanish is probably the most common language option in local high schools. I used to want to learn French when I was a kid and tried to teach myself from this old record set of Mom’s with these pretty blue and white-striped books, but I couldn’t stick with it.

No, it has more to do with where I eventually hope to travel. England and Ireland are tying for the top of my list, but some form of English is spoken commonly there–I could get by. Italy is next and I have a feeling I’d need to know the language more there. Plus, Italian always sounds so melodic and beautiful compared to, say, French which seems to require a permanent sneer, or German which is just so guttural! Of course, if I opted to learn Danish I could practice with a local friend, but I think my next language after Italian will be Japanese. Not only would I like to be able to watch the little anime I do watch without relying quite so heavily on subtitles, I’ve heard they have much simpler verb conjugations and you aren’t going to accidentally call someone something very not nice if you don’t use the right inflection. (I was in an ESOL-heavy home room part of middle school and we undertook trading languages. My partner was Vietnamese and I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say that there were routinely 8 different meaning to a 2-letter word depending on your tone!)

Audience participation time: How many languages do you speak and is there one you’d like to learn?

And if you decide to sign up on Duolingo, look me up!

46 | Ix-Nay on the Anguage-Lay

64 Arts

This post is part of our ongoing exploration of the 64 Arts.

In eighth grade we had to choose our foreign language for high school. Since, at that time, I still thought I was heading towards law school, Latin was the obvious way to go. Even though I gave up the law school idea (it was never what I really wanted, it just seemed practical–practical doesn’t equal fulfilling, right?) I stuck with Latin all four years. Sure, I was never truly great at the grammar (though bits of it did make the English grammar rules make more sense) and I reveled in the cultural side of Ancient Rome more than anything, but the foundation it’s given me for sussing out bits and pieces of the more common (and actually spoken) Romance languages is still hanging around in my head.

About that time, the Latin for All Occasions books were becoming quite popular among the egg-heads among us, and we did have a bit of fun cheekily spouting corrupt Latin phrases at a moment’s notice. Talk about your initiates!

And so we find ourselves at the next art:

46 Understanding barbarous foreign languages (mleccha)
Or by inverting syllables, being understood only by the initiated 

“Barbarous” makes me think of the more guttural German or, perhaps, Russian languages, but many French or Italian speakers would not be out of line to say that English is just as barbarous to their ears. I tend to thing anyone speaking any language flawlessly is a pleasure to listen to, but some are certainly more melodic than others. Of course, a quick search on “mleccha” indicates that anything not the native speaker’s language counts, so we could just have ourselves a field day.

The description of the art obviously made me think of Pig-Latin, though: far more easy to decipher if you know the basic rules:

  • For words that start with a consonant or consonant sound, pop that consonant onto the end of the word with an -ay following
  • For words that start with a vowel or vowel sound, just add the -ay to the end of the work without further rearranging necessary

Have you ever tried to come up with your own language? Either with a swap or reversal style of pig-Latin or just using different words for different reasons. Even, perhaps, certain in-jokes that mean things among your friend groups could count as your own language when used to send “coded messages” in a crowded room.

And then there are the pop culture references that can show a bond between you and a near-stranger when you realize you like the same things. Fans of Battlestar Gallactica, for instance, might recognize each other when someone drops a frack-bomb in casual conversation. Or, to reference another fandom, Firefly fans will certain understand you when you toss in a gorram or two.

After all, isn’t the whole point of a language–public or private–to communicate? And in communicating with the people around us (either in person or online), we build community.