The other night, I had gotten myself a piece of cake from the kitchen and sat down at the coffee table. As I sat down, I discovered I had forgotten a fork. A lot of you have eaten cake and I’ll bet most of you prefer to eat it with a fork. Some of you eat it with a spoon, and that’s okay, but only if there is ice cream also. This is not about cake or ice cream, though. This is not even about the lack of a suitable utensil. Nor is it about eating dessert.
More than one of you is thinking, “Get to the point, Columnist Guy.” I’m getting to the point, I promise you. You’re just going to have to simmer down. This is a column about the English language and the difficulty my wife seems to have with it.
Now, wait just a minute. Don’t get all riled up about whether my wife is going to be thrown under the proverbial bus in a public forum. I’m not going to throw her under the bus. I assure you of that. Brushing her lightly with a bus while she stands idly by — that’s another thing.
“Can you bring me a fork?” I asked.
“A dessert fork, please.”
“Big fork or little fork?”
“A dessert fork. The little one.”
“I have never called it a dessert fork,” my wife said. “It’s always the little fork.”
“The little one is a dessert fork. The big one is a dinner fork.”
“I know what they are called, I’m just saying I never have referred to them by their proper names.”
I conceded and she brought me the little fork, you know, the one you use with dessert.
Once in a while, we discover we speak very differently. We grew up in different regions and some of the things she says are kinda weird to me and I think some of the things I say are goofy to her. Occasionally, we’ll click and we will use the same vernacular at the same time. She’s from suburban New York and a lot of the phrasing from there is different from what I heard growing up in Baltimore.
I called her the other day and asked her what she was doing. She told me she was on line at Walgreen’s and would have to call me back. I reminded her she should not be online because she had admonished me the day before for wasting data on our cell plan by checking Facebook in the supermarket. She said she was not online, she was on line, meaning she was queued at the pharmacy and not goofing off on the internet. Where I come from, this is called being in line, not on line and I was, as she claimed in parlance that we all know, a “big moron.”
She asked me once to bring her a paper towel. She had spilled something and I quickly brought what she had requested. A paper towel. Singular. The mess was quite large and I realized shortly after she would need more than one paper towel. She needed an entire roll. To me, an entire roll is a roll of paper towels, with an “s” at the end. Plural. More than one usually gets an “s”, unless you are talking about deer or moose, but you don’t mop up a spilled liquid with a deer or a moose. Apparently, in her language, paper towel is all encompassing and is a unit of one that is sectioned off. What do you call the sections? Paper towels. So, one roll is “paper towel,” but when they are separated, they are paper towels. She was kind enough to inform me this does not apply to toilet paper, because you don’t ask for toilet papers, with an “s.” I advised her that on the package, it says toilet tissue and not paper and she told me to shut my pie hole and leave her alone.
We actually find this amusing and are quick to point out the differences in our language. While writing this, my wife provided a number of examples that I could use in the column this week. I told her I would look at them after I had my dessert.
I ate it with the little fork.
Baltimore native Joe Weaver is a husband, father, pawnbroker and gun collector. From his home in New Bern, he writes on the lighter side of family life.