Count on language mistakes for true embarrassment... commentary from Marion Blackburn

Count on language mistakes for true embarrassment... commentary from Marion Blackburn

Greenville, NC – When people hear that I speak French, they're usually pretty surprised. After all, these days I'm far more likely to talk about my dogs than Descartes.

Like anyone who's studied language, I can tell you awful stories about mixing up words that sound the same but have different meanings. As a matter of fact, I'm quite accomplished at offending in French, and have even done so in German, which I don't speak at all.

Things turned hilarious when I lived in the Czech Republic for a couple of years. Fifty years of Communism made the Czechs especially cranky about customer service and when shopping, you generally try to conduct business as quickly as possible. Preferably, you don't go to their stores at all. As for speaking Czech language, imagine trying to pronounce words without vowels and you kind of get the idea.

So picture the scene one morning when I drop by a bakery to get pastries for the teachers at my school. I just wanted about 14 little sweet rolls, but it's almost impossible to say the word 14 in Czech. It goes like this: ctrn ct.

It's much easier to say 40, which is ctryricet. And so I placed my order, feeling somewhat terrorized by the ladies behind the counter, then watched, horrified, as the clerk loaded more and more pastries into a bag. Sure enough, she was heading to 40 when I motioned madly and choked out that dreadful word, "ctrn ct, 14." I was just glad she let me go without making me recite the Czech alphabet as punishment.

Now I live in eastern North Carolina, where we use lots of vowels - and as many syllables as possible -- but no "g's" in our gerunds, thank you. I grew up seeing movies at a the-ater, went to visit my Papa, and wrote with a pin. To get a tan, we laid out. We went swimmin, shoppin and huntin and, on Friday nights after supper, we went ridin around.

We ate country -not smoked - ham and drank Co'cola -- not pop. Who, by the way, you called Diddy. He was married to your Mama.

Our place names are quirky, too - you can find Blackjack just a few miles from Hollywood, right here in Pitt County. But I've never been able to figure out the pronunciation rules for two towns next door in Edgecombe County.

Someone once observed that if we pronounce one town "Conetoe," when it appears to be spelled "cone-toe," should we also say "pinee-tips" for Pinetops?

Now that's a question I just dare you to run past a Czech bakery clerk.