Foreign Wife-isms

Climb to the Top? Glug!
“Climb to the top? Glug!”

My wife is an American citizen by birth. But her father was in the foreign service and therefore most of her formative years were spent outside of the US. Her first language was Japanese, then some English while briefly in D.C., on to French in the CΓ΄te d’Ivoire, then German in Austria…

She speaks English fluently, though with a slight accent that I can only describe as from somewhere else. It’s not Japanese, not Austrian, not Ivorian.

Like I’d really recognize Ivorian if I heard it…

But since it’s not a heavy accent and her English is in fact better than mine (she regularly uses words I only memorized for the GRE verbal section), I often forget she’s “not from around here” as they say. So I’m caught off guard when she uses American idioms, slang, or expressions, and gets them hilariously confused.

And sometimes, I must admit, I end up liking hers better.

1. Glug
My wife and I are flying into San Francisco airport. We’re coming in for the standard SFO landing – right over the water. A typical American sitting by the window, watching the airliner get closer and closer to the water’s surface with no runway in sight, might look at their spouse with a pained expression and say “Gulp!”.

What does my wife say in a situation like this?

Narrowly avoid a fender bender? “Glug!”
Dow Jones drops 400 points in one day? “Glug!”

Our hotel has a spa.  Mmmm!
“Our hotel has a spa. Mmmm!”

2. Mmmmm
“Mmmm” is an often-used American expression to denote joy over food. For example:

Parent: “Hey kids, want pizza?”
Kids: “Mmmmm!!”

Waiter: “How’s the duck a l’orange?”
Patron: “Mmmm!!”

But my wife uses “Mmmm” to express excitement or happiness over just about anything.

Me, checking my email: “Hey! Borders just sent out a coupon for 30% off a DVD.”
Wife: “Mmmmm!”

Me: “Want to stay a couple of nights in Japantown while we’re in San Francisco?”
Wife: “Mmmmm!”

And she says it with such enthusiasm.

3. Sweating Megabucks
This one is actually so good that I now use it. Of course most people are familiar with the phrase “sweating bullets” when it comes to being very anxious over something. But what if you’re anxious over something financial?

My wife had a large check that she had misplaced and was searching everywhere for it. When she finally found it she said “Whew! I was sweating megabucks!”

Admit it, it works.

4. Pit Spot
Me, driving: “Sign says 46 miles to next rest area…”
Wife: “We’d better stop at this one, I don’t think I can wait that long for a pit spot.”

And in case you read it quickly, it’s “spot”, not “stop”…

5. The Wolf Who Cried at the Door
Once again it’s been a tough week at work, having been pushed to meet an unreasonable deadline. It ends with a team meeting where we’re told that we can’t sit on our laurels and that next week will be “crunch week”.

Hold on – I thought this week had been “crunch week”?! And they called last week “crunch week” too! I complain to my wife…

Wife: “Same old story with them. The wolf who cried at the door…”
Me: “…at the door?… πŸ™„ …wolf?”
Wife: “C’mon, you know the saying!”
Me: “… πŸ™„ … πŸ™„ … πŸ™„ …You mean the boy who cried wolf?”
Wife: “Of course!” ❗

6. Sky Bird
Setting: The beach in winter.
Me, looking out window: “I can’t believe it. Some idiot is out there swimming in the freezing ocean… No wetsuit…”
Wife, bored: “Sky bird”
Me: “Wha?”
Wife, louder, like I don’t understand English: “SKY BIRD!”
Me: “…Snowbird?”
Wife: “Oh?”

“I’m pigging out on this free WiFi!”

7. Pig Out
What do you pig out on?

Ice cream on Birthdays?
Peeps on Easter?
Lobster on Anniversaries?

Why limit yourself only to edibles? You see, my wife can pig out on a much wider variety of things. Because to her, the phrase seems to mean “to take advantage of” or “to do anything to excess”.

She once wrote a serious, formal thank you note to my parents for a clothing gift certificate, saying “I can’t wait to go to Ann Taylor and pig out.”

They had a good chuckle.

8. Two Seconds of a Cat’s Tail
OK – the original phrase meaning a short period of time seems to be “two shakes of a lamb’s tail”. It’s not all that uncommon to also hear “two shakes of a cat’s tail”. But what did my wife say to me one evening when I asked her if she wanted the light on to read a little before bed?

“No thanks, I’m going to pass out in two seconds of a cat’s tail.”

9. Yes means No
From what I understand, this is something left over from her Japanese childhood.
Me: “You don’t want any more coffee do you?”
Wife: “Yes!”
Me: “OK, I’ll make some more…”
Wife: “No! I meant yes, you’re right, I don’t want anymore.”

10. Orgy
To appreciate, you must understand that my wife is never vulgar and almost never uses profanity (and when she does, it’s pretty much Rated G). So it’s like a cold fish across the face when…

Me: “How was your day?”
Wife: “Great! My sister and I went to IKEA and had an ORGY!!!”
Me, under my breath: “Glug!” 😯

In fairness to her, if you check the dictionary, you’ll see that you can use the word this way. But this is like the third or fourth definition that you’d never know unless, again, you’re studying for the GRE.

I mean, how often do you refer to a female as a wench, implying just… well… “girl”?

Add your own wife-isms in the comments!

16 thoughts on “Foreign Wife-isms”

  1. How delightful. The English language is enriched in so many ways. I recently heard of something that was a snafu and it was described as “sideways and cat crooked.” It turns out to be a common term for those southern Illinois residents who reside along the Ohio River between the Mississippi and the Wabash. They are commonly know there as Egyptians. Ever heard of Cairo, IL. They of course say Karo.


  2. Number 9 is just a negative question – programmers tend to answer the same way. (Though I try to include the question rephrased as a statement with the answer. πŸ™‚

  3. My husband is from Brazil, and he uses phrases in humorous ways that make perfect sense if you’re not familiar with the colloquial meaning. For instance, when he notes that I’m in need of a nap, he says he’ll “put me to sleep.” Alarming yet cute.

  4. My wife is from Spain, but she’s also been speaking English since grade school. She doesn’t have a real strong accent, but she frequently pulls the foreign wife-isms, much to my delight. Some examples:

    “Honey, you better step up to the ball.” (Step up to the plate)
    “This book is cat-eared.” (dog-eared).
    “I’m so hungry I could kill a horse.” (eat a horse. Well, I guess you would have to kill it before eating it.)

  5. My mother is Filipino and though she has lived in America for almost 30 years she still manages to jumble up her fair share of idioms while using them out of context.

    (Setting: My sister and I are debating with our mom concerning some trivial issue where mom happened to be wrong.)
    Mom says, “Don’t bite my finger!”
    After a second or two to sort it out, I started laughing and said, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you?”
    “You know what I mean!” was her common reply.

  6. My Danish uncle has lived in the US for 30 years and speaks Danish, German and English. He comes up with the most hilarious sayings!
    One night he and my aunt were arguing about something and he was adamant that she was fibbing, so he pointed at her and said loudly,
    “You’re lying! You’re just like that guy…what’s his name? Peanuckle! You have a long nose!”
    My aunt and I just about fell on the floor, we were in stitches almost crying! He couldn’t figure out what he’d said wrong, but certainly knew he said something not quite right.

  7. And another Danish uncle story:
    He travels quite a bit and sometimes is very tired and sluggish the next day or so.
    You and I would have “Jet lag” but he has….”Jet legs”…
    Makes sense…sorta… πŸ˜‰

  8. Good stuff. But the fun of living around hispanics, even if English is their primary language, yields some interesting language jumbling:

    “Right now.” It can mean a LOT of things, but what it doesn’t mean, from an Anglo perspective is “right now.” It usually means “in a bit.” It can mean, especially when expressed with irritation “when I get around to it.” It does NOT mean “immediately,” I assure you.

    “Barely.” It means “just now,” not “almost didn’t make it.” If a hispanic fluent in English says “We barely got here” it doesn’t mean they almost had an accident.

    “Already.” It means “now.” If you’ve been waiting in line for an hour, and you’re next (finally) a hispanic fluent in English will say “We’re being helped, already.”

    You “get off the car,” to “put gas” and then you “turn on” the engine.

    I got a million of ’em. All fun.

  9. Greetings,
    As to English language enriching, I want to deeply thank anyone feeling that: Thank you!
    As to snafu, the common understanding is from military, Situation Normal All F#@& Up.
    As used in, “I had another snafu with my MS OS.”

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