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 Côte 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.
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!”
“Mmmm” is an often-used American expression to denote joy over food. For example:
Parent: “Hey kids, want pizza?”
Waiter: “How’s the duck a l’orange?”
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.”
Me: “Want to stay a couple of nights in Japantown while we’re in San Francisco?”
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?… …wolf?”
Wife: “C’mon, you know the saying!”
Me: “… … … …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”
Wife, louder, like I don’t understand English: “SKY BIRD!”
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?”
Me: “OK, I’ll make some more…”
Wife: “No! I meant yes, you’re right, I don’t want anymore.”
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!