The Clown, being the outgoing and gregarious fellow that he is, has many acquaintances whose first language is not American English (as opposed to English English, which is a completely separate language). These friends come from all over the world: the Czech Republic, France, Mexico, Greece and Mississippi, just to name a few. Given that the Clown is a professional wordsmith and deeply knowledgable about English words and phrases, these friends often ask him to explain the ones that confuse them.
Some of their questions are really cute.
What is the difference, one friend asked, between “cool” and “cold”? This one is easy. Cool refers to hipness. For instance, the Fonz, Miles Davis and George Clooney are cool. Cold can best be described by the example of a girlfriend who kicks you out for being a nerd and then sells your Pokèmon card collection.
One acquaintance was confused about when to use the word “wide” vs. “broad”. Again, the appropriate usage can be easily explained. “Wide” is a term used to distinguish between the sizes of pre-manufactured mobile homes. There’s your single-wide, which is a starter size for people who have one El Camino on blocks in their yard and then there’s your double-wide for owners with two El Caminos on blocks in the yard. “Broad” is a term usually associated with Katherine Hepburn, Madonna, Pink and the Bette(s) Davis and Midler.
One immigrant friend asked how best to select a restaurant. What’s the difference, he asked, between “delicious food” and “cuisine”? The Clown explained that delicious food was about one quarter the price of cuisine and that a restaurant that serves cuisine should be avoided unless one is on an expense account.
“Flammable” vs. “inflammable” really confuses foreigners, as these terms were designed to do by practical-joking American chucklepants. In this case, both terms refer to something that flamms. Flamming is the process of turning matter into energy by burning it to a crisp, such as in the process of cremation. We can look forward to that, can’t we?
One friend was confused by the terms “movie” vs. “film”. This distinction eludes many native speakers as well. While subtle, the differences can be summed up in the phrases, “car chases and explosions” (movie) vs. “mumblecore dialog, dramatic lighting and very small audiences” (film). If it is a “blockbuster,” it’s a movie. If it only plays in two theaters in NYC, it’s a film.
One particular phrase, “Hair of the dog”, puzzles many an innocent new arrival. Convoluted as the phrase and its meaning may be, the Clown will do his best to reduce it down to its essence. The phrase refers to the fur covering most dogs. The confusion is caused by the substitution of “hair” for “fur”. In any case, one would use the phrase when discovering four or five pounds of dog fur lurking beneath the refrigerator as in, “Holy cow, look at this disgusting hair of the dog, I need a drink”.
The term “Holy cow” will be explained in another post.
Many non-native English speakers are stumped by the phrase “trump suit” versus “Trump suit”. The former refers to the value of particular playing cards while the latter describes the combination of a man’s pant and jacket of the same material and color, with extra room in the seat for a large butt. This ensemble is set off with an extra long necktie that descends to cover the fly of the pant. Neither of these phrases should be confused with “Trump Suite” which is an expensive hotel room where one goes to have extramarital trysts with hookers or former Playboy models.
Finally, one of the most difficult grammar questions for immigrants trying to master the English language revolves around the, “past pluperfect subjunctive” case. The Clown, although highly qualified to explain it, considers answering this question a complete waste of time, much like trying to explain the infield fly rule to a Serb.
In the future, the Clown will take on more confusing American English words and phrases such as: why “oxycodine” and “oxymoron” are unrelated, while “oxycodine” and “moron” are, the true meaning of, “It’s not you, it’s me.”; and why lead and lead are both spelled lead.
Observoid of the Day: The mystery is not why Kanye West has embraced Trumpism, the mystery is why anyone would give a sh*t.