I’m starting to get it.

It’s wasn’t War and Peace or even My Dinner With Andre, but I just had a real honest-to-god conversation in Czech. I cheated, but that doesn’t matter.

Here is the full text, translated to English for your convenience:

W: Here’s your beer
J: Thanks
W: No Prob. So, you writing a novel over here or something?
J: Yes
W: Really? You’re writing a novel?
J: Yes
W: A novel?
J: Yes
W: You’re a writer?
J: Yes
W: No shit?
J: Yes

Skeptics among you may note that I only used two different words in this conversation. But he used several, and each repetition was different, and I picked up enough of the words to know what he was asking me, and say “Ano” with confidence. Some of the repetition on his part is easily explained as a natural assumption that I didn’t know what he was saying. Finally, “No shit?” was actually “Fact?”, but I took the liberty of some cultural adjustment.

15 thoughts on “I’m starting to get it.

  1. I like “Fact?” Much more refined than “No shit?” Much more…Los Alamosian. I’m going to start using it. I will start with Brad, my 13 year old, who despite having an incredible intellect, uses “Dude” and “Dawg” far too much for my erudite, non-American Idol tastes.

  2. Hmmm…continuing in the same vein, or perhaps just in vain…

    There are some unfortunate colloquialisms we tolerate as parents, and there are some don’t. We have (attempted to) squash “like” and “frickin'” right out of the boys vocabulary, willing to fight the good fight and stand up against the onslaught of trash culture on TV, the school yard, and far less literate blogs than this one. Much as I would dearly love to eradicate “Dude” and “Dawg,” I have settled for merely not being addressed as such myself by Brad. Really, the boys must be able to speak the lingo of their contemporaries in order to mix well and not stand out in embarrashing ways, even if it does break a father’s OED heart.

    CA, given that Gerald is intellectual and ethnically different, does he still talk a good game in a manner that gets props from his homies?

  3. Keith, you are not going to believe this, but not only are “dude” and “dawg” not part of Gerald’s vocabulary, neither are “like” (about a gerneration-and-a-half outdated anyway) or “frickin” (so seriously outdated that it has no cred at all, at least in Albuquerque).

    Actually, the game he talks “grand slam” about isn’t baseball; it’s bridge. Year before last, his middle-school team took the city championship.

  4. Keith –
    next time you tell Brad to take out the trash, and he says, “later, I’m about to make it to level 10 in Grand Theft Auto”, and you say, “No, do it now!” and he responds, “Ah dawg why ya gotta be like dat?” Tell him, “Cuz I’m gangsta like dat, beeeeatch!” Then turn your baseball cap around and bulge out your neck cords.

    It appears “dude” is long-lived (pronounced l eye vd, because we are snooty). Fortunately, “phat” didn’t hang around long. Sorry for both you and CA, but “like” is now respected by linguists. Be thankful if people follow it with real words, as in “I’m, like, doing okay, how about you?” Rather than the way true sorority girls use it in a fashion that requires mind reading: “So I was, like, and then he like, and that made me sooo, and then we were both like. You know what I mean?”

  5. The idiom of choice on “was like” is for a replacement for “said.” So when are boys are like “and I was like,’Dude, that’s so dawg!” I immediately interrupted, pointing out the plethora of wonderful words they can use instead of “like” or even “said.” I’d reference this Bryson guy you’ve spoken of if they ever dared speak “like” again, but I believe I have broken them. I stand ready, however, if they ever, like, backslide.

  6. Brad was not too keen on starting new linguistic trends by using “Fact!” He somehow resisted the temptation to stand out in odd ways, thus confirming why he is well liked at school and around the community, although disappointing his father somewhat by his lack of temerity. My crowd in Jr. High would have adopted the challenge. Are children really so different today, or this just the difference between Los Alamos and suburban Southern Cal?

    Brad also informed me that “Dawg!” is not (much to my surprise) a noun (i.e. a replacement for “man”) but is in fact a adjective (i.e. a replacement for “cool”). Who knew?

    When I showed him his father’s entries into this blog and offered to let him write his own retort under his name, he just rolled his eyes and walked away. Again, see above “thus confirming…”

  7. I think what may be happening with Gerald is code-switching. It’s like he speaks a totally different language at home than he does at school. Perhaps next time he’s online, he can provide examples of teenage usage.

  8. I’m like Keith, I like the idea of using “fact” all by itself, with no lead in, ala’ “is that a fact?”

    It reminds of the back and forth banter that might happen between hispanic friends back in my NMDOT days: One party would state something questionable,and the other would respond, “Liar!” but in a friendly way, then the response of the original party to this accusation would be, “Swear!”
    The exchange was not, “I think you are lying!” or “You are a liar!”, but simply, “Liar!”; and it sounded more like “Lawyer” with their northern NM accent; and it wasn’t followed by, “I swear!”, just “Swear!”

    “I saw Bennie with a different girl last night!”
    “Lawyerrrrr!”
    “Swear!!”

    (hmmm, I think back and forth banter is redundant.)

  9. When I saw Jesse mention NMDOT, I thought he was heading for “Verdad?” which is another nice way to say “No Shit?”.

    Jer,
    What was the Czech word the bartender used? Perhaps you can accumulate this word/phrase in as many languages as possible. When combined with “Two beers, please” and possibly “Where is the bathroom?”, you would have nailed the global bar communication trifecta. A steady stream of friendly and supportive “No shit?” responses to whatever the bartender said (regardless of whether or not you understood it) would put you well on your way to rapid regularization in any bar on the planet.

    You might even try it on she-who-smiles-rarely.

  10. Up here in Rio Arriba County, “Verdad?” is heard quite often in conversation. It’s great — it’s profound, not profane, and it’s extremely efficient.

  11. Most of the time, here in the CZ, “fact” is followed by “jo” (pronounced “yo,” Czech for “Yeah”). So you will quite often hear “Fact jo?” This took a while to get used to, like using “no” for “yes,” in that it sounds like something one often hears in the US after having said something derogatory. When one is not completely sure that what one has said was pronounced correctly, it can be a bit of a tense moment when the response is “Fact jo!”

  12. That brings up an interesting construction, which I remember primarily as used by the maid, Julia, a San Juan Pueblo woman who came to the house every Friday to clean it and keep track of Jerry and me (pL wasn’t born yet, or was just a baby) while Mom went to Santa Fe for her guitar lesson and shopping.

    When Julia wanted to verify information, she would state it as a sentence, followed by the inquisitive “no?” as a shortened form of “is it not so?” For example, “You like red shoes, no?”

    This shorthand led to an astonishingly efficient seemingly contradictory construction when one of us either told her something obvious, or asked a question to which the answer was obviously affirmative: “Yes, no?”

  13. Just to clarify, the Czech word is “Fakt”, and is pronounced something like fahkt. Maybe with that pronunciation it’s close enough to a swear word that the kids will appreciate it.

  14. One other exchange I’m aware of (I’ve just overdosed on Pimp My Ride, which is both the only makeover show I like and the only show on MTV that I watch):

    “Word?”

    “Word.”

    “Word??!!”

    “Word!”

    I actually like the classical underpinnings of that exchange, both as someone who has done a whole lot of analysis of the Bible and as one whose major field of study, both as an undergraduate and as a graduate student, was rhetoric. Word is so because it is fact, and fact is word, and in the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God, and so forth.

    I also noticed that, while phat is hardly used any more, tight is still very much in use, and sick and dawg get a lot of play. It is also interesting to note that cool is still very hot, even after about 40 years.

    Oooh, haiku:

    word is so because
    word is fact and fact is word
    in the beginning

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