Tag Archives: language

Etymology protests!

Back on a campus where I know a lot of people, I find myself disappointingly unfriendly. I don’t think it’s a byproduct of eastern European coldness with strangers, because it’s not that I struggle making small talk with people I don’t know but that I walk past people I do know without saying hello. It’s reciprocal, and something I’ve noticed people in this city doing all my life (so much for the friendly Midwest).

There’s this split-second when we’ve each realized the other is there and know that the other knows we know, and then, usually, we both act like neither of us sees what we both, actually, do, and we walk past each other with eyes straight ahead. And yet, if one of us made the effort to be friendly, the other would be too, so why the coldness? Is it some carry-over from high school that we’ll eventually outgrow, or will we always be so mutually aloof?

Startlingly, I’ve come to accept this social ritual as normal, and what bothers me most as I think about it is that it’s a mutually agreed upon action—each person’s inhospitality is accepted and reciprocated by the other. Reciprocity, in its oldest meaning, is actually the return of “cooperative or altruistic behavior” as the OED has it, so I’m misusing it in this context. But then again, it is oddly cooperative. Both of us cooperates with the other’s decision to pass by without a hello, as if we’ve made a voiceless, eye-contact-less pact.

So I ask myself, what kind of bullshit world am I living in? Reciprocity of surliness? Never mind concern for one another; etymology protests! Lovers of language (and keepers of kindness): we cannot stand for this any more. And to casual acquaintances: next time we meet, be ready for a hearty hello.

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In America

I’ve got a cat sleeping on my lap and there’s snow outside my window, which means I’m definitely home. There’s a lot to say about that, but I’ll just stick to one element of being back on this pleasant peninsula; it’s so much fun to understand speech in all its idiomatic glory.

When we got to the airport in Detroit, I was ecstatic with all the sounds, all the different accents, all the jokes, and all the nuance. Waiting for the airport tram, I found myself listening for Hungarian in the automated announcement, trying to pick out words or sounds. But then I realized, hey, I understand all of that!

Our professor warned us that we’d also understand people being cynical or mean to each other, and he’s right, that’s hard. But there’s so much else to love, even, as I’m enjoying right now, hearing Dianne Rehm’s famed voice on 104.1.

Jet lag hasn’t been difficult for me, but Facebook’s obviously struggling; it’s still giving me ads in Hungarian. Sajnos, nem ertem.