View from Across the Pond: You say tomato, I say tomato

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You say tomato, I say tomato.

Whenever I’m ordering a sandwich at Subway, I always make a point of saying “tomato”, like I would say it at home in Ireland, i.e. tuh-maw-toe, as opposed to the way ye say it here, tuh-may-toe. It’s a token nod to the auld country, a little gesture of cultural solidarity to my fellow micks, a minor act of linguistic rebellion.

I’m told that if Americans say it the way I say it, the speaker comes across as being something of a snob, “OOOhh, pullease pahss the to-mawh-toes, Cedric”. Which is ironic, since if I were at home and I said “to-may-toes”, people would assume I’m just showing off with my American pronunciation. “Did ya get those to-may-toes on toidy toid street Brian?”

BrianONuanainSome great wag once said, we are divided by a common language. Yes, we in Ireland speak English, or as my ex-wife from New Jersey liked to point out “The Irish speak English, after a fashion.” There are the obvious language differences between us; ye say “y’all”, we say “ye” to denote the plural of “you”. (I am told that, strictly speaking, ”y’all” is singular and its plural is “all y’all”) In Ireland, the “trunk” of the car is called the “boot” and pedestrians walk on the “footpath,” not the “sidewalk”.

I am fascinated by the flexibility of the language here. Apparently, you can drive on the parkway, and park on the driveway. A sign at the car-wash the other day read, “Please pay when your car parallels to the payment booth.” “Parallel” can be used as a verb? Maybe the sign was using the abbreviated form of “parallel park,” which makes a bit more sense.

Then there’s “might could.” The plumber hasn’t quite finished the job and he tells me “I might could come back on Tuesday.” So, I’m thinking, “Is it that he MIGHT come back, or that he COULD come back? And does “might-could” somehow lessen the likelihood of him coming back on Tuesday, if ever at all? Later, after he’d gone I thought about it for a while and I’ve eventually come to the conclusion that “could” here signifies “ability, to be able.” So, “might-could,” simply means “might be able.” Would I be right in assuming that?

Of course if I were the one to have said something to the plumber that was unclear, or not properly heard, he may very well have come back with, “Do what?” I distinctly remember the first time I heard someone say that to me and I smile inwardly every time I think of it. The conversation, which was with a guy from the air-force base here, went something like this:

Me: “I’m not all that chuffed with the boot of my car.”

Him: “Do what?”

Me: “I didn’t do anything.”

Him: “Say again”

Me: “Again.”

As they say in Scotland: “Yuv goat tay laff.”

 

Brian O’ Nuanain runs “Across The Pond And Beyond”, a company that organizes international vacations. You can reach him at acrossthepondandbeyond.com