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Saturday, May 5, 2012

It's All in the Language

When I was five years old, I lived in Piscataway, New Jersey.  I was thrilled because our family was planning a trip to Martha’s Vineyard, all the way in Massachusetts.  I told everyone whom I encountered that I was going; I was filled with the unrestrained excitement typical of most five-year olds. I received advice from my across-the-street neighbor that has stayed with me for the rest of my life. 
If you want to fit in with the natives, you had better talk like the natives.
 Then, my speech lessons commenced.  She told me we only had a week to teach me to refer to my mother’s sister as my awwwwwnt, rather than ant. I was informed that, if anyone was going to understand me, I would have to lose my hard New Jersey “r’s” and replace them with the sound “ahhh.”  Gone were cars. In came “cahhs.”
The crash course of Cape Codidian continued with a geography lesson.  Though Boston was the capital of Massachusetts, I was informed that the intellectual capital of Massachusetts was Cambridge.  I had absolutely NO idea what that meant.  Initially, it wasn’t  clear to me what it meant when our neighbor told me never to say that I was “in” Martha’s Vineyard. It is a matter of geography.  The Vineyard is an island, comprised of six towns.  Martha’s Vineyard visitors and natives go to “the Island” and say they are “on” the Vineyard. At last, I understood what that meant: Not in, On.  Make that mistake and why, there may not be enough room on the beach for my floaty raft and me.  
I came to reflect on these long ago lessons because I am reading a book called The House at Sea’s End by Elly Griffiths.  It is an ebook on a Kindle, written by a British author.  A startling usage error escaped the editor of the novel.  Jarring, simply because it is not a usage commonly accepted in the States, it is still hard to fault the author.  After all, she is not a native of New England.

from The House at Sea's End by Elly Griffiths.
"It must get cold in Cape Cod."
This was the second time I saw this error.

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