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Musing: Language Barrier
In a recent post in a social media group, a British author asked if a certain phrase routinely used in Great Britain would be misunderstood by American readers. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one who had an incorrect image pop into my brain. I might, however, be the only one who wrote a short story about it.
In the dim glow of the moon, the cows were little more than shadows grazing in the pasture. The hoot of an owl mingled with their moos. The scent of manure floated through the air.
An hour earlier, in the safety of Chet’s bedroom, the scheme struck Ian as hilarious. Now that they leaned on the fence watching their targets, his doubts grew. “Can you really tip them over?”
“My brother says you can.” Chet swatted a mosquito on his neck. “You gotta catch them when they’re sound asleep, though. If they hear you coming, they’re ready for you.”
Ian studied the heft of the closest cow, imaging his skinny arms trying to move her. “But they’re so big.”
Chet chewed thoughtfully on a blade of grass. “That’s why we’re starting smaller. Kinda like practice.”
“It sounds silly.”
“It did to me too, but my brother swears it’s true. Some British author in an online group said it was common over there, that lots of people do it.”
“Don’t people get in trouble for it?”
“Only if you get caught.” Chet put a foot on the lower fence rail, prepared to boost himself over. “You scared?”
The butterflies twisted in Ian’s stomach. It was too late to back out. Besides, this was more fun than sitting in his room doing homework. “Nah. No way. Let’s go for it.”
They landed on the other side of the fence with a thud. Crickets sang in the darkness. A gentle breeze rustled the grass.
Chet tapped Ian on the shoulder and pointed to a cow standing off by herself. She hadn’t reacted to their arrival. No shifting of her feet or turning of her head. Even her tail hung still, not flicking to rid herself of the flies.
Chet whispered, “Right there. That’s the one.”
Ian swallowed hard but kept even with his friend. They walked through the grass. With each stride, he wondered what he was stepping in, whether a bull might be in the field, or if the farmer might catch them out here.
When they reached the side of the cow, Chet pointed. “Right there.”
“Now or never,” Ian muttered to himself as he extended his arms. His hands touched the warm back of the cow, the smell clogging his sinuses. He extended his finger and waited for Chet to get into position.
His friend whispered, “Now.” In unison, they pushed forward, the tips of their fingers touching the wings of the insects sitting on the cow’s back. The flies lifted with an angry buzz and flew away.
The cow, awakened by their presence, mooed lazily and walked away, leaving the two boys standing alone in the field. Chet turned toward him and said, “Well, that didn’t work.”
“And you’re sure that’s what we were supposed to do?”
“How else are you supposed to?”
“Hold on.” Ian pulled his phone out of his pocket and entered the phrase in his search engine. The result popped up on the screen. He groaned as he skimmed, wondering why he hadn’t checked before coming out. “It’s not the same thing as cow tipping.”
“It means illegally dumping.”
“That makes no sense.”
He tapped the screen with his finger and read aloud. “Tipping is to throw something out of your car. Fly is short for on-the-fly. So fly tipping is a British phrase for the illegal dumping of trash along the side of the road.”
“So fly tipping doesn’t mean pushing over a sleeping fly?”
An eyebrow rose on Chet’s face. “Why don’t they use English over there?”
Ian could only shrug as he climbed the fence to go home.
Enjoyed the Story? Try a Novel
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Until Next Monday
May you understand others this week, no matter what the language barrier.
See you next Monday.
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