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Family communication confounded by common language

Posted Tuesday, July 20, 2010, at 10:42 AM

I found out early on in our relationship that we had a language barrier.

It became evident one day when I came to visit my future husband at his parent's house. After eating lunch with him and his parents I waited for him to go back outside and back to work. As I had done that morning, I planned to "help" him. (Helping in those days meant giving him moral support and talking his ear off.)

Instead of going outside, he didn't budge. After 1 o'clock rolled around and past, I wondered why he wasn't leaving. When his mother left the room, I finally asked, "Aren't we going back out to work?"

"Well, yes, I'm going back to work," he said, "I'm just waiting until you leave."

"Leave? I told you I am not going back until after dinner," I said.

"Yeah," he said, looking at me with a confused stare.

"Well, I'll leave then," I replied.

"Yeah," he said again, a little slower and then, "We just had dinner."

"No, we didn't," I said, matching his confused stare. "We just ate lunch."

"No, we just ate dinner and tonight about 6 o'clock we'll have supper," he said.

And there it was -- the language barrier.

He spoke "country" and I spoke "city."

Since then, I've realized there are a lot of words that have one meaning if you are in the city and another if you grew up in the country.

For instance, the word "in."

In the city, people go "in" their house. When they leave they go "out."

But in the country, farmers plant their crops "in" the field, which of course is outside. So if people ask us if our beans are "in." We say yes, if we have them planted outside. But when we harvest them and put them "inside" the bin, we say they are "out" as in "out" of the field.

Confused? I know the feeling.

There are other city words that I can't seem to get out of my system -- including "street." That's not used in the country. Its a "road" -- or because of our new 911 addressing system, an "avenue" -- but never, ever a street.

"Next door neighbor." I had to give up using that term too. Apparently, people around here don't consider a house a half mile away, "next door." Now, it is the neighbor who lives down the road. (Never down the street!)

I could go on and on about words that people in the city and farmers often use differently, but here are a few of my favorites.

"Ted" -- in the city that is usually a nickname for a man named "Theodore." In the country, it means to pull a special piece of equipment across a newly mowed hay. The "tedder" as it is called, picks up the hay and slings the grass around, apparently "fluffing" it up and spreading it out so it can dry faster.

"Bale" -- in the city it means someone is in trouble and needs money to get out of jail -- OK, it's spelled differently in that case. In the country, it means a cow will have a nice meal when the snow flies this winter.

"Working cows" -- Despite how it sounds to my (still very present) inner-city self -- it doesn't mean they do any work for us. It means we have to work really hard to give them vaccinations a couple days a year to keep them healthy.

"Plowed" -- Here in the country, it means a farm implement went through your grass pasture and turned the earth over. In the city, "getting plowed" has a much different meaning. (Come to think of it, that term is used around here as well.)

"Corn" -- In the city, that means "sweet corn" -- that yearly treat that comes along in July. Of course we called it "corn on the cob." Around here, it is simply called "roastin' ears." After dating my future husband for awhile, though, I realized when he talked about "corn" he meant "field corn," the crop that we see in acre after acre here in the country. Now I know that "corn" it is used mostly to feed animals and make ethanol.

Of course, living in the country, I had to learn a whole new string of words, including the true names for animals.

For instance, "heifer" -- a female cow which hasn't had a calf yet. Not to be confused with a "first-calf heifer," a cow who has had one calf, but not a second. (After I had one baby, I got a new name -- Mommy, which is much better than what I am called now -- "M-o-o-o-o-o-o-m". (Usually said in that disgusted voice only used by teenagers!)

"Cow or hog" -- In the city we used these terms to describe someone who was, uuuhh, "big-boned" or someone who like to eat a lot. In the country, I realized these are actually animals who require daily care. And yes, they do like to eat.

"Ewe, sow, gilt, doe, etc..." -- I now realize they are the real names used to identify various female farm animals. (OK, I admit, except for the animals we actually raise, i.e. cattle, I'm still a little foggy on all the official terms of each species.)

"Bull" -- Like many city people, I always thought that bulls (male cattle) always had horns and were always mean.

Since then, I've found out more than once, bulls can be mean, but not all bulls are created equal. (Authors note: It's still always better to err on the side of caution when dealing with a bull -- as they all have what I like to call "testosterone poisoning.")

As for horns, some bulls have horns, but most don't. And if you see a picture of cattle with horns, that doesn't mean they are all "bulls." Cows or heifers can have horns as well.

In fact, most cattle are now "polled," which brings me to another word used differently in the city than in the country.

While I was in the city I thought "polled" meant that someone had asked a group of people their opinion on a particular subject. But in the country I learned that "polled" cattle would not grow horns as that gene had been "bred" out.

"Bred" -- that's another word we used differently in the city ... we even spell it differently, as in "bread."

Wow, this language barrier is bigger than I thought. No wonder our family seems to have a communication problem!

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So funny and so true!! When I was younger, and my aunts lived with us while in college, we had the same language barrier with dinner, lunch, and supper. My dad & stepmom spoke "city" - lunch & dinner. My aunts (my stepmom's sisters) spoke "country" - dinner & supper. We compromised and began calling it "evening meal" or the "noon meal" to avoid confusion.

-- Posted by koeller77 on Tue, Jul 20, 2010, at 10:47 AM

"testosterone poisoning"..........good one, Marcia.

That one didn't come to you when you were dealing with all those farm boys in your family, did it?

-- Posted by Smart Dog on Tue, Jul 20, 2010, at 3:00 PM

Koeller - Around here we seem to have adapted a combination of languages. At noon, we usually call it lunch. Most of the time our night meal is called supper.

Smart Dog - You are a Smart Dog! That is exactly where I came up with that phrase. In fact, that may be one of the problems with our communication gap!!!

Thanks to both of you for reading,


-- Posted by Marcia Gorrell on Tue, Jul 20, 2010, at 8:22 PM

Marcia, once again I had to come back and read the article again, as I enjoyed it so much! Such great writing ability on your part!!

-- Posted by captaingbb on Fri, Jul 23, 2010, at 2:31 PM

Thanks captaingbb! Glad you enjoyed it.

-- Posted by Marcia Gorrell on Mon, Jul 26, 2010, at 9:29 PM

I had a cousin from "the city" spend the week end when we were kids. My dad was told us that morning he was going to be spreading manure. My cousin and I went out to ride bikes and she said "those manouvers sure don't smell good, what are they? I still have to chuckle over that.

-- Posted by litlmissme on Fri, Jul 30, 2010, at 6:40 PM

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