Have you ever learned a word incorrectly because you misheard it? You won’t know at the time, of course. Such a realization comes afterward when you bump up against others using the word, and your lexical paradigm doesn’t match your interlocutor’s.
You see, our brains are meaning-making machines and will try to make meaning make sense even when it does not, and will fill in words it thinks it hears. The school game telephone (also known as Chinese whispers) exploits this property linguistically known as a mondegreen, which got its name through Sylvia Wright’s famous mishearing of the poetic line “layd him on the green” as “Lady Mondegreen.”
Mondegreen is a mondegreen!
Well, I recently had a charming mondegreen experience with a gentleman on the internet. It is apparent that he had been using the word “wheel barrel” in lieu of wheelbarrow for some time and was corrected. Seemingly with the same refusal of Sylvia Wright to accept the real term (she preferred her misheard version of the poem as it added tragic romance), he turned to Facebook for solidarity.
Through our exchange, I informed him that he had experienced a mondegreen, and as the Facebook group I was in was about gardening, I asserted that he must have a “mondegreen thumb.”
I am proud of that pun. (I suppose I have the linguistically humor of a man as both in Japanese puns are known as 親父ギャグ [old man jokes] and in English “dad jokes.” Pulling off lexical ambiguity is just so snicker worthy!)
Mistaking wheel barrel for wheelbarrow is a perfect example of a mondegreen as it is a near homophone and a barrel on wheels is a logical description of the item. The mind would accept this easily. Yet, in truth, it is a wheelbarrow, and if one digs a little etymologically, it too makes sense. Barrow comes from the Proto-Indo-European word “bher” which means “to carry.” It is also the root of the term to “bear” children.
Mondegreens are found in all languages and make for useful language learning tools, i.e. mnemonics. For example, when learning English, Japanese students are taught to remember “my name is….” as マヨネーズ（mayonnaise.) Likewise, English speakers learning Japanese are taught to remember “Don’t mention it/you’re welcome” as “Don’t touch my mustache.” (どいとしまして。）
Growing up, my mother would summon us to the table for diner with a “EAT YOUR DUCKY MOSS!” for いただきます. (A phrase of gratitude said before eating. The approximate translation being: I am grateful for what I am about to receive.)
What is a misheard word that you have experienced? How did you figure out it was mondegreen? What are mondegreens that have helped you learn something?
“Mondegreen.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 31 May 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondegreen.
“Barrow (N.1).” Index, http://www.etymonline.com/word/barrow.
After my firstborn, a combination of stress and genetics triggered Hashimoto’s thyroiditis in me. (The fact that this disease was discovered by a Japanese person does not lose its irony on me.) I was exhausted. There is no tired like autoimmune tired. If you have an autoimmune disease, you understand and probably, like me, are willing to try any diet to regain scraps of energy to simply function.
After going on an elimination diet, then to paleo, and then through trial and error, I have found that my body works best on a gluten and dairy-free diet. (I am also grateful for the serendipity that I live in Japan where most of the traditional dishes are sans these ingredients.) With the diet change, my antibody count went from in the 800s to the 30s. I have the blood work to prove it and I went into remission for about a year and was able to get pregnant with my daughter after a bout of infertility.
The results are worth the discipline, but that doesn’t make me miss bread any less. I crave it. I dream about it. (I freak out sometimes in my dreams because I’ve eaten gluten and then I wake up, realize reality and am relieved.)
Therefore, during last summer’s recess, I made it my mission to find delicious substitutes. Though nothing is the same as the real deal, my cravings can be satiated. Below is a recipe for one of the best ones I have found so far. To add more glory to it, I recommend adding a smidgen of margarine on it fresh from the oven.
Many of the ingredients for the recipe are difficult or expensive to get in Japan so I usually make an Amazon.com order.
What diet is best for your health?
Kaylie. “Healthy 5 Minute Gluten Free Paleo Bread.” Paleo Gluten Free Eats, 10 Nov. 2016, paleoglutenfree.com/recipes/healthy-5-minute-gluten-free-paleo-bread/.
“I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it.”
― Vincent Van Gogh
This quote describes me and blogging perfectly. I hope my readers will enjoy my growth process as much as my content.
What are you currently doing in order to do?
Parents are stressed. Teachers are stressed. I know because I am a parent and a teacher. I have also learned that if I find a tool that helps me, it may also be a benefit to others.
Therefore, I’m providing a free resource to help those thrust into telework due to COVID-19.
This desktop wallpaper organizer specifically helps with task prioritization. Place the apps, files, etc. on the screen under the relevant category. Do that which is in the left columns first.
How are you helping during the COVID-19 crisis?
I wrote this poem during my high school days when I was in my third depression, and when I found what an incredible healing tool writing could be. The 14th stanza (I’ve put it in bold.) has become a mantra for me when life splits at the seams.
(Woab! I just had a metacognition flash typing that paragraph: The act of finding something beautiful in a terrible time reflects the poem’s message itself. I found writing in my depression. [Oh, the isometric beauty!])
Of course, I’ve updated the poem a bit, and am offering it in hopes that it might be a source of solace for whatever life personal plagues you with while COVID-19 plagues our world.
Tea Party Once there were three maidens, Ms. Barty, Ms. Harty, and Ms. Higgins, Who were all very close friends. They had all suffered through hardships greatly And wished with life to make amends On a bright spring day, With the sun and shadow mingled under the lilac tree, There, our ladies three made their way To drink their afternoon tea At Ms. Barty’s tea party Their troubles they poured into one another, As they poured out the tea, And set the china on lacy doilies fanning splendidly. There they sat and sipped reverently. As the maidens sat abreast Ms. Barty noticed that her guests new possessions had obtained “Such lovely-fine things, What a gorgeous necklace you possess, Ms. Harty! And, Ms. Higgins, what a glorious ring!” For around Ms. Harty’s neck, a string of pearls did rest With such a hue with light a-dancing, Such luster a-prancing across the gleaming pearls And on Ms. Higgin’s finger A golden ring did linger With gems sparkling like stars plucked from the night Who forgot to sleep their light When the morning dawn did bright Such beauty were the treasures For Ms. Barty’s eyes to take pleasure That for a time she took and leisured Upon the interest that seized her Until remember her trouble did she do “I too have something new for you,” said, Ms. Barty Although, please you mine, it’s not so fine But dim our sorrows might it do At least until tomorrow For now, these hours let us borrow, And perhaps peace for us may follow.” From her purse, she took a bottle Filled with scarlet wine. She filled the empty china cups, And peace they did find for a time While Ms. Barty sat a-thinking Staring at her friends new wealth, And swirling the wine in her cup, a notion pierce her heart. Such a notion that gripped her attention That she could not drown it with the wine And so ruminating with the time Formed in her mind a revelation And on this contemplation her soul did sup She placed back the china cup On the fanning doilies And turned to the maidens did she, The maidens under the swaying lilac tree “Friends, we have suffered greatly, Our hearts broken often and lately, But take this thought not lightly For it troubles me more than all the others, And I must know what it means to you, my sisters. What if sorrow and pain are like wine? Their value becoming good over time Although horribly bitter to go through, Adds richness to life once been brewed. Their drinks they did forsake As they let this ruminate, The maidens three Under the swaying lilac tree “An interesting point you make,” said Ms. Higgins, “Although I’m not quite sure what you mean. Are you sure it’s not the wine talking And rightly, you are not thinking? What is good about sorrow and pain? Surely, you do not wish to experience them again?" “No. I have suffered tragedy plenty. Dearest friends, just try to see Even though the idea does seem strange But, me, the drink has not deranged I only mean that perhaps sorrow Cannot be understood until tomorrow. Just like wine is not good when first made. Time must pass before it can be an accolade. Or like the lilac tree, In the shade that guards us three. When it must be pruned, Damage must be ensued, So that the next season it will flourish And bloom and joy bring for us.” “Or like the oyster when the pearl is in the making?” said Ms. Harry in a whirl, Tossing her curls and clutching her pearls. “Exactly, my dear friend,” said Ms. Barty “Do you see too, Ms. Higgins?” Higgins fiddled with her ring as she thought And upon the ring the epiphany was draught “Like when gold in fire is refining?”said, Ms. Higgins Glancing at the gleaming band. “Or how gems cannot form without stress? But surely, you do not mean our troubles, we are to bless?!” “Of course not,” said Ms. Barty Our hearts do and will hurt from breaking, But if I keep in mind that in the process There are not only losses. That while life is painstaking There may be redemption for the taking If I we seek the treasures inside the ventures. Put away the wine they did And brewed another round of tea Seeing that it was heat that made the treat. They poured back through their memories As they relieved times of old, finding portions of suffering now turned to gold. And so they had a wonderful time Life had been turned to wine At Ms. Barty’s tea party The three maiden-girls Now marveled at their new pearls Valuing the sanctity Of life’s bitter-sweet, melancholy-harmony Laughing at the serendipity Did the maidens all a-three Under the swaying lilac tree.
What is a quote and or mantra that helps you when life is difficult?
Being able to speak a language is subjective. I have many Japanese friends who speak beautiful English but do not consider themselves to be English speakers. (This could just be Japanese humility though and not their true opinion： 本音 vs. 建前.
For example, I took a year of Latin and remember the basic sentence structure and vocabulary words. I do not, however, consider myself a Latin speaker. The same holds true for the other languages I have studied: Old English, Middle English, Spanish, American Sign Language, and Japanese Sign Language.
On the other hand, I have studied the Japanese language for years and still have many limitations, but have a proficiency level enough to work, live, and get in and out of trouble in the language. I use Japanese daily, occasionally dream in it, and while I still have much to learn, I do consider myself a Japanese speaker.
What about you? How many languages do you speak?
Life has come full circle. There is a completeness, and the story now has a happy ending.
Allow me to set the context:
An American student of mine, dutifully gave me a gift as his mother had told him to do. As it is no secret that I love plants (as they adorn my classroom, and I cultivate the edible garden outside the cafeteria) I am assuming that this gift was a thoughtful way of encouraging this passion of mine.
It was a vase of vibrant cerulean and scrolling gold motif. It also happens to be a 仏壇の花瓶(butsudan no kabin) or the vessel that sits on a Buddist alter in which flowers for the deceased are placed.
Without knowing the heart of the student, the intent of the mother, and only looked at this act through the lens of Japanese culture, the act could be seen as morbid nefarious aggression. I.e., The student wished for my death.
And yet, my reaction was laughter.
From an American lense, it’s a beautiful vase, and she wanted to give me a beautiful, thoughtful gift. This student had no idea what he was giving, the poor thing was just doing what his mom told him to do, and culturally she didn’t know what she had. I loved the gift. In fact, it might be the best tangible present a student has ever give me, but not for the vase’s merit itself. Unintentionally, they had just given me a happy ending to a painful past.
Allow me to put this context into context:
The first year I emigrated to Okinawa, Japan, my work visa was approved for three years. However, the contract I signed with the school was only for one year.
After a few months, I knew the school was not for me, but I would honor my contract and give the appropriate amount of time in advance for the school to find a new teacher.
The decision was excruciatingly painful to make.
One, because I believed in the mission of the school, just not its application.
Two, I loved my students (Like a first love, a teacher’s first group of students impact one deeply.).
Three, I could infer, based on the character of the principal (who was also my visa sponsor), that if I quit, she would call immigration to cancel my visa out of spite.
I was not wrong.
Before I could even explain how I intended to continue to support my students and the school. (I wanted desperately to revivify the library and garden.) She jumped up and spat, “I’m calling immigration!” I was deflated, but not surprised, and now the clock was ticking for me to find a new job with visa sponsorship before the Japanese government sent me back to America.
Allow me to put this context of context into context:
I had recently started dating my future husband at the time and I didn’t want to leave him, the country, or my students if I couldn’t find another job with visa sponsorship. Yet, I was willing to risk losing my relationship, home, and pupils, because that is how unhealthy the place was.
And unlike America, where two weeks are standard notice, I had to give two months. It was two months of knots in my stomach as I was vilified to prepare the parents for my “sudden departure.” It was two months of dirty looks. Two months of not nice things said behind my back or in front of my face in Japanese. Two months of tears streaming down my face while I rode my bike home. Two months of being, as a compassionate coworker said to me, “a wilted flower.”
I try to be fair by looking at things from the principal’s perspective. I think she thought my visa and contract were one and the same and this discrepancy blindsided her. I know that she also had experienced much heartbreak with foreigners running out on her, and I believe it was this past hurt that blocked her ability to see that I was trying to be honorable, even on her side. I just needed to be so and do so in a different capacity.
I really miss those students and wonder often what happened to them. I wasn’t even allowed to say goodbye…
The next day, I brought my boss a bouquet of what I thought were “happy yellow flowers.” I put much thought into this gift as I wanted to be culturally appropriate. I researched the meanings of colors, and yellow in western cultures means friendship, and in eastern cultures, it is good fortune or money. (Friendship and good luck and money! The was the rare Venn diagram middle of positivity in both cultures!) I also knew from my Japanese culture classes that this particular flower is used as a symbol of the emperor, so I thought there was a royal aspect too. Plus, this flower is on everything from hello-kitty to kimonos and traditional art. They are even sold in grocery stores as garnishes! I thought it was a win-win-win-win!
My Japanese readers have most likely figured out that I am talking about 菊の花 (kiku no hana): the chrysanthemum.
While all the above is true, it is also true that these flowers are the ones offered to the dead on Buddhist altars, and while it is OK to have a depiction of the flower, to give the real ones as a gift is taboo. (I still struggle to wrap my mind around this.)
I know that my boss recognized that my intentions were innocent. I did not wish for her death. I also know that she used this incident as an excuse to demonize me. She would not accept the flowers, nor tell me why. I went in tears to my boyfriend, who explained the situation and took me shopping to get an appropriate gift of delicacy cookies. I brought the right gift the next day, professionally gift-wrapped, with an explanation, apology, and bow that I had rehearsed in Japanese with my boyfriend. She would not accept this either. I believe she wanted to hurt me as much as she perceived I was hurting her.
How does all of this add up to a laughing reaction to the vase gifted by my American student? It is this vase that the “taboo flowers” are put in and placed on Buddhist alters to honor the dead. Inadvertently, this student blessed me with the opportunity to accept his gift-giving intentions and enact the grace that I wish my boss would have done for me. In doing so, that student gave me the ability to redeem apart of the pain.
I will fill this life-giving death vase with plants that will grace my classroom and be quite the conversation starter to those who know that they are looking at.
Death does bring new life if one has the eyes to see it. The death of my time at that school brought me to the 英会話 (English conversation school), where I discovered my passion for teaching English as a Second Language. The death of my time there also revealed how solid my then-boyfriend-and-now-husband is in a crisis.
Have you ever committed a cultural taboo or had a memory redeemed? Please share.