This just in – it is really difficult to learn a new language at 30 +. I started out pretty strong, but I quickly became lazy again. The trouble is that most people in Colombo speak some English (at least they speak more English than I do Sinhala). When I try my belabored attempt at Sinhala most people feel they need to save me and revert to English. Therefore, I never get beyond the initial greetings and family small talk. It was getting very repetitive, so in the true spirit of an unilingual English Canadian – I gave up.
Instead, I dedicated myself to the study of Sri Lankan English. Okay, “dedicated” may be a bit of a stretch, but I have become much better at understanding Sri Lankans when they are speaking English. There are many colloquialisms they use that were initially foreign to me and led to countless misunderstandings. I often left wondering “Are we really speaking the same language?”
Here is a list of some of my faves
auspicious – the lucky time according to astrology This is one reason why there seems to be no logic to the days or times of weddings. It is also the reason for 2am Buddhist chanting over a loudspeaker!
back side – back (of a house) etc. I kept the car in the back side.
to give someone beans – scold, to shout at someone She’ll give you beans if she finds out.
carrom – a popular table / billiard game
comb – a bunch of (bananas) ; kind of like a wrath of grapes (Wait – something’s not right with that example)
cager – a basketball player; This and other terms that sports journalist use are absolutely fabulous. See if you can guess what sport these athletes are matched to: cueist, grappler, lifter, pugilist, ruggerite, scrabbler, shuttler, slicer, soccerite, spiker and sticker
deep south – the southern province of the island (not Whitmore Park like some of you might be thinking)
frock – any women’s dress
funk-stick – a wimp or coward
giddify – flirt
lakh – 100,000 “The monthly rent for that large house is one lakh.”
marriage broker – a professional matchmaker
meat – tends only to refer to beef in Sri Lanka which could be very confusing if you are vegetarian
short eats – savoury snacks eg: buns, pastries, Chinese rolls
sea bath – take a swim in the ocean. Sri Lanken women take a sea bath completely clothed while men seem to get away with going in their tighty whiteys. (AIYO!)
tinker – a skilled worker who repairs the body work of shops. Shaun and I used to get a good laugh when we’d see “tinkering” listed as one of the services at the auto body shop.
winkle – bicycle repair shop
zipper man – a flasher, an exhibitionist, someone who exposes himself in public. Thankfully I haven’t run into a zipper man yet, just a butt grabbing one on a crowded bus and he received a sharp blow to the gut from me.
“Yes, yes, yes madam” – This is the most confusing of all as it is always the response to a request and often accompanied by a head bobble. It could truly mean one of three things, “yes, no problem”, “I haven’t got a clue what you are talking about, but I don’t want to admit it” or ” I understand exactly what you are asking and there is no way I am going to do it, but I’ll say yes and hope you’ll go away and leave me alone!)
Now you can see how hard it is to communicate even in English, but it makes everyday interesting.
Ironically, it was through reading A Dictionary of Sri Lankan English that my second chance to study Sinhala came about. It turns out the author of this book teaches Sinhala (level 2) classes at the British Council starting Oct. 2. So I’m going to give it the old college try.
I’m signing out for now in the words of a typical Sri Lankan, “Many happy returns of the day, and please send my regards to your families and friends”.