Having lived and worked all my life in the Bronx and Queens and now on Long Island, my ears have been assaulted countless times by mangled expressions and incorrect grammar. One malapropism that stays uppermost in my mind was uttered by an acquaintance in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: "I can't phantom what those people in New Orleans are feeling!"
However, my favorite one was exclaimed one day more than four decades ago by my mother, who was born in Italy and came to America at the age of 20. She was too shy to attend classes to learn English and later was too busy raising her family; she depended on her children as they grew up to first translate and then teach her English. Her grasp of English may have been lacking, but my mother managed to pass her tests for citizenship and her literacy test in order to register to vote. She knew her rights as an American! One particularly humid summer day, while I was still in my teens, we tried unsuccessfully, through several changes of traffic lights, to cross a very busy Bronx intersection. Finally, losing all patience, and dragging me behind her, my mother straightened all of her 5-foot-1-inch frame, marched into the street with her hand raised in traffic cop fashion, and yelled as drivers slammed on their brakes, "ALT! Us pedestals, we godda da right of way!"
Today in her mid-80s, she reads several books in English a week, often with a dictionary by her side to look up "new" words.
--Diane Coletti-Hunter, Plainview
On LI, it's not the 'in' thing
My Long Island-related language pet peeve is when people say that they live "in Long Island." No one can "live in Long Island" unless they live in a cave or a hole in the ground on the island of Long Island. People live "on" Long Island, not in it. Someone can live in Babylon, meaning within the political/civic/governmental boundary of the Township of Babylon. Someone can live in Suffolk County, meaning within the political/civic/governmental boundary of Suffolk County. Someone can live in Manhattan, meaning within the confines of the New York City borough of Manhattan. Someone can live in Staten Island, meaning within the confines of the New York City borough of Staten Island, or on Staten Island, meaning on the island of Staten Island.
Since Long Island is not one unified political/civic/governmental unit, but a patchwork of dozens, if not hundreds of political/civic/governmental units which artificially divide up the island, one cannot live in Long Island. One lives "on" the island of Long Island. I suppose one could state that they live within the geographical confines of the island of Long Island, but it is an awkward and somewhat confusing phrasing when a simpler and more precise phrasing is available.
I've seen references to this language blooper in several places -- probably even in Newsday -- yet people keep saying or writing that they live "in Long Island." Please make them stop.
--Bob Schneider,West Babylon
Tawk about accents!
We were in Washington state, near Mt. St. Helen's. We stopped for lunch at a small restaurant. After taking our order, the waitress returned to the table with the entire staff of the restaurant and said to my husband "OK, TALK!"
His "Lawngisland" accent was a big hit!
Dat's the way we sound
I'm a retired elementary-school teacher. I always enjoyed teaching young children because you never knew what they were going to say. A couple of times, they said what could only have been said in New York. Once, when I was teaching the sound of the letter "D," I asked the children to give me words that started with that sound. One very eager little boy raised his hand and said, "I know three: Don't Do Dat."
Another time, when reading a book about American Indians, I asked the children if they knew what a squaw was. A little girl seriously answered, "When you play a game, you keep squaw." Only in New York!
--Sandy Bohn, Rocky Point
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