A Luxembourg man who speaks five languages with a high degree of proficiency has admitted that the flip side is that he does not know the word in any language for certain everyday items.
“It’s true that I can speak and understand five languages and get by in two others,” said Gil Martins, who not only excelled at languages in school but also benefited from having multilingual parents. “However, in each and every one of them, I lack some rather commonplace words, and in some cases, these lacks overlap.”
“There are certain words that native speakers of every language know how to say,” he added. “Like those things you use when you cook, there are two sides, you can grab stuff with them, there’s a spring in the middle.”
“Tongs, you say?” he continued. “Okay, yeah, tongs. Well, until this moment, I didn't know how to say that in any language.”
He then went on to admit that he does not know the word in any language for the object that you clip to a pair of trousers and run over your shoulders in order to stop your trousers from falling.
“I usually just call it ‘a pants angel’ or some variation, which always gets a smile because people think I’m being cute, but the truth is I don’t know the right word.”
“Same goes for home shoes, shirt bones, and lightning traps,” he said, referring to slippers, hangers, and electrical outlets. “No idea how to really say them, and if I’m being honest, I probably don’t care."
Martins suffers from the same issue in grammar, he says.
“You know when you want to say you did something before you did something, so you use a verb form to do that?” he added. “Pluperfect, you say? I don’t know what it’s called, and in any case, I can’t do that. In any language.”
However, Martins says that to the casual speaker, one would never know he is, at most, 95 percent fluent in any language.
“People in my situation, we find creative ways to cover up our gaping holes,” he said. “Sometimes we switch to another language and make the other person feel inferior, or occasionally I’ll insist that whatever word I’ve just made up – time tracker, for the thing you wear on your, uh, hand joint – is actually the way intelligent people say it.”
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