Philip Newton (pne) wrote,
Philip Newton

Amy and the synonyms (sounds like a band name, doesn’t it)

The other day, I was reading Amy a book about Mog the cat, and one of the points of the book was that Mog loved her lavatory behind the tree in her garden.

I asked Amy whether she knew what a lavatory was, and she said no, so I said it’s another word for toilet.

After we had finished the book, Amy asked whether we had a lavatory, too, and I said, yes, in the bathroom. No, she said, do we have a lavatory behind a tree like Mog? No, I said, just the toilet one.

She seemed to think it was funny that there were two names for that, and asked why some people would use another word. I said that some words are used more in some places than others, so people who grew up hearing “lavatory” would tend to use that word and people who grew up around “toilet” would use that. I said some people even call it a “loo”.

I said that there are several words for it in German, too, and she said, really?

I said, sure; for example, what would you say? “Ich muss mal auf—” “Klo.” “Right; how about: Ich muss mal auf die—” “Toilette.”

See? You do know, and use, more than one word. Ah, she said, but in German there are two words for it, but in English there are three!

No, I said; German doesn’t only have two words. For example, some people say, “Ich muss mal auf das WC.”

“Really?” she said. “What does WC translate to in English?”

Well, I say, all the words mean pretty much the same thing, so you can’t match the German and the English words up one-to-one. Instead, WC could be translated as any of lavatory, toilet, or loo, as could the other words.

Whereupon she decided that from then on, she’d call it “lavatory” instead of “toilet”. Or, on second thoughts, she could use a different word every week! She’d call it “lavatory” this week, “loo” next week, and “toilet” the week after that.

She really seems fascinated by the concept of more than one word for the same thing. She has a similar reaction when I mention that Americans tend to call X what she calls Y (either because we come across word X in an American book or film, or because I happen to think of it).

Tags: amy, language
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