Another memorable lesson in dialectology

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Mon May 14 17:45:31 UTC 2007

This is my own personal favorite.

On their first night in Amsterdam, four black GI's were walking the
streets looking for a particular nightclub that had been recommended
to them by buddies back on post. There was a brother from Alabama,
known as "The Boxer," because he was one on the Army team, another
from Massachusetts, a third from North Carolina, and this writer.
Having no luck finding the joint - or any other, for that matter - we
finally decided to ask someone. (We already knew that Holland was
reputed to be the most English-speaking country in Europe outside of
the UK, so we weren't sweating any potential language barrier.) So,
when we came upon an Amsterdammer, The Boxer, being naturally more
aggressive than we other three, elected himself spokesman. Approaching
the Amsterdammer, he said, "Excuse me. Can you tell us where the [some
name] nightclub is?"

The Amsterdammer replied, "Wat?"

The Alabamian repeated, "Can you tell us, etc?"

The Dutchman this time did not immediately reply. Finally, after a
long pause, his answer came, couched in the form of another question:
"Do you speak English?"

BTW, on the Colbert Show, one night last week, Stephen's Chief British
Correspondent was unable to make himself understood by a guest from
the American South.

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die"---a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
                                              -Sam'l Clemens
The tongue has no bones, yet it breaks bones.

                                              -Rumanian proverb

The American Dialect Society -

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