Author Topic: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like  (Read 2495 times)

Wayne Laepple

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I first encountered "sprag" around the anthracite mines here in Pennsylvania. They had piles of wood turnings about 18 inches long, pointed at both ends and about 3 inches in diameter at the middle. They would be thrust into the spokes of mine car wheels to stop them or hold them in place since they had no brakes. I remember seeing workers hanging on the sides of rolling cars jam a sprag into a wheel. The word can either be a noun or a verb. I've also heard it used in a totally different context, to mean to suddenly and forcefully end a discussion, as in "The chairman spragged that conversation before it got out of hand."

Carl G. Soderstrom

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Alain

Like France, and I have heard Germany, people in northern US have trouble understanding
people in southern US , vice versa,- and sometimes in-between. Though television has blurred the line of regionalisms,
accents and dialect.

Not many years ago people from a Swedish university came to Northern Minnesota to study Swedish (& Norwegian)
of 150 years ago because the language did not change here but did in Sweden. When we visited a cousin in Sweden
in 94 he said my father spoke pretty good 70 year old Swedish. Dad learned Swedish that long ago.

Many years ago there was what was called a "Bell Goat" or "Judas Goat". It was trained to lead sheep off railcars at the
slaughter house. Don't think that is what you had in mind.

BTW it took me 3 1/2 years to get through 2 years of Spanish (not sure learn is correct).
« Last Edit: June 25, 2021, 01:48:03 AM by Carl G. Soderstrom »

ALAIN DELASSUS

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 Thank you, you all for taking time to give me  a lot of very interesting explanations. Now I know  the origin of the word railroad and the reason why it has become an American word . I read the expression bell cow in a novel by Mary Higgins Clark and it was used to say that a company was the leader in its field and when it does something the other companies in the same field follow suit. Bell wether can be translate into" baromètre" like stock exchange is the barometer of the economy. When I found the word trig in reading the new rulebook I understood what it was for but I could not picture what it looked like untill I asked. In Pithiviers in the old days we used at time a stone  placed  on the top of the rail and against the wheel thread to secure very temporarily a standing car from movement on a rather level track when switching. I've found the word sprag in Reverso dictionnary it means a piece of wood intended to sustain something above, like a cieling, we say "un étai " in French  like a pit timber in coal mines.
In France a rather old small country  likened to the USA everybody can understand eachother. Dialects and languages still exist in some areas like in Corsica, Brittany or Basque Country  nowadays you can learn them at highschool as an optional third language. In France the only difficulty that mostly remains is the accent but I think it's the same thing in every country. Arabic is a language that has hardly never evolved as regards the vocabulary and when two people speak Arabic sometimes you can ove hear a French word like "télévision" or " smart phone". I learned German for 5 years and I must say I was good at it better than at English at any case but when I had been to Vienna  Austria ten years ago I spoke English that almost everyboby speak there; Thank so much again you guys.

Benjamin Richards

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To Carl's point: I studied a semester in Germany (Bremen) in 2012. We hired a car-share one particular weekend. When we met the driver, he started in about the details using the local Plattdeutsch dialect, which was met with a bunch of blank stares and "Bitte?" He muttered, "Ugh, Hochdeutsch!" then grudgingly switched over to something a bunch of textbook-trained Americans could understand.

Wayne Laepple

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A couple of additional observations concerning language and dialects.

I live in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where the Amish and Old Order Mennonites all speak "Pennsylvania dutch," which is a dialect of German and Swiss with many archaic usages. They speak English as well, though at home the vast majority speak "dutch." My father's people came from southern Germany, and their dialect was known as schwabendeutsch.  Classes in Pennsylvania dutch, for kids and adults, are offered in area public schools.

Some years back I visited the southwestern US, and I spect a couple of days in Chama, New Mexico. Hanging around the Cumbres & Toltec yard in the evening, one heard the locomotive hostlers chattering in Spanish, but some English words, like injector, lubricator and smokebox were heard as well. I was told that the Spanish they spoke was from the 16th century, when their ancestors first settled in the area, before the pilgrims made it to Massachusetts!

Jeff Schumaker

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Dialects can sometimes be a problem, here in the US. I witnessed an example at the museum a few years back. One member, a local, use the term "scahchen" (my spelling). Another local member didn't understand him, so he repeated it. After continued confusion, the first fellow dropped his accent and said "scorching". He was talking about the hot day.

Jeff S.
Hey Rocky, watch me pull a moose trout out of my hat.

ALAIN DELASSUS

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Yes accent is always a  real problem when  a language is not your mother tongue. When I went on a tour of  New Zeeland it had been a tall order to understand not only the people we met downunder but  also the guides that came  with us for three weeks and who did not speak a single French word. Every now and again people from the UK pay a visit to Pithiviers and there again it's not that easy because they speak very fast. I acknowledge it's hard to speak  slowly for long and to top it all off the Scottish or Midland accent does not help matters. In France people have mostly accent in the North a broad one and in the South a singing one and a slight drawling Swiss  accent in the  Northern Alps. Elsewhere they generally speak what James Patten has called the Parisian French with very little accent, at least it's what it seems to me  as a French native speaker. Those that have been in France what is your take on that ?

Mike the Choochoo Nix

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About ten years ago we were driving through Quebec Canada on our way to Maine, we stopped at a tourist information center to get some information about the roads. The two young ladies there spoke very broken English but the young man spoke very good English. I asked him if he grew up speaking English and he said no, he spoke French growing up like everyone else that lived there but he watched a lot of American television !
M. Nix
Mike Nix

Carl G. Soderstrom

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Few stories

Many years ago my parents were on a bus tour in Denmark - one couple from Brazil & one couple from Argentina
had to speak English to understand each other. (Portuguese & Spanish - though probably not the same as the "old Country")

An attendant in a Norwegian train station spoke perfect english - with a London accent. (not BBC accent)

Another Norwegian in a shop in Stavanger spoke English with a Texas accent because he worked on North Sea drill rigs.

While parting and waiting to board a train (in Sweden) my cousin turned to help a young lady with a carriage - he spoke
to her in English because he had been talking to us (in English)- she replied in English. 2 Swedes speaking English in Sweden.
I thought that was humorous.  ;D

Bill Baskerville

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Carl, Alain,
Most of us who have traveled have had these encounters.  When I was living in Saigon (before it became Ho Chi Min City) I was friends with a couple, he from France, she from Brazil, who, between them spoke 5 languages. 

While having dinner one evening in France I overheard the couple next to us talking with their children.  He was French and spoke in French to the two children, she was German and spoke in German to the kids.  The kids always responded in the appropriate language.  I made some casual remark to my wife Randy and overheard the mother say to her children, "See, they do say that!"  I later found out the mother learned English from her mother who taught English.  The mother said they had "English days" with their kids and there was some idiom or slang that I inadvertently used that the kids had questioned if it was really common in America.

I have friends who are Danish and their kids respond in the language in which they are addressed, Danish, English, German or French. 

The same is true with aircraft controllers in France who when called by a pilot will respond in French or English depending on the language the pilot uses.
~ B2 ~ Wascally Wabbit & Gofer ~

john d Stone

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We've hosted four exchange students over the years. The first was a girl from a small town in the north of Germany, just west of the former east-west border. She had taken English since grade school but actually had a very limited grasp of the language. I'd taken two years of German in high school, most of which I slept through. My wife's Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry was only good for a few phrases, mostly dealing with odd types of food. But after a couple of weeks of American TV she was able to speak and understand quite well. I asked her how similar German was to Austrian. She said "It is close. They can understand us but we can not understand them." Same response for Dutch!
The following year we had another German girl and a girl from Taiwan living with us, both with decent English skills. When the Taiwanese girls parents came to visit, she would speak to them in Mandarin and immediately switch to English to talk to us. My brain ain't wired like that!

In the world of railroading, I grew up around Pennsylvania Road and PRSL people in South Jersey. My railroad career has been out of Richmond Virginia on the Southern and then RF&P/CSX. Hand signals were pretty much the same as I'd experienced growing up though a few terms were different and track hand signals seem to be kind of a local language. When I started visiting the WW&F, "trig" was a term I had to get used to. I had been exposed to car counts by hand when the RF&P hired a former Rock Island brakeman, but that was not our normal practice. We just waved 'em back or ahead to start the move and resumed signaling as we closed in on the joint, decreasing the speed of the hand signal and then steadying up with the lantern or hand held high prior to waving down for the stop.

I came across this safety video from the Great Northern and found out that hand signals were not necessarily the same, even on a basic level, from coast to coast!  https://youtu.be/BqpayZ2JqlU
« Last Edit: June 28, 2021, 01:20:24 PM by John Stone »

ALAIN DELASSUS

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An other travel short story
Ten years back on the  night train from Paris  to Rome my wife and I met two couples, our age, from Laredo Texas. I started speaking English and  I translated our talk into French for  Claude. At one point they said they spoke Spanish as well and then my wife that learned it as a second language at highschool started to talk with them in Spanish. As the talk went on in Spanish between the five of them a Texan woman kindly translated what the others was saying into English for me as I could not understand. Maybe I'm mistaken but I guess if you can speak English Spanish and French you can make yourself understand almost everywhere. Claude always learns a few words of the language of the country we go like hello, good bye, sorry, please, thank you and such like  and we have always noticed that people appreciate a lot you've made the effort to learn a few words of their native language.

ALAIN DELASSUS

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 Believe it or not in French a rail comprises 3 parts un champignon= mushroom, une âme= soul and un patin= skate that match the English words railhead, web and base. In French the word champignon is a familiar by-word for gas pedal because the gas pedal in cars was not as large as the others and  looked like a mushroom that had sprouted out of the floor of the car. When people were in a rush and speeding we said  they were stepping on or squashing the mushroom. But the word and the colloquial expression are downright outdated.

Carl G. Soderstrom

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Alain

It is a shame some many expressions get dis-used or pass into history.
It is what makes conversation interesting - besides it makes the younger generation
wonder what we are talking about. Turn-about is fair play.  :D

Benjamin Richards

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At the same time, new expressions and idioms are being invented all the time, which make the older generation wonder what we're talking about. ;D It's the nature of language to change and evolve. After all, language is primarily a medium for transferring ideas.