I’ve taught professionally, in several capacities, for the last eight years. I currently teach English as a second language four evenings per week. Translation errors are to comedy gold what the Spindletop Gusher was to black gold. On one particularly memorable occasion, I conflated miel de abeja (honey from a bee) with miel de vieja, Spanish for “honey from an old woman.”
Sadly, some ESOL students are cowed by the specter of speaking aloud. For this reason, ESOL educators frequently foment open-forum discussions. We then sit back and watch, fingertips steepled, as our students unwittingly do our work for us.
If you’ve ever attended a wedding reception, you’ve seen this same basic milieu reach this same basic denouement: The dance floor’s opening meets with crickets, what with most Average Joes loathe to make epic fail fools of themselves. Wisely, they wait for some functioning alcoholic to lower the proverbial bar a few fathoms first.
Yesterday morning’s English lesson lazy rivered into talk of allergies. Students took to sharing their respective allergens. Rodrigo, a Venezuelan transplant, divulged his allergy to “anus.” The solidly South American student body intuited “anus” as English’s answer to Spanish’s “ano,” and promptly fell silent.
Somehow, the statistical improbability of him knowing a word no one else knew (including the room’s resident instructor), never dawned on poor Rod. He vocalized the word a second and third time, as if, perhaps, the whole class had somehow misheard or not heard his initial iteration. With each increasingly impassioned encore of the word, Rodrigo strengthened the case for having said what he meant, and meant what he said.
At some point, Rod tumbled to the class’s collective confusion, though not to its cause. He pivoted to elucidatory gesticulations, pointing into his gaped mouth. The visual was exactly what you’re imagining; a plump, dusky student pantomiming a food allergy during a bustling game of charades.
As a former standup comedian, I’m hard-pressed to pass on a punchline. It took every scintilla of self-control I possess not to suggest that Rodrigo allay his allergy by cutting consumption, or, better yet, by nixing anus from his diet entirely.
Much to my chagrin, Rodrigo ended this cross-cultural “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episode by employing a translation app. For those not in the know, the initialism construct “N-S-A-I-D(s)” stands for “non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug(s).” Translating N-S-A-I-D(s) into Spanish calls for reconfiguring the first four letters and dropping the “D,” producing A-I-N-S. A hapless nonnative English speaker has but to swap the “I” and the “N” to cultivate hilarity.
About the Creator
My opinion column garnered more reader responses than any other contributor in the paper's 40-year run. As a stand-up comic, I performed in 16 countries & 26 states. I've written 2 one-man shows, umpteen poems, songs, essays & chronologies.