Well, it is. I pretty much learned English five minutes after I learned Bengali, though fluency in the latter came first, and now, some 30 years later, I’m definitely more proficient in the former. Yet, I still use the old chestnut of an excuse; it’s a running joke with me and my friends and coworkers. When I stumble over a word, when I do something silly that has nothing do with language whatsoever, I cry, “English is my second language! Leave me alone!” As you’d expect, many coworkers who hear me speak on a daily basis don’t buy that for a moment. Between the four-letter words and the “Oh my God!”s, I sound like a cross between a trucker and a valley girl. If you talked to me on the phone, you would have absolutely no indication of my ethnic heritage. I think people are probably just as surprised when they meet me and this completely informal slang comes out of my mouth.
So, English is indeed my second language, and I treat it like a sparkly, shiny thing I found on the beach. Each new phrase I learn is a piece that glitters, that I tuck away in a box. To go for a different metaphor entirely, I’m a walking Swiffer. I pick up idioms, speech patterns, regional dialects, because I just can’t help it. I love me some swear words like you wouldn’t believe. I had a cuss jar at an office I worked at several years ago and I earned enough to buy my coworkers a pizza lunch. (I’ve since regulated my abuse of the f-bomb, don’t worry.) I picked up “sweetie” from somebody somewhere down the line and “whatever blah blah blah” from my friend Heather. I say “hella,” because of several trips taken with friends from northern California, and “y’all” and “reckon” because I grew up in a part of Ohio where speech has a very southern influence. I say “Dude!” all the time as an exclamation… and my most famous story about that is me “Dude!”-ing my then-still-new boss. In front of witnesses. I was so mortified! Four years later, I “Dude!” constantly and no one blinks an eye, least of all the Boss Lady.
Sometimes, I even have problems accessing the vast storage of linguistic detritus I’ve absorbed. Just a couple of weeks ago, I dubbed somebody a “golddigger,” when I actually just meant to say they were a “tramp.” Funny, right? But, hey, there’s a distinct difference! Tramps aren’t necessarily out for money, whereas golddiggers do what they do for financial gain.
I love words. I like making up words (I’m notorious for conjugating Bengali verbs as if they were English ones ala I’m “aashing” and “jaa-ing” instead of “coming” and “going”). I like slipping wacky words like “kerfuffle” into articles I’ve written. I love big words, small ones, ones that mean nothing, ones that are used solely for the Internet (OMG! WTF!). I am a veritable word tramp…or perhaps a word golddigger, since, as a journalist, I definitely use them for financial gain.